Sunday, November 4, 2012

Two Letters From George

Two Letters from George, a short essay

Philip Kassel

For as long as I can remember I have loved film; I have loved good stories expertly told through the cinematic process.  As a student at the USC School of Cinema-Television, as it was then called, I was exposed to most of the best films ever produced.  Viewing old but significant films was part of the curriculum.  From the silents to the talkies, the school provided at least two screenings weekly, and often more, of a large variety of film of every genre.

The professors at the school all encouraged new thinking and innovation in the cinematic arts, but they also strongly believed that it was important for every student to know what had “come before.”  They taught that a strong understanding of the classic, and often iconic films produced in the first fifty years of the industry would form a solid foundation upon which to form new, creative ideas.

Long before actually attending the film school at USC I was certain I wanted a career in filmmaking and to that end I came up with a variety of ways to get myself in to most of the major studios in Los Angeles.  In those days, before this era begun by the events in September 2001, it really wasn’t all that difficult.  I discovered in most cases, if I looked like I knew where I was going, if I looked like I belonged there, I could simply walk past the gate guards.  For the one or two studios that enforced stricter security I found ways to sneak in.  Once inside I would explore the back lot, production offices and sound stages looking for names I recognized, names I had seen on the big screen for years, names that I hoped might let me work with them in some small capacity.

I would usually just leave my credit list with a secretary or personal assistant.  Now and then while strolling around a studio property I would encounter a director, producer or actor I recognized.  On those occasions I would work up my nerve, introduce myself with as much false confidence as I could muster, shake their hand and then quickly explain what I wanted.  No one ever dismissed me; some of them directed me to their office to leave my credit list and some took it with them.

Very shortly after graduating from film school, in early March 1975, I was on one of these forays at Universal Studios.  While working my way through several offices located in bungalows on the back lot I came across a name on a door that I recognized immediately, George Seaton.  He was a first class writer-director and I had seen many of his films screened in the film school at USC.

For readers who may not be familiar with the name, George Seaton ventured into the entertainment industry directly upon graduating from college, first working as a voice actor at a Detroit radio station.  Early in 1933 the station was test broadcasting a new show called The Lone Ranger.  John Barrett voiced the Ranger during the test phase but when the decision was made to make the show part of the regular schedule George Seaton took over the title role.  Much later in his career he would explain to interviewers how he devised the phrase “Hi-yo Silver” because he couldn’t whistle for his horse as written in the early scripts.

Mr. Seaton entered the film industry as a writer, first penning stories for films starring Jimmy Durante and Leo Carrillo.  At 20th Century Fox he wrote an uncredited draft of the screenplay for the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.  The whacky brothers liked his work enough that they encouraged him to write something else for them; Mr. Seaton responded with the original story and screenplay for A Day at the Races.  After another uncredited contribution to The Wizard of Oz, he went on to write The Doctor Takes a Wife, Charley’s Aunt, and The Song of Bernadette, just to name a few of his forty writing credits.

George Seaton, 1955
Included among George Seaton’s 23 directing credits (the majority of which he wrote as well) are Junior Miss, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, The Counterfeit Traitor, The Pleasure of His Company, and The Country Girl.  The Country Girl not only garnered Mr. Seaton an Academy Award in the Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay category, but also won Grace Kelly the Oscar for Best Actress.

My favorite George Seaton film is a charming, timeless Christmas fable titled Miracle on 34th Street.  Mr. Seaton wrote and directed this 1947 release, adapting the screenplay from a short story by Valentine Davies.  This marvelous film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies), and Best Writing, Screenplay going to George Seaton.

Miracle on 34th Street captures the joyful innocence of childhood along with the warmth and traditions of the holiday season.  It portrays American life encompassing strong values and a large degree of wholesomeness.   Of course, it is “just a movie” but it is a movie that reflected a way of life and a set of values that has been almost completely lost in the United States.  I believe Miracle on 34th Street still charms and resonates strongly with audiences today, over 65 years after it was produced, because they hunger for that way of life and those values, often whether they realize it or not.

Before these last few paragraphs of background material on George Seaton I was standing at his office door on the Universal Studios back lot.  I went inside, and after explaining my mission to the secretary at the front desk, asked if I might leave my credit list with her for Mr. Seaton.  She told me I could certainly leave my credit list but then suggested that I also write Mr. Seaton a personal letter.  Handing me a business card she explained that Mr. Seaton enjoyed getting letters from aspiring young people.  I was very young at the time.

