Anita Jane Bryant (born March 25, 1940) is an American singer and anti-gay rights activist. She scored four Top 40 hits in the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including "Paper Roses" which reached No. 5 on the charts. She was also a former Miss Oklahoma beauty pageant winner, and was a brand ambassador from 1969 to 1980 for the Florida Citrus Commission.
Bryant in 1971
|Birth name||Anita Jane Bryant|
|Born||March 25, 1940|
Barnsdall, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Occupation(s)||Singer, anti-gay activist|
|Labels||Carlton, Columbia, London, Word|
In the 1970s, Bryant became known as an outspoken opponent of gay rights in the U.S. In 1977, she ran the "Save Our Children" campaign to repeal a local ordinance in Dade County, Florida which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Her involvement with the campaign was condemned by gay rights activists. They were assisted by many other prominent figures in music, film, and television, and retaliated by boycotting the orange juice which she had promoted. This, as well as her later divorce, damaged her financially.
Early life and career
Bryant was born in Barnsdall, Oklahoma, the daughter of Lenora A. (Berry) and Warren Bryant. After her parents divorced, her father went into the U.S. Army and her mother went to work, taking her children to live with their grandparents temporarily. When Bryant was two years old, her grandfather taught her to sing "Jesus Loves Me". She was singing at the age of six onstage on local fairgrounds in Oklahoma. She sang occasionally on radio and television and was invited to audition when Arthur Godfrey's talent show came to town.
Bryant became Miss Oklahoma in 1958 and was a second runner-up in the 1959 Miss America pageant at age 19, right after graduating from Tulsa's Will Rogers High School.
In 1960, Bryant married Bob Green (1931–2012), a Miami disc jockey, with whom she eventually raised four children: Robert Jr. (Bobby), Gloria, and twins Billy and Barbara. She divorced him in 1980, drawing criticism of hypocrisy from the Christian right regarding the indissolubility of Christian marriage which Bryant had championed and "the deterioration of the family" against which she had preached. She appeared early in her career on the NBC interview program Here's Hollywood and on the same network's The Ford Show Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.
From 1961 until 1968, Bryant frequently joined Bob Hope on holiday tours for the United Service Organizations. She again traveled with Hope for televised shows during the Vietnam War. Bryant was given the Silver Medallion Award from the National Guard for "outstanding service by an entertainer," and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Leadership Gold Medallion.
Bryant placed a total of 11 songs on the U.S. Hot 100. She had a moderate pop hit with "Till There Was You" (1959, US No. 30), from the Broadway production The Music Man. She also saw three hits in "Paper Roses" (1960, US No. 5, and covered by Marie Osmond 13 years later); "In My Little Corner of the World" (1960, US No. 10); and "Wonderland by Night" (1961, US No. 18), originally a hit by Bert Kaempfert. "Paper Roses", "In My Little Corner of the World", and "Till There Was You", each sold over one million copies, and were awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.
Bryant released several albums on the Carlton and Columbia labels. Her first album, eponymously titled and released in 1959, contained "Till There Was You" and other songs from other Broadway shows. Her second album, Hear Anita Bryant in Your Home Tonight (1961), contains "Paper Roses" and "Wonderland by Night", as well as several songs that first appeared in her singles. Her third album, In My Little Corner of the World, also in 1961, contains the title song and other songs that have to do with places around the world, including "Canadian Sunset" and "I Love Paris". Bryant's compilation album, Greatest Hits (1963), contains both her original Carlton hits (because Columbia purchased all the masters from Carlton) plus sides from her Columbia recordings, including "Paper Roses" and "Step by Step, Little by Little." In 1964 she released The World of Lonely People, containing, in addition to the title song, "Welcome, Welcome Home" and a new rendition of "Little Things Mean a Lot", arranged by Frank Hunter. Bryant also released several albums of religious music.
In 1969, Bryant became a spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission, and nationally televised commercials featured her singing "Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree" and stating the commercials' tagline: "Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine." (Later, the slogan became, "It isn't just for breakfast anymore!") In addition, during this time, she also appeared in advertisements for Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Holiday Inn, and Tupperware. In the 1970s, Bryant was teamed up with the Disney Character "Orange Bird," with whom she appeared in several orange juice commercials. She also sang the Orange Bird Song and narrated the Orange Bird record album, with music written by the Sherman Brothers.
Bryant performed the National Anthem at Super Bowl III in 1969. Bryant sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" during the halftime show of Super Bowl V in 1971 and at the graveside services for President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973.
