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I found this old newspaper clipping. The picture was taken a few days after I returned from Vietnam. In the photo, I still haven’t quite lost the “thousand yard stare”. It was such a strange experience, one day being out in the field with a combat battalion, then 30 hours later being home. Back then, there were no orientation classes for returning soldiers and their families. The only returning orientation you got was the warning, “Watch yourself, there are people who may spit on you.” There were so many violent protests going on, we were afraid we might be fighting in the streets. I love this picture because it shows my beautiful, strong, young wife who waited for me to return. She’s the brave one who deserves the medals.
It was this time in November of 1967 that I left for Vietnam. I was not quite 22 years old. I will never forget saying goodbye to everyone. One of the last nights before I left I went back to the school I had attended to see friends for the last time. The school was the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My father was a professor there. In one of the buildings, there is a well-known architectural feature called the Arch. It was night. I was about to leave and I was standing in the Arch. No one was with me. The feeling in the pit of my stomach was not good. I was going into the unknown in a way that I never had in my life. I knew no one in Vietnam and I didn’t know where I would be assigned. What I did know was that infantry Second Lieutenants, rifle platoon leaders, which I had been trained to be, were having a high casualty rate in combat. Would I ever come home? I didn’t know.
But there’s something else that I did know. My faith was in Jesus Christ as it is today. So there in the Arch, I prayed. Suddenly, over me came an amazing certainty and a great peace that could only come from God. Yes, I would come home and I would stand in this place once more. A year later, after many difficult days, so it was. The week I returned, one of the deans of the school, Dick Mohline, asked me to speak to the student body in the morning chapel service. This I did in uniform. It was not a long speech. When it was over, everyone stood up to leave. My wife was sitting with a great friend, one of the professors, Dr. Fred Dickason. He turned to Carel and said, “Let’s clap for him.” That just never happened in one of those services. They started clapping and in a moment all 1200 people were clapping. So many young, Vietnam soldiers faced rejection even from their families when they returned. There were no parades for them. That morning was my “parade” and it was a gift from God for which I will always be grateful.
Happy Veterans Day to all my brothers and sisters in arms who have carried the battle. May God’s peace be with you.
This story is from my book, Day of the Wolf. Years ago, a TV production company associated with MGM Studios contracted with me to help develop and produce a new television series. It was a fairly large company run by three partners with several series on the air and several more in development. One of the partners ran their television operations while the others took no active role in that side of the business. The partner in charge of television was known as a bully. While he had this reputation among all the show staffs that worked for him, when I joined the group I had no difficulties with him at all. He was charming and friendly and I tried to be the same.
The relationship went along well for a number of weeks. He was complimentary about my work. My assignment was to write a pilot script and guide other writers who would be writing the episodes that followed. I employed several professionals and we began working on stories. These had to be approved before we went into the scripting phase. Story creation is always a lot of work. In developing a story for a TV episode, you strive to be thorough enough so that writing the script will not be difficult.
Finally, after several weeks of meetings and multiple drafts, the first story was ready to submit for approval. The writer was an old friend who had worked for me in the past. Together, we had pounded out every detail and I was satisfied that it would make an excellent episode. After submission, we waited.
Several days later the executive I have mentioned sent word that he wanted to meet with the writer and me. The meeting took place the following day in my office. The writer walked in. A few minutes later, the executive arrived with the multiple pages of our story in his hand. I introduced them and they sat down in front of my desk.
We were barely seated when, without warning, the executive literally threw the pages at the writer and began cursing at him. Using the foulest language he knew, he execrated our story and the writer. The attack was shocking in its viciousness. Though I had spent years in Hollywood and dealt with many abrasive (and even abusive) people, never had I seen such a performance.
While he was yelling and cursing, I stood up and bent across my desk toward the man. I am not a small person and he was not a large person. Staring at him with a kind of deathly calm, I told him to STOP. Then I told him that never again was he going to act that way with one of my writers. I was responsible for everything they did. He could scream at me and throw things at me all he wanted. But he wasn’t going to do that to them.
It was a horrible moment. The man shriveled into silence. He left my office without saying another word. Though I told no one what had happened, somehow word got out to his company personnel and all the show staffs. From that day, he was terrified of me. How weird did things get? Not long after this little event, the young guy who was his assistant wanted to throw a surprise birthday party for him. To make sure he arrived in the conference room at the exact required moment, he asked me to send a message to the man saying I wanted to see him in the conference room right now. Terrified, he appeared on cue and all of us cheered.
The problem with such confrontations is that they change everything. Afterward, I tried to be friendly and continue a professional relationship, but it was impossible. When a wolf is frightened of you, he will attack from behind. A few weeks later I left the company because of things the man was doing behind my back. Several years later, he was fired from his own organization due to financial malfeasance.
A dozen years later, Carel and I were at a Hollywood party. A writer who had been on one of the show staffs came up to me and told me how much he appreciated what I had done. No one else had ever stood up to this pitiful wolf. But there was another downside. Many years after my confrontation with that executive, the young man who had been his assistant became president of a major cable network. (That’s the way things are done in Hollywood.) He was a person whom I had liked. We had never had the slightest problem. He must have been bullied himself during the time he was employed by that man. Yet after all the years, he refused to meet with me to discuss new TV series. Why? There’s only one reason that I can imagine. Fear. He was one of the lesser wolves surrounding the alpha wolf. While I don’t know that he had attacked anyone, I’m sure that he had facilitated his superior’s viciousness and ultimately became vicious himself. When you confront the alpha wolf, the lesser wolves will not forget.
The weasel wolf who attacked my writer friend was a minor player in the totality of my career. Over the course of that career, I found myself confronting several world-class wolves. I never searched for such confrontations. They found me. What people on the outside don’t understand is that the real power of Hollywood is fear. Talented individuals are desperate to enter the industry. When they get to Hollywood suddenly they realize that their talent is a dime a dozen and the vast majority who try to break in utterly fail. Fear takes control making them willing to do anything to succeed. If a person is so fortunate as to find any success, they realize how fragile their position is. What do I mean by fragile? A few years ago the average length of a successful writer’s career, from the first script sold to the last one sold, was only five years. This career fragility runs across the entire industry. If you have a moment of success, you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize what you have gained. That means, at all costs you must please the people in power.
Not all, but far too many who have risen to the top are vicious wolves. They understand your vulnerability and will use it against you. The more you allow it, the worse it will get. And vulnerability increases the longer you are “successful”. Eventually, you may have a family and a mortgage. Lew Hunter, a veteran TV writer who wrote an excellent book on screenwriting, once told me that the way Hollywood owns you is through the house you buy. He was right. The wolves of Hollywood play on your fear. That’s why no one else had confronted the vicious little wolf at MGM. They were afraid for their careers. The saddest fact is that many of those who have been viciously abused by wolves become wolves themselves.
So in this wolf attack and many others, where did the courage come from for me to stand my ground doing what I knew was right? First, I will tell you that I’m no different, no more courageous, than anyone else. But I have a secret. From the very start, I didn’t come to Hollywood to serve myself. Long before I entered the Industry, I gave my life to Jesus Christ, the King. I had asked Him to forgive my sins. I had discovered by bitter experience that running my own life led to disaster, so I gave Him control to him. I stopped trying to be my own little god and that is where the adventure began. I was in Hollywood to serve Him. Which meant two things, first, telling stories with truth at their hearts and second, serving others who were vulnerable, doing what I could to be a shield protecting them. Because of the purpose of my life, I wasn’t afraid of what the most powerful wolves could do to me. Now I must tell you that my family and I have suffered heartbreak and loss. I have seen great damage to my career. But always there has been the firm knowledge that my family and I are safe in God’s Hands. I would not trade that great peace for all the Hollywood success that could ever be possible. In following Jesus, often down a jagged road, our true needs have always been met. Now at almost 76 years old, I can see His faithfulness to us down all the years and I am forever grateful. I pray that you find His peace as well.
I write all of this in part because America is drowning in a fake political religion that besmirches the name “Christianity”. It is viciously promoted by millions of people who wouldn’t recognize Jesus if He were hanging on the cross at their front doors. They would be too busy viciously attacking anyone in social media who disagrees with them. And all, of course, in Jesus’ name. These people worship a narcissistic, reality TV star “Jesus” who lives for money and power and tells them what they want to hear. They believe that their “Jesus” will lead them into the “promised land” of pearly-white, “patriotic” security. Their form of fantasy nation worship is nothing but idolatry. The real Jesus loves all people so much that He gave His life to save us from our sins and open Heaven forever. The real Jesus asks His true followers to feed the hungry and defend the weak and powerless in His name. The real Jesus asks us to stand for Him and His truth no matter the cost. When we belong to Him, the real Jesus gives us the courage to face anything, whether it is the death of a career or the death of our bodies. That is the Jesus I pray you will meet.