So, home I went and that very afternoon composed a letter to George Seaton.  My letter was very basic but articulate.  I introduced myself, explained my career goals and then assured him I would gain a great deal by working with him in any capacity (I didn’t know very much about job hunting back in those days).  My letter concluded requesting a meeting with him to discuss my career possibilities.  I mailed my letter (this was long before email, folks) and then waited in anticipation for a reply.

I never got to meet with George Seaton, but ten days after mailing my letter I received a reply.  Here is the letter in its entirety.

March 20, 1975
Dear Mr. Kassel,
I only wish that I could answer your excellent letter by giving you some hope.  I’m forever saddened by the lack of opportunities open to someone of your experience and ambition.
If I were actively engaged in a production I would be more than happy to talk with you and try to arrange some working arrangement.  Unfortunately I am now in the throes of writing an original which if it eventually goes into production will not be before the summer of ’76.
Since you are a writer as well as a director, cameraman and editor my only suggestion would be for you to attempt a feature length script.  From my experience, with dozens of young filmmakers, this seems to be the only open door.  It’s worked with others and might do the same for you.
Studios are not so willing to evaluate someone’s talent by viewing short subjects but they are more than anxious to latch onto a script with possibilities.  If, and when, they find something with a potential they might (and, indeed, have) allowed the writer to direct his own script.
The only other avenue of entry into a studio is by starting in the mail room – not a job of prestige for someone of your background but at least it provides an opportunity to climb the ladder.  This is especially true at Universal where they make an effort to advance those who are truly interested in making films.
Since I notice that you are a graduate of U.S.C. it might be helpful if Dr. Kantor would write a letter to Universal pleading your case.  He knows to whom to write.
Good luck.
[signed] George Seaton
Of course I was disappointed that there would be no immediate employment with a notable writer-director at a major Hollywood studio.  But I was still encouraged by Mr. Seaton’s letter and appreciated that he had taken the time not only to write, but to make suggestions as to how I might accomplish my goals.

As for his suggestions, I was relatively certain I did not want to work in the Universal Studios mail room.  I was relatively certain that I didn’t want to work in any mail room.  As for Dr. Bernard Kantor, then dean of the USC School of Cinema-Television, he knew me only as an undergraduate who had pestered him incessantly to sign a registration card granting me entrance to the school one semester earlier than the rules allowed.  Dr. Kantor did eventually sign that card but beyond that he was completely unaware of me or my work at the school.  A recommendation letter from him seemed unlikely.

That left Mr. Seaton’s first suggestion of attempting to write a feature-length screenplay.  At that point in my life I had never written anything but short films, but I had been required to write a screen treatment for a feature-length film in an undergraduate writing class.  I dusted off that treatment and began transforming it into a screenplay.  I had to work on it in my spare time and it was my first feature-length screenplay, so it took a while.

1975 came to an end and I was still working on my screenplay.  I was also still trying to get my first “real” job in the film industry.  I remembered from his letter that George Seaton had been working on a new script he predicted might go into production the summer of 1976.  Hey, it was 1976.  It was only February but I thought it best to get a jump on all the other aspiring filmmakers.  I wrote another letter.  A few weeks later I received the reply that follows.

February 26, 1976
Dear Mr. Kassel,
I’m afraid that this letter is not going to be any more encouraging than my other one.
Unfortunately the project on which I was working (and referred to in my note to you) was considered not commercial enough by the studio.  Since the dialogue was based on words in the English language and not copied from the walls of men’s toilets, and since it did not include a giant shark devouring a 747 that crashes in the Bermuda Triangle with 110 passengers aboard, it was judged too tame for today’s market.
I am now writing another original which, I’m afraid, will be rejected for the same reasons.  However I keep trying in the hope that one day audiences will grow tired of sadistic brutality, tidal waves, earthquakes, holocausts and man-eating spiders.  I’m beginning to believe that Oscar Wilde was right when he said:  “Nothing succeeds like excess.”
So until Oscar turns out to be wrong I’m afraid that I won’t be active and consequently not in a position to consider a production, let alone a production assistant.
[signed] George Seaton
 At the time I was just disappointed.  I wanted a job but there was no job to be had.  That was pretty much all there was to it for me.  Furthermore, I didn’t think the language I heard in feature films was all that bad, I enjoyed disaster films with awesome special effects and I was often fascinated with how filmmakers could make shootings, beatings, and stabbings look so convincing.  After all, it was only entertainment, it was just the movies.  The issues addressed by Mr. Seaton had been completely lost on me.  By the way, George Seaton is credited with having originated the disaster film genre when he wrote and directed Universal’s 1970 release, Airport.

