Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Whatever happened to Anita Bryant?

Anita Bryant in 1971

Anita Bryant has kept a low profile for many years now.  Her name is seldom in the news anymore, but back in the 1970s, the singer made headlines as a vocal anti-gay rights activist.  In the years that followed, Anita's life fell apart and her career was destroyed.  She suffered from severe depression, underwent a painful divorce and filed for bankruptcy.  A polarizing figure, she has been revered by those on he conservative right and reviled by liberals and homosexuals.

Anita Jane Bryant was born in Barnsdall, Oklahoma on March 25, 1940. the daughter of Warren Bryant and Lenora A. (Berry).  Her father was 19 and her mother was 18 when Anita was born.  They were divorced by the time she was two years old.  When she was three, they remarried, and were divorced again when she was 13.  Both later married others.  

Anita was born in the home of her maternal grandparents and she almost didn't survive.  When the doctor failed to find the newborn Anita's pulse, she was thought to be stillborn.  However, her grandfather, John Berry, refused accept any talk of death; so Anita's head was plunged into ice water and she began to breathe.

Due to her parents' rocky marriage, Anita's childhood was very unstable.  She and her younger sister, Sandra, were frequently uprooted.  Their father, Warren Bryant, worked in the oil fields and went from one job to another.  As a result, the family experienced periods of poverty.  After the divorce, Warren joined the U.S. Army and Anita's mother went to work, leaving the children with their maternal grandparents.

It was Anita's grandfather who recognized her singing ability.  He taught her how to sing "Jesus Loves Me" when she was two years old.  During her childhood, she began singing at church and in talent contests. She also worked in radio and television in Oklahoma City, eventually starring on her own show on WKY-TV.  Before completing high school, she was performing on network radio.

In 1958, Anita graduated from Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  After high school, she entered beauty contests, becoming Miss Oklahoma in 1958.  At the age of 18, she was second runner-up in the 1959 Miss America pageant, which was held on September 6, 1958.  That same year, she signed a contract with Carlton Records and later with Columbia Records in 1962.  With the money she won in beauty contests, Anita enrolled at Northwestern University in Chicago,  Due to the heavy demands of her burgeoning career, she dropped out of the university.

Although Anita Bryant is condemned by many for her anti-homosexual views, she really did enjoy a very successful career as a popular singer.  She had 11 songs on the U.S. Hot 100 list, including a pop hit with her first single, "Till There Was You," in 1959.  Anita's recording of "Till There Was You," from the Broadway musical The Music Man earned a Gold Record.  She also had hits with "Paper Roses" (1960), which was later covered by Marie Osmond in 1973,  and with "In My Little Corner of the World" (1960), also covered by Marie Osmond in 1974, and "Wonderful Night" (1961).

On June 25, 1960, 20-year-old Anita Bryant married Robert Einer "Bob" Green, a disc jockey whom she met while promoting a record in Miami, Florida.  Upon his marriage to Anita, Bob began to  manage her career.  Born to Swedish immigrants in the Bronx, New York on June 13, 1931, Green was an Air Force veteran.  He and Anita had four children: Robert Jr. (Bobby), whom they adopted in September of 1963, Gloria Lynn (born May 1964), and twins Billy and Barbara (born prematurely on January 3, 1969).

Anita and Bob Green

From 1961 to 1968, Anita often accompanied Bob Hope on his Holiday Tours at Christmastime, entertaining American soldiers and sailors with the United Service Organizations (USO).  She also joined Hope for televised shows during the Vietnam War.  She received the Silver Medallion Award from the National Guard for "outstanding service by an entertainer."  

Anita is known for her her endorsements of various products and businesses.  From 1960 to 1967, she served as a spokeswomen for Coca-Cola in television commercials, and was nicknamed the "Coca-Cola Girl."  She also appeared in ads for brands like Kraft Foods, Holiday Inn and Tupperware.

Below is a photo of Antia Bryant during a photoshoot for Coca-Cola.

In 1969, Anita became the spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission.  She promoted Florida oranges and the Sunshine State in numerous television commercials, In the ads, she sang the orange juice jingle, "Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree and chanted the slogan, "Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine."  In the 1970s, she was teamed up with the Disney character Orange Bird.  Bob and the children also appeared in some of the ads.  In addition, to TV commercials for orange juice, Bryant hosted Orange Bowl Parades.

