Last week's blog told of the condemnation of dancing, especially in schools, by a local Methodist minister, as well as a traveling evangelist, both from the pulpit of Centenary Methodist Church in 1921.
Evangelist Burke Culpepper, whose revival meeting at Centenary ran three weeks, also had some choice words for those who frequented movie theaters on the Sabbath. Coming in for fierce condemnation by Burke was a film -- "Innocence" -- showing at two Cape Girardeau theaters at the same time Culpepper was preaching to the masses at Centenary. To make matters worse, the star of the film, Audrey Munson, appeared here in person two nights at both the Park and Orpheum theaters "in a series of poses from famous paintings."
An online search shows that Munson was extremely popular as an artist's model, posing for a number of American sculptors and painters, before transitioning into acting. By 1921, when she graced the boards at Cape's theaters, her career was on the wane. In October 1921, while appearing in the same act she brought to Cape Girardeau the following month, she was arrested at the Royal Theater in St. Louis on a morals charge having to do with nudity in the film. She was later acquitted.
The Southeast Missourian published an article Nov. 17, 1921, announcing Munson's appearance here, but mentions nothing about her legal troubles in St. Louis.
AUDREY (HERSELF) HERE TWO DAYS
"A remarkable and true interpretation of the beauty of sculpture and the feminine form" was the sculptor's verdict on "Innocence," the seven-part American special production featuring Audrey Munson, after a view of the picture in the Mutual (Film Corporation)'s projection room.
Miss Munson will appear in person at the Park Theatre Thursday and Friday nights and at the Orpheum Theatre Thursday night.
Because of the wide interest in Audrey Munson and her work among the sculptors and painters of America, the Mutual Film Corporation invited a number of the leading artists to attend a special presentation of the picture.
The list included a large number of the men whose word is law in American art and their unsolicited expressions of approval and admiration are of particular significance because of the character of the production. The dramatic element of the picture while important is not necessarily to be accepted as dominant. From the point of view of the sculptors the posing of Miss Munson assumed the paramount interest while the plot and action served only to make the poses acquire a real significance and to give them adequate dramatic setting. Among those included in the array of the famous, invited to the screening of "Innocence" were: Augustus Lukeman, William L. Dodge, Piccirilli Brothers, Sherry Fry, Adolph Weinman, Daniel Chester French, Henry Hering, Scarpitta, and Albert Jaegers.
Published Nov. 18, 1921, in the Southeast Missourian:
'LEWDNESS-LOVING PUBLIC' AND
MISS FEW-CLOTHES FILM SCORED
AS 'NASTY' BY EVANGELIST HERE
In the most impassioned sermon he has delivered here, the "Audrey Munson" picture and exhibition in Cape Girardeau last night was the target of a denunciation by the Rev. Burke Culpepper at the revival at Centenary Church last night.
"It is the most damnable, dirtiest, nastiest, ugliest picture I ever saw in my life. I do not blame the showman so much inasmuch as he is running his show for the almighty dollar, but I do blame the dirty, lewdness-loving public. He is giving it the kind of pictures it wants or it would not be here.
"I do not doubt but there will be about as many women and girls there as there will be men; maybe some of the high-falutin' society folks. Some of them say their ears are too tender to stand what Culpepper has to say, but they are willing to let their eyes take in this picture." The remarks of the speaker were loudly applauded by the congregation.
Rev. (E.H.) Orear arose and said that he endorsed Culpepper's remarks. "The worst part of it is," he said, "that this picture is shown in the name of art. If this is art, I thank God that my education was neglected."
"You are worse than South Carolina Buzzards!" the speaker (Culpepper) shouted, referring to church members who go to Sunday picture shows. "In Charleston the buzzards come to the market place on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, while it is open all through the work, but on Sunday they stay at home. We have Methodists who do not have as much pride as the South Carolina buzzards.
"No, I am not mad -- I told you if anybody got mad it would be you. I am getting tired of seeing the Sabbath prostituted for commercial purposes. Whenever the Sabbath goes down, the home goes down, and whenever the home goes down the nation follows it. The picture shows are taking a pot shot at your homes. The only way to stop them is to cut off their gate receipts. Whenever the public demands clean pictures, the theaters will furnish them."
When he asked all who would pledge themselves not to attend a Sunday show to stand, about half of the congregation got up. About the same number had acknowledged that they had attended Sunday exhibitions.
"The way of the transgressor is hard," was the text for the sermon. "God made Adam and Eve and placed them in the beautiful garden of Eden. 'You may drink of the beautiful, gurgling streams, eat of the fruits of the garden except that you must not eat the fruit from this tree,' they were told. But they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. When they did that they hid themselves.
