Anita Bryant Biography
For many former G.I.’s the name Anita Bryant will always be synonymous with the Bob Hope Holiday Tours. Bob Hope had told her, “Go with us one time, Anita and it will get in your blood.” For the twenty-year old it was exciting company to be with Andy Williams, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Janis Paige, the other members of Hope’s troupe on the seven-day Christmas Junket entertaining the G.I.’s in Caribbean area in 1961. It was Anita’s first trip outside the United States. It was she who closed the tour at the Guantanamo Base on the island of Cuba with a reverent singing of “Silent Night”, Holy Night.” Anita enjoyed singing to the live audience of the responsive servicemen, and they loved her. She told Bob Hope she would do it again and for seven years Anita traveled to the Caribbean, the Arctic, the Pacific, and the Far East with the Hope Holiday Troupe. Anita never forgot, nor did those G.I.’s who were there in Vietnam when she sang “Silent Night” while lethal red-tracers were whining and heavy explosions were rocking the area. Hope’s Troupe went to the front lines, where other visitors seldom ventured. Because of her faithfulness in making these trips, she was given the USO’s Silver Medallion Award by the National Guard for the most outstanding service by an entertainer, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Leadership Gold Medallion, plus the Al Jolson Gold Medal Award and Citation.
Anita Bryant also made a name for herself with her trademark rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Variety magazine’s Washington correspondent, Liz Carpenter, wrote “The Anita Bryant delivery of the patriotic rouser “Battle Hymn of the Republic” has brought more important Democratic and Republican political leaders to their feet in personal tribute to the vocalist and her style than anything comparable in memory.” She sang the song repeatedly over the years, in places like the super bowl, half time in 1971, and it never lost its appeal. The 100-year-old civil war classic became synonymous with the name Anita Bryant. As she sang on the battleship filmed with Bob Hopes Christmas special or receiving two standing ovations at the White House (not repeated before or since). Many stories could be told about Anita’s experiences related to her appearances and performances where audiences would immediately rise to their feet. President Lyndon B. Johnson told his family that at his funeral, he wanted Anita Bryant to sing “Battle Hymn” and Billy Graham to preach, and that is what took place early in 1973 when news reached the world of Lyndon Johnson’s death. Miss Bryant was the longest-serving spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Growers, serving in that Capacity from 1968 to 1980 and became known as the Sunshine-Tree Girl. Her Florida orange-juice commercials were rated among the best used for any food product by any company in the country at the time. Recognition of Anita was higher than any other advertising celebrity. During this eleven years she made 86 television commercials, appeared in print ads, at conventions, fairs and other special events on behalf of the industry. During that period, orange juice sales climbed from 382 million gallons to more than 800 million gallons. Anita received many prestigious citrus awards but the most coveted award came later when she became the first woman and the youngest ever inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame.
The London, England Daily Mail, commented: “Anita Bryant is a rarity. She does not push fruit juice, she just goes up to that little ol’ camera and chats about herself and God, and somewhere along the line mentions Florida orange juice.”
“All over this vast continent [Europe] are people who think of American as good, God- fearing, honest and nice to look at. Anita Bryant is all of these things. She stands for what people would like to believe is the heart of the United States. The lady is the folk heroine, an antidote to Watergate. Anita Bryant is in the process of giving America back its self-respect.”
Of course, not everyone agreed. However, that was Anita Bryant and the thing that made her so down-to earth, real and believable was her faith. Her belief in God and Bible had their roots in her childhood. It was Anita’s beloved Grandpa and Grandma Berry who first planted the seeds in her young heart. It was fertile soil. John Berry adored the baby who was declared dead at childbirth on March 25, 1940 in their tiny frame house in Barnsdall, Oklahoma. No way would he accept that the baby was dead and shouted at the doctor. “If you don’t bring my daughter and the baby around, I’ll kill you.” He said other words that cannot be printed but this was before Grandpa would be saved a couple of years later. When the doctor told John to get him a pan of ice water, the new Grandpa lost no time. Anita survived. It was Grandpa Berry who loved to brag his whole life that he taught the baby to sing when she was six months old. Soon after Anita’s sister Sandra was born, her mother and father divorced. Her Dad went in the Army and her Mom went to work taking her children to live with their grandparents temporarily. There was more tragedy to come. Her Grandpa lost his vision in an oil refinery explosion barely escaping with his life. In the hospital, he was led to the Lord by a visiting preacher. After that, he would always say, “I had to go blind before I could really see… see Jesus.” Grandma had prayed for his salvation and now she became his eyes and lifeline and they moved to Tishomingo, Oklahoma.
