IF YOU had taken the evening off and paid for the price of a cinema ticket, you might have cause to feel cheated by The Californian Century (Radio 4, Monday to Friday of last week). The American actor and film director Stanley Tucci recounted five stories in the manner of Hollywood film scripts; but, judging by Tuesday’s episode, the trailer was entirely misrepresentative.
This is not to say that the story of Aimee Semple McPherson is unworthy of big-screen treatment. Arriving in Los Angeles in 1918, Sister Aimee’s preaching attracted a huge Evangelical following and the Angelus Temple, a megachurch, was constructed: a megachurch in the shape of a megaphone pointing towards Hollywood.
The mystery of what happened to Sister Aimee in 1926, when she disappeared for five weeks, is of only peripheral interest; and, having initially hooked us with the promise of some answer, Tucci tossed the subject on to the cutting-room floor.
Another Californian story, Witness History (World Service, Wednesday of last week), had a more satisfactory narrative arc. In the 1960s, and in response to the promptings of the Second Vatican Council, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary started to break the rules. Their habits were too warm for the searing West Coast temperatures, and their routines were too regimented.
As told by a former Sister, Lucia van Ruiten, the demands for a more liberal regime were scorned by the Bishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal McIntyre. But the challenge to authority really came when the nuns invited the psychologist Carl Rogers to lead group-therapy sessions. The result was that 300 Sisters renounced their vows and formed their own community.
The story has a final twist as we learn that the Immaculate Heart community is now facing a bitter legal dispute with Katy Perry, the pop princess for whom Vatican II was “so last millennium”, over the purchase of their sprawling LA property.
At about the time that the Sisters were contemplating rebellion, a Brooklyn boy was being hailed as the youngest ever tenured law professor at Yale. Alan Dershowitz, interviewed in last week’s Hardtalk (World Service, Monday), has since achieved notoriety many times over. He defended O. J. Simpson, Claus von Bülow, and, most recently, President Trump in the Senate impeachment hearings. He declares himself a liberal Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton.
This was a riveting encounter with Stephen Sackur, not least because one might have expected Dershowitz to defend his career choices on the basis simply that everyone deserves a good lawyer. That he boasts an intellectual propriety and consistency makes the stakes so much higher and the claims and counter-claims regarding his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein case even more desperate.