a billy graham center archives exhibit
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Interview with Roy McKeown by Dr. Lois Ferm on July 13, 1971. From Collection 141, audio tape T6; transcript in box 5, folder 14. Duration: 30:44 minutes.
Image from Photo File: Youth for Christ - California.

FERM: So, what we’re really here...the purpose of our interview is to mainly reconstruct, as much as we can, about the 1949 crusade, anything to do with it so that as history is developed about evangelism and these crusades that historians can find out what really happened during those days in Los Angeles in the year of 1949. Now, we were just discussing, before the tape started, about the role of the Hearst newspapers. Why don’t you tell us about, tell a little bit about this? Because I don’t think anyone else has ever touched on this.

MCKEOWN: Okay, well, I’d be happy to do so. Number one, I was director of Youth for Christ in Los Angeles and West Coast Vice President in those days, and, of course, I had the pleasure of meeting Billy because of Youth for Christ and naturally that has done something for me in these great days of serving the Lord. The crusade was under the sponsorship of Christ for Greater Los Angeles, and as director of Youth for Christ, I had the pleasure of being a member of the board of Christ for Greater Los Angeles.

FERM: I have a description of it in here.

MCKEOWN: I suppose all of that’s in there, anyhow.

FERM: No, but that’s ok, go ahead.


FERM: It bears out this says.

MCKEOWN: Three, three weeks were going by and it was a good meeting, nothing sensational, but a good meeting. And then the old blessing came down; and that extra miracle and the boys started finding Christ. And I must confess to you I don’t remember who it was that found the Lord first, whether it was Fritts [Harvey] somebody by the name of Fritts we had from Arizona, he was a cowboy, he was one of the lesser known, but he was...he was a great guy. But then my good buddy, Louis Zamperini, found the Lord, Jim Vaus found the Lord, and Uncle Bill Schofield tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Let’s go forward.” And I stood behind Bill Schofield as he led Jim and Alice Vaus to Christ. And incidentally, it might interest you, I helped Jim take the equipment back that he had stolen from the telephone company and all of that.

FERM: Oh, what a story!

MCKEOWN: In fact, we stayed with Jim and booked Jim [as a speaker] for some two years after that - Jim, and Stuart and Louis Zamperini - watched them grow in the Lord and get all the bumps and criticisms of new Christians, and....

FERM: You said this Mr. Schofield was a very unlikely person to lead men like Jim Vaus to the Lord. Can you describe him a little bit?

MCKEOWN: I had the pleasure of conducting the funeral service for Bill Schofield and there were two other ministers that joined me. And we were talking about it with Ben Weiss and Lawrence Young, whom you have interviewed, at the grave side after we had had the committal service. And we all said that Bill Schofield was the most unlikely person to tap a gangster, a phony, a guy who tried to be a Christian, tried to say he was a friend of Henrietta Mears, and still go to First Pres[byterian] of Hollywood, and still go down to COD, and still be a preacher’s son (which he was)[he is referring to James Vaus]. His father was a Jewish preacher...or to the Jewish people. And here this little man, who really, there was nothing good looking about him at all, but he had the love of Jesus on his face, and when Jim was tapped on the shoulder by this little fellow, looking up at great big Jim Vaus.[Ferm chuckles] Jim told me later, he said, “Roy, I wanted to pop him. But,” he said, “what could I do? He showed me love.” And with that, instead of going to the right, they went to the left. Well, the left led to the tent behind the big tent [the inquirer’s tent]. And Jim Vaus put the fact to...or Bill put the facts to Jim Vaus, “Young man, let’s know Jesus tonight.” Well, you all know the story from there and what happened and how he could have gone back East and had his head blown off; but he was that factual. So, you know, I was quite young then as a Youth for Christ leader and you know, you were awed by all this. You just, you couldn’t believe something like this was happening. Because if I may say so, I was in Homer Rodeheaver’s home when Cliff Barrows, Billy, and Torrey Johnson and some of us...Bob Cook, of course, and Bob Pierce; we were all there looking at some pictures of Billy Sunday, you know, those old...