Mr. Seaton had no way of knowing it but by the time he first corresponded with me he had already directed his last motion picture; the film was titled Showdown and it was released in 1973.  Three years after writing his second letter to me in 1976, he would be dead from cancer at the young age of 68.

Under the circumstances one might be tempted to say that George Seaton had just hung on too long.  He was left over from an era in Hollywood that produced motion pictures much more wholesome in content than those being produced in 1976.  And when that old Hollywood was inclined to produce a picture dealing with unwholesome subject matter they did so tastefully.  Maybe George Seaton just didn’t understand that times were changing, that he was living in a progressive, more accepting society.

By the time I rediscovered Mr. Seaton’s letters in my files, sometime in the 1990s, I had a different perspective.  I was considerably more mature and experienced in life; I had been working in the motion picture industry in a variety of capacities for over 20 years.  I had experienced a few successes and a whole lot more disappointments.  I had married and had produced two wonderful children.  Like most children mine enjoyed seeing a good movie from time to time.  My job as a parent was to make sure the movies they saw were appropriate for them.  Having children makes one look at a lot of things differently.

I found that George Seaton’s letter of February 26, 1976 carried a deeper meaning now.  I began comparing the contemporary films I had seen to the films of the 1970s.  The newer films were clearly more permissive in subject matter, much more liberal in all uses of language, and considerably more graphic in depictions of violence.  Then there was the question of tastefulness in how all of the aforementioned elements were handled.  I can only imagine how Mr. Seaton perceived the films of the 1970s when compared to those of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

The issues addressed by Mr. Seaton in his letter were not new to our society in 1976.  Whether he was consciously addressing it or not, growing permissiveness and the increasing abandonment of Bible-based values have been present in the motion picture industry from the moment Thomas Edison successfully demonstrated the Kinetosope in 1891.

The film industry, as we know it today, probably began in 1902 with the completion of Talley’s Electric Theater in Los Angeles, California, the first theater built with the specific purpose of projecting films.  By the 1920s there was increasing pressure on the Federal government to censor movies.  It obviously didn’t take long for filmmakers to discover that exploiting the darkest, weakest elements of human existence, and pushing every imaginable boundary drew an audience.

Hollywood responded to the threats of government wielded censorship by establishing the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America in 1922, a trade organization with former Postmaster General William H. Hays as president.  The Hays Code regulated how sex, nudity, drug and alcohol use, and all forms of violence could be displayed on the screen.  It prohibited the use of on-screen profanity, “ridicule of the clergy, and willful offense to any nation, race or creed.”  These are just a few examples; it was an extensive list of regulations.

The Hays office kept a watchful eye on motion picture content well into the 1960s.  This is how the Motion Picture Association of America describes what happened next in their web site’s “History of the MPAA.”

“In the late 1960s our nation was changing, and so was its cinema. Alongside the progress of the civil rights, women's rights and labor movements, a new kind of American film was emerging - frank and open.  Amid our society's expanding freedoms, the movie industry's restrictive regime of self-censorship could not stand.   In 1966, former Special Assistant to President Lyndon Johnson, Jack Valenti, was named MPAA President.  That same year, sweeping revisions were made to the Hays Code to reflect changing social mores.   In 1968, Jack Valenti, who went on to hold the position for 38 years, founded the voluntary film rating system giving creative and artistic freedoms to filmmakers while fulfilling its core purpose of informing parents about the content of films so they can determine what movies are appropriate for their kids.  More than forty years later, the system continues to evolve with our society and endures as a shining symbol of American freedom of expression.”
To me this MPAA paragraph is a message from motion picture producers that essentially translates to, We aren’t going to be told what we can and can’t do anymore.  We are going to make films about anything we want in any way we want, and we’re going to keep making them as long as our audience keeps buying tickets.