When Anita was two years old, her Grandpa taught her to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and told the Baptist pastor he should have her sing in church. She did. “For a little girl she’s sure got a voice that’s big!” e surprised preacher said. One could say it was Anita’s debut into performing publicly. For the rest of her life she would be singing. That big voice took her from Velma-Alma, Oklahoma to Midwest City (near Oklahoma City) where at 12 years old she had her own TV show on WKY TV. Her Mom remarried and they moved to Tulsa, and at Will Rogers High School, as a sophomore she landed the lead in the senior play “south Pacific and got her first taste of Broadway. Years later she would star in Summer Theater as Annie in “Annie Get Your Gun”, Maria in “Sound of Music”, Sarah in “Guys and Dolls”, produced and star in “The Fantasticks” and others. At age 18 she became Miss Tulsa, Miss Oklahoma, and traveled to the neon glistened boardwalk of Atlantic City where she was named second runner-up award to Miss American and tied for Miss Congeniality. Nevertheless, all along the way, Anita never forgot her encounter with God as an eight-year old when she came home from church and told her mother she wanted to be saved. “Do you really know what that means?” her mother questioned her. “Yes. It means to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savoir. It means to believe that He died on the cross for you. It means to ask Him to forgive your sins.” Her mother was impressed and Anita was headstrong. Still her mother was cautions. “Do you realize how important this decision is? Why don’t you wait until you are older? You have plenty of time before taking such an important step.”
Anita was a bright child. She may also have been mischievous, aggressive, quick tempered, stubborn, accident-prone, and always showing off, but she was also sure in her mind and knew what she wanted to do was right. “Mama, can you show me anywhere in the Bible where it says how old I must be before I can be saved?” End of story. Anita was baptized, and made a public commitment of her faith to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
She never veered from her commitment. She had a well-developed conscience, which stood her in good stead, and then there was always her Mother, Father, Grandparents, and Stepfather a wonderfully supportive family of believers. Even before the Miss America event, Anita had won the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” show in New York and it was her big break. She was only a junior in high school. Uncertain weather to participate, she had gotten down alongside her bed and asked; “Lord is a singing career your choice for me or is it just the stubborn longing of an ego-stuffed little girl?” God lifted the burden after she prayed, asking for His guidance. It was as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. In a new spirit of submissiveness to God, she and her mother went to New York City. When she won, she told her family that God deserved all the credit. This was typical of Anita. She always sensed that God was watching out for her. Before her senior year in high school was over, she had already signed with Carlton Records, and soon became a recording star known all across the nation.
The Miss America event catapulted Anita into the spotlight that attracted media and nationwide attention. One of the first things that happened was that she became a regular on Don McNeil’s “Breakfast Club” in Chicago. She was given a college scholarship to Northwestern University and enrolled grateful for the means, which the Miss America contest now made possible. Her fame skyrocketed. Her recording of “Till There Was You” climbed to the top of the national pop scene hitting a million sales, giving Anita her first gold record. Competition at the time included Johnny Mathis, Elvis Presley, Patti Page, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, and the ageless Perry Como. It was quite a feat. Cash box also named Anita the “Most Promising Female Vocalist”. Now she was traveling on weekends, Carlton Records paying her way, having her visit disc jockeys plugging her record, making sure the deejays didn’t forget the name of Anita Bryant. It was exhausting. What was she to do? Goodbye, Northwestern; hello, show bizz. It paid off, her second gold record was “Paper Roses” and “My Little Corner of the World” with many other hits to come and eventually she would record over 45 albums with numerous Grammy Nominations.
It was Anita’s traveling for the record company that brought deejay Bob Green into her life. In June 1960, they were married. That introduced into Anita’s life a tumultuous relationship-each were strong willed. Bob became a Christian on the night before their wedding. The marriage had its ups and downs, but they worked at it, developed a strong relationship with their church in Miami and Bob became Anita’s manager.
The image Anita created was good and it got her guaranteed income for her promotional efforts with Coca-Cola, which lasted for seven years, and she became the Coke girl to millions of radio listeners and TV views across the country as well as the Coca-Cola Bottlers’ favorite spokeswoman and performer. In addition, other businesses lined up Anita to advertise their products too. Soon Kraft Foods, Tupperware and Holiday Inns were tying their brand names to Anita Bryant.
Anita had been told she could not have children. The disappointment devastated her. After three years, frustration, and consultation, they decided on adoption. In late September of 1963, Robert Elnar Green Jr. came into their lives a darling baby boy. He was wonderful, but a handful and one day an exhausted Anita went to see her doctor. She was pregnant! She was dazed. Early in May 1964, Gloria Lynn Green was born, seven and a half months after Bobby, Bob and Anita considered both “miracle babies given to them by God.
