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Radio review: The Californian Century, Witness History, and Hardtalk

06 March 2020


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.


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