"Sin hides -- it is cowardly. It hides under the cover of night. More women go astray at night than at any other time. How many damnable deeds are done at night! There are more murders committed, more thefts, more crime of all kinds, at night than at any other time. When God asked Adam what he had done he said that his wife made him. When He asked her about it, she had an excuse ready, saying that Satan tempted her. He told them to get out of the garden, and as Adam took Eve by the hand to lead her away the voice of God sounded from the sky. 'The way of the transgressor is hard.'
"Sin is impudent. When Cain was asked about the whereabouts of Abel, he replied with an impudent answer. 'Am I my brother's keeper?' When I was at Montgomery, Alabama, a man came to my room and told me that he had killed a man. He said he saw that man everywhere. 'You can tell them, Culpepper,' he said, 'that you can kill a man but that he won't stay dead.'"
Denouncing the movie actors and actresses and the pictures they are putting out, the speaker continued: "I would rather trust my boys with Jesse James and his outlaws than with these actors and actresses. More boys have been made criminals by these pictures than from any other cause.
Battle against lewdness
"The next battle we are in for is one against lewdness. Whisky was voted out; it went too far and the pictures are doing the same thing. One of the greatest agents for immorality and divorce is some of these devilish pictures. These shows are not satisfied with six days in the week. They have no more right to show on Sunday than your hardware or other stores have a right to be open.
"They have as much right to sell gods as shows have to sell crime and sin film.
"I am fighting against sin and if we don't rise up and fight there is no telling where the world will land. Free love is liable to be substituted for matrimony. That's the way we are headed the average girl that sits and looks at some of these pictures is not fitted for matrimony and motherhood.
"In the name of art! They keep going further and further. I wish to God I had been mayor of this town. I'd have closed that show in 15 minutes. The same class of people stands for these things as crucified Christ. If they had their way, you'd have bull fights in this town; have assignation houses; have a wide-open town.
"Sin is the most impudent thing on earth. It is hard on the home, hard on people, hard on the town. I am tired of making a garbage can of our children's souls. Give us a house cleaning in Cape Girardeau. You have some hard-boiled nuts here as I ever saw and some as fine people as I ever met. We'll keep on fighting until the church has a fair, square chance.
"I never was in a town where I was treated better than I have been here. The people here are very liberal and hospitable. But I will say at the same time that I was never in a town where a constant revival meeting was needed more. I was talking with St. Louis today and the man I was talking with said he was surprised that I was having any success, as the Cape was given up to be one of the worst places in Southeast Missouri.
"The trouble with good people is that they won't stand together -- won't work together. I am satisfied that there are more people against Sunday shows here, say, than are in favor of them. I'll make a prediction that in five years time there won't be a Sunday show in the United States. It is going the way that whisky went.
"The way of the transgressor is hard, and sin makes you hard. The more you sin the harder you get. If I was some church people I wouldn't go to church any more until I divorced myself from the dance, Sunday show, and other things. I'd just cut the devil's cable and drift to hell like a man."
The speaker repeated on of Sam Jones' stories to show that heroic treatment was sometimes necessary to save people. The evangelist had to employ the same methods, attacking sin and the popular vices and evils of the day. A woman in Georgia took morphine by mistake, thinking it was quinine. The doctor slapped the woman, pulled her hair, stuck pins in her, while she begged to be allowed to sleep. He told her if she shut her eyes, he would kill her.
"Let me say, don't think I enjoy it -- going after people's pet sins, rough shod. I've never been anywhere but what people have told me not to preach against dancing, card playing, Sabbath desecration. It would be easier for me to preach on some nice, peaceful subject, 'The Lord is My Shepherd.' I am not lecturing for money but working for souls. Many girls have been wrecked by dances; I would be a sorry preacher if I did not condemn dancing. I could preach sweet sermons and maybe fill houses just the same."
The evangelist said that he would rather have a bunch come to his hotel, take him out and beat him black and blue for preaching according to the way he thought it was his duty than to receive five or ten thousand dollars, and gifts of jewelry and other valuables for "pussy-footing" and dodging...
In his final evening at Centenary Methodist Church, the Rev. Culpepper was invited by the pastor, the Rev. E.H. Orear, to return to Cape Girardeau the following fall for a two-week revival. Culpepper agreed, "saying that he would come back for two weeks if they would show their good faith by closing the picture shows on Sunday."
I spot-checked the Southeast Missourian newspapers published the following fall and found advertisements for Sunday shows at all three of Cape Girardeau's movie houses: the Park, Orpheum and the New Broadway.
Missourian files don't show that the Rev. Culpepper ever returned here to conduct another revival.