Her career continued to flourish and their marriage improved. Then on Jan. 3, 1969, the first premature twins were born – a boy weighing two pounds 12 ounces. Three hours later after several pints of blood Anita, who almost died, she delivered the second baby – a girl weighing two pounds, 10 ounces. It was touch and go both for Anita and the babies for awhile. Prayers ascended throughout the country. Miraculously, Billy and Barbara survived. Anita recovered, but it would be a year before her voice and health returned after having premature babies – one naturally and the other by Cesarean. Later Guidepost magazine asked Anita to write about the experience. This was the time, she said, when she learned the meaning of the words in the old gospel song “Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There.” For years I’d been paying lip service to those words, advising other to heed them, now it was my turn to test them.” This dramatic story, along with her autobiography “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” was later released as Anita’s first book, which became a best seller.
The Green household now had four children; the years advanced – busy, prosperous, full-to-the-brim years, which were shared in ten more popular books to come such as “Bless this House, Amazing Grace, etc. In January 1977, Anita and Bob, along with fifty other Miami citizens, stepped out in opposition to a proposed ordinance, which, among other things, allow known practicing homosexuals to teach in private and religious schools. In doing so, they became involved in a dramatic and emotional struggle with militant homosexuals. Immediately the dispute erupted into a full-blown national issue. They thought it was a local issue, although they learned much later it was a broader scope. In fact, at the same time, a national homosexual bill (HR 2998) had been introduced in Congress to declare it a legitimate minority, receiving privileges, quotes for work, and all educational institutions and so on. As a result, of Anita’s Christian convictions she took a stand and this national bill never passed. In her last book, “A New Day” Anita said, “I made a stand not against homosexuals, as persons, but against legislation that would tend to “normalize” and abet their lifestyle, and would especially afford them influence over our children who attended private religious school. I testified along with the others against the legislation before the Dade County Commission. The commissioners were already committed to passing it anyway and did.” At first, I did not want to become involved but forged ahead since many encouraged me in my public stance for a Christian view of home and family and protection of our children. I was asked to lead a referendum, so we formed “Save our Children” to change that unconstitutionally unnecessary law. The gay rights law was voted down by the people, not once, but three years in a row. The news media seized the opportunity – in Time and Newsweek, in television and radio reports and in major newspaper headlines across the nation, the story broke and expanded from referendum campaign into a multitude of complex social issues. It was a controversy that wouldn’t go away.
“”The Anita Bryant Story” by Anita was published that same year. She spoke the truth in a compelling way. A reporter had noted that Anita Bryant had never been known before to raise her voice in anything but into song. And he was right. But “God put a flame in my heart.” She said, “And I have learned to obey God regardless of the consequences.” The consequences were incredible. Anita stuck by her biblical convictions and what the bible said. Seldom in the twentieth century has history had one person been subject to the kind of attack Anita Bryant endured. Boycotts of products for which she was the spokesperson threatened their livelihood, and in the end, she lost her contracts. Bumper stickers and T-shirts assailed her. Protest marches and demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands were staged from coast to coast. She was blacklisted and made the butt of jokes on the radio and TV. She and her family received daily death and kidnapping threats, crank phone calls, bomb scares, and hate mail, with human dung and voodoo dolls. Seattle Washington news reported said she became a convenient kicking object for the hysterical. Bookings and contracts at all levels and sponsors, many who were threatened personally, dropped her, as well as a lucrative contract for her own TV show. There was an amazing groundswell of support throughout the country, which formed the base for Anita Bryant Ministries and within less than a year grew to half a million supporters. For three consecutive years, Good Housekeeping magazine named her “The most admired woman in America”, voted by their readers and the Gallup Poll listed her among the top ten woman in the world. The media, however for the most part, chose to focus on support of the homosexual community, but the truth was never reported that the great majority of Americans supported Anita and her principles. The businessmen who had the courage to not cave into media and militant pressures were rewarded with the largest audiences ever, like the “New Orleans Pop Symphony” and the “Utah State Fair”. Orange Juice Sales did not go down, but up! Yet, through it all, the lord sustained Bob and the children. That story was told in the book At Any Cost (1978).
Anita Bryant was a phenomenon of the late seventies – an entertainer who was willing to stand up to the vilest and most scurrilous kind of public abuse for the sake of family, morality, simple decency, and the Word of God. She suffered much more than anyone will ever know. She paid a tremendous price. But her confidence always rested in God. The Tulsa, Oklahoma Tribune described her as a square gal out of Tulsa originally, “Who believes in such things as blueberry and apple pie, God, country and the difference between men and women.” Anita liked that she will always be remembered as a witness to and defender of the Truth in the twentieth century. A real heroine.