Yes, the audience is part of the problem.  We are all responsible.  Filmmakers and audiences alike are moving further and further away from what is true, good, solid and dependable.  We are moving closer to the darkness and further from the light.  The majority of filmmakers frequently produce morally, ethically, and spiritually questionable products, and the audience flock to the theaters, stream it into their living rooms and download it to their iPhones.  The real issue is how we, as a nation are steadily drifting away from a solid foundation of Bible-based values. 
Today, if you don’t like the “frank and open” nature of the American film you should be prepared to be labeled as a prude or close-minded.  You are blind to the way life really is.  You are stuck in the past, you are too religious, and you aren’t keeping up with our rapidly changing society.  But films influence our culture and morality and the range of influence is immense.  With the technology of today even a small, independent film can potentially reach tens of millions of people.  Amateur film and video efforts posted on YouTube routinely reach even greater numbers than that.

George Seaton realized from professional experience that motion pictures greatly amplify everything we are as human beings, both the good and the bad.  Movies reflect what our society believes, our morals and ethics, our measure of faith, our reverence or lack thereof for God.  Movies are a giant mirror of who we are as a people.
George Seaton with Ross Hunter

When you buy a ticket or pay to stream a film depicting recreational sex or drug use without any responsibility attached, how do you like the reflection you see?  When you look in the movie mirror to learn how to expertly traffic drugs as taught by the “cool” drug dealer, how does that reflection look to you?  Sit down to watch the contemporary horror and slasher films displaying the darkest, most perverse aspects of the human psyche while striving to shock audiences with unthinkable gore and brutality.  Do you like the reflection you see?

For the record, I still love films and the art of filmmaking.  Granted, I’m much more discerning in the films I choose to see, but I still believe in the potential motion pictures have to educate, uplift, and heighten social awareness, as well as entertain.

I cannot claim to know the depths of George Seaton’s thoughts based simply on the two letters he wrote to me.  Based on the films he wrote and directed, I think he believed it was far nobler to make a film that uplifted and gave hope to his audiences, even if he was dealing with dark, violent or ugly subject matter.  Just from looking at how Mr. Seaton handled the wide range of topics in his long list of films it is clear that he realized the power of film can make audiences aware of important issues, suggest solutions, and sometimes even point to a better way.  All of his films were made with taste, dignity and a respect for his audience.

George Seaton’s letters tell me that he thought filmmakers should strive to do better, to be more responsible, and to move away from the darkness and towards the light.  And he had worked long enough in the entertainment industry to realize that audiences can powerfully influence the films that are produced simply by not buying a ticket.  We can all benefit from behaving more responsibly, filmmakers and audiences alike.  It’s something to strive for.

© 2012 Philip Kassel

Monday, October 15, 2012

Road To Success - Epilogue

Roads To Success – Epilogue

The last episode of Secrets Of Success was shot sometime in 2006.  Over the years the production of each episode had gradually grown further and further apart.  None of us producing the show really understood the decision to discontinue production.  The weekly viewing audience at the time was still astronomically high and there were certainly more highly successful business individuals available to interview.

Internal politics may have played a part in the show’s demise; Campus Crusade for Christ had slowly been losing enthusiasm for the show and they eventually just pulled the plug.  Without their fund raising and far-reaching distribution network the series simply did not have a future.
I will always have fond memories of my experiences during production of the Secrets Of Success series.  The people working with me were and still are extremely talented.  They are people of strong faith and strong character, and each of them cared deeply about the product we were producing.  Travelling all over the United States and Canada together we got to know each other extremely well.

The greatest value received by all of us working on the series came directly from the business people featured in each episode.  Witnessing firsthand how they lived each day and used their success to benefit others created in all of us the desire to do the same.  All of our featured guests had experienced failures, and some had staggered their way through personal tragedies.  Family members and colleagues who witnessed these struggles most often provided the descriptions of how our subjects reached out to God to overcome their challenges, and how they drew strength from their faith.   Both the processes and the results were nothing less than extraordinary.

In introducing this compilation of stories I provided a list of commonalities shared by the individuals featured on the Secrets Of Success television series.  I think it is well worth reviewing them here.  With only one or two exceptions, all of our show subjects had built their financial success from nothing, or next to nothing.  They all place a high priority on their families.  They care deeply and sincerely for, and value, all people.  Finally, they judge their success not on how much they own or profit, but in how much they are able to give to individuals or charitable organizations in need.  God, of course, knows our hearts and it seemed to me that He knew well in advance how these individuals would use the success He helped them achieve.