FERM: Yes, I’ve been there.

MCKEOWN: ...some of those films Homer always used to show.

FERM: Yes, he always had them out.

MCKEOWN: And Cliff Barrows said at that time, “Homer, how in the world did you ever get those crowds?” And I will never forget that. “How in the world did you ever get those crowds.”

FERM: I’ve heard that comment.

MCKEOWN: Well, there were, I think it was about fourteen or fifteen of us there, Youth for Christ fellows. Out in Illinois there. Well, now here we see something begin to unfold and somebody said, “If we could just get the papers to do something about this crusade.”
Well, I had been privileged to know the publisher of the Los Angeles Examiner and I don’t know if anybody knows this--it is very incidental and I am sure it does not mean much except it did mean much to have the papers really start to plug Billy. And I told [R. A.] Mr. Carrington, the publisher of the Los Angeles Examiner, a Hearst newspaper, “Mr. Carrington, the most exciting thing I have ever seen in my life has just happened,” and I said “something ought to be done. Would you do what you have done for us in Youth for Christ and that is give this thing a real push?” Well, immediately they got a hold with Mr. Graham, (and Billy, I don’t know if he ever knows any of this and that’s coincidental) but I think it’s important to know that Mr. Graham went to see the Chief [nickname for William Randolph Hearst], just a little while before he passed away. And the chief was so impressed and he put over the press circuit, “Puff Graham” Well, I think we all know what happened: boom, that thing hit, just hit! [Note: Graham in his memoirs says he never met Hearst. Perhaps McKeown meant a meeting between Graham and Carrington.]

FERM: Mr. Young was saying this morning that he thinks this maybe this one fact, perhaps more than others, in history, will...will...it won’t account for the Los Angeles crusade, because prayer and everything else was there. But it might be the one thing that really got it before the public to such an extent which had given him the rest of its impetus for the rest of his...

MCKEOWN: Well, I agree with you, and keep in mind, I will not forget the night that, most of these men were my seniors by some years, I stood there as a young energetic, immature boy, I’m sure....

FERM: You and Billy both! [Both chuckle]

MCKEOWN: Yes, Billy was scratching for sermons every day;

FERM: Yes, I know it.

MCKEOWN: And in fact, I could name some of the boys who helped him out. You know, it was thrilling to see the humility of Billy. “Well, fellows, I’ve got to have some more messages, give me some Scriptures; what else do you’ve got?”

FERM: This is the honesty of Billy; he still is that way.

MCKEOWN: He’s still that way.

FERM: H’s a dear man.

MCKEOWN: What...what...what can you say? It is just fantastic.

FERM: I know, God has preserved him.

MCKEOWN: An example for all of us.

FERM: He really is.

MCKEOWN: But I think that it was so interesting that night, and I won’t name names, because I’ve already mentioned some of them, but these were the kind of men that were there. We all kept saying, “Well, we got to go another week, we got to go another week!” “Well, we don’t have the money.” “Do we have faith for it?” “Well, but, but, but....” There were all these if’s going on. And finally it was all agreed, of course, that we ought to try another week. Well, if we hadn’t tried that week...and of course God saw to it that men’s minds were changed from tightwad thinking of the dollar bill to “Listen, God can do it, let us go after it”; to that next week became...well, the time when evangelism really started again in this country, you know.

FERM: My husband was in seminary, just finishing a course and had just read the last chapter of a book on evangelism (he took a PhD in Evangelism) which said, “The day of mass evangelism is over.” And then he got on a plane and come out here [Los Angeles] for business purposes and went to Mr. Graham’s meeting and got back and told his professor about this; and his professor was a good enough Christian to say, “Well, tell us about it, we’d like to know.”

MCKEOWN: Isn’t that something?

