From Pat Robertson to General Hospital

To poor Ugandan children
Straub (photo by Crux)

Straub (photo by Crux)

The following comes from an Oct. 29 story on Crux.

Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore once starred in his productions, but no glitterati appear in his more recent work. And this former CBS television executive and one-time General Hospital producer knows you won’t spend a Friday night watching his films. But even here, in this intensely self-conscious city, where TV shows beg for Emmy consideration on giant billboards, Gerry Straub is okay with that.

Just a couple of miles from the sprawling, palm tree-lined Warner Bros. studios sits Straub’s one-story home, doubling as his office and video-editing studio. There, he pops in a DVD and hits play. A startling image appears.

Naked from the waist down, their legs shriveled from the effects of polio, a pair of young Ugandan children lay in the middle of a dirt road. They try, in vain, to move themselves. A girl carrying a bucket of water approaches and washes them, shooing away the gathering flies. Nearby, a missionary sobs.

It’s a scene from “The Fragrant Spirit of Life,” one of Straub’s 22 films highlighting what he calls “the plight of the poor.” He avoids politics and culture wars. Instead, he wants to open American eyes to the suffering caused by extreme global poverty.

“My hope is that when people watch the films, there’s some transformation in their hearts,” he said.

Straub, wearing a baseball cap to cover his mostly bald head, still looks younger than his 67 years. He sports metallic wire-rimmed glasses and every now and then you hear hints of a New York accent leftover from his youth despite a move to Southern California more than three decades ago.

He attended a high school seminary for a semester, left, and then graduated from a Brooklyn Catholic high school in 1964. He was introduced to the world of television through a summer job on the Ed Sullivan Show. When he finished his project a couple of weeks early, he roamed CBS Studios aimlessly. Someone asked if he was lost and wanted something to do. A few days later, at age 17, he accepted a full-time clerical job.

He rose quickly, and remarkably, by age 21 he was an executive in the network’s operations division. He coordinated news bulletins from the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street in New York, collaborating with Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. But Straub wanted to work on the creative side, and he couldn’t see a path at CBS. So he headed off to Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club as a producer, but with the understanding that he could do creative projects, too. It wasn’t an ideal fit for the then-atheist Straub. “It really turned me off to religion,” he said. (He recounts his experience in his 1986 book, “Salvation for Sale.”)

Straub’s big break came with a call from ABC, which needed a new producer for General Hospital. “Boom, I go from Pat Robertson to Luke and Laura on the run,” he said.

As the credits piled up, so did the cash. Soaps producers in the 1980s could bring in five, maybe ten thousand dollars a week. But Straub was restless. “I just really had some really deep questions about life, and I really wanted to go on a search,” he said.

So in March 1995, while on a visit to Rome, he stepped into a small, empty church. Not to pray, he said, but to rest. But something else happened.

“It had been a dozen years since the last time I had spoken to God,” Straub wrote in the preface to his 2007 book, “Thoughts of a Blind Beggar.” “Within the space of a fleeting moment, I knew … that God was real, that God loved me, and that the hunger and thirst I had felt for so long could be satisfied only by God….”

To read the entire story, click here.

 

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