Marjoe Gortner

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... make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
John 2:16
Can God deliver a religion addict?
—Marjoe Gortner

Marjoe Gortner (born 1944, his first name a portmanteau of "Mary" and "Joseph") was a famous child preacher. Marjoe's parents taught him how to preach at a very early age. From the time he was four, until he was fourteen (when his youth was no longer extraordinary enough to draw crowds), his parents used his novelty evangelist act to make money. Though this income supported his family, he never received any himself.


Marjoe was supposedly taught to say "hallelujah" before he could say "mom" or "dad." He could preach from memory at age 3, and was trained in performing arts ranging from the saxophone to twirling a baton. Marjoe was ordained and started preaching to Bible Belt communities by age four. Audiences believed Marjoe was a "miracle child" receiving sermons from God while sleeping — in reality he carefully memorised his sermons under harsh discipline.[1] His mother would suffocate him under a pillow or water faucet if he failed to perform satisfactorily (she chose these methods specifically because they left no visible marks).[2] [3]


On Gortner's invitation, in 1972 Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith produced a documentary film about Gortner titled Marjoe. The film won the 1973 Academy Award for Best Documentary.[4]

In the film, Marjoe admitted that he didn't even believe what he preached, and explained the psychology behind the phenomenon of speaking in tongues.

Later career[edit]

After his documentary was released, he recorded a country music album, Bad, But Not Evil, and appeared in a number of television and film projects (arguably, his finest screen work was playing "Teddy," a psychopathic drug dealer in the 1979 film When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?, adapted from the play by Mark Medoff). In 2008, the 9th Melbourne Underground Film Festival in Australia held the first retrospective of his films. He also organized a number of golf tournaments, ski events, and auctions for charity until his retirement in 2010.


In 2008, Brian Osborne produced a one-man play inspired by Marjoe's life as an evangelist entitled The Word. It was later re-imagined in 2010 as The Word: A House Party for Jesus.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman. Marjoe Gortner. Positive Atheism.
  2. Marjoe (1972), directed by Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith.
  3. Kids of the Cloth: Child Preachers
  4. The 45th Academy Awards (1973) Nominees and Winners. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.