Bryant hosted a two-hour television special, The Anita Bryant Spectacular, in March 1980. She recounted her autobiography, appeared in medleys of prerecorded songs, and interviewed Pat Boone. The West Point Glee Club and General William Westmoreland participated.
Anti-gay rights activism
Bryant is known for her anti-gay rights activism.
On March 23, 1969, Bryant participated in a Rally for Decency at the Orange Bowl to protest the controversial onstage behavior of Jim Morrison of The Doors.
In 1977, Dade County, Florida, passed an ordinance sponsored by Bryant's former friend Ruth Shack that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Bryant led a highly publicized campaign to repeal the ordinance, as the leader of a coalition named Save Our Children. The campaign was based on conservative Christian beliefs regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality and the perceived threat of homosexual recruitment of children and child molestation. Bryant stated:
What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that theirs is an acceptable alternate way of life. [...] I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before.
The campaign marked the beginning of an organized opposition to gay rights that spread across the nation. Jerry Falwell went to Miami to help Bryant. She made the following statements during the campaign: "As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children" and "If gays are granted rights, next we'll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters." She also said, "All America and all the world will hear what the people have said, and with God's continued help we will prevail in our fight to repeal similar laws throughout the nation." Notably, Bryant referred to gay people as "human garbage".
The name of the campaign had to be changed because of legal action by the Save the Children foundation.
Victory and defeat
On June 7, 1977, Bryant's campaign led to a repeal of the anti-discrimination ordinance by a margin of 69 to 31 percent. However, the success of Bryant's campaign galvanized her opponents, and the gay community retaliated against her by organizing a boycott of orange juice. Gay bars all over North America stopped serving screwdrivers and replaced them with the "Anita Bryant Cocktail", which was made with vodka and apple juice. Sales and proceeds went to gay rights activists to help fund their fight against Bryant and her campaign.
In 1977, Florida legislators approved a measure prohibiting gay adoption. The ban was overturned more than 30 years later when, on November 25, 2008, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Cindy S. Lederman declared it unconstitutional.
Bryant led several more campaigns around the country to repeal local anti-discrimination ordinances, including campaigns in St. Paul, Minnesota; Wichita, Kansas; and Eugene, Oregon. In 1978, her success led to the Briggs Initiative in California, which would have made pro-gay statements regarding homosexual people or homosexuality by any public school employee cause for dismissal. Grassroots liberal organizations, chiefly in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, organized to defeat the initiative. Days before the election, the California Democratic Party opposed the proposed legislation. President Jimmy Carter, governor Jerry Brown, former president Gerald Ford, and former governor Ronald Reagan—then planning a run for the presidency—all voiced opposition to the initiative, and it ultimately suffered a massive defeat at the polls.
In 1998, Dade County repudiated Bryant's successful campaign of 20 years earlier and reauthorized an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by a seven-to-six vote. In 2002, a ballot initiative to repeal the 1998 law, called Amendment 14, was voted down by 56 percent of the voters. The Florida statute forbidding gay adoption was upheld in 2004 by a federal appellate court against a constitutional challenge but was overturned by a Miami-Dade circuit court in November 2008.
Bryant became one of the first persons to be publicly "pied" as a political act. During a television appearance in Iowa on October 14, 1977, Bryant was struck by a pie by Thom L. Higgins (1950–1994). Bryant quipped "At least it's a fruit pie," making a pun on the derogatory term of "fruit" for a gay man. While covered in pie, she began to pray to God to forgive the activist "for his deviant lifestyle" before bursting into tears as the cameras continued rolling. Bryant's husband said that he would not retaliate, but followed the protesters outside and threw a pie at them. By this time, gay activists ensured that the boycott on Florida orange juice had become more prominent and it was supported by many celebrities, including Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Paul Williams, Dick Clark , Vincent Price (he joked in a television interview that Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance referred to her), John Waters, Carroll O'Connor, Linda Lavin, Mary Tyler Moore, Charles Schulz, Billie Jean King, and Jane Fonda. Johnny Carson also made Bryant a regular target of ridicule in his nightly monologues. In 1978, Bryant and Bob Green told the story of their campaign in the book At Any Cost. The gay community continued to regard Bryant's name as synonymous with bigotry and homophobia.
Career decline and bankruptcies
The fallout from Bryant's political activism hurt her business and entertainment career. In February 1977, the Singer Corporation rescinded an offer to sponsor a possible weekly variety show because of the "extensive national publicity arising from [Bryant's] controversial political activities."
