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A Sad Lonely Death
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 02/27/12
Last updated on: 02/28/12
 
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Bob Green seated beside Anita Bryant (YouTube video still).

Elinor J. Brecher and Steve Rothaus at the Miami Herald belatedly report the death on January 26, 2012 of Bob Green, former husband of Anita Bryant, in his Miami Beach home.

Green managed his wife's rise to stardom as an entertainer and Florida citrus spokeswoman, then followed her into anti-gay activism, which ultimately led to her spectacular downfall and their divorce. According to Brecher and Rothaus, for more than 30 years, Green lived quietly, alone, and seething with resentment. He died a sad and bitter man.

Green was a Miami disc jockey with Robert Redford looks when he and Bryant married in 1960. She allegedly converted him to Christianity the night before their wedding. He subsequently worked as her manager. The couple had four children.

Bryant, who was a rising star when they met, became under his guidance a major recording artist and television personality. Her repertoire ranged from love ballads to gospel tunes to patriotic songs.

Throughout the 1960s she traveled with the Bob Hope Holiday Tours, singing for U.S. soldiers all over the world. She also sang for Billy Graham Crusades in Madison Square Garden, New York.

Bryant performed at several White House functions between 1964 and 1969, sang at both the Democratic Convention in Chicago and the Republican Convention in Miami in 1968, performed the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1969, and sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at President Lyndon B. Johnson's funeral in 1973.

In 1969, Bryant became involved in advertising. Her most prominent televised commercial was for the Florida Citrus Commission, which had her sing "Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree," followed by the tagline "A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine."

Bryant also promoted Holiday Inn, Kraft Foods, Singer (the manufacturer of sewing machines), Tupperware, and Coca Cola. She made 86 television commercials, appeared in hundreds of print ads, and spoke at conventions and fairs.

In 1975, she published a cookbook: Bless This Food: The Anita Bryant Family Cookbook, described as a "wondrous personal compendium of spiritual wisdom, down-to-earth everyday experiences, and heavenly recipes. Much more than a cookbook, this is the story of a family devoted to Christ."

Although Bryant presented herself as a deeply religious person with traditional family values, she was not politically active. However, when Ruth Shack, a friend of hers who had won election to a seat on the Dade County Commission in 1976, introduced an ordinance to prohibit discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment on the basis of sexual orientation, that all changed.

Declaring that she feared for Shack's soul, and claiming that she had received a divine message ("God spoke to my heart"), Bryant vowed to use her celebrity to repeal the ordinance via referendum.

Under the slogan "Save Our Children," Bryant perpetuated prejudices that associate homosexuality with child abuse: "The recruitment of our children is absolutely necessary for the survival and growth of homosexuality," she declared, "for since homosexuals cannot reproduce, they must recruit, must freshen their ranks."

Absent scientific or legal evidence, Bryant turned to the Bible and focused on highly controversial passages (mostly Sodom and Gomorrah, the Holiness Code from Leviticus, and injunctions from the Pauline epistles) that have been widely perceived as condemning homosexual behavior. "If homosexuality were the normal way, God would have made Adam and Bruce," she summed up.

In Miami, gay men and lesbians formed the Coalition for Human Rights and the Miami Victory Campaign, which enlisted help from several out-of-state activists. A nationwide boycott or "gaycott" of Florida orange juice was organized, which received the support of many celebrities, including singers Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, director John Waters, and actors Mary Tyler Moore and Jane Fonda. Gay bars in particular refused to stock Florida orange juice.

Despite this resistance, on June 7, 1977, the ordinance was repealed by a margin of 69% to 31%. Soon after this triumph, the Florida legislature passed a bill banning homosexuals from adopting children.

Flush with victory in Miami-Dade, the couple founded Anita Bryant Ministries, which offered "deprogramming'' and halfway houses for gays, and a lecture series called "Design for Successful Living," aimed at battling divorce.

Bryant and Green also announced a national campaign to save the country from homosexuality. Renaming her organization "Protect America's Children," she led successful campaigns against anti-discrimination ordinances in St. Paul, Minnesota, Wichita, Kansas, and Eugene, Oregon, though her efforts were rejected by voters in Seattle, Washington.

Bryant's crusade inspired California State Senator John V. Briggs to sponsor a bill that could have led to the dismissal of any teacher who made a pro-homosexual statement in a public school. When the bill was voted down in the Senate, Briggs organized an initiative petition for a referendum that he thought would propel him into the governorship.

Proposition 6, which qualified for the ballot in November 1978, called for the firing of any school employee who was found to be "advocating, soliciting, imposing, encouraging, or promoting private or public homosexual activity directed at, or likely to come to the attention of, schoolchildren and/or other employees."

This time, the gay movement successfully initiated a grass-roots organization in the large urban areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Its most prominent spokesperson became Harvey Milk, who had been elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors the year before. Appropriating Bryant's rhetoric, he exhorted the glbtq community: "I want to recruit you for the fight to preserve democracy from the John Briggs and Anita Bryants who are trying to constitutionalize bigotry."

Bryant had become a rallying cry for gay people. "Anita Bryant is the best thing ever to happen to American homosexuals" was now the slogan. Attendance at gay pride marches swelled, especially in San Francisco.

