Published on August 7th, 2012 | by Dr. Richard Martorano0
Anita Bryant – Singer, Crusader and Activist.
I would like to welcome myself back to the NSB Observer. Before the printed Observer went through its various metamorphisms, I enjoyed being a featured writer for the paper, writing articles about arts, entertainment and lifestyles. I had the chance to share some of my life’s experiences as well as talk about people, places and events happening in our area.
With the resurgence of the historic paper in its new format, under the ownership of local businessman Tom Alcorn and editorial leadership of Tiffany Evers, I have been invited to continue that relationship. I am proud to begin talking with you about the good news in our lives. If you have something you would like to share, contact me at 386-679-5181 or E-mail me at rjaem2222@BellSouth.net.
Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda
We have all had a “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda” in our lives. That one thing if you had the chance, you would “take it back”. I have had many in my career but would like to share what I think my biggest “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda”.
This profile will be in two parts. First, is “Anita Bryant – Singer, Crusader and Activist”. The second is “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda”. What happened at a Cadillac Dealer convention in Orlando in 1974 with Anita Bryant in concert under my musical direction?
Anita Bryant – Singer, Crusader and Activist.
Anita Bryant, as the late 60’s and early 70’s began, was an American songbird, a celebrity in her chosen hometown of Miami, and a kind of national icon. Treasured not just for exceptional good looks and a better than average talent, but also for the use to which she put them.
Since emerging as Miss Oklahoma in 1957 and finishing as a runner up in the Miss America contest in 1958, her dark auburn hair, rich clear voice and flashing smile, reached out to the nation in things that were wholesome and basic.
Voted “Most Admired Woman in America” by Good Housekeeping Magazine three years in a row, she parlayed her wholesome image into a successful career with the Florida Citrus campaign, “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”
She exemplified everything that was American. She was passionate, a faithful Christian, strong and moral.
It was a path she had taken at the age of 8, when she accepted Jesus Christ and said to her family, “Jesus told her to become a singer”. As a devout Southern Baptist, deeply patriotic rather than political, she, like the Reverend Billy Graham in that period, had an American presence that spoke for what was considered the moral majority of that time. She was a symbol of national faith, family and morality.
Seeing the conflict in Vietnam as “a war between atheism and God”, she was invited to entertain the troops on numerous trips with Bob Hope and invited on numerous occasions to the White House by President Lyndon Johnson. She also sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic and God Bless America at the Democratic and Republican national conventions. She was the spokesperson for the new generation of American Woman.
Florida Orange Juice and the Religious Right
By January, 1974 she was settled with her husband and children into a 33- room mansion on Biscayne Bay from which she would emerge to perform at conventions and do television and radio commercials as the official spokesperson for Florida Orange Juice.
The Florida resident was poised for a lifetime of commerciality and musical success. Instead, she is remembered today for the campaigns which destroyed her career, but helped build the two great social movements of the last two decades: conservative Christianity and the pursuit of gay rights.
Anita’s biggest concern was homosexuals on the teaching staff of public schools in Metro-Dade County. She was concerned that in 1974 gay activists had succeeded in electing a majority of the Metro-Dade Commission. Her concern and fear centered on the growth of homosexual influence in urbane politics.
I quote from a letter to the commission: “What these people really want, hidden behind obscurely legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that there is an acceptable alternative way of life”. She continues: “I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has ever seen before.”
She founded an organization entitled “Save Our Children”. This was the start of an organized opposition to gay rights that spread across the nation and was the beginning of what came to be known as the “Religious Right”.
In 1977, the Reverend Jerry Falwell came to Miami to help her, but it was Anita Bryant who first led fundamentalist Christians into politics under the banner of a domestic social issue. Her personal attacks on homosexuals drew tens of thousands of new recruits into the movement and made her the object of scorn. Homosexuals and conservative Christians are now prominent on the national stage and Anita Bryant has disappeared from sight and has become very obscure.
It all starts to come apart
Her marriage to Bob Green failed and in 1980 she divorced him, although he reportedly has said that his fundamentalist religious beliefs do not recognize civil divorce and that she is still his wife in God’s eyes.
Some observers feel that her husband pushed her to get involved in the political activism that eventually led to her downfall and loss of income.
Kathie Lee Gifford, who worked as a live-in secretary/babysitter for the Greens in the early 1970s, said in her autobiography that Green had a ferocious temper and that Anita was not very happy.
Her divorce caused many fundamentalist Christians to shun her and they no longer invited her to appear at their events. She moved with her four children from Miami to Selma, Alabama, and later to Atlanta, Georgia.
In a Ladies Home Journal article she said, “The church needs to wake up and find some way to cope with divorce and women’s problems.”
She married her second husband, Charlie Hobson Dry, in 1990, and they tried to reestablish her career in a series of small venues, including Branson, Missouri and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Commercial success was elusive, and they left behind them a series of unpaid employees and creditors. They filed for bankruptcy in Arkansas (1997) and in Tennessee (2001).
Anita Bryant returned to Barnsdall, Oklahoma, in 2005 for the town’s 100th anniversary celebration and to have a street renamed in her honor.
She returned to her high school in Tulsa on April 21, 2007, to perform in the school’s annual musical revue.
She now lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, and says she does charity work for various youth organizations and heads Anita Bryant Ministries International.
Part 2 to follow: My “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda” with Anita Bryant.