Bishop Fulton Sheen: The First "Televangelist"

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Bishop Fulton Sheen

(See Cover) Manhattan's Adelphi Theater, off Broadway, was filled with a waiting audience. "Thirty seconds!" a tense voice called. The theater hushed.

Spotlights flooded the stage with an almost supernatural brightness. "Five seconds, five!" Gentle music filled the air and a technician waved his hand. Calmly striding from the wings came a stately man. He wore a black

cassock with purple piping; from his shoulders billowed a purple cape and on his chest gleamed a gold cross. He looked taller than his 5 ft. 8 in. He bowed graciously into the wind of applause, smiling a boyish smile. Then he turned his gaunt, discreetly made-up face (Vs base and light tan powder) toward one of the three television cameras on the stage. He said: "Friends, thanks for allowing me to

come into your home again ..." A microphone, trembling from a slender rod above the speaker's purple zucchetto (skull cap), picked up the resonant tones of his voice—soft, yet suggesting the possibility of thunder—and spirited them across the land to more than 2,000,000 TV viewers. The voice belonged to His Excellency the Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen, auxiliary Bishop of New York, perhaps the most famous preacher in the U.S., certainly America's best-known Roman Catholic priest, and the newest star of U.S. television. Telegenic Cleric.

"He's terrific," says a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, which produces Bishop Sheen's program. "We get four times as many requests for tickets as we can fill. We turn down a lot of requests that sound as if they might come from girls' schools. We don't want any squealing. First thing you know, he'd turn into a clerical Sinatra. At first we were worried about the show. You know,

a half hour of just talking, just standing there looking at the cameras. After all, people have double chins and all that sort of thing. But not he. He's telegenic. He's wonderful. The gestures, the timing, the voice. If he came out in a barrel and read the telephone book, they'd love him." The Sheen show, called Life Is Worth Living, is a half-hour talk on such subjects as freedom, pleasure, war & peace, love. The talks, Christian in outlook but not specifically Roman Catholic, are designed to appeal to listeners of all faiths. The Du Mont network, which presents the show but gets no money for it, gave Sheen what the trade calls an "obituary spot," i.e., conflicting with two very popular shows on other networks, Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra (Tues. 8 p.m., E.S.T.). Against this formidable competition, Sheen has made a spectacular

showing. Du Mont was overwhelmed by the mail response (8,500 letters a week). The program, now carried by 17 stations, has a

Trendex popularity rating of 13.7, unequaled by any other "inspirational" or intellectual show. TV columnists raved over it. Wrote New York World-Telegram & Sun's Harriet Van Home: "It's quite possible that he is the finest Catholic orator since Peter the Hermit." Berle's popularity rating has recently dropped ten points, and some columnists attribute this to Sheen. Muses Berle: "If I'm going to be eased off the top by anyone, it's better that I lose to the One for whom Bishop Sheen is speaking."

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