FERM: And, this wa...this was s the way it was being taught in seminary. Mass evangelism was over!

MCKEOWN: Was all over. And to think what God did. And I...

FERM: That in our life time we could live to see it. This is what is so exciting.

MCKEOWN: So exciting, and I think the thing, of course, the thing that I just thank God for over and over again that I was privileged, certainly privileged, to have been one of the...one of the younger, I guess I, in fact, I was the youngest member of the Committee. And, you know, the thing that was interesting in those days, we were getting good crowds in Youth for Christ...

FERM: Yes.

MCKEOWN: ...and we could not stop it.

FERM: No. That’s true.

MCKEOWN: And this might interest you. You know, in those day in Los Angeles, we could have Charles E. Fuller, at a Youth for Christ rally now, here’s a man who has, certainly not a young man even in those days, but what a godly man. We could have Charles E. Fuller and Rudy Atwood at the piano and the Old Fashioned Revival Hour quartet and fill Church of the Open Door, 4,000 people. Or we could have First Mate Bob and the quartet get a crowd. [from the radio program Haven of Rest] Well, later on that wasn’t the way to work, because, you know, you had to get more relevant to the youth and their setting. But back in that day, we could get...we were getting crowds, we had fantastic groups of servicemen. And I remember there were some of our board members who frowned on the fact that we were going to close down on Saturday night [for the Graham revival] because they said, “After all, we shouldn’t close down at all because every Saturday night we have a continuation of Youth for Christ and it will hurt us and really, you know....” And that was again, it was the smallness of men and I admit none of us, of course, had any idea that the meeting would turn out to be as it was. I mean, I am sure Billy didn’t, that’s for certain.

FERM: Oh, I’m sure he didn’t.

MCKEOWN: But, I was born in Los Angeles. I have watched the city grow and I must say I think it’s most significant that Los Angeles was privileged to have this humble gathering of just plain wonderful people. There weren’t many big shots came to that meeting. Bob Shuler, God bless his memory, at that time he was pastor of Trinity Methodist Church in downtown Los Angeles. Bob Shuler Sr. And Bob made the statement, “As I observe the crowds, the people coming to these meetings....” (And this is before the breakthrough and Stuart Hamblen and all them came to the Lord, and that’s a break, I don’t mean that as a...)

FERM: Well it was a new, it was a new movement.

MCKEOWN: ...a new day, key people coming to know Christ again and God used...Dr Shuler said, “I observe the people coming, and what I see is just wonderful, praying saints that love Jesus, that still believe that God can use a young man.”

[End of first excerpt]

MCKEOWN: Well, I think if there is anything that I would put back into focus on the...the tent meeting at Washington and Hill Streets, it would be that there were just plain wonderful, dear people who prayed. And I think now we are having to be careful that we don’t have mechanical prayers versus prayers from the heart that I see.... I do see a contrast from that day to this day in prayers because we just did not know how to do anything unless the Lord did it. Because nothing was organized, let’s be honest about it, compared to what it would be in today’s approach.

FERM: There had not been any expressions of evangelism either; you had...you were praying in faith, but you did not have any reason

MCKEOWN: On, no.

FERM: ...to believe that you would ever see it.

MCKEOWN: Oh no. And we did not have in those days...well, let’s be honest about it, the only thing, at that point, that was getting crowds on Saturday night Youth for Christ. Billy played a major part in this in the formation...

FERM: That’s true.

MCKEOWN: ...along with Torrey and Bob Cook and some of the others.

FERM: Such a dear man, Bob Cook.

MCKEOWN: Oh, he’s one of my dearest friends.

FERM: A precious man.

MCKEOWN: And Bob...

FERM: Ted Engstrom.

MCKEOWN: And Dick.... Dear Ted. Well. Ted...Ted....

FERM: A little later, yes.

MCKEOWN: Ted was in Grand Rapids at that time...

FERM: Yes. Ted came along later.

