Who Was the Most Famous Woman in America During the 1920s?
Who was the most famous woman in 1920s America? From his series A Survey of Church History, W. Robert Godfrey describes Aimee Semple McPherson, who not only influenced the Pentecostal movement but also impressed entertainers like Anthony Quinn and Charlie Chaplin.
One of the interesting testimonies to the ability of Aimee Semple McPherson came from the actor Anthony Quinn. Some of you will remember Anthony Quinn, a very distinguished actor at one point in American movies. Late in his life, he was interviewed about his early experiences, and he was asked, “Who were some of the really great influences on you in your youth?” Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “Aimee Semple McPherson.” The interviewer was sort of thunderstruck. He said, “When I was 16 years old, I was being raised by my Mexican grandmother in Los Angeles. My grandmother became quite ill, and we sent to the Temple if someone could come and pray for my grandmother. And Aimee Semple McPherson came and prayed for my grandmother. My grandmother got better—not immediately—but got better. And then Aimee turned to me and said, ‘What are you interested in, young man?’” Anthony Quinn said, “I play the trombone.” She said, “Well, we have a band at the Temple. You come and play in the Temple band.” He said, “I went and played in the Temple band, and then she asked me to come along and be a translator for her when she went out to preach in Hispanic communities.” The interviewer said, “Well, that must have been a really funny experience when you look back on it.” He said, “I never met anyone so kind as Aimee Semple McPherson, and I never met anyone who could control an audience the way Aimee Semple McPherson could.” He said, “I worked with Greta Garbo, and I worked with Katharine Hepburn, and they didn’t hold a candle to Aimee.” Charlie Chaplin used to come into the Temple and sit in the back just to watch her work. He was so impressed. She was a phenomenon. She was the most famous woman in America in the 1920s. There was a story about Aimee in the L.A. Times at least once a week through the whole decade of the 1920s. She was a phenomenon. She was remarkable. She anticipated, in the craziness of Pentecostal worship, what now is widely known as evangelical worship. She was a pioneer. She was an influence. She is someone to be taken seriously and thoughtfully by all of us because of the impact she would have later, but also because she is a window on what was going on in the developing Pentecostalism of the 1920s.