Disney World's Orange Bird

On March 23, 1969, Anita Bryant participated in a Rally for Decency at the Orange Bowl in the wake of a performance by Jim Morrison and the Doors at the Dinner Key Auditorium.in Miami.  Morrison was knocked off the stage and rushed away by police.  After the band left Florida, six warrants for Morrison's arrest were issued, including one for lewd and lascivious behaviour in public.

In January of 1977. Anita stirred up controversy when she and Bub Green joined a protest against a Miami city ordinance allowing homosexuals to teach in public schools.  Anita and her supporters put forth the argument that since homosexuals were unable to reproduce, they would inevitably recruit.  Bryant claimed to love gays but not homosexuality.

Anita's conservative politics, particularly her opposition to gay rights, became more strident.  She led a crusade called Save Our Children, which called for the repeal of a Dade County, Florida ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.  She also opposed the passage of a bill in Congress to recognize homosexuals as a minority group.  With the support of Rev. Jerry Falwell, Anita eventually spearheaded a movement against gay rights that spread across the United States."  

Bryant's campaign resulted in the repeal of Florida's anti-discrimination ordinance on January 7, 1977.  Nevertheless, Anita paid a hefty price for her anti-gay activism.  She faced a huge backlash from gay rights advocates, who boycotted the products she promoted, especially orange juice.  Her reputation was severely damaged, as was her show-business career.  Although seen an icon and a patriot among right-wing and evangelical groups, Anita was forever linked with bigotry and homophobia in other circles.  The boycott on Florida orange juice was supported by many celebrities, including Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Paul Williams, Liza Minnelli, Bea Arthur, Carroll O'Connor, Mary Tyler Moore and Vincent Price.  Anita became the target of jokes by TV hosts such as Johnny Carson.  Her orange juice commercials were parodied by Carol Burnett.  There were buttons reading "Anita Bryant sucks oranges."

In 1977, at a Des Moines, Iowa television news conference, Bryant was hit on the face with a banana cream pie by gay activist Tom Higgins, who had posed as a reporter.  Using a pun on a derogatory term for homosexuals, Anita quipped, "At least it was fruit pie," and then bust into tears.  The incident was shown on camera and Anita became one of the first people to be "pied" as a political act.  

Anita Bryant "pied"

In May of 1980, Anita Bryant made a surprising announcement.  She declared that her marriage to Bob Green was "irretrievably broken."  The couple was just shy of celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary when Anita, 40, filed for divorce from Green, 48, citing emotional abuse and suicidal thoughts.  Green, for his part, refused to recognize the divorce, claiming that due to his fundamentalist religious conviction, he did not acknowledge civil divorce and that Anita remained his wife in God's eyes.  In 2007, he blamed gay people for the upheaval, saying that their "stated goal" was to put Anita "out of business and destroy her career.."  "And that's exactly what they did," he added.  "It's unfair." 

In an open letter, Green pleaded with Anita to reconcile.  He wrote: "Let us both put aside all other earthly considerations and reunite in Christian love."  However, Bryant refused to reconsider.  In June of 1980 explained her position.  She told People magazine that divorce "is against everything I believe in.  I wanted to save my marriage, but I decided that was not the route to go."  In her divorce suit, Anita sought half the couple's property, which included their 25-room mansion, and custody of their four children.  After the breakup of her marriage, she left Florida and moved to Selma, Alabama and then to Atlanta, Georgia.

By 1981, after Anita's divorce and the effects of the nationwide boycott of Florida orange juice, the Florida Citrus Commission decided not to renew Bryant's lucrative contract.  The commission stated
stated that the singer had "worn out" as a spokesperson.  After a twelve year reign and over 75 television commercials, the undisputed Queen of Orange Juice was unceremoniously removed from her throne.

When  Anita filed for divorce, she was accused of hypocrisy by fellow conservative Christians.  They blacklisted her because they considered her divorce to be a betrayal of her stated beliefs about family life and the sanctity of Christian marriage.  She found herself shunned by her former supporters and excluded from evangelical events.  Around this time, Anita sank into a depression.  She couldn't sleep at night and she had suicidal thoughts. "My state of mind was depressed," she said, "and I didn't know how I was going to make a living."