MCKEOWN: ...and did a tremendous job there. Of course, Ted is one of my closest buddies. But I look back at the Los Angeles crusade and I say, “You saw this town turned upside down from the dear saints to the movie colony.” And old Stu, you know, I never will forget. Old Stu Hamblen, of course, was drinking every day. It is a known fact. KFWB every day [on his daily radio program], get on there half soaked and then. But tv was not around then and every night as I recall, it 5 o’clock or 6, 6:30, he would be on that station. Nobody could believe that this fellow would even think of going down to a tent, you know. I went with Jim Vaus. I was the second man to see Mickey Cohen; Billy was the first. Jim asked Billy if he’d talk to Mickey. Well....


MCKEOWN: Then I, while the crusade was still going on, he took me out to see Mick and I never will forget.... [chuckles] Mick, Mick...couldn’t believe of course this conversion of Jim Vaus....

FERN: Thought it was a put on.

MCKEOWN: Yes, I mean as all of us had been, you know, Jim, this couldn’t be true. Finally Mick really believed it and he used to call me on the phone. That was kind of a funny experience in those days, especially when my wife would say, “Roy, Mickey Cohen is on the phone.” She would wonder what in the world was going on. I said, “Honey, we are all praying for him. The poor man has paid a terrible price for his tragedy and is to be pitied now. But Jim went out to the car; he had forgotten something he wanted to give to Mickey Cohen. Mick said, “Roy, don’t let Jim Vaus ever come back into this environment that he and I have been a part of.” He said, “It’s real, it has got to be real with Vaus.” So he said, “ Don’t left him...don’t let him ever come back.” Well, of course, Mick learned to appreciate how real it has been with Jim Vaus.

[end of second excerpt]

MCKEOWN: Incidentally, you know Mrs...Mr. and Mrs. Nixon were at this crusade. [Probably referring to the parents of President Richard M. Nixon]

FERM: This 1949 crusade?


FERM: They were?

MCKEOWN: I’m quite sure they were. But I had the them at the rally several times after that.

FERM: How about that!

MCKEOWN: She was my “Mother of the Year” at Youth for Christ and Richard Nixon never forgot that. He never forgot anything that anybody did for his mother. And his mother is everything to him. Something else. She was a godly woman. He was too, the father.

FERM: Susanna Wesley kind of thing.

MCKEOWN: Yes, very much so.

[End of third excerpt]

MCKEOWN: But I think you should...you would be interested to know too, that I think the follow-up of that crusade in 1949.... [pauses] There was, there was such an excitement about what God had done that the whole town was awed.

FERM: Uh-huh.

MCKEOWN: I mean it was stricken by God. And the churches felt...churches that thought evangelism was over, which most of them did.

FERM: And they really didn’t get in at the beginning, did they?

MCKEOWN: Oh no! We all struggled and begged people to come. We literally got on the phone day after day and begged churches to bring fifteen people, five people, you know, anything. “Come, see what’s happening.” I mean, I remember some stories I won’t bore you with here, just, of people.... I would literally get on the phone as one as a committee of...I think had about twenty...Do you remember what they said? Was it eighteen to twenty-two? Or something like that.

FERM: Something like that. I think some of it is in this material here.

MCKEOWN: Yeah. And we would have meetings and say: “Look, I’ll call twenty homes.” I mean, we, you know, it happened and suddenly it had to be really.... Because we had many.... Listen, we had nights when that tent was far from full.

FERM: Mr. Young was telling how you placed chairs far apart to make the tent look full.

MCKEOWN: Well, like that. [laughs] Spread them like that. Showmen, boy, we are from Hollywood, you know.

FERM: Yes sir! [laughs]

MCKEOWN: Spread it.

FERM: Using their techniques.

MCKEOWN: But I think that the greatest...the greatest thing we could say about that crusade is that God worked in a town where no one thought it would happen, Hollywood, Los Angeles. And God...I think God just took the town

FERM: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

MCKEOWN: ...that probably is known now more than any other city in the world, or was then, you see.

