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In this story from January 1985, the popular M*A*S*H star explains how faith played a role in his first big break in show business.
Does God answer prayer?
Let me tell you what happened to me.
In November of 1962, I was one of the most hopeless guys on the West Coast. No, make that in the United States. Better, how about the whole world?
I mean, after all, I believed that God had called me to be an actor, to entertain–even help–people. And I’d worked hard at it. Even back in Toledo, where I was a poor kid with a big nose, I used humor to avoid getting beat up.
After graduating from Woodward High I heard about the Pasadena Playhouse in California that taught acting, and I followed Horace Greeley’s advice.
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I got some movie parts, in The Blackboard Jungle and No Time for Sergeants. Then I was drafted. But when I returned from Japan and Korea, I was forgotten. By then my old friends Clint Eastwood, Robert Blake and Dennis Weaver had made it.
I still wore the little gold baptismal cross that bore my baby teeth marks, but all I felt like doing was biting nails.
About the only thing I had going for me was Joy, my fiancée. But I couldn’t even buy her an engagement ring. All I had was an ancient rusted Renault. At least I could drive Joy to her job as a bookkeeper/receptionist.
Every morning I would drop her off and then chug back to my dismal room that had the most silent telephone in California. I didn’t even mind when those pests trying to peddle Alaskan oil-well shares called, I was so happy to hear the telephone ring.
However, on that gray November morning I’d had it with being a nobody. After kissing Joy good-bye, and driving on, I happened to notice a little old white stucco church on a corner.
I stopped the car and sat there thinking about our Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church where I’d been an altar boy, and where my pals used to tease me with “Hey Jamie, you don’t need a snuffer to put out the candles; just nod your head.”
As I sat in the idling Renault, its engine wheezing, I knew I hadn’t been going to church very often. A feeling rose inside me. Why not now? I could light a candle and let God know how I felt.
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By this time the engine had died. I pulled out the key, climbed the church steps and found myself in its dim interior. I was grateful no one was around.
Kneeling in a pew, I prayed: “Lord, You gave me the feeling that I should be an actor. I know it is honorable work, but I can’t even find work.”
I looked around at the paintings of the apostles and thought of the apostle my hero, Danny Thomas, had talked about when he visited us kids at Woodward High, his old school. He had been inspired by Jude, “Patron of the Hopeless,” an apostle of Jesus.
Well, Danny had made it in the movies and television all right, and he had built that wonderful hospital for children in Memphis.
I knew that Jude, who was “closer than a brother” to Jesus, had written part of the New Testament. After Jesus’ resurrection, Jude preached the Gospel throughout Mesopotamia, Libya and Persia before being martyred. They said he performed so many miracles in the name of Jesus that nothing was too hopeless for him.
Well, I sure was hopeless, I wished he could perform a miracle for me.
I lit a candle, fished all the coins from my pocket and dropped them into the little metal box. Then I went home to wait by the telephone.
Morning after morning I went to that church and prayed. But when I’d pick up Joy at the end of the day I could only shake my head.
Then I heard exciting news. A major studio would soon produce a film on the life of Jesus called The Greatest Story Ever Told. George Stevens, a famous director, would produce it.