While home teaching the other day, I got into a discussion of how single LDS Church members passed on apartments from member to member, so that some apartments have been held by Church members for a decade or more. As an example of this, I was able to cite the case of Keene Curtis and Jon Beck Shank, both LDS Church members (at least nominally), who shared an apartment here in New York City in the 1960s. I then explained that Curtis went on to become a very successful actor, playing most famously the part of John Allen Hill, the upstairs restaurant owner in the sitcom “Cheers” and the part of “Daddy Warbucks” in the musical “Annie” on stage (not in the film version).
“Daddy Warbucks” was Mormon?!! was the incredulous reaction I got.
I’m afraid this is the kind of reaction I find all the time — mainly because there are so many Mormons in the arts who are unknown to most members of the Church. Like the problems we have with the Canon of Mormon Literature, most members simply don’t have any knowledge of many creators that have gained critical acclaim outside of Mormon circles.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this is the only thing going on. I know about a few of these artists, and there is an outsider quality to each of them. Sometimes, they simply don’t fit the conception of what is ‘appropriate’ in Mormon culture. Other times, these artists are not in popular fields, or not from areas with a concentration of LDS Church members. This outsider status discounts their contributions, and leaves them out of the consciousness of most members.
This idea came up somewhat in the discussion on the post on why evangelicals and Mormons don’t share books and culture. Kelly Meilstrup and I had a long discussion about what makes a great LDS composer. In looking at LDS composers I replied near the end of the discussion:
I should also point out one interesting difference among the various composers weâ€™ve mentioned above. Out of curiosity, I searched wikipedia for all of the Mormon composers weâ€™ve mentioned above. Many of the better known composers are listed, including Crawford Gates, Leroy Robertson, Mack Wilberg, etc. But in every case it was fairly clear from the information given and references listed that the author of the article was coming from an LDS perspective.
I only found one name listed where that was not the case; where the article had clearly been put together by those who included the article in wikipedia because they thought that the composer was important himself, instead of just because he was Mormon. The article was also the best developed of all the articles on Mormon composers. Who was it?
From what I’ve seen, this same kind of pattern exists in many fields. These artists are recognized by those outside of Mormonism more than by those inside of Mormonism. I’d be interested in knowing of any others that might fit this idea.
Off the top of my head, here are some of those who get overlooked all the time:
Film: Lino Brocka