The attendant stresses and strains on her family and marriage finally took their toll and in 1980, Bob and Anita were divorced. Then her world caved in and she was caught between those who opposed her stand and those who condemned her for divorce. The churches dropped her just as the world had. There was nowhere else to turn but to take her children and go back home to Oklahoma, not having a clue as to how to provide for her family, but she knew her family would love just plain Anita Jane, and they did.
But for Anita Bryant what happened then? After you are forced into retirement at forty, with four kids to support? After the divorce, the sensationalism and blacklisting, rejection, late night talk shows ridicule, and even a pie in the face?
That’s why the book, “A New Day” was written. Anita states in the book, “My purpose is not to catalog and rehash my own personal injuries, insults, and injustices (only a loser dwells on misfortunes years after they happen), but to record God’s redemptive uses of our most grievous tribulations. The good news wins out every time. When disaster strikes your life or mine – or that of your pastor, neighbor, parent, son or daughter – God stands fast. The world may seem to sway and shift beneath your feet. Friends may desert you. Strangers may judge, curse or abuse you. Even Christians may at best misunderstand, or judge you, and at worst actually become malicious.
Nevertheless, I’m here to tell you from firsthand experience: you are not alone. Despite the most horrifying, poor, hopeless circumstances, you need not to be washed-up, finished or beyond hope. God is there, even when you cannot pray and desire not to pray. He knew your name before the foundation of the world. He holds your life in His eternal hands, and He will not let you fall, I know.
Eleven years ago, amid the spectacular wreckage of my life, viewed before the whole world, my mind knew these things. At the same time, however for the first time in my experience, my mind also knew deep depression, fear, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and grief. I had said I’d never divorce and when it occurred, I felt self-hatred in all it force, and with it the negative conviction that never, never, never could God ever restore the mess my life had become. Anita labeled this period of her life a “The Wilderness Years” during which time she had no desire to pursue her professional career as an entertainer. It was also during this same time that she wrote many of her songs, thinking – at the time- that they were only God’s slave to heal her own wounds, she later realized that these same songs have ministered to many, many other hurting individuals. She said, “In desperate times, you either give in and give up or you get up and get out.” How does anyone emerge intact from such hopelessness? This book will show the faithfulness of our God who from the chaos and wreckage of His children’s lives can build something magnificent. Men’s evil intentions could succeed in temporarily destroying my career, but what people mean for evil, God has used for good. I was to learn the unspeakable depths of god’s richest love toward Anita Bryant- and you – not because of successful careers, fame, or fortune or any other such temporal thing, but that His love for His child surpasses all else in life and stands throughout eternity.
Though much of this story is mine, it is also yours. Each of us must discover God’s triumphant, tender, and redemptive power in our own lives. Often these discoveries grow out of the worst chapters of our lives, for only then will we draw close enough to Him to appropriate His sublime healing and His amazing grace. We can find that love and grace at the foot of the cross.”
After being single for ten years, Anita married former Astronaut Test Crewman Charlie Dry, who had been a childhood sweetheart when he was ten and she was nine years old. Anita’s Grandma and Grandpa Berry introduced them when Anita visited her grandparents one summer in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. Charlie delivered groceries to the Berry’s. Charlie and Anita were married in August 1990 in Nashville TN. The couple moved to Berryville, Arkansas and in May 1991 opened the “Anita Bryant Show” in nearby Eureka Springs. Later, the “Anita Bryant Theater”” opened in Branson, Missouri. They remained living in Berryville, an hour and a half away.
In 1998, they were led to move back to Tennessee. The planned to build a new theatre, but purchased an existing one instead. “Anita with Love” a two hour variety extravaganza opened by September of the following year. Anita’s parents, George and Lenora Cate, along with family, friends and dignitaries attended the gala opening.
As Anita says, “Family has always been FIRST. My parents instilled that in me by example. They were always there for me, good or bad, up or down; They were always faithful. I could never be anything less to them!
In June 2002, the call came from Oklahoma that Anita’s mother was to have open-heart surgery or she would not survive even a week. For an 80 year- old with last stage kidney failure on dialysis, this was not good news! “I’ve had bad news before, so I knew what to do. I called every prayer warrior and ministry I have ever known and then began fasting and praying – standing in the gap,” explained Anita.