Bryant's marriage to Bob Green also failed at that time, and in 1980 she divorced him, citing emotional abuse and latent suicidal thoughts. Green refused to accept this, saying that his fundamentalist religious beliefs did not recognize civil divorce and that she was still his wife "in God's eyes". In 2007, Green stated: "Blame gay people? I do. Their stated goal was to put her out of business and destroy her career. And that's what they did. It's unfair."
Some Christian fundamentalist audiences and venues shunned Bryant after her divorce. Because she was no longer invited to appear at their events, she lost a major source of income. The Florida Citrus Commission also allowed her contract to lapse after the divorce, stating that Bryant had "worn out" as a spokesperson.
With three of her four children, she moved from Miami to Selma, Alabama, and later to Atlanta, Georgia. In a 1980 Ladies' Home Journal article she said, "The church needs to wake up and find some way to cope with divorce and women's problems." She also expressed some sympathy for feminist aspirations, given her own experiences of emotional abuse within her previous marriage. Bryant also commented on her anti-gay views and said, "I'm more inclined to say live and let live, just don't flaunt it or try to legalize it." In a 2012 interview, her son Robert Green, Jr. said "she would be putting a lot more energy into fighting gay rights if she still felt as strongly."
Bryant appeared in Michael Moore's 1989 documentary film Roger & Me, in which she is interviewed and travels to Flint, Michigan, as part of the effort to revitalize its devastated local economy.
Bryant married her second husband, Charlie Hobson Dry, in 1990. The couple tried to reestablish her music career in a series of small venues, including Branson, Missouri, and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where they opened Anita Bryant's Music Mansion. The establishment combined Bryant's performances of her successful songs from early in her career with a "lengthy segment in which she preached her Christian beliefs". The venture was not successful and the Music Mansion, which had missed meeting payrolls at times, filed for bankruptcy in 2001 with Bryant and Dry leaving behind a series of unpaid employees and creditors.
Bryant also spent part of the 1990s in Branson, Missouri, where the state and federal governments both filed liens claiming more than $116,000 in unpaid taxes. Bryant and Dry had also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Arkansas in 1997 after piling up bills from a failed Anita Bryant show in Eureka Springs, a tourist area in northwest Arkansas; among the debts were more than $172,000 (equivalent to about $268,000 in 2018) in unpaid state and federal taxes.
In 2005, Bryant returned to Barnsdall, Oklahoma, to attend the town's 100th anniversary celebration and to have a street renamed in her honor. She returned to her high school in Tulsa on April 21, 2007, to perform in the school's annual musical revue. As of 2008, she was living in Edmond, Oklahoma, and said she was doing charity work for various youth organizations while heading Anita Bryant Ministries International.
Mark D. Jordan has written: "Many of her public statements, including her books, were ghostwritten by others, and there is internal reason to conclude that the most political books were pasted together by several hands from various sources."
- Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1970)
- Amazing Grace (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1971)
- Bless This House (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1972)
- Bless This Food: The Anita Bryant Family Cookbook (NY: Doubleday, 1975)
- The Anita Bryant Story: The Survival of Our Nation's Families and the Threat of Militant Homosexuality (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1977)
- With Bob Green
- Fishers of Men (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1973)
- Light My Candle (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1974)
- Running the Good Race (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1976), fitness guidance
- Raising God's Children (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1977)
|Year||Album||Billboard 200||Record Label|
|1959||Anita Bryant||-||Carlton Records|
|1960||Hear Anita Bryant in Your Home Tonight!||-|
|1961||In My Little Corner of the World||99|
|Kisses Sweeter Than Wine||-||Columbia Records|
|In a Velvet Mood||145|
|The ABC Stories of Jesus||-|
|1963||The Country's Best||-|
|Anita Bryant's Greatest Hits||-|
|1964||The World of Lonely People||-|
|The Best of Johnny Desmond & Anita Bryant at Jubilee 1964||-|
|1966||Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory||146|
|1967||Christmas with Anita Bryant||25|
|1968||Anita Bryant||-||Harmony Records|
|How Great Thou Art||-||Columbia Records|
|In Remembrance of You||-|
|1969||Little Things Mean a Lot||-||Harmony Records|
|1970||World Without Love||-|
|Abide with Me||-||Word Records|
