Blog: Evangelist Culpepper Attacks Photo Shows, Cape’s “Obscene Audience” (11/30/21)

Last week’s blog recounted the condemnation of dancing, especially in schools, by a local Methodist pastor, as well as a traveling evangelist, both from the pulpit of the Centennial Methodist Church in 1921.

Evangelist Burke Culpepper, whose revival meeting in Centenary lasted three weeks, also had a few choice words for those who frequented theaters on the Sabbath. A film – “Innocence” – shown in two theaters in Cape Girardeau at the same time Culpepper was preaching to the masses in Centenary was fiercely condemned by Burke. To make matters worse, the film’s star, Audrey Munson, appeared here in person two evenings at the Park and Orpheum theaters “in a series of famous picture poses”.

Online research shows that Munson was extremely popular as an artist model, posing for a number of American sculptors and painters, before becoming an actor. By 1921, when she graced the stage at Cape theaters, her career was in decline. In October 1921, while appearing in the same act she brought to Cape Girardeau the following month, she was arrested at the Theater Royal in St. Louis on a character charge relating to nudity in the film. She was then acquitted.

The Southeast Missourian published an article November 17, 1921, announcing Munson’s appearance here, but made no mention of his legal issues in St. Louis.


“A remarkable and true interpretation of the beauty of sculpture and the female form” was the sculptor’s verdict on “Innocence,” the seven-part American special production starring Audrey Munson, after a view of the photo in the Mutual (Film Corporation) ‘screening room.

Miss Munson will appear in person at the Park Theater Thursday and Friday night and at the Orpheum Theater Thursday night.

Due to the great interest in Audrey Munson and her work among the sculptors and painters of America, the Mutual Film Corporation invited a number of prominent artists to attend a special presentation of the image.

The list included a large number of men whose word rules in American art, and their unsolicited expressions of approval and admiration are of particular significance due to the character of the production. The dramatic element of the image, while important, does not necessarily have to be accepted as dominant. From the sculptors’ point of view, Miss Munson’s pose was of primary interest, while the plot and action only served to make the poses acquire real meaning and give them a proper dramatic setting. Among those included in the table of famous guests at the “Innocence” screening were: Augustus Lukeman, William L. Dodge, Piccirilli Brothers, Sherry Fry, Adolph Weinman, Daniel Chester French, Henry Hering, Scarpitta and Albert Jaegers.

Posted November 18, 1921 in the Southeast Missourian:


In the most passionate sermon he has given here, the painting and exhibit “Audrey Munson” at Cape Girardeau last night was the target of a denunciation by the Rev. Burke Culpepper during the revival at Centenary Church yesterday evening.

“This is the most damned, dirtiest, meanest, ugliest picture I have ever seen in my life. I don’t blame the showman so much as he runs his show for the dollar. almighty, but I blame the dirty and obscene He gives him the kind of pictures he wants or he wouldn’t be there.

“I have no doubt, but there will be about as many women and girls as there will be men; maybe some of the high society people. Some of them say their ears are too tender to take what Culpepper has to say, but they are ready to let their eyes contemplate this picture. ” The speaker’s words were warmly applauded by the assembly.

Reverend (EH) Orear stood up and said he approved of Culpepper’s remarks. “The worst part is,” he said, “that this image is shown in the name of art. If it’s art, I thank God my education was neglected.”


“You are worse than the South Carolina buzzards!” Shouted the speaker (Culpepper), referring to church members attending the Sunday photo shows. “In Charleston, the buses come to the market on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, when it’s open during all work, but on Sundays they stay at home. We’ve got Methodists that’s not as proud as the South Carolina hawks.

“No, I’m not angry – I told you if anyone gets angry it would be you. I’m tired of seeing the Sabbath prostitute for commercial gain. Every time the Sabbath falls, the house falls country follows it. Photo shows take a hit in your homes. The only way to stop them is to cut off their exit receipts. Whenever the public asks for crisp footage, theaters will provide it. “

When he asked everyone who would agree not to attend a Sunday performance to stand up, about half of the congregation stood. About the same number had admitted to attending Sunday exhibitions.

“The way of the transgressor is difficult,” was the text of the sermon. “God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the beautiful Garden of Eden. “You can drink from the beautiful gurgling streams, eat the fruits of the garden, except that you must not eat the fruits of this tree,” they are told. But they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, and when they did so, they hid themselves.