“When you’ve been through the fire before, you know what you know and I knew she was going to make it through and she did! Daddy George, Paw had asked me on the phone, “How long can you stay?” “As long as it takes,” I replied. I heard him sigh a sigh of relief. Driving sixteen hours straight through, we arrived back in Oklahoma on June 16th to find my Step-Dad had been admitted to the same hospital as Mama with pneumonia. He was Mama’s caregiver, with acute emphysema himself and had been on full time oxygen, breathing with only half a lung, said Anita. He suffered a mild heart attack and went home to Jesus on June 26, 2002 “We knew his suffering was over, but it hurt so bad to lose our beloved adopted dad and friend.”
Family was FIRST! They had always been there for Anita and Charlie and now it was their turn to do the same for them. “Charlie and I never missed a beat knowing we were the only members of the family in a position to take care of Mama – so we just did it. Mama had sacrificed greatly as a single parent long before she and Daddy George were married forty-seven years ago.,” describes Anita. “She had laid down her own well being time after time for my sister Sandra and me, and our families. To me, it was the most gratifying privilege to spend that time with my Mama, but at the same time, it was the hardest task I have ever encountered in my entire life. To be my Mama’s total caregiver was totally consuming, challenging and very exhausting. Of course Charlie was by my side all the way; Mama was our top priority, but it fell to me mostly.”
Charlie, who is always thinking light years ahead of everyone else, knew he needed to get work in Oklahoma. How or where was the big question mark, so he prayed. Then Charlie started walking in that faith prayer by contacting all his old friends and business acquaintances and the Lord went before him.
“The Lord was with us all, so much so that ‘911’ was called only three times that year, where previously it was once a week or more! After several months, I yearned to return to our home, built on a mountain slope on a small private lake deep in the heart of the Smokey Mountains between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN. We knew Mama was much stronger now so we talked her into returning to Tennessee with us for a month. Dialysis treatments were set up for Mama. It was a really fun time for us all, although we knew we would eventually have to return to Oklahoma for Mama’s sake. So many wonderful memories were packed into that year and many growing pains as well. But, isn’t that just part of living, learning to give and forgive?
“A year to the day, June 16th, when we first came back to Oklahoma, Mama went home with Jesus. I still was not ready to let her go. We had become so close. I had given her everything that was in me to give, but it still did not seem enough for all she had given me! How can we bear any loss of loved ones except though the healing balm of a Heavenly loving Father? He gave His greatest and best. His Son Jesus, to die for us all, so we all through faith can rise with Him, joining our loved one’s and the family of God for all eternity.
“In the natural, what was a sad reason for coming back to Oklahoma, was God’s supernatural reason for preparing me for my future ministry”
Anita and Charlie officially moved back to Oklahoma City in October 2003. In September 2003. Charlie was inducted into the Oklahoma aviation and Space Hall of fame who hales Will Rogers, Oklahoma’s favorite son as the first Inductee. Charlie is on the University of Oklahoma’s Aviation Advisory Board, the Oklahoma Governor’s Aerospace Committee, and is part of many more organizations. He also designed and will supervise the building of the Chickasaw Nation Aviation and Space Academy and has authored the curriculum.
Anita is speaking, singing, and sharing again, while working on a sequel to her last book, “A New Day”. “Thanks for the Memories of Service”, (the sequel’s working title) is dedicated to the memory of Bob Hope and (the Mother of our troops,) Dolores Hope, with personal pictures and stories from servicemen and woman who gave Anita military patches and insignias for her army fatigue jacket during the seven years with the Bob Hope Christmas Shows or wherever she performed. It’s really their story and Anita’s on going inspiring life testimony to share faith over fear. She’s currently working to record a new children’s album of songs she wrote, dedicated to her seven grandchildren. She was most recently the Honorary Chairman for the Deaconess Hospital Gratitude Gala where she preformed a concert with a nine-piece orchestra and decorated a Christmas tree to auction for the hospital as well. She is a founding member of “Diamond Hats,” the woman’s organization of Oklahoma Youth Expo to raise funds to buy animals from 4H and FFA youth to help then further their education.
On May 28, 2005 she was honored by the community of Barnsdall, Oklahoma , (her birthplace) during their 100th birthday celebration by having her serve as the Grand Honorary Marshall of the Bigheart Day Parade and naming on of the city’s major thoroughfares as “Anita Bryant Avenue. “She reciprocated by performing a concert with an eight piece orchestra.” She continues to help various charities such as The Salvation Army and many varied church denominations. In addition, to many other charities and events.
Anita is now sharing an office in the historic Oklahoma City’s Bricktown with Charlie. The offices house the new Anita Bryant Ministries International, Inc. along with Charlie’s Space Camps and other business ventures. Anita is excited about being back home in Oklahoma and believes her latter days will be greater than in the beginning.