Seaman, Ann Rowe
SEAMAN, Ann Rowe
PERSONAL: Born in Austin, TX.
CAREER: Journalist, editor, and writer.
Swaggart: An Unauthorized Biography, Wavecrest Books (Marina Del Rey, CA), 1998, published as Swaggart: An Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist, Continuum (New York, NY), 1999.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A book about Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
SIDELIGHTS: Author, editor, and journalist Ann Rowe Seaman examines the life of Jimmy Swaggart, one of television's best-known fire-and-brimstone preachers, in Swaggart: An Unauthorized Biography—also published as Swaggart: An Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist. Once considered among the most forthright and sincere of the brotherhood of television evangelists of the late twentieth century—a group that included Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, and Billy Graham—Swaggart and his multimillion-dollar television ministry were brought down by a series of sex scandals. Yet as Seaman's biography shows, Swaggart may also be the most resilient of his peers.
In researching Swaggart's story, Seaman "found an incredibly complex, compelling story of hardship and poverty; meanness; talent; and grit," as she explained in an interview for TheCelebrityCafe.com. Born into a poor family in rural Louisiana, Swaggart faced hardscrabble poverty and the harsh existence of a sharecropper's son. He grew up alongside his two cousins, country-music singer Mickey Gilley and rock-and-roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis. Gilley was considered the quiet, popular one; Lewis the hellion; and Swaggart the pious one whom the other two looked up to, Seaman observed in her interview. Although Swaggart "found the lord as an eight-year-old boy while queuing up for a ten-cent matinee in Ferriday, Louisiana," as a reviewer wrote in Economist, music remained a staple influence on his early life, particularly the jazz and boogie music he often heard. Whereas Jerry Lee Lewis used music as a means to achieve stardom, Swaggart—who some say was a better piano player than Lewis—used it in his life in the Pentecostal ministry.
After marrying, Swaggart and his new wife, Frances, traveled thousands of miles by car preaching the gospel, sleeping where they could, and scraping out a life on the road. In tandem with Frances's steely resolve, Swaggart gradually and steadfastly worked his way to the top in a "story of genuine pastoral zeal, as well as considerable guile and enormous amounts of sheer work," according to Elisabeth H. Piedmont-Marton in the Texas Observer Online. By the mid-1980s, his far-flung television ministry had two million faithful in the United States alone, as well as viewers in 143 countries; capacity crowds at the largest auditoriums; and a ministry that "received more mail than any other entity in the state of Louisiana," according to the Economist reviewer. However, "If the mighty fall hard, self-righteous preachers fall even harder," the same reviewer commented. Conflicts with other televangelists, such as Jim Bakker, received a fair amount of press. In 1988 Swaggart was found with a prostitute in a run-down motel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A tearful on-camera apology to his congregation seemed to have saved his ministry and his fortunes—until he was again caught with a prostitute about four years later. Swaggart's larger-than-life television ministry could not survive the second scandal. "Seaman's theory is that Jimmy Swaggart is at least partly a victim," Piedmont-Marton observed, "that his weakness for prostitutes is the inevitable result of a loveless childhood, the sexually repressive doctrines of the church, and a domineering wife."
Mike Tribby and Gilbert Taylor, writing in Booklist, called Swaggart "the fullest portrait of Swaggart to date," while C. Robert Nixon in Library Journal described it as a "well-documented account" and an "honest, evenhanded biography." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented, "While not an apologist for Swaggart, Seaman probes beyond the headlines for the factors that shaped the pastor's psyche and defined his world," adding that Seaman produces "an intelligent and smoothly readable personal history" of the controversial minister. Seaman's "thoughtful analyses, often extensive and steeped in historical and cultural background, make for a compelling book which goes beyond the usual scope of biographies," wrote Jessica Berthold for the Austin Chronicle Online. Web site.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 1, 1999, Mike Tribby and Gilbert Taylor, review of Swaggart: An Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist, p. 323.
Economist, April 15, 2000, "American Evangelism," review of Swaggart, p. 5.
Library Journal, September 15, 1999, C. Robert Nixon, review of Swaggart, p. 88.
Publishers Weekly, September 27, 1999, review of Swaggart, p. 93.
Austin Chronicle Online,http://www.austinchronicle.com/ (December 24, 1999), Jessica Berthold, review of Swaggart: An Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist.
Texas Observer Online, http://www.texasobservr.org/ (November 21, 2003), Elisabeth H. Piedmont-Marton, "Varieties of Religious Ecstasy."
TheCelebrityCafe.com,http://www.thecelebritycafe.com/ (November 21, 2003), Dominick A. Miserandino, interview with Seaman.*