Aimee Semple McPherson: Mistress of Media

The interesting, charismatic and ever so controversial Foursquare Gospel evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson gained fame from her fiery, dramatic and spectacular sermons. Born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy on a Canadian farm in 1890, Aimee grew up in a household devoted to the tenets of the Salvation Army. Sister Aimee, as she would later become called was an enigma.

By 1908, Aimee was married to Robert James Semple, a Pentecostal missionary. The marriage was cut short by his death in Hong Kong in 1910. Upon her return to the U.S., Aimee gave birth to their daughter and continued to preach. She soon met and married her second husband, Harold McPherson, but the marriage was doomed from the start. Aimee’s traveling tent revivals took a toll on her husband, who filed for divorce in 1918.

Undeterred, Aimee began to preach and work from her 1912 Packard convertible. After a few years, Aimee grew weary of traveling and decided to collect donations for the construction of a temple in the Los Angeles, CA area. The donations poured in and exceeded expectation. The money was spent on the construction of a grand church that would become known as Angelus Temple. Dedicated in 1923, the auditorium with a seating capacity of over 5,000 was always filled. Nevertheless, Aimee was not satisfied.

Aimee had used the radio-broadcasting medium in the past and begins to use it for her sermons from Angelus Temple. In 1924, Aimee becomes the second woman (the first woman was Marie Zimmerman of Iowa) in history obtain a broadcasting license. Aimee’s use of radio broadcasting is sometimes looked upon as hypocritical to her preaching. Claiming to be and supporting staunch fundamentalist ideas and faith, Aimee often preached that technology was a product of Satan and that it corrupted souls and led to damnation. To some, Aimee was simply an actress, who paved her way to stardom with the money of her parishioners. Nevertheless, today Aimee is credited with opening the doors to women in broadcasting.

Unfortunately, Aimee’s world came tumbling down after an apparent scandalous event. On May 18, 1926, Aimee McPherson disappeared in the ocean off Venice Beach, CA. According to her secretary, she simply vanished. Fearing that Aimee had become a victim of drowning, loyal parishioners held all-night vigils. After a month, Aimee was spotted emerging from the Sonoran desert looking unaffected and unharmed. She told an incredible story, claiming she was kidnapped by a Mexican couple. Unfortunately, the evidence did not support her story and speculation surfaced among the public. The fact that her friendly, married engineer was also missing just fueled the scandal. Later, eyewitnesses would claim to have seen the amorous couple at a popular seaside resort. In an unusually brazen move, Aimee came forward and asked forgiveness for her sins and weaknesses.

Aimee did not return to the fiery pulpit; instead, she spent more time behind the scenes. She was often seen working in the soup kitchen she had opened. Even her death is shrouded in mystery. Aimee was found dead in her hotel room on September 26, 1944. Scheduled to preach at a series of tent revival meetings, she was discovered in the morning by her son.  The death was ruled accidental, as a bottle of Seconol was found in her room. However, to this day many questions persist surrounding her death. Some believe she fell into a depression over her failed third marriage to actor David Hutton and committed suicide.

You can hear over 5 hours of original radio broadcasts from the Old Time Radio Catalog collection.

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