Not long after her divorce announcement, Anita commented on the fallout from her anti-gay activism.  In a December 1980 Ladies Home Journal interview, she stated, "I'm more inclined to say live and let live, just don't flaunt it or try to legalize it."  

In 1990, Anita wed her second husband, Charlie Hobson Dry, 72, in Nashville, Tennessee.  Day, a NASA test astronaut and military test pilot, had been her childhood sweetheart.  The couple moved to the Ozarks to recharge Anita's sagging career in Arkansas and Missouri.  She appeared in a string of small venues, including Branson, Missouri, where both the state and federal governments claimed over $100,000 in unpaid taxes.  

In 1997, Anita and Charlie filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Arkansas after a failed  Anita Bryant show in  Eureka Springs, a tourist area in Arkansas, left them in debt.  Bryant and Day opened a new theatre in Pigeon, Tennessee called Anita Bryant's Music Mansion.  The enterprise was unsuccessful and they were unable to meet payments.  They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy again in Knoxville in December of 2001.  In 2008, the pair was living in Edmond, Oklahoma.

In a 2012 article for The Oklahoman, Anita is quoted as saying that she did the right thing and that she did not hate homosexuals.  "I never regretted what I did," she stated.  In an interview with the Windy City Times that same year, Robert Green, Jr. said that his mother "would be putting a lot more energy into fighting gay rights if she still felt as strongly."

These days, Anita is reportedly doing charity work for youth organizations and she heads the Anita Bryant Ministries International.


* Anita Bryant's first husband, Bob Green, was found dead in his Miami Beach home on January 26, 2012.  Green suffered from heart problems and, according to his sons, was on kidney dialysis at the time of his passing.  He died of kidney failure at the age of 80.  For more than 30 years, Bob Green lived a solitary life filled with resentment.  

Upon his ex-husband's death,  Anita remarked, "Bob internalized a lot of his own anger and frustration and disappointments.  That's what happen, she said, "if you don't let your faith rise up and and you give in to all those anxieties."

* In 1968, an American presidential election year, Anita sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.  In 1973, she also sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the funeral burial service of Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States.

* Anita published an autobiography in !970 entitled Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.

* In 1978. 1979, and 1980, Good Housekeeping named Anita Bryant as the Most Admired Woman of the Year.

In March of 1980, Anita hosted a television special called The Anita Bryant Spectacular.  The special included a medley of prerecorded songs, Pat Boone was interviewed.  The West Point Glee Club and General William Westmoreland also appeared.

* In 1988, Anita became the first female member of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame.  In March of 2012, she sang for an audience of 100 people at the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Gala at Nors Mayo Hall in Winter Haven, Florida.

* In 1998, Dade County overturned Anita's successful campaign of 20 years earlier and voted to protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation.  In November of 2008, the Florida statute prohibiting gay adoption was overturned by a Miami-Dade circuit court.

* In 2005, Anita returned to the place of her birth, Barnsdall, Oklahoma, and she attended the town's 100th anniversary festival.  A street was named for her.  In 2007, she paid a visit to her high school in Tulsa and took part in the school's annual musical revue.  

* In 2008, Anita Bryant was the subject of a musical called The Loneliest Girl in the World.  It had its world premiere at the Diversionary Theatre in San Diego, California.

SOURCES; People (People.com Archive) "Anita Bryant Rates Family Bliss Next to Godliness, but After 20 Years She's Divorcing Bob Green" by Kip Sinclair, June 9, 1980; The Oklahoman, "Stories of the Ages: Anita Bryant - Sunny Side of Life," by Robert Medley, March 20, 2011; The Washington Post, "Bob Green, former DJ and ex-husband of Anita Bryant, dies at 80," by Elinor Brecher and Steve Rothaus, February 23, 2012; Encyclpedia.com (www.enclyopedia.comj), "Bryant, Anita;"  The Ledger, "Anita Bryant appears at citrus gala," by Ledger Media Group, March 5, 2012; Wikipedia; IMDb (Internet Movie Database).

- Joanne