Jesus Was a Surfer

Last night I watched King of Kings on the Turner Classic Movie station (TCM). I hadn’t seen this 1961 film since I was a kid–it was one of many religious films we used to watch at Easter time, along with Barabbas and The Robe. My mom always remarked at what a handsome Jesus Jeffrey Hunter made. Being a very pious child–I wanted to be a nun for all of third grade–I took these films very seriously.


(google image)

Watching the film was a surreal experience. Narrated by Orson Welles, the performances ranged from wooden to campy. But most remarkable was Jesus’s appearance – dark blonde with piercing blue eyes. Kind of like a surfer dude. Rip Torn who played Judas Iscariot was also surferesque. I kept waiting for Jesus to say, “Gnarly waves, dudes.”

White Jesus isn’t anything unusual, as the role in most films has been portrayed by Caucasian actors, including Robert Powell, Max von Sydow, Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jeremy Sisto and Jim Caviezel.

Sarah Griffiths wrote an article in the Daily Mail entitled “Behold the Face of Hollywood Jesus: Artist merges images of actors who’ve played Christ to reveal the ultimate look of the messiah.”  According to retired medical artist Richard Neave, Jesus probably looked more like this:

real jesus

Daily Mail

Sarah Griffiths goes on to say:

Dr. Neave’s team studied first century artwork from various archaeological sites, created before the Bible was written.

From these works, they hypothesised Jesus had dark eyes and likely had a beard, in keeping with Jewish traditions at the time.

The Bible also offered a clue as to how Christ wore his hair – short, with tight curls, unlike many Renaissance depictions, for example.

This comes from a Bible passage by Paul, who wrote: ‘If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him,’ suggesting Jesus did not have this hairstyle.

When I was a kid, I didn’t question the omnipresent blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus. But it seems odd now. As recent as 2015, Ewan McGregor was cast as Jesus. Why not an actor of color?

I enjoyed watching King of Kings in spite of the casting, but it seems high time we start diversifying.


Easter Baskets

The ritual of it
Stations of the Cross
at Blessed Sacrament Church,
watching King of Kings
and The Robe,
shopping at Macy’s or Alexander’s
for Easter outfits

Mom’s Easter baskets
ribbons on the handles
curled with scissors
she learned to do it as a
gift wrapper at Macy’s

me and Rick at Easter

My prize possession
was that sailor suit
my brother and I
clowning for the camera
replete with being
lived in our own world
sometimes that was good

mom on Easter

In pink coat,
white stockings
and gloves,
graceful and
sometimes hard, too

For Erica_Page_3

The munchkin years
I can’t recall
this photo or this outfit
my dress too long
but we had our baskets
we were going places
Rick and me

Who Was Dirty Harry?

mom's room

Mom’s room (photo by me)

Mom and I had our Easter visit on Saturday afternoon. I brought her a card, potted daffodils, a thermos of chai tea and her favorite Choco Leibniz cookies—she calls them “chocolate grahams”—the ones with dark chocolate. Our weekly ritual is sharing tea and cookies, taking “spins” around the floor and watching an episode of ER on the DVD player—it’s her favorite TV show. Sometimes we’ll watch a program on PBS, like the Judy Garland documentary that aired a couple weeks ago. This time it was ER. We’re on season 2, disk 3.

After ER, Mom and I took a spin around the floor.

She said, “Mark . . . who?”

“Mark Greene,” I said. “What about John? What’s his last name?”

“Carter,” she said, proudly.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Mark Greene and John Carter are two of the characters..

“You always liked Carter,” I said.

“Yes, he’s so earnest.”

“He’s very good with the patients. He cares about them,” I said.


We continued our journey up and down the halls. The activities director was coloring eggs with the residents in the dining room.

“Do you want to color an egg?” I said.

“No, maybe later,” she said. “Mark . . .”

“Greene,” I said. “John . . .”

“Carter,” she said, with pride.


The last time this happened was after we watched the film The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin when she was still living in her apartment, about four years ago.

She called me twice one day at the office to ask who the British actor in the movie was, and I said, “Anthony Hopkins.”

“Anthony Hopkins, of course. Thank you, dear,” she said, and hung up.

Ten minutes later, she called. “Quick, tell me the name of the actor.”

“Anthony Hopkins. Maybe you should write it down.”

“Good idea,” she said and hung up the phone.

A couple days later, when I was at her apartment, she said, “Who was the actor in that movie?”

“Alec Baldwin.”

“Right, and Anthony Hopkins,” she said.

“I’ll write it down on the napkin under ‘Anthony Hopkins’ so you remember,” I said.

“Okay, that’s a good idea.”

“Do you remember the name of the movie, Mom?”

“Yes, of course. The Edge.”

Then she said, “Who was Dirty Harry?”

“Clint Eastwood.”

“Yes, of course,” she said.

“Do you want me to write it down?” I said.

“Yes, might as well, before I forget that too.”

Now the white napkin read in blue ink:

Anthony Hopkins

Alec Baldwin

Clint Eastwood

I guess I should have written “Mark Greene” and “John Carter” on a piece of paper for Mom so she can remember those names too. When I call her tonight, I’ll see if she does.

When I was ready to leave, Mom waited at the elevator with me.  One of the aides had to buzz me out. This is a locked ward, so you can’t board the elevator without the assistance of a staff member. I kissed Mom on the forehead.

“Mark Greene,” she said, scrunching up her face, as if it took all her might.

“Yes, and John Carter.”

“I’ll see you soon, Mom. Happy Easter.”

“Thank you for everything,” she said.

I smiled and took her in once more, the elevator door sliding until her face was no longer in view.