[End of fourth excerpt]

MCKEOWN: Well, Billy was the first man, in my lifetime of living in this town...(I am 46 now, we are talking about 1948...‘49, right?) Billy was the first man that came along and gave to Hollywood a freshness of Christianity. It had not been here in my lifetime and I am sure I speak for anybody who will think this through that has lived in this town all these years. He was the man that gave Christianity a new look, for Hollywood to say, “Well, this man is straight.” And they didn’t believe this. And Louella Parsons, if you’d go back over the Hearst articles that she wrote....

FERM: I can find this maybe down there.

MCKEOWN: I think, if my memory serves me right, it was this kind of conversation she brought out, this unusual freshness.

FERM: Uh-huh.

MCKEOWN: This simplicity. This...this man who, if she were talking today, she’d talk about this word “love.” “This love I found.”. We didn’t use that word too much in those days.

FERM: No, no.

MCKEOWN: But today, they would say, “I dig this.” But.... Or they’d say, “this boy...this man is groovy.” You know. I mean, it was all complimentary about what was being said. And then, before you knew it he was being invited to meet with the Hollywood personalities. And that was done quietly, in the way it should be. And the press tried to follow him. I remember some of the...this was all new to Billy too, why did he have to dodge people to get to meet people?
FERM: He was just accustomed to walking in and walking out.

MCKEOWN: Well, yes. So this all blossomed out in my town, if I might say so; I am still proud of my town.

FERM: Well, I think you should be.

MCKEOWN: Here we see some of the sharpest young people in the world go out, across the world, on various endeavors for Christ: to the Peace Corps, to Christian service, to doctors and lawyers and business people. And I just think that Billy did for Los Angeles something that had never been done in the life time of this city. He shook city hall, he shook the press, he certainly shook the preachers. I mean, he made, excuse the expression, fools out of a lot of the men who said it was all over. And I might also add he even had some men who had to ask forgiveness for a few things they said about evangelism, and a few things they’d said about Youth for Christ and a few things they had said about some of us hot rodders with wide ties, you know.

FERM: Of course, Billy had rather wide ties.

MCKEOWN: Hey, we are back with the wide ties again. [laughs]

FERM: Yes, I was going to say, if all of you had saved.... Especially the ones that Palmer Muntz used to give out, that was painted down the front from Winona Lake [Bible conference ground in Indiana] do you remember?

MCKEOWN: Sure. I remember that.

[End of fifth excerpt]

MCKEOWN: Well, let me tell you something. Now when you go down there [to Washington and Hill streets where the tent was], we who remember that as just plain dirt down there and then the sawdust on top of the dirt and then a piece of canvas stuck up in the air, that’s holy ground to us.

FERM: I believe it.

MCKEOWN: That’s holy ground to the people of Los Angeles that know Jesus. It’s now holy ground, to some degree, to the world because it started there.

FERM: That’s right.

MCKEOWN: And, but anytime I’m down there, and I go down in that area quite often (it’s right by the Los Angeles Examiner and I’m down there quite a bit) always something comes back to my mind what God did. Now, this might interest you, at that crusade, a little lady by the name of Alice Brooks, do you know the name at all?

FERM: No, never heard...the name hasn’t come up yet.

MCKEOWN: This is...this typical of the kind of converts that came out of that crusade. Alice Brooks came with Jim and Alice Vaus. Alice Brooks was an executive secretary(it slips my mind if I can get this for you, well, I have it at the office) for some amusement company, . For some amusement company, as I remember.

FERM: Not the Los Angeles Rams?

MCKEOWN: In fact it was the Los Angeles Rams.

FERM: Yeah, well now, your in...Dr. Ben...Dr. Ben Weiss told me about her but he couldn’t remember her name. Now you told her name and....

MCKEOWN: She found the Lord there.

FERM: Yes. Now I’ve got, we’ve got the whole story.