Money is certainly important to each and every one of these professionals; they are in business to make money, they know that their businesses must show profits in order to thrive.  But for all of them the desire to generate greater profits is less about amassing more personal wealth and more about creating greater resources to benefit employees, better serve the community, help the less fortunate, and most of all to serve God.

Obviously, each of these successful people benefit from and enjoy their wealth, but it is important to understand that accumulating more cash is not what drives them forward or controls their lives.  Every one of them will tell you it is their love of God, seeking to understand God’s plan for them, and walking in faith which is what brings true value to their lives.

© 2012 Philip Kassel

Monday, October 8, 2012

Roads To Success 4.12

Real Success

The influence of Wayne Huizenga, Jr.'s conversion to a life in Christ first touched his immediate family.  As he has grown in his faith over the years Wayne, Jr. has been able to share the Good News of his life within business as well.

The time constraints of a Secrets Of Success television episode made it impossible to include a great amount of story details, and some of what follows had not yet occurred at the time of production.  Fortunately, Wayne, Jr.’s interview for the I Am Second movement documented many of those details.

 “I like to think that I’m a shrewd businessman.  I’m very passionate about business,” Wayne, Jr. described himself.  “But I try to also bring God into business.  I share my convictions with my employees every chance I get.  When we have successes I talk of those successes because of God blessing us.  I pray for them.  I’ll pray for our company.  I pray for them individually.  I have a number of employees that will come to me that some are believers and followers of Christ and some aren’t.  They will come and say, ‘Junior, God listens to your prayers would you pray for my son, or my daughter, or my wife, they are having difficult times.’  I am happy to do that and I’m blessed to be able to follow up with them.”

Wayne, Jr. has been able to expand beyond his one-on-one sharing of faith.  “We have a Bible study at our office every Monday at noon and the Gospel is shared every Monday.  We invite our workers as well as our customers to come.  It is a special time.  I’m very, very blessed to be the head of my company.  I think it is easier for me to conduct myself that way and to be, to share what I believe in, and share who Jesus is to my life than someone that’s maybe in middle management or has a boss that doesn’t accept that.”

So, what do the people surrounding Wayne Huizenga, Jr. think of his success?

"His success is really a testimony to his dedication to his values and the experiences he has had over the years, "stated Carlos Vidueira during the Secrets Of Success interviews.

"He's always had a good heart.  I think that his faith has allowed him to take a good man and make him into what potentially can be a great man," commented Bill Pierce.

"My husband has been such a great success because he has allowed God to use him as a vessel.  He has not put himself first," stated Fonda Huizenga.

And what does Wayne, Jr. have to say about success?

“Success for me is that one day when I die and I see Jesus,” Wayne explained in his I Am Second interview.  “That he will look at me and say, ‘Well done my good and faithful son.’  I’ve been given such a gift based on the life that I lived, a second chance.  It’s a chance to follow Jesus, to go to heaven, to live an eternal life.  I’m going to live forever and I know for certainty that I’m going to live in Heaven.  That’s success.  And the other part of success is knowing that my bride and my children will also live with me for eternity in heaven.  Success is knowing that your family will live with you in heaven forever and ever.  I’m blessed to know that although my mother has already left this earth, she’s waiting [in heaven], and I’m blessed to know that my father has Jesus living in his heart as well.  Some of my brothers and some of my sisters [know Christ], not all of them, but I have hope.  Success is knowing that those that you love will make it to heaven.”

Wayne Jr.'s final statement in his Secrets Of Success interview summed it all up nicely.  "To me success is being able to use what we've been given to change other people's lives.  And I have this great desire to share what I have with other people.  To me that's success."

© 2012 Philip Kassel

Monday, October 1, 2012

Roads To Success 4.11

Business Faith

Through a season of loss and heartbreak Wayne and Fonda Huizenga stuck together and worked through it all.  More importantly, Fonda observed Wayne, Jr. displaying quiet strength, peace and even joy throughout one challenge after another.  The experience made it clear to Fonda that her husband’s conversion to Christianity was authentic, genuine and lasting.  She wanted those things in her life and after months of searching made a confession of faith to join her husband in a new life.

