Show Business Was My God
THE loud, sustained applause was music to my ears. It lifted my spirits, making all the countless hours of practice seem worthwhile. I was a flier in a trapeze act, and I was intoxicated with success.
Part of my act also was to somersault over elephants, to stand on my head on a pole precariously balanced on the shoulders of another man, to perform a complicated juggling act, and to bring peals of laughter from the audience as a clown.
That was over 45 years ago, when I was only 17. I marvel now at what feats an agile young body can perform with disciplined practice and a strict regimen of careful living. Show business had, in effect, become my whole life, my god, and it remained so for more than 20 years.
Introduction to Circus Life
I was born in Kempsey, New South Wales, Australia. We were poor—our house had whitewashed corn bags for walls and old pieces of tin for a roof. A few years later, we moved farther south, to Taree. Ours was not a religious family, although we were nominal members of the Church of Christ.
In 1939 my father joined the army. Mother then packed the only things we possessed, our clothes, and with my three sisters and me moved to Sydney. There I attended a school for acrobats and showed surprising natural ability. In just a few months, I became an expert acrobat. Then, in 1946, I was offered a job in a circus to learn to be the flier in a trapeze act.
The circus played a different town almost every night. The crowds came to see the glamour of the big top, but, of course, what they did not see were the fights and drunken brawls behind the scenes. Nor did they know of the loose moral behavior of many of the artists they so much admired.
I was continually at parties and always seemed to get involved in fights. I am grateful that heavy drinking never appealed to me. I also avoided the habit of using bad language and could not stand to hear anyone swear in the presence of a woman. This was the cause of many of my fights.
In every sizable town where we performed, someone was sent around to the local Catholic priest with free passes for him and a donation to the church. This was supposed to bring good luck and ensure that the circus would be well attended.
A Change to Vaudeville
In 1952, I was told by some vaudeville artists that the way to make more money and achieve greater success was to do vaudeville acts. So I began doing numerous traveling vaudeville shows. Then I worked the club circuit and finally performed at many leading theaters in Australia and New Zealand. I was appearing with big-name artists, while, at the same time, making quite a name for myself as a juggler and an acrobat.
I felt that changing to vaudeville had been the right choice, but I was disappointed that parties, immorality, and heavy drinking were even worse in vaudeville than in the circus. I now came in contact with homosexuals and Lesbians. Drugs also began to appear on the scene, but I am glad that I never became involved with them.
All I thought about was making a name for myself and improving my act. Show biz and the adulation I received were all I wanted. They gave me all the highs I needed. I even determined that I was never going to marry. No responsibility for me—I was having too good a time. Show business was my god. But the best-laid plans can go awry.
One day, while I was looking for talented ballerinas to join a traveling vaudeville show, I met one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen. Her name was Robyn. Not only was she a capable ballet dancer but she was also a talented contortionist. To my delight she readily accepted the job and became my partner in a successful two-person act. Five months later, in June 1957, we were married. For the next three years, we worked the clubs, toured in shows, and appeared on television.
After we were married, we kept to ourselves as much as we could, avoiding mixing with other artists on a social level as far as possible. Even when appearing in the clubs, I made sure Robyn stayed in the dressing room until we had to go on stage. The comics told filthy jokes, and some of the musicians were on drugs. Most of them continually drank and used bad language.
Working in Other Countries
In 1960 we were offered a contract to perform overseas. ‘This is our big break,’ I thought. Yet, by now we had a little daughter, Julie, to think about. Nevertheless, I dragged my family around the Far East, living out of suitcases, sometimes doing up to five shows a night. This lasted for more than a year, and then we returned to Australia.
Now that we had attained the status of an international act, our show was in great demand. But there were limited opportunities in Australia because of its relatively small population. So in 1965 we went overseas again. This time we had not only Julie but another little daughter, Amanda. During the next five years, we worked in 18 different countries.
The hardships I put my family through because of my obsession to be the best were terrible. Once I paid a man to stand guard with a shotgun to protect our children, who were only 200 feet [60 m] from where we were performing. Often I argued with club owners who wanted Robyn to sit with customers to encourage them to drink, but those revelers expected more. We worked in clubs with strippers, prostitutes, and homosexuals, some of whom would make lewd propositions either to me or to my wife. And the rock-band musicians were often high on drugs.
During our travels, I had plenty of time during the day to sightsee. I was constantly visiting zoos, mosques, temples, churches, or religious festivals. I visited these out of curiosity, since I wasn’t really religiously inclined. It astonished me that so many different things were worshiped. There were statues of men with animal heads, and animals with men’s and women’s heads. In one country, people even worshiped the genital organs of men and women, apparently believing this would increase the worshipers’ own sexual and reproductive powers.
In another country, boys and men would hit themselves on the back with three-bladed knives until blood poured out. The day I was there, three men lost their lives because of losing too much blood. In one well-known cathedral, I was disgusted to see on the confession boxes this sign: “One confession, 1 franc; two confessions, 2 francs; three confessions, 2.50 francs.” I thought to myself: ‘If that’s religion, they can keep it!’
Return to Australia
In 1968 we sent Julie home, but it took us another 18 months to save enough money to pay the fares for the rest of us to return. In 1970 we arrived home with very little money or fame to show for all our hard work. Most of our money had gone for costumes, music, travel, accommodations, and corrupt agents. All we had were our stage props and what we could carry in our suitcases.
After returning to Australia, I expanded my activities and also became a theatrical agent. I obtained a contract as a clown in a long-running television show called The Yellow House. I wrote and produced children’s pantomimes and clown shows for various clubs, while continuing with Robyn in our act. Show business was still my god. Robyn and the children began to suffer; it was as if I were neither husband nor father.
