Billy Graham Center
Collection 140 - Everett Mitchell. T1 Transcript
This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview with Everett Mitchell (CN 140, T1) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing.
Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcript, made by Bob Shuster and Benjamin Kirk Hayward, was completed in November 2005.
WILSON: All right. It is Thursday, September 18, 1980. Go ahead and lean back, it'll pick up everything in the room, so be comfortable. [Chuckles] We are with Mr. Everett Mitchell, and first thing I'd like to ask him is to tell us a little bit about himself: where you were born, when you were born, about your boyhood, your education, your career?
MITCHELL: Well, bless your heart, I was fortunate enough to be born in what is now an Austin [a former Chicago suburb] part of Chicago. At that time, it was not...not part of Chicago, because Chicago stopped at what they all called "old Forty-Eighth Street," which is now Cicero Avenue.
MITCHELL: And it was the place where I was born was called Moore land [?]. And it was out in a little agricultural community, my father was a vegetable farmer. And I was born on March 15, 1898. And a very peculiar thing happened, and in fact, the country doctor came, at two o'clock in the thunder and lightning storm, and delivered me, but so many years later, after I was going on a mission for the...my own country here, I had to be reconfirmed that I was okay with the FBI and the government Secret Service. And I did not have a birth certificate. And he said that "What was another boy in those days? They had boys, everybody had boys, and another boy didn't mean much." So he didn't drive to the county seat and register me. But finally, I found him when I needed this birth certificate, and he was ninety-six years old. [Wilson chuckles] And, that's another part of the story though.
MITCHELL: Would you like to hear that story?
MITCHELL: Well, that story is the fact that when I sat down with him, he said that he had kept track of me over a period of years because he had been following me on the radio, and then he said to me "Now, what year was you...,were you supposed to be born?" And I said "1898." So he reached up on the shelf, pulled a book down, and then he kept turning to the Mitchell account and he said now, he said "You had a lot of trouble in your family that year." And he said "What was that date again?" I said "March 15." So he turned it to March 15, and there it was, entered in the book, "One boy, ten dollars." And I looked at it, and I said "But Doctor, it isn't...it isn't paid." And he said "Well, there's a story goes with that, because I had lost my boy two months before you were born. Your mother had seven girls, and she...that was a lot of mouths to feed, and times were pretty hard. And so," he said, "I went to her and said to her, ‘Now, you may not be able to take care of this little fellow, so I'll adopt him.'" And he said, "she looked me right straight in the eye, and said ‘Well, Doctor, God has given me the opportunity and the ability to feed the others, and I'm sure that God will continue to give me the opportunity to feed this one.'" So he said "I was a little ashamed of myself, and I never sent her a bill." So I said "Well, Doctor," I said "I'll tell you what I'll do. I won't give you compound interest, but I will give you...I will pay the bill with interest." So I did pay it to him, and he was very, very proud, because he said he never got that much for delivery of a child before. The unfortunate thing is, he took the money and went on a vacation. He was ninety six years old, and still driving. And he was killed in Indiana, on...on that vacation. But I'm the only one that I know who has ever paid for his own delivery.
WILSON: [Laughs] I'm sure of that.
WILSON: You mentioned your career in radio. Would you outline that for us?
MITCHELL: Ah. Yes. I was...I started in radio in 19 and 23, of November. There was only at that time one or two stations in Chicago, and one of them was KYW. I got into radio on a dare, because I had been doing some appearances at the local churches and giving some concerts, and some of my young friends, who had been listening to radio on a crystal set thought that it...it would be a good idea for me to go down and have an audition. Well, in those days, usually a piano player was the only one that was on duty, and the only talent he had was whoever happened in the door.
MITCHELL: So I went down, and...and sang on old KYW, and I remember the song that I sang which was The Sunshine of Your Smile. And so they accepted me, and then I began to sing on the various radio stations, as they came into being. And in 19 and 2.... the end of ‘24, I went to WENR, which was E.N. Rollins' station of all-American radio. And there, I sang on a Christmas Eve. They didn't have any talent, so I didn't have any trouble getting into that one, and I sang the Prisoner's Song. Now, the man who owned the station....
WILSON: That's what, "Tramp, tramp, tramp"?
MITCHELL: Yes, that was, "Oh, if I had the wings of an angel/over these prison walls I would fly/I would fly to the arms of my dear darling/and there I'd be willing to die." And this owner of the station Mr. E.N. Rollins, was listening so he called, and asked me if I wouldn't want to sing permanently on the...on the staff.
MITCHELL: I did sing permanently on the staff, and then within six months, I was managing the station. So that started my radio career, which lasted forty-four years. I was taken over twice in mergers, [pauses] as fixtures and so forth and so on. And the last time, I went to National Broadcasting Company, and there I had thirty-eight years on one program, straight, with a sponsor of eighteen years, eighteen years straight, the same sponsor. So....
WILSON: Which was?
MITCHELL: Yeah, that was the Allis Chalmers Manufacturing Company, and selling tractors and so forth.
WILSON: Oh, I grew up with Allis Chalmers.
MITCHELL: Yes...yes, and it was a wonderful company, so it really was my church singing that got me into radio.
WILSON: Now, your...your radio career was by and large a secular affair, then.
MITCHELL: Oh, yes.
WILSON: How did....
MITCHELL: Now, in the beginning, I sang classical songs, but then I had to go into ballads.
MITCHELL: And the ballads were very successful. But one thing that had happened, my voice changed when I was twelve years old, and I turned out to be a bass-baritone, so that in school, they wouldn't let me sing with the chorus, because I had this deep voice with a terrific amount of volume.