Fonda was not the only person to observe the “new” Wayne, Jr.  He became President of Huizenga Holdings shortly after his conversion and the changes in his life quickly became obvious to his colleagues.

“The primary changes I saw in Wayne, Jr., after he became a man of faith, were quite dramatic,” related Bill Pierce, at the time Chief Financial Officer for Dolphins Enterprises.  “It was apparent mainly in his ability to focus.  It also manifested itself in respect to the commitment and the time and the effort to understand the business from top to bottom.  And it manifested itself in newfound patience.”

Carlos Vidueira, Vice President at Huizenga Holdings commented, “He no longer wanted to be associated with or be around certain types of behavior.”

Wayne, Jr.’s father also noticed the changes in his son.  In his I Am Second interview Wayne, Jr. described an extremely deep conversation with his father.  Wayne, Sr. asked his son if he had ever considered returning to school, going to seminary to become a pastor.  Wayne, Jr. could not avoid wondering, “One of two things is happening.  Either I’m not doing a very good job as the president of the company and this is a way to conveniently move me on, or dad really things that I should become a pastor.”

In a sincere quest to discover God’s will for his life, Wayne, Jr. had already consulted with competent people sharing the Christian faith.  All of them advised that the business world was where he could be most effective.  Wayne, Jr. confidently answered his father with, “There are a lot of people who will never darken the doors of a church that are in this incredible business world we work in.  And this is exactly where I need to be.”

Wayne, Sr. was more than pleased to have his son remain in place as President of Huizenga Holdings.

Wayne Huizenga, Jr.’s faith is now apparent in all areas of his life, including business.  “We tend to pray before our business meetings and ask for leadership,” he said in his Secrets Of Success interview.
“After his [Wayne, Jr.’s] newfound faith what I found was a real focus on trying to capitalize on the opportunities to do good and to intertwine those with his business opportunities, instead of looking at those things separately,” related Carlos Vidueira.

"I ask for His interpretation of my family situations," Wayne, Jr. explained.  "How do I discipline my children?  How do I spend my money?  We've been blessed with so much.  How much should I use for worldly assets here?  How much should I give to support our community and support interests that are aligned with our church and faith?  And the most interesting part for me is the love I have for my employees now.  I think as a family and as businessmen Wayne, Sr. and I have always treated our employees fairly well.  But now I look past the ledger and balance sheet to the employees and their families and how they're doing."

“He is someone who really cares for people, whether they’re at the top of the organization or the bottom of the organization,” Pastor Mark Davis described Wayne, Jr.

“We recently acquired a large boat building and yacht refurbishing center and marina,” Wayne, Jr. related during his Secrets Of Success interview.  “Part of the deal included a promise to do our best to keep all of the employees.  Unfortunately, as we got deeper into the business we found that the business was not as viable as we first thought it was when we were doing our due diligence.  A promise is a promise, but especially a promise made in faith.  We embarked on a major renovation where we spent $7 or $8 million dollars rebuilding our facilities so we can continue to employ the 130 employees we made a promise to support.”

As Wayne, Jr. grew in his faith, his company would grow along with him.

© 2012 Philip Kassel

Monday, September 24, 2012

Roads To Success 4.10

New Growth

After her husband's conversion to a life in Christ, Fonda Huizenga found herself in unfamiliar territory.  Wayne, Jr. had turned away from drinking; he was more patient, more focused, and more loving.  Unquestionably all these changes were positive but Fonda wasn't sure she knew this new man.  It would not be long before a series of critical challenges would illustrate to Fonda that the changes in her husband were both authentic and lasting.

Very shortly following Wayne, Jr.’s conversion his mother, Joyce Huizenga, became seriously ill.  At first doctors were unsure what the malady might be but they eventually diagnosed cancer.  Joyce grew weaker and soon moved in with her son and his family.

In his I Am Second video interview Wayne, Jr. said, “I began taking her to the doctor. We began praying together.  And I was blessed to be able to love on my mom like she loved on me all of those years.  I had a new strength the old Junior - on the plane, on the boat, and in the bottle – didn’t have.  The new Junior wanted to be with mom over those nine months, when she lived and died in our house.  I wanted to be strong for my children as they watched their grandmother die.”

“I saw him living a life that was more settled, happier, even though our conditions at that time did not warrant that,” Fonda remembered.  “He focused on his children; he focused on his relationship with them and with his mother.”