The Challenge of Religion
One day my mother-in-law, who was living with us, showed Robyn the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. “Read this,” she said. “It’s about religion, but it’s different.” Robyn refused, saying that after what we had seen overseas, she wasn’t interested in religion. Her mother, however, did not give up. She followed Robyn around for a week, insisting that she read the book. Finally Robyn gave in, mainly to please her mother.
It was as if Robyn’s eyes had suddenly been opened, she later explained. She was so impressed with the answers to so many of her questions that she wanted to know more. Two weeks later her mother arranged for two of Jehovah’s Witnesses to call at our home. After a couple of visits, they invited us to one of their assemblies held nearby. I reluctantly agreed to go. Actually, I was so impressed that we began to attend meetings at the Kingdom Hall.
Yet, show business was still my god, so I soon realized there was no future for me with the Witnesses. Robyn, however, wanted to continue to learn Bible truths, even if I didn’t. I was outraged. ‘What right,’ I felt, ‘do these people have to come between me and my wife, filling her mind with religious garbage?’
Even my threats to walk out on our marriage were to no avail. Robyn stood her ground and continued studying. She even began going out talking to others from door to door about her beliefs. The last straw was when she told me that she wanted to get baptized and become a dedicated Witness. However, she was advised to wait till after she gave up working in show business.
‘Aha!’ I thought. ‘I’ve won. They won’t have her. She will never give up her act.’ But I was wrong. Robyn gave me one year, after which, she said, she would quit. I laughed, believing she would never leave the act that she liked so much. But again I was wrong. One year later she left show business and was baptized. And so were our daughter Julie and Robyn’s mother.
My Fight Against the Truth
After that I verbally abused Robyn, telling her that she had let me down, that she didn’t care for me. “Show business is my whole life. There is nothing else I can do,” I lamented. “My troubles are all your fault.” I even threatened to beat up the Witnesses, whom I blamed for breaking up our act and causing all our problems.
Robyn started leaving Bible magazines around the house, hoping I would read them. This didn’t work, so she eventually gave up. But she never gave up praying to Jehovah that somehow I would learn the truth and that we could all be together as a family in the new world.
In time, I began to tolerate the Witnesses when they visited the house, and occasionally I allowed the children to persuade me to go with them to a meeting. But I was critical of all I heard there. Yet, I admitted to myself that the people at the Kingdom Hall, who included many nationalities—Arabic, Greek, Italian, English, as well as Australians—all seemed to get on well together. They were always friendly, and no one used bad language or engaged in immoral talk.
Helped by a Real Christian
Eventually I agreed to a regular Bible study with Ted Wieland, an outstandingly kind, humble man. He served at Bethel, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Once when I was giving Robyn a particularly hard time, Ted called me down to his car, reached into the trunk, and gave me a box of mangoes. Mangoes happened to be my favorite fruit, but I don’t think Ted knew that. This went on for weeks: a box of mangoes every time Ted came by. One day he reached into the trunk for what I thought was the usual box of fruit, then calmly turned around and said: “Do you think you could hang this on the wall?” It was the Bible text for the year, which the Witnesses display in their homes. What could I say? I hung it on the wall.
As my Bible study with Ted progressed, he showed me from the Bible that show business offered no real future. The only sure hope for a happy future, he explained, was in the fulfillment of the Bible prophecies regarding the Kingdom for which Christ taught us to pray. (Matthew 6:9, 10) Though I still had show-business contracts to fulfill, I began attending congregation meetings regularly. I enrolled in the Theocratic Ministry School and even began sharing in the house-to-house ministry.
I began to see that show business had nothing to offer. I had gained nothing materially in all the years that I had devoted to what had been my god. My family had suffered—being dragged around the world and living out of suitcases. Indeed, show business had almost broken up my marriage. But now the Supreme One of the universe was offering me the opportunity to live forever on a paradise earth under the rule of his Kingdom.
So I made the most important decision of my life. When I had finished my show business contracts, I completely cut all ties with the world of entertainment. I never went back to a club or associated again with those who made that business their way of life. Ted went through the questions with me that baptismal candidates consider. However, Ted died, and shortly afterward I was baptized, on July 26, 1975. I’m looking forward to meeting that wonderful man in the new world when he is resurrected.—John 5:28, 29.
No Shortage of Blessings
Jehovah has provided us with more than we ever received from all our years in show business. He has freed me from the corrupt, immoral world of entertainment. He has rewarded the prayers of my faithful wife, who stuck by me and never gave up. He has blessed us in that my wife’s mother and our two older daughters and their husbands are all active in the Christian ministry. Our youngest daughter, Letitia, and the oldest of our three grandchildren, Micah, are both unbaptized proclaimers of the good news. Jehovah has also blessed me with the privilege of serving as an elder in the Christian congregation.
Robyn and I can never repay Jehovah for what he has done for us. We can, though, warn others—especially younger ones—of the dangers of the world of show business and the wrong type of entertainment. We can warn them, from our own personal observation, of the misery that follows immorality, drugs, heavy drinking, the wrong type of music, songs that emphasize illicit sex, and the dangers involved when one frequents clubs or rock concerts. All these things are part of a world completely under the control of Satan the Devil.—2 Corinthians 4:4.
It is easy to become ensnared in the worship of Satan unknowingly, as I was when I made show business my god. Now, however, my wife and I are happy to encourage all younger ones to worship Jehovah, the one God who can satisfy all the desires of the heart—the God who really cares for us in every way.—As told by Vivian A. Weekes.
[Picture on page 14]
The girl I married was a contortionist
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Robyn and me today