MITCHELL: Well, in those days, there weren't any microphones and so forth and so on, so with this terrific volume, and the high bass-baritone voice, I was able to...to get along very well in...in concerts.
MITCHELL: But what had happened was my Sunday School teacher, she thought she...she liked my voice, she took me to a...a vocal teacher when I was fourteen years of age, and started to give me vocal lessons. And the first song that I sang was And I Shall See Him Face to Face. That was the first...first song that I sang. And there's another connection with that, with...with Billy Sunday, which I'll tell you about a little later on.
WILSON: Okeydoke. Well, let's.... It was as a singer that you were involved with Billy Sunday, was it not?
MITCHELL: Yes. Yes.
WILSON: How did that all come about?
MITCHELL: Well, that came about through the fact that.... By the way, I knew and first heard of Billy Sunday sixty-eight years ago. I then...It was a year before I got to meet Billy Sunday, so it's been sixty-seven years since I first met Billy Sunday.
MITCHELL: And that was a...a very, very fine thing, because you see, Billy Sunday had been converted at the Pacific Garden Mission. I also went down and sang at the Pacific Garden Mission, and they used to have an outdoor meeting where they would sing on the street corners, before they invited the people who were gathered around into the mission for the service. And I used to sing with the...with the group. In fact, before I met Billy Sunday, I met Gipsy Smith and...and he sang in.... I mean he preached in a...an old saloon on North Clark Street called the "Bucket of Blood." Also I sang for a couple of other evangelists, because you see, at that time, the churches used to have a spring and a fall revival...
MITCHELL: ...and I used to sing at those...those revivals, because I loved to sing church songs, and so I sang all of the old hymns. Well, anyway, getting back to Pacific Garden, I met people there that were connected with Billy Sunday, and they felt that I ought to meet Billy Sunday. So they took me down to Winona Lake, Indiana, and that is where I met Billy Sunday. And it was a...a very wonderful meeting, because there I was able to...to see him not on the...on the platform, but as...as he lived in his home.
MITCHELL: Now, when I sang for him for an audition, it was unaccompanied, and I sang for him And I Shall See You Face To Face. But I ne.... I Shall See Him Face to Face. And I never have seen anybody that reacted like he did, because when I finished, he had tears in his eyes. Now, I had a very peculiar born-in trait, and that was what.... There was kind of a little wail in the...in the...in the voice, that appealed to people. And in fact, in later years, I was able to sing a few times in the synagogue, because I could learn some of their Jewish songs....
MITCHELL: Especially [Sings] "Eeilee, eeilee, and, oh, how it goes." [Returns to normal voice] Then, years later, I got to the Wailing Wall [in Jerusalem], but that's another story. But getting back to Billy Sunday, he was very, very human, and in the summertime.... See, I was still going to school. In the summertime, he had some services there at Winona Lake, Indiana, so he asked me if I would sing at some of those services, and especially sing the invitation song. And his favorite was Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling, Calling to You and to Me. And then [sings] "Come home, come home, come home, Ye who are weary come home." [Returns to normal voice] Pretty good for eighty two. And, so that...those are the type of songs that I sang. Now, he was a...a very observing person, and he would.... He analyzed the situation. Boys at that...in those days, at fourteen, wanted to get into long pants, but the thought that it would be better, because I was a little fellow, to keep me in knickers for a while, and...and he did. I...I stayed in knickers. Now, I was with him for four years, singing in Indiana, in Illinois, in Iowa and in Ohio, and the...the last one that I remember.... See all of these were in tabernacles at that time.
MITCHELL: He...he used to...to have his meetings in a local church, and the church would organize with another group of churches and they would pool their choirs so that they would have a big choir, and then they would all attend those...those services. But the...the last service that I remember with him, the last year, and I believe it was the year of 1916 [actually 1918] he had a tabernacle on the lakefront, in Chicago, and his tabernacles, by the way, you've heard of the "sawdust trail." [People coming forward at an evangelist's meeting to give their life to Christ were said to, "hit the sawdust trail."]
MITCHELL: Well, they had sawdust on the floor. And he...he felt that with that sawdust on the floor, it would take the...the marks of the...it was the noise of the people coming up to the...to the front, it would dull that noise, and so that's why they called it "the sawdust trail." And I sang on the lakefront in Chicago. That was an old...old wooden building, a tabernacle, and by the way, the lumber was donated by the lumber interests in Chicago. And that lumber then, after the tabernacle was torn down, was given away for charitable purposes. So it...it stood in its stead. [sic] But that was a wonderful group of meetings. Now, one thing that Billy Sunday did, was he divided his program into various sections so that he would hold group meetings of all kinds of people in all walks of life.
MITCHELL: You see, in the early days, he was an alcoholic, and....
WILSON: Billy Sunday?
MITCHELL: Yes. And one of the reasons he probably was, was because in those days, much of the life of the nation revolved around the saloon. Because the saloon had a bar, but most of them had a hall, where people would gather for recreation. So you could easily be exposed to the saloon. Well, in the...in the...the saloon, women could not go to the bar, but they had a...a rear room, or the other recreation room, where they could go to the bar. Well, much of the...of the social life of the nation revolved around the saloon, so it was very easy for him to get drawn into those things. He was an alcoholic when he was with what they called The White Stockings here in Chicago. [Billy Sunday was never in fact an alcoholic.] That was the baseball team that he was with. He happened down to Van Buren and State streets with a group of...of baseball players, and they were going to go out for a night on the town, in the saloons. While they were on.... They were together on this mission, they happened into one of the meetings of the Pacific Garden Mission, on the corner of State and...and Van Buren. And he listened, he not only listened, but he went into the mission, and was attracted to it. Now, not on the first meeting was he converted, but three or four meetings later, he was converted, and then he gave up liquor, and that's why a large part of his evangelistic campaign was against liquor, and why he was so hated by the liquor interests who spread a lot of misinformation about Billy Sunday.
WILSON: How interesting.
MITCHELL: Yeah. So he was...he was converted.
MITCHELL: Now, I remember those saloon days in my boyhood, because I happened to go to the...to school, the grammar school, with the daughter of a saloon keeper. And [pauses] there were many times that they had social things from the school in the...the saloon hall. And it was called Zeke's Hall, and Zeke was a very prosperous, famous saloon keeper. All saloon keepers in those days were prosperous, because many of them went in and spent their...their paychecks.
WILSON: Uh-huh. Do you have any reminiscences about your personal meetings with Sunday?
MITCHELL: Yes. I have a personal observation of Billy Sunday. Billy Sunday was a dynamo. Billy Sunday was a real man of God, who was real consecrated, no matter what many people said. But, one thing he did was, he was a terrific student of the Bible, and a...and studied the Bible, so that for instance, when he gave his sermons, his sermons were authentic.
MITCHELL: And he had an uncanny ability of quoting statistics, and when he would...he would talk on a certain subject, why he would...he would give all of these figures on the subject that would affect it. One thing he did, was having come up as a...as a boy, from the country as a poor boy, losing his father before he was born, he never, ever forgot the common people. So that he spoke to the common people. He did not speak down, but he spoke their language, and he would not speak above them. So they were able to understand the things that he said. He had a wonderful, wonderful interpretation of the Gospel. I rem...recall him well, and many times when I would sing the song for him, he would pace back and forth behind me, and he would say "Sing it, son, sing it." And then [chuckles] I would sing it. And then I...I remember how [coughs] how he would, excuse me, how he would offer the invitation, and how the people would come in droves to the platform. He was one of the original...original evangelists who set up a pattern, and it wasn't hit or miss, so that he had a.... Well, he had an uncanny ability to read...read a human being. And when he would meet these people, he would analyze them. Now, one thing he did, was he never, ever, pulled a punch. In other words, if you asked him a question, he gave you a very direct answer. It might not be to your liking, but it would be a truthful answer.
MITCHELL: And so that...that attracted a lot of people, and distracted a lot of people from him. Now, these saloon keepers, in his talks against liquor and talks against the saloon, banded together and would go to some of these meetings. And then they would...would distribute a lot of bad publicity about the meeting.
MITCHELL: The saloon keepers and unfortunately, in those days, most of the reporters on the papers were men who drank.
MITCHELL: And so they were...they were against all of this talk about saloon keepers, and also liquor, and also drunks. And so they would give him some unfavorable publicity, but he would always answer the...the publicity, and...and was accepted. He was a very unusual man, because he absolutely believed in what he said. He did not gild the lily, and he was...and he was a great believer in Hell, and also in...in Satan. I remember one thing where he had a sermon where he used to invite the Devil to come up and fight, and he would just stand up and...and take a pose, you know, like a....
WILSON: Like he was jousting with him?
MITCHELL: Yes, yes like his.... The Devil was gonna come up, and he was...he was ready to...to fight with the Devil. So his.... And then sometimes, he would get so excited that he'd get up on top of the table, and...and preach from the top of the table. So he was a...he was a very dynamic preacher, but his success, I think, was due to his research, and also to his organization of the presentation of his sermons. Now, he would speak on many, many different subjects of life. Well, one of the...the key things that would happen would be that he would have these sectional meetings. And in this meeting, one of the most unusual things happened in the...in the...the campaign in Chicago. He was so effective, and had such a drawing card, and made such an impression, that the State Street merchants would allow their different employees, if it was...say, if it was a men's meeting at ten O'clock in the morning, they would give them time off...
MITCHELL: ...so that they could go to that meeting. If he had a women's meeting, they would give the women the time off. He even...he even spoke to children. And he was a great...great man for setting up morals for youth. Having seen life, and having gone through life, these things all came from the heart.
MITCHELL: They weren't imagined. And that was one of the reasons that he was...he was one of the greatest. Now, when he was in the Chicago campaign, he...I think he...I think he...he was about ready to retire, but he still had a terrific group of people. I think he went until about 1920 [Sunday never retired, but he did hold smaller meetings.]. And then, he died in 1930 , but I think he retired and...and was a little less active after...after the Chicago meeting, he was beginning to...to go into a...a decline. But Billy Sunday was a forerunner, and one nice thing about Billy Sunday, was the fact that he might not always agree with some of the other pastors, and they might not agree with him, but he never, ever slandered anybody else's religion. In those days, it was very popular to slander the Catholic church.
MITCHELL: But he did not slander the Catholic church, and he talked about the good parts of the Catholic church. So....
WILSON: Well, now, why do you think he did that?
MITCHELL: Why did he do it? I think he did it because he felt that they believed in Jesus Christ, as he believed in him, and they worshiped God, and he...he felt that they...they should be supported in their...their love of Jesus Christ and their belief in the Holy Virgin, and so forth.
MITCHELL: The Virgin Birth. And I.... And he...he never, never, ever did talk about any other.... Against any other denomination, and I think that's why he drew all of these...these wonderful people to him.
WILSON: Uh-huh. If you were at Winona Lake, you must have met Mrs. Sunday.
MITCHELL: Yes. She was a wonderful woman. And she was known as "Ma" Sunday and by the way, she was a very, very wonderful help to him, and she was the one who was his financial advisor. And she was the one who took care of all of the finances, and he was relieved of that. One thing, there was such a...a great attachment between her and him, that he used to get terrifically lonesome when he was away from her too long. So, that was one of their...their nice periods of their life, when they were at Winona Lake together.
WILSON: You mentioned finances. Were you paid for your services?
MITCHELL: Yes, I was...I was paid, but you see, I was going to school at the same time, so I only...only did the...the singing with Billy Sunday when...when I had holidays...
MITCHELL: and...and vacation time, So....
WILSON: So it was mainly summer?
MITCHELL: Yes. So usually in the summer, yes. But I...I was...I was taken care of, but that was...was paid to my parents, because in those days [chuckles] young people were not supposed to be able to handle their finances. But my parents saved it for me, and so I was able to do some things later in life with some of the money I got from it.
WILSON: Do you remember what the terms were? I mean, what.... Like, were you paid by the song, or by the rally, or....?
MITCHELL: I...I...I was paid by the appearance, yes, yes. I was paid by the appearance. And then he paid all of my transportation costs. Now, when I went out with him, when...when he was on the road, I would stay in...in somebody's home, and I remember staying in...in the home of a Catholic group, two Catholic old maids. And they were attracted to his...his campaign.
MITCHELL: So the...the meeting was at the local church.
WILSON: So how...how would these lodging arrangements be made?
MITCHELL: He would make them. Now, he...he only had eight people on his staff, so he did a...a great amount of work with...with eight people. So you can see how well and how tightly he was organized.
WILSON: That he would be. Do you remember the Sunday children?
MITCHELL: The Sunday what?
MITCHELL: I remembered hearing of one son. And, by the way, what I heard, and I guess it was authenticated, was the fact that that one son that I've heard of was a great...a great...very great deal of sorrow to him, because he was an alcoholic.
WILSON: And it was a sad thing. Well, none of the Sundays turned out terribly well, but I was just wondering if you had ever met them.
MITCHELL: I just saw them. I never had the pleasure of meeting them.
MITCHELL: But I felt sorry for him about the fact that this one sone was...was not too...too good
WILSON: So what were some of the sermons that particularly interested you. You mentioned the "Fighting with the Devil"one.
MITCHELL: Yes. Well, he would preach on love. He would preach on human beings. He would preach on the relationship to God. He would pick out a sinner. He would preach on your mother. He would preach on your father.
MITCHELL: And those were some of the subjects he would preach. They were very human subject. And that, I think, was part of his success, because so many people at that time were preaching above the heads of people who were not as highly educated as they are today.
MITCHELL: Luckily, we're highly...more highly educated.
WILSON: You mentioned the invitation songs and all. Would he give the invitation and then you would sing or...?
MITCHELL: Yes, he would give the invitation and then I would sing while they were coming down the aisle.
MITCHELL: And then if I would finish the hymn, he would ask me to sing the chorus again.
MITCHELL: And so I would sing the chorus again. And so it was...it was a very emotional thing, coming down the aisle. One thing I always did, he took me down from the platform to where the people would come...
MITCHELL: when I would sing, so that they would see me and I would see them.
WILSON: You would meet them eye to eye.
MITCHELL: Yes, I would meet them eye to eye.
MITCHELL: Yes. He had a wonderful psychology.
WILSON: I guess.
WILSON: What...what were the acoustics like in these...?
MITCHELL: In those days, you had to be able to sing a note and, as we called it, project.
MITCHELL: So they could hear you at the end of the...of the hall. Now, usually, most of the acoustics were pretty good. There was too many...was too much vibration. You see, in those days with no microphones, no...no amplification and so forth and so on, all of the sound had to be projected well and one of the reasons I could project was that I had had those singing lessons...
MITCHELL: And that came in handy because I pronounced my words well. Now, usually, most people are lazy in their speech and they...and they would just talk about down like that [lowers his voice], instead of raising it up...
MITCHELL: And projecting. And it...it was...it was.... You had to have volume. And that's one thing I had, a lot of volume. So I was able to fill the building.
MITCHELL: And they were able to understand me.
MITCHELL: It was very essential that they understood the words, like for instance, "Come now, come now, while the chorus is here. Tomorrow may be too late." All the old, old song, like "There will be showers of blessing," and so forth and so on, you know.
WILSON: That was a Rodeheaver hymn, wasn't it? [Homer Rodeheaver was a hymn writer and publisher and also Billy Sunday's song leader for many years.]
WILSON: Did you ever know him?
WILSON: Homer Rodeheaver?
MITCHELL: Oh yes. Yes, I knew him. He was a....a....the man who had charge of the chorus work for Billy Graham. Or, excuse me! Being at the Billy Graham Center, I would say that! For Billy Sunday. And (Billy Graham must be thinking of me) I would meet him. But my idea of Rodeheaver was the fact that Billy Sunday was the one who pushed me and guided me and told me what to do.
MITCHELL: Rodeheaver did not. I think sometimes that there might have been a funny little feeling. I had that...had that feeling sometimes that maybe Billy Sunday should have let Rodeheaver direct me.
MITCHELL: That's the way I felt.
WILSON: I am not sure exactly what you're saying here. Are you saying that...that you and Rodeheaver didn't exactly get along?
MITCHELL: What's that?
WILSON: Are you saying you and Rodeheaver didn't exactly get along or...?
MITCHELL: Oh, no, no, no! We never had any trouble. He was a wonderful man. He really was. But I kind of felt as though maybe the music department being his department, Billy should have let him do it, because he did....
WILSON: Oh, okay.
MITCHELL: Yes, he shouldn't of had...he shouldn't have deviated.
MITCHELL: And, by the way, Billy would chose the song to, the hymn that was to sung for the meeting...
MITCHELL: So that it would fit into...into the subject.
WILSON: When would he tell you?
WILSON: Would he whisper it in your ear right before you were to start or what?
MITCHELL: Well, I would know a couple of days ahead of time.
MITCHELL: Because he...he was a very orderly person and he had these things all worked out...
MITCHELL: ...so he could.
WILSON: Did you sing a capella then?
MITCHELL: No, I sang with the piano or the organ...
MITCHELL: at that time. However, I could sing a capella, because I knew the hymns so well and knew the words. And pretty soon I didn't have to thumb through the pages of the hymnal to get them. If he called on me to deviate into another one while I was there, while I could do it...
MITCHELL: Because I had all those old hymns at my fingertips, having sung them in the evangelistic meetings from boyhood
WILSON: You mentioned that he liked Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling.
WILSON: What were some of the other hymns that he favored?
MITCHELL: When The Roll is called Up Yonder. He...he liked that. [pauses] The.... Send Out the Lifeline, Face to Face, as I mentioned before. Oh [pauses] Rock of Ages.
MITCHELL: Oh, and by the way, that used to be used a lot in those days and I am sure people felt there was a Rock of Ages. And then Send Out the Lifeline, when he would have a men's group, especially when there might be some sailors there, because "some poor ... some poor sailor," it was in the words.
MITCHELL: Yeah. And he had a...he had a lot of favorites. Yes.
WILSON: What were some of the towns in which there were crusades in which you were involved?
MITCHELL: Some of the town.... ?
WILSON: No, some of the towns.
MITCHELL: Oh, the towns. Oh, like in...in Toledo [Ohio, in 1907], like in Galesburg, Monmouth [Illinois, in 1911] area. And the Gales...the Galesburg/Monmouth area was the place where I stayed with the...the two little old maids.
MITCHELL: And I....I remember that one. And then in [pauses] around the Ames [Iowa] area in...in Iowa.
WILSON: Oh, his [Sunday's] hometown.
MITCHELL: Yes, yes.
WILSON: How was he received there?
MITCHELL: Very well, yes. See, they...they thought well of him because he...he had had to go away, you know, in his early...early youth, he and his brother to an orphan asylum. And he made it through, and then came back, and worked with a...with an uncle, so he was...he was very well...he did very well there. But most of mine was in the Indiana area because of the fact that it came easy out of Winona Lake...
MITCHELL: and it wasn't too far away.
WILSON: Well, would these um, be the traditional five or six week stints?
MITCHELL: Yes, yeah. Yes. And I never, ever went to any of his meetings that it wasn't full. They were all full.
MITCHELL: All very well attended.
WILSON: And would he do this nightly?
WILSON: Would he do this nightly?
MITCHELL: Yes. Usually, the campaign was for about a...a week.
MITCHELL: And it would usually start on a...on a Thursday night, and go into the...the midweek. Seemed as though Thursday, and Friday and Saturday and Sunday were...were great days, and then it would probably go until about the next Wednesday.
MITCHELL: But, ah, his uncanny ability to organize on this terrific belief in God and Jesus Christ, that...that was his outstanding attraction.
MITCHELL: And he had an electrifying personality that drew people to him.
WILSON: I mentioned acoustics a while ago, How did he do with acoustics?
MITCHELL: Well, [laughs] sometimes there were some reverberations, because he really...he really would shout.
MITCHELL: And especially when we were in a...in a church, and not in the big tabernacle. It'd be pretty loud in church. In fact, I think if the windows were open, passersby could hear it. Yes, but he...he had that terrific power of projection.
WILSON: You know, a lot has been written about what the public Billy Sunday was like. But you're probably in a position to tell us a little bit about what the private Billy Sunday was all about.
MITCHELL: Billy Sunday was a real, God-serving man, who lived a real nice life, a fine life. Billy Sunday was a very fine example, because I'm sure he didn't want to set the wrong example.
MITCHELL: Ah, Billy Sunday - because of the adoration of...of many people, and some of the emotional problems of many people, might have been stirred into another path - remained steadfastly on the path that he chose, and he was an outstanding Christian. He was one God...he was one of God's chosen people, and I'm sure that...that God had foreordained him like He did the Apostle Paul. Look what he did with Saul, He took Saul and turned him into Paul.
MITCHELL: And so when Billy Sunday got that...that feeling in his heart, it stayed there, and he was a...he was a real, true, Christian example.
MITCHELL: No matter what any of these people who did not like him wrote, or would say.
MITCHELL: But he was really outstanding. And he was marvelous to me, and I certainly appreciate it. And I have never, ever forgotten the foundation that I got, because, I've traveled now in sixty-seven countries of the world. I find and found in those sixty-seven countries, that the people wanted what we have. They couldn't quite understand what it was, but it is the belief here in Jesus Christ, and the church's foundation in this country, that they are hungry for, that they do not have in their other...
MITCHELL: ...other sections of their country. Now in many other sections of their country, in many other places where I went, they exploited religion, and [pauses] it's a sad thing. But here, we had the firm foundation, we're founded on it, and I hope that we have a spiritual and a moral reawakening, so that we come back to our basic religious teachings...
MITCHELL: And our basic religion, and...and our basic worship. Now, in 1951, I was in Russia, and that was before the [Iron] Curtain went up, and I went in through Finland, I was shown at that time by the head of the Finnish underground and the secret police the formula that Russia had designed for the overthrow of this country and England. And it is just exactly what we're going through today, the rebellion of youth, youth against their parents, against the church, dope, immorality. And [Pauses] it's a sad thing, we have to combat it.
MITCHELL: And we have to wake up to the situation, because it is a real sad thing.
WILSON: Uh-huh. What...what were you doing in Russia? Under what auspices did you go?
MITCHELL: I went [pauses] I can say this, that my government knew. I went in the back way...
MITCHELL: through Finland, to observe some of the things that had happened to Finland. And in Finland, to show you how God works, I have had a number of experiences, dramatic experiences, where you wouldn't expect to have found...to find Christ where you'd have it. It was about three o'clock in the morning, and we were on our stomachs watching the Russians across the river, because we had gone over the seventh bridge. If you went over the six bridges, you were...you were out of Finland and you were into the Russian area. But they were occupying some of that territory at this time. And this Finnish patriot that was with me, as the daylight began to come, stood up and said "In the name of Jesus Christ, when you go back home, ask your people to pray for us. We are a nation without any hope, unless the Christian people in your nation come to our aid." And he stood there in the first part of dawn, with tears streaming down his cheeks. "In the name of Jesus Christ, tell your people to send us missionaries. Tell them not to forsake us, otherwise, we are a doomed people." And that...that was repeated in many times on my career. For instance, in...in Korea where I was on a mission in the guise of a war correspondent, there was a little fellow after I had come up...come back from...from up front, a little fellow who had spoken to one of the medical officers and asked him if he would see if he could get me to come and see him. He'd been shot through the back and shot through the hip, and they were going to take him to Tokyo by plane, and [pauses] then, see if they could...could save him. Well, what happened was you see, I originated in 1932, the saying "It's a beautiful day in Chicago," and that slogan has liven...lived all the forty-eight years, it was forty-eight years old...
MITCHELL: ...this...this year. Now just the night before last, I met a...a gentleman when I was out, and he said "Oh, a beautiful day in Chicago." Well, they haven't stopped...they haven't forgotten it. It was born under terrific circumstances, in the depths of the Depression, and was given out as a word of encouragement. So, it was uttered each day then, from 1932 until 1968 on the National Farm and Home Hour. And so this little fellow, said to me, when I came to him, he said "I...when I heard ‘beautiful day in Chicago,' was here," he said, "I wanted you to come and see me, because," he said, "I used to listen on my farm in Iowa, when you would say ‘It's a beautiful day in...in Chicago,' on the National Farm and Home Hour." And he said, "I often wondered what you looked like. He said "Oh, what I wouldn't give for a fresh turned furrow." He said, "Back in Iowa, on the farm, just to smell it would be a wonderful thing." And he said "You know, I wouldn't have to be here, nor neither would any other boy or girl, if it wasn't for the jealousy and the deceit in this life." And then he said to me "Tell me about this Christ of your...of ours." And I looked at him and I said "How did you know I was a Christian?" He said "By what you say, by the way that you say it, and by the tone of your voice." And he said "I know that you are." One of the things he told me then, after we had talked to him, and I did talk to him, about Christ, one of the things he told me then was "When you go home, tell my mother I have kept the faith." And then, in [pauses] I always used some of those things.... Well, for instance, I had...had interviewed a...a Nazi who was buried alive in Germany. He said fortunately the dirt did not cover his mouth or his ears or his eyes and his nose.
MITCHELL: He was in there for nineteen hours. They dug him out, he expected to go into...to prison, and be hung up by his...his thumbs. Instead, somebody asked him to go to church. But he said to me in my interview with him, he said "During the time before I blacked out, which was a very short period, I found myself back on my mother's knee," And he said "I promised God that if I could live, I would return to my mother's religion." And, so I used in fund gathering then, some of those lessons that what we need to do is...is to implant into the minds of youth the wonders of God, and God's miracles, and how wonderful it is to live a Godly life. And I was able to raise a lot of funds, because people were attracted to young people, and felt that people...young people had the need of that.
MITCHELL: But this little boy died, and he asked me to tell his mother that he had kept the faith. Of course, under the protocol [of the United States Army in informing next of kin], I could not tell it until after it had been cleared and his mother had been notified that he died. But then I went to see her. But I've had...I've had a lot of dramatic experiences where that...where I have found Christ where you wouldn't expect to find him, under very dramatic circumstances.
WILSON: Now, you were a war correspondent in...?
MITCHELL: Yes, I was a war correspondent in Korea and Japan.
MITCHELL: I also went to Hiroshima, and saw what Hiroshima...the devastation that was done in Hiroshima, so...
WILSON: Well, what was that like?
MITCHELL: It was the most terrible thing that you'd ever want to see, it was just appalling, and I hope it never happens again. But, [pauses] it was a sad thing. Now the Japanese people loved MacArthur, and he did a lot for them, because MacArthur was a Christian man, too. And MacArthur set up a system of government, not communistic, but in Japan, where each little farmer could own some land which he couldn't own before. The government had to pay the other people for the land...
MITCHELL: but they could own their own 14 acres. But they loved him for those things. And I went all through the Korean area and through the Japanese area. I was on a mission, a food mission, really, for Senator [Elbert] Thomas, who had charge of the Pacific Trust. [Thomas served as High Commissioner of the United States Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands from 1951 until his death in 1953.] Now, that's not a bank. That was the...the Trust over which...the mandate over the islands. And so I visited all of those islands, for...for Senator Thomas.
WILSON: Now this would be in the Korean War?
MITCHELL: Yes. Now, he, by the way, was a Mormon,...
MITCHELL: And a dedicated Mormon, who worked on the...the canning line when he was in Utah, even when he was a Senator. See, they have never taken a government...a bit of government aid, they've supported their people.
MITCHELL: They feed their people, and they believe in the seven years, good seven years, bad. So they lay up the supply for the seven years, of...of bad...bad weather.
MITCHELL: Bad crops, yes. So, oh, I could...I could go on for hours and hours because God has been so good to me to expose me to all of these things, I...I find that most of the great people, the real people, were God-fearing.
MITCHELL: And one thing it has done, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior when I was six years old, and I have never, ever forgotten, and I'm most grateful to him for everything that has happened to me, because he has blessed me more than any man should ever be blessed. He just...a man can't deserve it! But...but Christ had been so good to me...
MITCHELL: ...and I...I've lived to see a lot of miracles performed. And miracles today are still being performed, but people don't quite recognize it, yet.
WILSON: You mentioned way, way back at the beginning of the tape here, that you had sung for Gipsy Smith.
MITCHELL: Yes, in the "Bucket of Blood" on Clark Street.
WILSON: Right. What was...
MITCHELL: And that was an old saloon.
WILSON: What was he like?
MITCHELL: He was a vivacious little fellow, not as learned as Billy Sunday,
MITCHELL: He [pauses] he did not come to as great a heights as Billy did, I think probably because of the fact that he did not have the ability from the standpoint of knowledge.
MITCHELL: But he did...he did a good job. Yeah. He...he stood up and fought [chuckles], so it was...it was really...really quite something. And then there was.... in fact, in those days, when I was a youngster, there were some women evangelists, too.
MITCHELL: And one of them wanted to take me down to...to Texas, but [laughs] I...I did not want to leave...leave home at that time.
WILSON: How old would you have been then?
MITCHELL: Oh, about fourteen.
WILSON: What was her name?
MITCHELL: I don't recall her name, but she was a wonderful evangelist.
MITCHELL: And...and did a good job. So they used to have those evangelist programs in the church each...each spring and fall for a renewal.
MITCHELL: Yeah. Well.
WILSON: Now, you...you evidently have had contact with a whole string of evangelists.
MITCHELL: Yes, yes.
WILSON: Does this come about because each one would introduce you to another one, or...
MITCHELL: Yes, yes. And confidentially, I have never met Billy Graham...
MITCHELL: ...but I am a very great admirer of Billy Graham. And I think that God is using Billy Graham to the right purpose, and I think that this is just a wonderful, wonderful thing where he has worked to make this Center possible, and I think it'll be a light for the world.
MITCHELL: It will attract people from all over the world, because there is nothing else like it.
MITCHELL: And I am grateful that a wonderful Christian college like Wheaton College has it on their campus. Yes.
WILSON: How did you.... Who introduced you to Billy Sunday?
MITCHELL: How did I...?
WILSON: Yeah, you...you said you had gone down to Indiana and...and met him there, auditioned...
MITCHELL: Oh, I was taken there by some folks from Pacific Garden Mission, and also from...from the church to.... And these...these Pacific Garden Mission people were friends of Billy Sunday's.
MITCHELL: And that is how I was introduced to Billy Sunday.
WILSON: Oh, okay.
MITCHELL: And, it was a great, a great privilege that he would let me stand up and sing a capella.
MITCHELL: And yes, and the funniest part of it was that the first hymn I learned after...after I started to take lessons was And I Shall See Him Face to Face.
MITCHELL: "And tell the story, saved by grace" And that's the one that I sang for him.
WILSON: Uh-huh. You...you were with him in 1916, were you not?
MITCHELL: Yes, yes.
WILSON: That was the year his mother died.
WILSON: Well, were you with him at that time?
MITCHELL: No, no. I did not...I did not remember. No.
WILSON: Okay, I...
MITCHELL: No. Because.... And...and confidentially, I'm glad because it would have been...it would have been terrific. Even with his terrific faith, he had a terrific love which was unsurpassed, both for his mother for his family, with their faults, and for his wife. He was very devoted.
WILSON: Now, you know that from observing him?
MITCHELL: From observing, yes.
WILSON: What...how would he put that forth? How would he get that message across?
MITCHELL: I have never seen anybody look with a a more wonderful look in his face and the look in his eyes when he looked at his wife. She was his right arm. She was his right arm. By the way, I understand too that that was...that he met...met her at one of these meetings.
MITCHELL: Yes, and she was a Christian...
MITCHELL: ...so she was a real strong force in his life, and I'm sure that whenever he got down, and he would, because the fact that some of these attacks on him were very heavy. Some of these....
WILSON: Did he take these to heart?
MITCHELL: Oh, yes. Some of these smears. And...he would...he would take the...he couldn't help it.
MITCHELL: In fact, when he'd come into some of these meetings and...and just make a commotion.
MITCHELL: And, but he'd come straight out, and tell 'em right off, right straight to the shoulder. Now, he never used any rough language, but he used the striaght language. Yes. Straight from the shoulder. Yup.
WILSON: What about his politics? did he ever discuss that?
MITCHELL: No. No. No, he never got into politics.
MITCHELL: And confidentially, I think politics should be kept out of the...out of the pulpit.
WILSON: Wouldn't be a bad idea, would it? [Laughs]
MITCHELL: Yes, it wouldn't be a bad idea, because of what it does many times, is make bad friends. And I don't want to see anything in the Church that's going to divide the Church. I think what we need is a unified Church. We need more people to support the church and to live for their Lord.
WILSON: Did you keep in touch with him after you....
WILSON: No longer sang?
MITCHELL: Yes, he watched.... In fact, I think to be perfectly truthful, that there may have been in my career a little of the guidance where he was in the background, but he never, ever let me know. Because I could see some things that happened to me, that happened to me...that wouldn't have happened because of the fact that I didn't know the people that made them happen, and I'm sure that it was part of his influence.
WILSON: Can...can you sketch out any of those incidents for us?
MITCHELL: Well, for instance, I...my first job, when I...when I was a boy of about fourteen, was with Charles A. Stevenson Brothers.
MITCHELL: And I had aspirations which were terrific, to be a wagon boy. And when I went down there, the gentleman who interviewed me said "Now, why do you want to be a wagon boy?" And I said "Well," I said "I like the horse and the wagon that you have," and I said, "It would give me a big thrill to kind of slip on that hubcap and draw myself up like the wagon boys do." And he said, "No," he said "I'll put you in...in suit and coat division, and dress division as a stock boy." Now, that man was Elmer Stevens. I'm sure Elmer Stevens knew Billy Sunday. Then later on, when I left there to go into banking, there was somebody that had given a nice reference for me, that I did not know, over at the bank, and that helped. They knew about me when I came to apply for the job. So in fact, I was partially solicited.
MITCHELL: And I think it was probably part...probably a part of his doing.
MITCHELL: And, oh, a couple of other incidences I've told
MITCHELL: But it...it was a wonderful friendship, and a wonderful privilege to know him.
WILSON: I can imagine.
MITCHELL: A godly man. Yes.
WILSON: There aren't many people alive that did know him.
MITCHELL: No, and...and who have known him for...for sixty-seven years.
MITCHELL: I knew of him for sixty-eight, but to know him for sixty seven years.
MITCHELL: That's...and...to be exposed to him, to be exposed to his philosophy, and his earnestness and his faith, was a wonderful, wonderful privilege.
MITCHELL: I don't know wether we ran out or not but...
WILSON: Oh, no, we've still got a little bit of tape, here.
MITCHELL: I was...was just....
WILSON: Would you like a glass of water or a cup of coffee or something?
MITCHELL: No thank you.
WILSON: Um, oh, I was going to ask you about the size of the crowds, but you already told us that.
MITCHELL: What's that?
WILSON: I said I was...I had down here to ask you about the size of crowds, but you already said that the tabernacles were...
MITCHELL: Yes, it was just...the tabernacles were just absolutely full.
WILSON: One other thing I want to ask you, is you know, Billy Sunday is famous for his illustrations that he would give, and stories he would tell in the pulpit.
WILSON: Are there any of them that you remember specifically, that...that struck you at the time as...that...that caught your mind?
MITCHELL: Well, I'll tell you, there were so many, that oh, I would say that his greatest stories were...were the miracles of the redemption of sinners.
MITCHELL: Those were his greatest stories. And one thing he did, was he went to the prisons, he interviewed the prisoners, he went into the courts, he saw the...saw these trials, he...went back in the saloons to see the people...in the...in the saloon. He never, ever lost his touch with humanity.
MITCHELL: He was a very human person.
WILSON: Yes. Okeydoke, good. Well, we thank you very much.
MITCHELL: Well, God bless you, thank you, I...
WILSON: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
MITCHELL: What's that?
WILSON: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
MITCHELL: No, I...I...we could sit here all day because of the experiences that I've had,....
MITCHELL: But I do...I did want to tell you the one thing. Now, I'm...I'm hoping that Richard Crabb [pauses] gets the part that...and understands the part religion played in my life. See, he's writing a book for me now.
WILSON: On...your biography?
MITCHELL: Yes, on Beautiful Day. And it will start from the days of my youth and then give...show the contributions I made to radio, and to TV.
MITCHELL: And also, there'll be a chapter in there on the great men that I interviewed, and I can...well, one of them was [Jawaharlal] Nehru [first Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of India in 1947], and [pauses] also, how during the Japanese war, when I was saying "It's a beautiful day in Chicago," and you couldn't tell what the weather was, they stopped me for saying it. There was a deluge of mail.
MITCHELL: And they wanted to know wether I had been regimented by the New Deal, and word got to Roosevelt, and Roosevelt called me and gave me special dispensation to say "It was a beautiful Day in Chicago" to fool the Japs [sic].
MITCHELL: Yeah, well there...there were thousands of things, because...I...I...I even had an audition [sic] with Pope Pious XII, and that's another story.
WILSON: Did you really?
MITCHELL: Yes, and he knew that I was a Lutheran, so he did not have it at the Vatican, he had it at his farm.
WILSON: In Italy?
WILSON: In Italy?
MITCHELL: Yes. So we...we talked about agriculture.
MITCHELL: Yes, yes. But the funniest part of it was, an Italian count was my host
MITCHELL: ...that took me to...took me to the Pope, and he said to me "Now," he said "you know," he said "we have one trump card, that we haven't played yet. What would you Lutherans do if we declared Martin Luther a Saint?
MITCHELL: And I said, "Well, I'll tell you, I don't think we would do any different than we're doing now, because you see, we know the truth." And that...that took care of that.
MITCHELL: But, you know, there is a movement on, to make him that, for his contribution for what he did in eliminating some of those base practices.
MITCHELL: But they...I got quite a chuckle out of that, yes.
MITCHELL: Well, if you'd take me back,...
End of Tape
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