It was Saturday morning in 1949; I was a sophomore at Redondo Union High School (RUHS). The front page of the Los Angeles Times told of a Hollywood music star converted by young evangelist Billy Graham. My fallen hero had come to Jesus the Christ. That fall, I had walked from Hermosa Beach to Manhattan Beach to see Stuart Hamblen perform at a Fall Fiesta. He was drinking a beer and telling dirty jokes; I left early and walked crying all the way home. Stuart’s wife, Susie Bell, was in the revival choir. Stuart, to keep from going, went hunting. On Friday night he came to LA to the circus tent revival and took a seat on the back row. Stuart was the prodigal son of a Methodist minister down in Texas; the simple gospel touched his heart and he went forward and accepted a personal relationship with Jesus. Now I was crying tears of joy. I was excited at 4:30 Monday afternoon when I turned on the radio to hear first hand what had happened and heard for the first time his new song, It Is No Secret.
I rushed home from school during Junior High and High school until I went to work after school to hear the country music, stories and poetry of Stuart and the Beverly Hillbillies. Stuart played the part of the Christian boy on the show and lived the life of the prodigal in his acting, horse racing and allowing Regal Pale beer and Wing cigarettes as sponsors on his radio show. He was faithful to his wife and lived the Hollywood-compromised life. His conversion at the Billy Graham revival was real, hence was a new man.
At Santa Anita Downs he sold his stables and race horse El Lobo for $50,000 and bought out his advertising contracts with Wings and Regal for $50K.
He successfully became one of the first crossover country music personalities that used his own name on both country and Christian labels. Stuart led many other Country singers to Christ and to Christian music. Our South Bay Christian youth group would go to some large church to hear Stuart speak and sing; we better be a couple hours early to get a seat.
In 1991, I spent a week in a class on evangelism with Franklin Graham at Lake Louise in Branif NP in Canada; Franklin is the real deal. Billy Graham was the greatest evangelist of the 20th century. He shied away from any controversial subjects and was very popular with all sorts. Franklin is an in-your-face evangelist and the pastor to the world. His Samaritan’s Purse is by far the greatest and largest benevolence organization in the world. He has blended preaching with good works worldwide. Anne Graham Lotz is national chair for the National Day of Prayer; Agape supports both. Welcome home, Billy.