“The Fighting Preacher” Opens In Utah Theaters
In 1915, Latter-day Church leaders called a former middleweight boxing champion and his wife to serve a mission in Palmyra, New York, a town then hostile to the faith. Willard and Rebecca Bean are the focus of a new film that opened in theaters throughout Utah today.
Latter-day Saints regard parts of Palmyra, New York, where their faith was founded, as sacred. But church members were forced out in 1831. The Beans arrived more than 80 years later.
Writer/Director T.C. Christensen said he knew of the story for years and with the help of the book, “ A Lion and a Lamb” by Rand Packer, a family member, was able to write the script. ” This is the greatest Church history story you’ve never heard of.”
Willard Bean was a former middleweight boxing champion. “He gets back there in Palmyra, people bug him and he pops ‘em! But he had to learn something and he changed.”
In 2000, at the dedication of the Palmyra Temple, I met members of the Bean family. Alvin, son of Willard and Rebecca, told me about their mission call from a Church president. Alvin Bean said it happened at a Stake Conference in Richfield. ” They watched Dad walk in the side door and George Albert Smith said, ‘I think he’s our man!’ “
Church leaders warned the Beans that Palmyra was probably the most prejudiced place on earth for Latter-day Saints. But Willard Bean put his boxing expertise into practice when a neighbor turned his hose on him.
“He said, ‘ I understand you Mormons believe in baptism by immersion.’ Quick as a flash, Dad said, ‘ Yes, we do, we also believe in the laying on of hands!’ So, anyhow, he hopped over the little fence that separated them and gave the man a lesson in one of our articles of faith.” Soon after, Willard challenged anyone who wanted to fight him to a town boxing match – he knocked out seven men in one night. It still took years but eventually, the Beans’ acts of kindness turned things around and people began to join the faith.
T.C. Christensen filmed some scenes at This Is the Place Heritage Park, particularly interiors because the Smith home they used in Palmyra did not have a kitchen that accommodated filming. I asked him is the Brigham Young house has the kind of stove that Rebecca Bean used in the early 20th century. “ Yes, similar to what Rebecca would have (used) cooking meals, sometimes she would have hundreds of missionaries come visit her.” Sister Bean was known for her hospitality to missionaries returning from Europe or Church leaders or members in the area and really anyone in town. T. C. Christensen says her role is equally important in the story and in the movie, the Beans were an affective team. “ It could just as easily havebeen titled ‘ The Fighting Preacher’s Wife.’ “
David McConnell plays Willard Bean and says there is a message to people of all faiths about how we should treat one another. “Willard’s ability to relinquish some of his stance and meet people who did not like him and find a way to bring love and friendship that did not necessarily foster that originally – for him to make that happen, is so applicable to day.”
The actor and filmmaker believe because of the change that happened in both individuals and in the community, their movie will have wide audience appeal.
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