Loose sin

“Sin hides – it is cowardly. It hides under the cover of night. More women go astray at night than at any other time. How much mischief is committed at night! There are more murders committed. , more thefts, more crimes of all kinds, at night than at any other time. When God asked Adam what he had done, he said his wife had done it. get out of the garden, and as Adam took Eve by the hand to drive her away, the voice of God rang out from heaven, ‘The way of the transgressor is difficult.’

“Sin is immodest. When Cain was asked where Abel was, he responded with an impudent response. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ When I was in Montgomery, Alabama, a man came to my room and told me he had killed a man. He said he saw this man everywhere. man but will not stay dead. ‘”

Denouncing the actors and actresses of cinema and the images they broadcast, the speaker continued: “I would rather confide in my boys Jesse James and his outlaws than to these actors and actresses. other cause.

Fight against obscenity

“The next battle we engage in is the one against obscenity. The whiskey has been rejected; it has gone too far and the pictures do the same. One of the greatest agents of immorality and divorce is certain of these devilish images. These shows are not satisfied six days a week. They are not allowed to show on Sundays any more than your hardware store or other stores are allowed to be open.

“They have as much right to sell gods as they have the right to sell movies about crime and sin.

“I am fighting against sin and if we don’t stand up and fight, no one knows where the world will end up. Free love is likely to substitute for marriage. This is how we run the average girl. who sits and looks some of these pictures are not suitable for marriage and motherhood.

“In the name of art! They go further and further. I wish God had been mayor of this city. I would have closed this show in 15 minutes. The same class of people stand for these things like Christ. crucified If they had what they wanted, you’d have bullfighting in this city, houses of meeting, a city wide open.

“Sin is the most shameless thing on earth. It’s hard on the house, hard on the people, hard on the city. I’m fed up with trashing the souls of our children. Give us a cleaning in Cape Girardeau. nuts tough to cook here like I’ve never seen and people as good as I’ve never met We’ll keep fighting until the church has a fair and square chance.

Well treated

“I have never been to a city where I have been treated better than here. The people here are very liberal and hospitable. But I will say at the same time that I have never been in a city where a meeting of constant wake-up call was no longer needed. I was speaking with St. Louis today and the man I was speaking with said he was surprised I was successful as Cape Town was considered one of the worst places in the world. southeastern Missouri.

“The problem with the right people is that they won’t stick together – won’t work together. I’m sure there are more people against Sunday shows here, say, than there. I’m going to make a prediction that in five years there won’t be a Sunday show in America, it’s like whiskey.

rough shoes

“The way of the transgressor is difficult, and sin makes you hard. The more you sin, the more difficult you become. separates from the dancing, the Sunday show, and other things. I had just cut the devil’s wire and drifted into hell like a man. “

The speaker repeated Sam Jones’ stories to show that sometimes heroic treatment was needed to save people. The evangelist had to use the same methods, attacking the sin and the popular vices and evils of the time. A woman in Georgia mistakenly took morphine, thinking it was quinine. The doctor slapped the woman, pulled her hair, stuck pins in her while she begged to sleep. He told her that if she closed her eyes he would kill her.

“Let me say, don’t think I like it – chasing after people’s domestic sins in coarse-shod shoes. I’ve never been anywhere except what people told me not to preach against dancing, playing cards, desecrating the Sabbath. It would be easier for me to preach on a pleasant and peaceful subject, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’ I don’t give lectures for money but I work for souls. Many girls were destroyed by dancing; I’d be a sorry preacher if I didn’t condemn the dance. I could preach sweet sermons and maybe fill houses just the same. “

The evangelist said he preferred a group to come to his hotel, take him out and beat him black and blue for preaching the way he thought it was his duty to receive five or ten thousand dollars. , and gifts of jewelry and other valuables to “kick your pussy” and dodge …

On his final evening at Centenary Methodist Church, Reverend Culpepper was invited by Pastor, Reverend EH Orear, to return to Cape Girardeau the following fall for a two-week revival. Culpepper agreed, “saying he would come back for two weeks if they showed their good faith by shutting down the photo shows on Sunday.”

I checked the Southeastern Missourian newspapers on the spot the following fall and found commercials for Sunday shows at all three Cape Girardeau theaters: the Park, the Orpheum, and New Broadway.

Missourian records do not show that Reverend Culpepper ever returned here to lead another revival.

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