On November 7, 1978, the Briggs Initiative was defeated by a two-to-one margin.

In the process of her campaign against gay rights, Bryant became badly injured professionally. An entertainer and advertising spokesperson must above all be perceived as likeable and popular, as indeed Bryant had seemed before undertaking her crusade. However, she soon became better known for her intolerance than for her talent.

Part of her vilification was indeed due to a concerted effort on the part of gay men and lesbians to fight back against her assault on them, though she also happily fueled the fire with inflammatory comments of her own, referring to gay people as "garbage" and worse. Revealing a heretofore unseen coarseness and ugliness to her personality, Bryant in effect engineered her own makeover from beloved "good girl" to self-righteous bigot.

But perhaps most damagingly for her career, Bryant became an object of ridicule as well as scorn. Tonight Show host Johnny Carson and other comedians constantly mocked her, quickly turning her into a caricature of the prudish, self-righteous church lady.

Bryant and Green claimed that they and their family received death and kidnapping threats, hate mail, bomb scares, and crank phone calls. Despite the absence of any documentation of such threats, it is nevertheless clear that Bryant was under great pressure and that she did not handle that pressure very well.

She descended into a severe depression, grew addicted to sleeping pills, and became irrevocably alienated from her husband.

Discovering that Bryant's endorsements had become more of a liability than an asset, her sponsors dropped her. The Singer company not only declined to renew her contract as a spokesperson for the company, but also nixed a planned television show that she was to host for them. The Florida Citrus Commission, which had initially supported her crusade but came to feel acutely the effects of the boycott against Florida orange juice, also declined to renew her contract. In 1978, NBC dropped her from the Orange Bowl parade broadcast. Bryant complained that she was being "blacklisted" for her political views.

In 1980, Bryant, the Bible-quoting born-again Christian, divorced Green, notwithstanding clear Biblical injunctions forbidding divorce. The divorce created controversy and confusion among her supporters in the religious right, many members of which found it difficult to reconcile her divorce with her rhetoric about traditional moral values.

Green begged her to reconcile in an open letter: "Let us both put aside all other earthly considerations and reunite in Christian love." After the divorce, he refused to recognize it and continued to regard her as his wife "in God's eyes."

Because of the divorce, invitations to speak before conservative religious groups and congregations were cancelled, thus depriving Bryant of much needed income. Since most of her secular bookings had also dried up, the singer found herself in deep financial trouble, and her career in a downward spiral, until it finally became practically nonexistent despite sporadic attempts at comebacks.

Meanwhile, Green seems to have retreated into bitterness and self-pity. He became something of a hermit. Once a multimillionaire, he lived modestly, nursing a grudge against the way his life turned out.

In a 2007 interview, he revealed that he missed the six-bedroom mansion called Villa Verde on Miami Beach's tony North Bay Road that he and his wife owned in the 1970s. "I jog past the house and I say I wish I was back there in the good old days,'' Green said. "I used to jog on North Bay Road and cry all the way. I don't have any friends. I have my family and people in the neighborhood. I'm kind of like a hermit. I'm not antisocial. It's just the way I've become."

As to who was to blame for his reduced circumstances, he had no doubt: gay people. He told a Miami Herald interviewer, "their stated goal was to put [Bryant] out of business and destroy her career. And that's what they did. It's unfair."

In 2009, he wrote a letter to the Herald alleging that gay people had made his and Bryant's lives miserable: "As the ex-husband of Anita, I can say that our family endured years of bomb threats, boycotts, and violent protests at our bookings,'' he wrote. "A typical one was in Chicago where we started with the usual bomb threat on the airplane, three SWAT teams as escort, registering at a "dummy" hotel while staying in secret, under guard, at another location, being driven to the performance on the floor of an unmarked police car. The audience was barraged by human waste, verbal abuse, and disruptions at the non-issue-oriented concert."

"This happened not only at our show-biz concerts, but during conventions and religious appearances as well. . . . I have hard evidence that there were threats to sabotage Florida citrus products in stores if Anita were allowed to continue representing the industry," he continued.

Green's allegations of violent threats have never been verified and are likely projections of his own paranoid fantasies. Certainly, there were no reports of audiences being "barraged by human waste," which had such an incident occurred would certainly have made the news.

Most revealing, however, is Green's inability to understand why gay people might have been unhappy with him and his wife. Like most bigots, he took no responsibility for his own actions and seems surprised that gay people actually fought back against his and his wife's attack on our human rights. "It's unfair," he whined.

Green's failure of empathy for the people that he and Bryant set out to harm is all too typical of bigots, who frequently cast themselves as victims. Like so many bigots, Green thought it perfectly reasonable for him and Bryant to say all sorts of negative things about gay people, but grossly unfair for gay people to respond harshly to them. So narcissistic was he that it probably never crossed his mind that many people suffered real injury, from loss of jobs to violent hate crimes to even murder, as a result of the ugly rhetoric and hateful sentiments that poured from Anita Bryant's mouth during the crusade he undertook with her.

Although Green and Bryant's lurid tales of death threats were probably manufactured by them, on one memorable occasion an activist did throw a pie in her face, at which she blurted, "At least, it's a fruit pie." The incident may be seen in the video clip below.

 
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