|The Miracle of Christmas||-||Word Records|
|1973||Sweet Hour of Prayer||-||Harmony Records|
|Battle Hymn of the Republic||-||Word Records|
|1975||Old Fashioned Prayin'||-|
|Anita Bryant's All-Time Favorite Hymns||-|
|1985||Anita with Love||-||BL Records|
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions||Record Label||B-side||Album|
|1959||"Till There Was You"||30||—||—||—||Carlton Records||"Little George (Got The Hiccoughs)"||A-side: Anita Bryant; B-side: non-album track|
|"Six Boys and Seven Girls"||62||—||—||—||"The Blessings of Love"||A-side: Hear Anita Bryant in Your Home Tonight; B-side: Anita Bryant|
|"Do-Re-Mi"||94||—||—||—||"Promise Me A Rose" (A-side)||Anita Bryant|
|1960||"Paper Roses"||5||16||—||24||"Mixed Emotions"||Hear Anita Bryant in Your Home Tonight|
|"My Little Corner of the World"||10||—||—||48||"Anyone Would Love You"||A-side: In My Little Corner Of The World; B-side: Anita Bryant|
|"One of the Lucky Ones"||62||—||—||—||"Love Look Away"||A-side: Hear Anita Bryant in Your Home Tonight; B-side: Anita Bryant|
|"Promise Me a Rose (A Slight Detail)"||78||—||—||—||"Do-Re-Mi"||Anita Bryant|
|1961||"Wonderland by Night"||18||—||—||—||"Pictures"||Hear Anita Bryant in Your Home Tonight|
|"A Texan and a Girl from Mexico"||85||—||—||—||"He's Not Good Enough for You"||Hear Anita Bryant in Your Home Tonight|
|"I Can't Do It by Myself"||87||—||—||—||"An Angel Cried"||Hear Anita Bryant in Your Home Tonight|
|"Lonesome For You, Mama"||108||—||—||—||"A Place Called Happiness"||Non-album tracks|
|1962||"Step By Step, Little By Little"||106||—||—||—||Columbia Records||"Cold Cold Winter"||Greatest Hits|
|1964||"The World of Lonely People"||59||—||17||—||"It's Better to Cry Today Than Cry Tomorrow"||The World of Lonely People|
|"Welcome, Welcome Home"||130||—||—||—||"Laughing on the Outside"|
In popular culture
Bryant's name has frequently been invoked as a prototypical example of opposition to LGBT rights. When Elton John was criticized for touring Russia in 1979, he responded: "I wouldn't say I won't tour in America because I can't stand Anita Bryant". In his song "Mañana", Jimmy Buffett sings "I hope Anita Bryant never ever does one of my songs". In 1978, David Allan Coe recorded the song "Fuck Aneta Briant" [sic] on his album Nothing's Sacred.
Bryant was regularly lampooned on Saturday Night Live, sometimes with her politics as the target, sometimes her reputation as a popular, traditional entertainer known for her commercials, sometimes a combination of the two. Her name was also a frequent punchline on The Gong Show, such as the time host/producer Chuck Barris joked that Bryant was releasing a new Christmas album called Gay Tidings. Some references were less overtly political, but equally critical. In the film Airplane!, Leslie Nielsen's character, upon seeing a large number of passengers become violently ill, vomit, and suffer uncontrollable flatulence, remarked: "I haven't seen anything like this since the Anita Bryant concert." Other television shows that targeted her were Designing Women and The Golden Girls. She was also the target of mockery in the RiffTrax short Drugs Are Like That.
Armistead Maupin, in his 1980 novel More Tales of the City, used Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign to prompt a principal character to come out of the closet.
Bryant appears in archive footage as a principal antagonist in the 2008 American biographical film Milk, about the life of gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk. She was also portrayed as the principal antagonist in the 2011 play, Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins.
In May 2013, producers announced plans for a biographical HBO film based on Bryant's life to star Uma Thurman, with a script from gay screenwriter Chad Hodge.
Bryant's likeness is portrayed by a drag performer in the comedic play, Anita Bryant's Playboy Interview, which premiered in 2016 in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. Bryant is a frequently portrayed character at drag shows across the United States.
Bryant is the subject of the musical The Loneliest Girl in the World, which had its world premiere run at Diversionary Theatre in San Diego during mid-2018.
Archive footage of her was used in The Gospel of Eureka a 2018 documentary by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher about the lives of LGBT individuals and evangelical Christians in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Anita Bryant.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Anita Bryant|
- Anita Bryant Ministries International
- Anita Bryant on IMDb
- Image of Anita Bryant in the 1970s (Available for public use from the State Archives of Florida)
- Belated curtain call, Tulsa World, April 19, 2007
- Readers Forum: Anita Bryant to star in Round-Up 2007, Tulsa World, April 18, 2007
- Celebration draws Anita Bryant back to Barnsdall, Tulsa World, May 28, 2005
- Bryant, Anita, Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture