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BillyThe Untold Story of a Young Billy Graham and the Test of Faith that Almost Changed Everything
By William Paul McKay Ken Abraham
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Solex/MATP Venture
All right reserved.
Chapter OneToronto, Canada, Winter 2001
The gray hospital walls appeared unusually bland, a stark contrast to the elderly yet vibrant patient who occupied the lone bed in the private room. Outside, the chilly winter wind whipped against the room's window, frosting it over with a thin layer of ice, but the bright television lights and the press of busy people bustling around the patient threatened to raise the temperature inside significantly.
Charles Templeton, now in his early eighties, his physical and mental alacrity slipping away, had consented to be interviewed for a documentary film. A gifted author, popular Canadian TV broadcaster, successful sports columnist, consummate inventor, and former minister, Templeton ranked as one of the most intriguing characters of the twentieth century.
Once he was regarded as the world's greatest Christian evangelist, a close friend and role model to Billy Graham, packing in crowds of more than forty thousand people who came specifically to hear him speak. Now he was known as one of society's most outspoken atheists-though he preferred the term agnostic-having given in to his doubts about Christianity nearly fifty years earlier. He had encouraged Graham to do the same, but his friend had chosen a different path.
A kindly nurse fluffed Templeton's pillows behind him and respectfully prepared him for the cameras. She had already helped him shave and had attempted to comb his tangled gray hair into a style that at least appeared intentional. She then gently helped him push his arms into the sleeves of a burgundy robe that covered the top of his pajamas so he could look his best on camera. At eighty-three, Templeton was still remarkably handsome and charismatic, despite the debilitating effects of Alzheimer's disease. Though his body betrayed him more frequently these days, his voice remained a beautiful, mellifluous cross between John Huston and Walter Cronkite. No one at the hospital ever doubted that the person who possessed that voice had once stood before throngs of people, mesmerizing them with his eloquence and keen intellect.
Ever distinguished-dashing and debonair were aptly applied terms in his younger days-and meticulous about his appearance, Templeton exuded a sophistication and class that belied his blue-collar upbringing and lack of formal education. He had abandoned public school following completion of the ninth grade and hadn't returned until age thirty-three, when he was granted special admission to Princeton University-well after he had established a successful career. He rarely misspoke but instead prided himself on wooing with his words the admiration of the nurses more effectively than many a young suitor could have done, even with flowers, candy, or expensive gifts. Yet as quickly as Charles Templeton could turn on the charm, there were still brief moments when the cautious, well-rehearsed person seemed to disappear, revealing the frettings and mumblings of a deeply tormented soul.
"That light's too hot," the cameraman cautioned as he and a gaffer repositioned their equipment in the tight hospital room.
"This light?" the gaffer asked, pointing at a large photography light directly above Templeton's head.
Templeton didn't notice the light, the camera, or the young men in his room. Instead, he seemed obsessed and somewhat agitated. "Get away ... get away ..." he mumbled, looking wildly around the room as if following some invisible ghost.
"Sir?" the gaffer asked politely as he turned toward Templeton. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
The old man recovered quickly, shook his head slightly, and looked at the camera operator and gaffer as though they had just entered the room. "It's good to see you again, young man. I thought yesterday's interview was very productive."
The gaffer glanced toward the cameraman, who simply shrugged his shoulders. The gaffer turned back toward Templeton. "I'm pretty sure we'll be out of your hair by the end of the day," he said, pulling the overhead light a few inches away from Templeton's face as he spoke.
"That's too bad," Templeton replied. He gazed intently at the men preparing the room for the interview. "I'll miss you. I'll miss all of you."
Deborah Matthews, an attractive though heavily made-up woman in her mid-fifties, paced anxiously on the other side of the room, talking on a cell phone, her back to Templeton. Matthews knew this was her chance, maybe her last chance, to get back in the flow of things at the network. For the past ten years or more, she had received fewer and fewer features as the producers increasingly leaned toward younger, slimmer reporters. The powers that be wanted more than fresh news; they wanted fresh faces, skin without wrinkles, eyes that still retained the sparkle of youthfulness. And more than anything, they wanted controversy, something with some sizzle and pizzazz. This wasn't just the news business anymore; it was entertainment dollars they were after, and if one news organization could not or would not provide the scandal and innuendo that audiences craved, another would soon replace it in the ratings.
Deborah Matthews had been relegated to second-rate stories for so long now that she had almost forgotten what sizzle felt like. But she still recognized a great story when she saw one, and this Templeton guy had an angle like no one she had ever interviewed. Nevertheless, after nearly two full days of shooting, she had produced about as much excitement as an obituary. Now her boss, Bradley Benjamin post, was on the phone, wanting to know why.
"I can't get a rise out of him," she whispered into the cell phone. "You were wrong-there's no dirt here about Graham. And if there is, we're not going to get it out of this Templeton guy. He's a professional charmer and-"
"Cut the nonsense, Deborah!" Post bellowed into the phone, so loudly that the sound man in Templeton's room heard him, glanced up from his control panel, and looked at Deborah quizzically. Deborah held the cell phone at arm's length, away from her ear, as though expecting another blast. The sound man nodded in understanding.
In New York, the quintessential "get me the story," chain-smoking, coffee-chugging TV news producer was rapidly losing patience with his former star reporter. "Look, Deborah," Post said hotly, "I've been protecting you for the past six months. You know that the network is reducing its workforce, and your job is on the line. The young girls are coming up-and they're hot-so if you don't get the dirt on Graham, I'll find someone else who will."
"But, Brad, it's not there!" Deborah protested. "Even Templeton himself says there's no scandal-no misuse of funds, no sexual dalliances, no lavish lifestyles-"
"Don't tell me it's not there, Deborah!" Post fumed. "It's got to be there! These evangelists are all alike. They can't keep their fingers out of the till or their hands off the adoring female fans. I know there's scandal in Graham's life somewhere. Templeton knows it too, and your job, Deborah, is to find it. Find it, or find yourself a new occupation."
Deborah Matthews turned pale as the ramifications of post's words hit her full force. She knew he was right about the aggressive young reporters. They were no longer nipping at her heels; they were tugging at her stockings. She knew, too, that Bradley Benjamin Post cared almost as little about loyalty to his staff as he did about the truth. What did he care that Deborah had been with the network longer than most of the debutante reporters had been alive? What did it matter whether or not any dirt Templeton might dish was true? all that mattered to Bradley Benjamin Post were ratings-ratings that Deborah had not been able to pull since the advent of cable news, with its bevy of brainless beauties doling out prepackaged ditties read straight off the teleprompters.
Deborah knew what Post expected; she was aware of the rules of the game. If there was no scandal to be found, at least give the impression that there might be. Slant the story, shape the questions, or tweak the lead lines in such a way as to imply something shocking to the public. Take some minor point out of context and bore into it; milk it; color it; make it into something with ... yes, with sizzle; and then keep throwing it out, louder, bolder, more frequently, until what started as a half-truth at best grew into a bold-faced lie. Soon, with the aid of the right camera angle and creative editing, that original, innocuous point could somehow be morphed into the "previously untold truth."
Deborah had been counting on Templeton as her hot ticket back to the big time, and frankly, so had post. That's why he had given her the assignment. They had been friends and colleagues for years, but Deborah knew she had to pull this story out on her own. Brad had gone to bat for her in New York one too many times, and although she had scored outstanding scoops and earned numerous accolades in her illustrious career, those days were long past. She understood that much, yet she had underestimated post's desperate desire to do what no other television or print medium had been able to do-successfully pin some scandal on Christianity's most Teflon hero, Billy Graham.
"Whatever you have to do, Deborah, do it! No one has ever before approached this story from this angle. Push every button; don't hold anything back," Post said quietly but emphatically. "I know Templeton has never betrayed his old friend Billy Graham, but there has to be some animosity in there somewhere, something you can use to pit them against each other. Templeton was the hottest preacher in the world till Graham came along. Even after Graham came along. But something happened. Find out, Deborah. Squeeze something out of the old man before he kicks the bucket. Why did Graham ascend to the top of the field, and why did he and Templeton part ways? There has to be more to this story than has been told. Find it, Deborah," Post implored, then added under his breath, "or else."
In her peripheral vision, Deborah caught a glimpse of Templeton waving his arms in the air, again at nothing. The reporter shifted her body slightly in his direction just as the man in the hospital bed cried, "Get away ... get away from me!"
She grimaced and raised her eyebrows. "Talk later, Brad," she said abruptly as she flipped her cell phone shut. Deborah turned toward the gaffer. "Slate it, Dave."
"But the light-"
"I said slate it, Dave. Now!" the reporter snapped.
The gaffer rolled his eyes and exhaled a puff of air. He picked up a documentary slate and held it toward the camera lens.
"Speed ... rolling," the cameraman said.
The gaffer spoke louder than necessary, as though trying to make a point. "'Faith Lost' documentary. Charles Templeton interview, tape three." He slapped the slate together and stepped to the side, allowing the camera to focus on Templeton and the ambitious reporter.
Deborah Matthews was already in Templeton's face, leaning toward him like a gambling addict staring longingly at a roulette wheel. "You said, 'Get away,'" she said. "Who do you want to 'get away'?"
Templeton responded as though he had not even heard her question, which, perhaps, he had not. "I like talking to you. Must you finish the interview today?"
Ms. ambition hedged, not wanting to drag out the interview longer than necessary, but unwilling to miss any morsel Templeton might drop. "We may be back tomorrow," she replied.
Templeton fussed with his collar. "That would be marvelous."
"Is there anything-anything at all-that you'd like to tell us about your ... er, shall we say, 'friendship' with Billy Graham?"
The old man's eyes lit up. He nodded his head and spoke quietly but with deep emotion. "Billy Graham ..."
"Yes, Billy Graham," the reporter pressed. "did you ever feel angry or jealous that Billy-"
"Billy was such a fine young man," Templeton said as much to himself as to the reporter. He seemed to be viewing his own mental motion picture as he spoke. "A farm boy, really. That's where we were, wasn't it, when we left off yesterday? We were talking about when he worked on the farm?"
"Yes, Mr. Templeton, and that is all quite interesting," Matthews said dismissively, "but I would love to hear more about your relationship with Billy. I've read some of your books and have heard some of your comments about Christianity and evangelists. I know that you two experienced some tension in your relationship. Tell me about that."
Templeton waved his hand in small circles. "All in due time, dear lady. All in good time. You must have patience. I will tell you everything-things you've never before heard about Billy and me-but this information is crucial to understanding who Billy was-and, of course, who I was, and who we had become by the time our paths crossed."
"Yes, sir, I understand that, but-"
"In due time." Templeton's voice rose in volume as he nodded. "You will not be disappointed, I assure you. Now, where were we?"
Deborah exhaled emphatically. "Whatever comes to mind," she said, making no attempt to conceal her exasperation. "Tell us how you feel about Billy."
Templeton's facial expression slipped into a quasi-smile. He had seen her kind before. He'd spent years dealing with reporters; he knew what they wanted, what they needed. "You want something"-he loved the word-"juicy, don't you?"
"No, I just ..."
Templeton smiled openly now. He waved his hand again as if swatting at a persistent mosquito. "I told you before. There's no scandal there," he said straightforwardly. "No embezzlement. Billy was ..."
Deborah's head snapped up from her notes, her eyes riveted on Templeton's. "Yes. What was he really?"
Templeton seemed to almost sigh as he said softly, "Billy ... was a sweet, good man. He just believes. End of story."
Deborah scowled but remained undaunted. She was close to a scoop. She could feel it. "All right. Let's go back. What about you? You were the star, not Graham."
"Me?" Templeton shrugged, and a hint of a smile crossed his face. "Well, you are correct, young lady. Before I was consumed with intellectual doubt, self-criticism, and an unending search for personal truth, I was a much better preacher than Billy. Much better! Just ask him." Templeton's eyes twinkled in the bright light. "He's an honest man. He'll tell you."
"Then how did a farm boy become more popular than you? How did a fellow who was not as smart as you, not as articulate as you, and ..." Matthews paused and cocked her head coyly, "I might add, not nearly as handsome as you ... how did he become the famous evangelist Billy Graham?"
Templeton's voice increased in volume. "Billy Graham!"
"Yes, sir. I've researched your life and his too. I know you used to be close friends. I've read about the two of you preaching in America and in Europe together. I know how those two prostitutes in Paris tried to seduce you and Graham when you were both virile young men."
Templeton smiled again. "That could have happened yesterday, young lady. Prostitutes? Who said anything about prostitutes? They were fine, wholesome young women ... much like yourself."
"Ahem," Deborah cleared her throat and shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "Yes, do you really think Billy ran away from that naked woman?"
Templeton leaned forward in his bed, suddenly energized. "Billy Graham? I thought you wanted to talk about me. I'm the one who's dying. I'm the one who is soon going to need the epitaph. His story is dull! Mine is the story you should tell. Billy? There's nothing juicy there. Okay, give him a medal for being a Boy Scout, but that's all. Dull. Dull as butter."
"If that's the case, why does everyone know who Billy Graham is, but no one knows who Charles-"
"I'll tell you the truth: I don't get it," Templeton interrupted, sitting up straighter. "No, sir. I don't get it. Any intelligent man, any person with half a brain at all looking around at the world today would have to come to the conclusion that there could not possibly be a loving God."
Excerpted from Billy by William Paul McKay Ken Abraham Copyright © 2008 by Solex/MATP Venture. Excerpted by permission.
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