Sitting quietly in the audience of the 12th Annual Media Fellowship Praise Brunch at the historic Beverly Hills Hotel in Southern California on Saturday, September 25, 2010, was Rhonda Fleming, a true Hollywood original and, more importantly, an “Ambassador for Christ” in Tinseltown.
|Rhonda Fleming pictured at the MFI event (Photo: Dan Wooding)|
Fleming (born Marilyn Louis in Hollywood, California, on August 10, 1923, is an American film and television actress who acted in more than 40 films, mostly in the 1940s and 1950s, and became renowned as one of the most beautiful and glamorous actresses of her day. She was nicknamed the “Queen of Technicolor” because her fair complexion and flaming red hair that photographed exceptionally well in Technicolor.
She appeared with stars like Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Glenn Ford, Burt Lancaster, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Rock Hudson and Ronald Reagan (with whom she made four films) and actually kissed him onscreen.
She brought laughter at a previous MFI event when she recalled the times she had kissed Ronald Reagan on screen. “Who would have thought that I was kissing the man who would go on to be the President of the United States,” she said
Her extraordinary career began with top featured roles in David O. Selznick’s SPELLBOUND, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, RKO’s OUT OF THE PAST and THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and leading into starring roles in classics such as CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT, GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL, HOME BEFORE DARK, PONY EXPRESS, SLIGHTLY SCARLETT, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS and THE BIG CIRCUS.
|Picture left to right at the MFI event, Margie and Rosey Grier and Rhonda Fleming
(Photo: Dan Wooding)
But on Saturday, she preferred to stay out of the limelight as she sat at the front table of the event with her husband, Darol Wayne Carlson, along with the main speaker, Rosey Grier, and his wife, Margie.
After it was all over, she agreed to an interview and I asked her why she had come and she replied, “I try to come to every one they have and in this case I was so grateful when Susan Stafford [the original host of ‘Wheel of Fortune’] called me and said, ‘We want you and Darol to come as our guests.’ So of course I came and I’m so proud of what they do here.
She went on to say, “You really could feel the Holy Spirit in this room today. I mean everybody was just touched and I was particularly because I just lost yesterday my precious dear Vera Brown who everyone loved dearly.” (Vera Brown worked with Ms. Fleming for PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) — http://www.epath.org/)
“For years she was my big sister. When my own big sister passed away many years ago, she wanted to make sure I had a new big sister and so she gave me Vera and I just lost her and today it was just so touching to realize that she’s in the everlasting arms of Jesus.
“It was a joy to sit next to Rosey Grier and listen to his incredible words. I just it just I was just so touched by what he said today when he shared about how he found Christ and his marriage to Margie was healed.”
|A studio shot of Rhonda Fleming in a classic pose|
I then asked Rhonda Fleming how she had become a Christian and she replied, “Like Rosey, I was looking, searching, searching, for the answer to life. I was raised a Mormon by my mother who was a devout Mormon and I was taken to their church [temple] all the time as a little girl. That was in the Wilshire Ward of downtown LA. [Her mother was Effie Graham, a famous singer, model and actress in New York].
“As a little girl, each time I went, I would do little paintings or drawings to keep myself busy and I would look up at this beautiful picture way up high that portrayed Jesus knocking on the door of somebody’s heart and I thought, ‘What does that mean?’ I would ask my mother, but she never explained that that was the Lord Jesus.
“Even though it says ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ I didn’t have, at that time, a personal relationship with Jesus. It actually took me years to find Jesus Christ as my personal savior. I love the Mormon people and still many of my family are Mormons.
“In my earlier days, I went through making many mistakes and I fell to the point where my mother did help me when she said, ‘Honey, if you ever need a friend; God is your best friend.”
Ms. Fleming then recalled the night when her life was changed for good.
She told me, “I desperately needed a friend and so I went up to a hillside and although it was a balmy night, I was feeling no love at all and I was freezing with cold. I couldn’t feel any love in my life and I remember asking myself, ‘What’s wrong with me?’
“Then I cried out to God with all my soul and said, ‘All of my life, Lord, I’ve been told that there is a God and if there is a God then I need You now!’ And that’s when I suddenly felt the hand of God on my head. I felt this warmth that went from the top of my head and down through my body, and melted all of the ice in my body and I was filled with a love that was awesome; a love that He allowed me to feel that I know we will experience when we’re in heaven. It was pure love. There was no room for anything but pure love. And I couldn’t wait to get to my car and I raced home and grabbed my little son and told him that I loved him and also my mother. I was just full of love.”
What year was that?
“That was in 1945 and I had just finished making SPELLBOUND,” she said. “It was then that I realized that I could talk to God personally, wherever I was.”
She then spoke about a miracle healing that had recently taken place.
|Rhonda Fleming poses with her husband, Darol Wayne Carlson, who was healed after a stroke|
“My husband suffered a stroke in 2004 and now God has miraculously healed him,” she continued.
Rhonda then pointed to Darol as he stood smiling next to her and added, “He even drove us over here today. It’s remarkable. I’m such a strong believer in God’s miracles.”
I then asked her when Hollywood was in its Golden Years if there were many Christians there, or was she just one of the few.
“Well,” she said, “I would be in my dressing room and the guys up on the catwalk, or the makeup people, would come in and want to talk about the Bible and the Lord. When I worked with Ronnie Reagan in our four films together, I didn’t really discuss being a Christian with him, but I knew he was a believer. I could feel it, but then there were also people that I would work with that I didn’t feel had a relationship with God and I could tell a big difference .
|Rhonda Fleming with actor, Ronald Reagan|
“In those days, we didn’t really talk about our faith. People knew that I was a believer, and I didn’t lose out as I was always working.”
I then asked Rhonda Fleming that, if someone who wanted to get into show business, what she would like to say to them.
“Well, of course, mine was a Cinderella story,” she said. “I didn’t ask for it. I was just going to be a singer and go to New York like my mother did. Mine just happened at a time when there was the studio system and the era of agents who could spot you running along the street or sitting having a soda, and that’s what happened to me at 16.
“And then, I just went on from there, but I didn’t ask for it and I’d never been in a studio or never trained as an actress. So it was a gift that God gave me.
“But if someone’s seeking it today, it is more difficult because there’s no more studio system, so I would tell people to get on your knees and say, ‘God, I ask you to guide me. If it’s meant to be; if it’s Your will and, only if it’s Your will, not mine, please open the doors for me.’ Otherwise, you’ll make mistakes like I did — big ones!
“You have to know that it’s His will and say, ‘God, please just open the right doors and windows for me. If it’s Your will, then please guide me and help me to be strong in my faith and show me and lead me so I can get a break, and I will give You all the glory.’
“Then, you can start to realize that all these miracles can happen because I’m such a believer in miracles. So just stand on that that you’ll have a miracle of doors opening and possibly you can really become the actor or the singer or whatever you want to be, and if so, then let your light shine for Him.”
I finally asked Rhonda Fleming her if she had any prayer requests for herself, and she replied, “Oh, please pray for wisdom. I just pray all the time and I advise everyone to read your Bible. It took me years to read it, and now, of course, I’m always picking it up and learning new scriptures and I walk with that and with the Lord every day. It’s the most important thing you can do and just trust in Him as he is ‘the way the truth and the life.’”
For more information on Rhonda Fleming, please go to her website, which is www.rhondafleming.com. When you get there you will read at the bottom of the main page, a Scripture verse from John 3:16 which reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
That certainly sums up the witness of Rhonda Fleming, a true “Ambassador for Christ” in Hollywood.
Note: I would like to Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.