“It was an incredible time to care for someone who cared for me and only because of this new found relationship with Christ,” Wayne, Jr. summed up the experience.

Wayne, Jr., focused on his mother for so many months, did not anticipate yet another loss.  “A month later I lost my grandfather,” Wayne, Jr. related.  “He was also instrumental in raising me as a child.  So, losing him right after losing mom was really devastating in my life.”

Through all of the challenges, the heartbreak and loss, Fonda observed her husband closely.  “He focused on me,” Fonda remembered.  “He encouraged me even in times when I knew I had let him down.”

“My faith gave me the ability to be strong for my wife, for my children who had seen their beloved grandparents pass away, for my dad who had just lost his father, and for my brother who had lost his mother and grandfather,” Wayne, Jr. explained.

“I saw things in his life that I wanted so desperately in mine; a sense of peace, a sense of joy, and a sense of contentment,” Fonda told the Secrets Of Success camera.  “And I got closer and closer to him in ways I never had before trying to find out, ‘What is this and how do I get it?’  How do I appropriate that in my life?”

Fonda eventually found the answers she was searching for and joined her husband's life of faith.  "When I then made a confession of faith and started moving forward, it was the same thing as being in a canoe together and now you're both paddling together," she illustrated.

© 2012 Philip Kassel

Monday, September 17, 2012

Roads To Success 4.9

The New Guy

On a rainy, thundering Wednesday night, during a visit to a friend’s church, Wayne Huizenga, Jr. gave his life to Jesus Christ.  The Word of God spoken in the church that night finally energized all of Wayne, Jr.’s conversations with his friend, Captain Brad Fleetwood McDonald, all of the church sermons he had heard over the past months, and his own hours of elementary study of the Bible.

Arriving home that evening he shared the monumental news of his conversion to his wife, Fonda.  “My immediate reaction was, ‘Have you lost your mind?’” recalled Fonda with a warm laugh.

Wayne, Jr. was undaunted.  For the next eighteen months he made continued attempts to describe his experience to Fonda, and exactly what it meant.  “She told me at one point that I had been abducted by aliens,” Wayne, Jr. laughed.

Aliens certainly had been nowhere near Wayne, Jr. but he knew for certain he was a different man.  I tried to go out to parties like I used to, and at first I felt terrible in the morning,” he related in his I Am Second interview.  “I called up my friends and I said, ‘I feel horrible!’  They’d say, ‘Well Junior, the way that you acted last night and the way you drank, you should.  You’re hung over, son!’”

But Wayne, Jr. knew there was more to it.  After only two or three such parties he called the friends who had invited him to the Wednesday evening church service.  After explaining what he had been experiencing his friends provided an answer.  It began with a reminder that he had invited God into his heart.  And then they explained that, when he prayed the prayer of acceptance, God entered his heart through the Holy Spirit.

“It all kind of clicked,” Wayne, Jr. remembered.  “Captain Brad, the hole in my heart, and my new relationship with Jesus.”

When his friends explained that the excessive drinking and other bad behavior saddened God, Wayne, Jr. in turn felt sadness.  His preference was to make God happy.

“I tried to drink less,” Wayne, Jr. told the I Am Second camera.  “Then I’d have a couple of drinks.  Then I’d say something that I knew was wrong.  And I’d set my drink down, and I’d find myself a quiet spot at the party, and I’d tell God I was sorry.”

The power of those confessions to God, along with the requests for forgiveness, would soon become evident.  “Eventually, years ago, I told Him [God] I don’t want to drink anymore,” Wayne, Jr. explained.  “And He said, ‘Okay Junior, you don’t have to drink anymore.’  And I got up the next morning haven’t had a drink since.  It’s power, the power to change.  At that point my wife still hadn’t come to know the Lord.”

Of course, no one was affected more by the changes in Wayne, Jr. than Fonda.  "The drinking stopped.  The carousing stopped.  He devoted himself to business in a way I had not seen before."

The bottom line was that Fonda's "new" husband worried her.  "The obvious changes were immediate," Fonda recalled.  "He had a change in attitude that was prfound.  And to me it was very frightening because this was the first time he had made such a radical change in his life without making me even vaguely a part of it."

"I had more patience with my wife.  I had more patience with my children, and with all those I came into contact with," Wayne, Jr. explained.  "I began to experience the peace I had seen in Captain Brad.  The sense of searching for something more began to subside."

Fonda may have found all of the changes in her husband unsettling, but she would soon see Wayne, Jr.’s new life put to the test when faced with a number of serious challenges.

 © 2012 Philip Kassel

Monday, September 10, 2012

Roads To Success 4.8

Power Struggle

With the encouragement of Captain Brad Fleetwood McDonald, Wayne Huizenga, Jr. began exploring what it meant to have a relationship with God.  He enjoyed what the pastor had to say and was often moved to tears by the sermon.  Gradually, Wayne, Jr. began doing his best to change his life.

“If I was in town, I was in church,” Wayne, Jr. said in his I Am Second interview.  “I put my money in the basket when it went by.  I went to a little bit of Bible study and I even learned some Bible verses.  When Captain Brad came into town I had my own Bible and I could find my way around it.  I could even quote some scripture to him.”

It was a strong and heartfelt start for Wayne, Jr. but it was not comprehensively effective.

“I’d listen to the message and I’d try to be different but at the end of the day I found myself out doing the worldly things that I had always done.  I didn’t understand how to change my life,” Wayne, Jr. remembered.  “I was still struggling.  I was trying to be different but I didn’t have any power to change.  I’d say, ‘I’m not going to swear as much today or I’m not going to drink as much this weekend.’  But my changes were short lived.  It was a very mixed up, difficult time.”

One day friends invited Wayne, Jr. to accompany them to a Wednesday evening service at their church in Fort Lauderdale.  His acceptance of their invitation would lead to a breakthrough in his life.

The fact that this particular church held services on Wednesday evenings was just one of the differences setting it apart from Wayne, Jr.’s more traditional church.  His friends’ church was a ‘mega-church’ meeting in a warehouse-type building with about 4,000 people in attendance.  Instead of hymnals the worship song lyrics were projected on large, strategically placed screens.  And the sermon was powerful, almost as powerful as the storm thundering outside, lasting almost a full hour.

Towards the end of the sermon the pastor posed a question that reached deep into Wayne, Jr.’s heart.  Wayne, Jr. presented the details in his I Am Second video.  “At the end of the service the pastor asked, ‘If you were driving home in the night, and something happened to you, and you died, do you know for certain you’d go to Heaven?’  It was very quiet in there.  And he said, ‘Well if you don’t, you can know for certain you’re going to go to Heaven.  You can come forward tonight.  You can ask Jesus to come into your heart, forgive you of your sins, and live in you.  And you’ll know with certainty that Heaven forbid, if anything should happen, that you’d go to Heaven.’”

As the choir began to sing, Wayne, Jr., his heart racing, watched people begin rising from their seats and making their way to the front of the auditorium.  “The pastor came back up to the pulpit again after a minute or two,” he continued.  “He said, ‘Do you think that there’s got to be more to being a Christian than just going to church on Sundays?  Do you think that there’s a reason that God allowed you to be born?  Do you think that He has a plan for your life?’”

What came next moved Wayne, Jr. profoundly.  “The pastor said, ‘God wants to have a personal relationship with you and He wants to do it through His Son, Jesus Christ.  God has a plan for your life.  Why do you think you’ve been given all the things you’ve been given?’”

The words took hold of Wayne, Jr. in a powerful way.  “I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got a lot.’  I realized I had been given these incredible gifts.  I had airplanes, boats, money and the ability to do almost anything I wanted in life.  And I realized I was using it all for me.  It was all being used selfishly and in no way did I use any of it to glorify God.”

Finally, the pastor said, “If you want to have a personal relationship with God, with Jesus Christ, you can come forward right now and join these people, and pray this simple prayer.”

Wayne, Jr. simply could not remain in his seat.  The truth of what he had heard pulled him forward.  “I made my way down to the row to the aisle, forward to the front of this church that I had never been to before, and I fell to my knees.  And I began to cry,” Wayne, Jr. described that memorable night.  “I listened to the pastor and he said, ‘Repeat these simple words and ask Jesus into your heart.’  And I did.  I told Jesus I was sorry, that I loved Him and that I wanted to know what His plan for my life was.  I wanted to be in this personal relationship with Him if He wanted to be in it with me.”

Wayne, Jr. got up, dried his tears, and then went home to tell his wife what had occurred.

© 2012 Philip Kassel