Hollywood Star Gene Lockhart Says ‘The God of Mercy Was With Me’ in Tragedy and Blessing
By Movieguide® Staff
Note: This article is part of our Faith in Hollywood series. For similar stories, click here.
Actor, author, and singer Gene Lockhart is best known for his career in movies, such as Christmas classics MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) and A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938).
However, what truly marked Lockhart’s life, was his great faith in God amidst tragedy.
“When I was four, my brother, myself, and another boy were clearing the ice for ‘curling,’ a game played in our native Ontario. While sweeping, the ice broke, and the three of us plunged into the freezing water,” Lockhart wrote in 1952. “A passer-by saw the accident. He quickly got a long pole and fished out our companion, who was so frozen and frightened he could not tell the man that there were still two other children under the ice. The man pushed the pole out again to retrieve what looked like the boy’s cap, but it was the belt around my coat. He hauled me to the surface, and to the shore.
“My brother drowned. I was thought dead. With frantic work it was hours before a sign of life appeared.”
Although Lockhart’s mother responded by thanking God for saving her son Gene, the young boy was not so convinced that God was watching over him.
“Later, while holding me in her arms, I heard my mother murmur, ‘Thank you, dear God, for being with him,'” Lockhart wrote. “I was puzzled, ‘Where had God been? Where was He now?'”
Lockhart said that he would revisit the incident to answer the question, “Where is God?” Lockhart wrote that it started with how his mother reflected the love of God to him and his family.
“God was certainly in the love my mother bore me when I first saw light,” Lockhart wrote. “She loved people. For her no one could do wrong. If they did, she would find ample reason to prove it was not their fault.”
“No matter how empty our larder was, neither Mother nor Father could ever turn anyone away from our door. And many came. Mother loved the nearness of friends and children. At the least provocation she would stage a concert or a show in the town hall, or even in our living room, and almost always for children, from 7 to 70,” he added.
This was also Lockhart’s introduction to performance on stage and in movies, in which he would have a successful career.
But his success in entertainment did not come immediately. Lockhart recalls that after his discharge from the Canadian army during WWI, he had no money.
“At the age of 22 I decided to besiege New York. In due course, my pockets were empty,” Lockhart recalled. “I was too proud to write home for money, so I did what I had been taught from childhood: I got on my knees and prayed.
“A day later I was given a job installing a filing system for a milling company. While there I continued my studies, took singing lessons and knocked on many doors looking for stage work.”
After breaking into a few stage performances, Lockhart met his future wife, Kathleen Arthur.
“Shortly after our marriage we were twice blessed: I appeared in my first Broadway hit, Sun-Up, which ran for two and a half years. We were given a lovely daughter, June. She began dancing in the Metropolitan Opera ballet school at eight. Today she is a television and stage actress,” Lockhart said at the time.
He continued: “There has always been a sweetness in the life and work Kathleen and I have had together that could only come through the guidance of a Divine Power.”
Lockhart notes that God’s presence is everywhere; we only have to look for it.
“He manifests Himself in actions large and small: in a helpful letter, a small service to another, an expression of sympathy, a sincere handshake. It may even be a simple: ‘Good evening,'” Lockhart wrote.
“One night in August, 1933, I was walking down a New York Avenue when I passed one of the directors of the Theatre Guild, head down, lost in thought. When I hailed him with a hearty, ‘Good evening,’ he looked up, but did not reply,” Lockhart explained. “The Theatre Guild summoned me the next morning. After a reading I was assigned the part of Uncle Sid in Eugene O’Neill’s tender comedy, Ah, Wilderness. The success of the play led me to Hollywood and the beginning of a long and happy career that still endures.”
Now, Lockhart credits God for his success in Hollywood, even when he could not see Him in the tragedy of his childhood.
“The God I know is a God of bounty and laughter, of hope and kindness, of testing and trusting. He is, above all, a God of mercy,” Lockhart said.
While swimming at the beach, Lockhart would have another near-death experience. But this time, he knew that God was in the situation.
“I had two thoughts then: First, I asked God’s forgiveness. Second, I wondered how long the struggle would continue. I was sinking for what seemed to be the last time when a hand yanked me out. He was there again, in a watchful lifeguard,” he recalls. “Sometimes, before and after my skirmishes with death, I’ve forgotten to give thanks to the Saving Hand that swept me back to life. Thoughtlessly, I patted myself, egotistically praising my own luck, or vigor, or talent. Now I know. In each instance the circumstances of rescue implied intervention that was more than human.”
Lockhart adds: “The God of mercy was with me.”
Through his experience in both hardship and blessing, Lockhart said he is assured of the presence of God in his life.
“We are all restless with ambition. But, in my later years, as my thoughts turn to the end of my life, I know I have received, through the fire of time, a deeper sense of His power, a glimmer of the gentle way He molds a soul. I have felt the touch of His sure hand in human friendships and in the eternal beauty of nature,” Lockhart wrote. “Whenever one hears the song of a bird, the turning of leaves, the moving of waters, the silence of mountains, there is God.”
He concludes: “In the agony of doubt, in the peace of mind, in the turmoil of life and in the peace of soul; in all of these there is God. My life has proved to me that God is everywhere. I know now that the heart is ever restless, until it rests in God. Yes, all the world is waiting… for His presence.”