Thursday, October 9, 2008
Scott Represents Lawyer for McPherson’s Church
By ROGER M. GRACE
Among the innumerable persons whose interests, of wide-ranging nature, were represented by attorney Joseph Scott was evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.
He did not defend her in connection with the criminal charges arising from her apparently faked kidnapping in 1926; rather, he plied his skills in 1937 on behalf of her interests by defending the attorney for McPherson’s Angelus Temple when he was sued for slander.
Doing the suing was McPherson’s daughter, Roberta Semple, and being sued was attorney Willedd Andrews.
The conflict between McPherson and her 26-year-old daughter was precipitated by McPherson vesting sweeping powers in Angelus Temple business manager Giles Knight to cut back on expenses. The Depression was in progress. Church finances were drooping. There had been, up to that point, “no requition or purchasing system,” according to Daniel Mark Epstein’s 1994 book, “Sister Aimee.” Rather, Epstein says, “[i]t was like Moličre’s theater company: Whoever wanted money simply took what he needed from the treasury.”
As Epstein recounts it:
Semple protested Knight’s powers in a Sept. 24, 1936 letter that seemed to have been written by a lawyer; McPherson fired the church’s lawyer, Jacob Moidel, (at whose office the daughter had, in fact, penned the letter); McPherson re-hired Andrews whose services had earlier been terminated; the evangalist proceeded to remove her daughter from the temple’s board though retaining her as an employee; Moidel came to the temple with the daughter on Sept. 28 and engaged in a shouting match with McPherson.
Andrews made this statement to the press on Oct. 1, 1936:
“Mrs. McPherson has been intimidated, threatened and blackmailed for the last time. This time she is prepared to fight to the finish. While she regrets that the war will be with her own flesh and blood—with her own daughter—the only course ahead of her is protection from destruction of the organization which has consumed the best years of her life.”
Semple brought her slander action against him on Oct. 8, seeking $150,000.
The trial drew major news coverage. An April 14, 1937 United Press dispatch relates:
Varying her stentorian pulpit voice with tears, laughter and dramatic pauses, Mrs. McPherson accused Roberta and the daughter’s attorney and attentive squire, Jacob Moidel, of cooping her up in a Phoenix, Ariz., hotel room until she signed four contracts appropriating control of Angelus Temple.
Rheba Crawford Splivalo, former “Angel of Broadway” and Mrs. McPherson’s evangelistic rival, was made associate pastor; Harriet Jordan, business manager; Roberta, manager of the temple’s potent radio station; Moidel, attorney for the temple.
Mrs. McPherson testified that Roberta insistedif the contracts were not signed Mrs. Spivalo would bring a $1,000,000 damage suit, which subsequently has been filed. The evangelist added:
“She said 50 other suits would be filed, one aday, until I lost the temple....”
Reference to Splivalo as the erstwhile “Angel of Broadway” harked to the press’ description of her of some years back when she preached for the Salvation Army in New York’s Times Square. Her pending Nov. 26, 1936, action against McPherson was for slander.
The UP dispatch of April 15 reporting the proceedings in Semple v. Andrews includes this exchange:
Fainer and Andrews’ attorney, beetle-browed Joseph Scott,...tangled over whether [McPherson’s] mother, Mrs. Minnie “Ma” Kennedy, should be allowed in the coutroom.
Ma, it appeared, had disconcerted and upset her daughter by certain off-the-record remarks, one of which referred to Aimee’s famous “kidnaping” as “that farce.”
“As far as I am concerned,” Scott addressed the court, “she is just a curious old dowager. She sits inside the railing and stares at her daughter. Every time you look around the court, there she sits, like a female Neptune astraddle the equator.”
Superior Court Judge Clarence Kincaid ruled that the mother had a right to be present.
I’ll return to the trial next week.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company
MetNews Main Page Reminiscing Columns