MCKEOWN: So he told you the whole story. Did he tell you where she is now?

FERM: In Jamaica?

MCKEOWN: Alright well, you’ve better let me correct that in case he....

FERM: Perhaps he’s forgotten.

MCKEOWN: Well, it’s certainly reasonable.

FERM: Well, yes.

MCKEOWN: I...World Opportunities is my organization, we support he monthly. I suppose I naturally would be able to....

FERM: Tell, tell. I think maybe Ben told me about this after the tape was over too, so....

MCKEOWN: Well, it is so interesting because here you see a man and his...

[brief blank spot in the recording]

...Rams, executive secretary she had a high position there...

FERM: That’s what Mr. Weiss....

MCKEOWN: ...never knew Jesus Christ and no one had ever told her of the Lord. She finds the Lord at this wonderful tent meeting. Now the beautiful thing about it is where is she today? This is 1971.

FERM: She came and she was your secretary. Secretary at the....

MCKEOWN: Oh, thank you, yes. She was our executive secretary, our secretary, because Claude Jenkins was our Executive Secretary...

FERM: Yes.

MCKEOWN: ...bless his memory, and there is a man that I would trust somebody’s substitution....

FERM: Everybody has alluded to him and told about him.

MCKEOWN: He was our dear man.

FERM: A dear man.

MCKEOWN: Lots of memories about Claude Jenkins. When, then she became secretary for the Christ for Greater Los Angeles movement...

FERM: Uh-huh.

MCKEOWN: ...and then worked with me personally on some other things, so I got to know her quite well. And one day she said, “Roy, I just feel the Lord will have me go to the mission field somewhere.” Well, anyway, she ends up being....

FERM: Didn’t she have a couple children...


FERM: ...and then the Vaus’ take her in or Ben Weiss or somebody took her in for a little while?

MCKEOWN: That could be true, I don’t recall that. But I will say this, that her daughter found the Lord through Youth for Christ after her mother found the Lord at the crusade...

FERM: Oh great.

MCKEOWN: ...and was in one of our Youth for Christ clubs and then finally found a nice Christian boy and is happily married with a nice family and going on with the Lord today...

FERM: oh good.

MCKEOWN: ...as well, as a family. So where is Alice Brooks today? The past several years she’s been down in Trinidad in a little town called San Fernando which is about sixty miles from Port of Spain, in Trinidad, which is one of those off the coast of South America. What is she doing? Alice Brooks has been there (if my memory serves me right, I could be wrong on this but I’ll make it) seven or eight years now or longer. She went there by faith. She asked Texaco Company if they would put some old furniture into her house that she rented by faith, and they asked her what she wanted to do with it. She said, “Well, I want to take some of the little girls that are here that are expecting children”; girls that were just thrown out into the street when they had the tragedy hit without marriage. And the way things happen in Trinidad is that you can live any way you want to but if you get pregnant, very frankly...

FERM: Out you go.

MCKEOWN: ...out you go and there is no place for you. This beautiful light from Washington and Hill Street...streets now is in Trinidad with this beautiful home. I was there just a few weeks ago. I go and see her once or twice a year and sit at that table with these little Indian girls, these little black girls. The girl sitting next to me was twelve and a half years of age, within three weeks expecting a baby. The only...the only white person there is Alice. She doesn’t really encourage too many men to come there, even from America, so that they do not get any ideas about going to America or anything else you might think of.

FERM: Uh-huh.

But she is just there as that angel of light, this beautiful person from the results of Billy’s meeting

FERM: Praise the Lord.

MCKEOWN: ...and if the meeting had not gone into the fourth week probably she would never have known the Lord.

My secretary Helen has been with me for sixteen and a half years and Helen was saying at the office staff meeting the other day when we were having our time of prayer, she said, “No one has ever impressed me about reality in Christ than Alice Brooks because when Alice comes home, she simply radiates the Lord.”

[End of sixth excerpt]

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