Hollywood Priest: Fr. Bud Kieser's Catholic Mission
As a child in Philadelphia in the 30’s and 40’s, Elwood “Bud” Keiser had three heroes: Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Thomas Merton and George Patton. To hear a long list of television and movie stars tell it, he embodied the spirits of all three. His impact on the second half of the 20th Century entertainment industry and American culture might suggest they’re on to something.
Paulist Pictures has produced “The Hollywood Priest: The story of Father “Bud” Kieser” whose parish included some of the film and television industries’ most popular celebrities. Many of them appear in the film that follows Fr. Kieser’s roles as priest, producer and force of nature.
The six-and-a-half-foot-tall Paulist priest cut an imposing figure. That and his offer of exceptional scripts helped draw actors to a show called Insight. Produced beginning in the 60’s by Fr. Kieser, the program tackled issues of the day, often controversial issues, with a Catholic sensibility.
The show worked with an, at best, tight budget. Actors and others often worked for free. Fr. Kieser took advantage of television’s mandate to set aside time for the public good programming. Eventually Insight aired across the country.
Later, televangelists who paid for airtime gradually squeezed Insight out of the market. Those changes coincided with a point of turmoil in the priest’s personal as well as professional life.
And then, in the 80’s, Catholic Relief Services invited Fr. Keiser to Africa. The hope was that he would help open US audience eyes to the hunger crisis gripping the horn of Africa. Fr. Bud accepted and traveled to Ethiopia and Somalia with actor John Amos.
The two men did bring attention to the crisis. It became a cause. And Fr. Bud's experience among the people he met in Africa changed the trajectory of his life and life’s mission.
His closest friends and co-workers noticed a change in the hard-charging clergyman after the visit. He seemed more contemplative, perhaps. Probably not less imposing. Always a champion of the Gospel, Fr. Kieser now preached it as a champion of the world’s most vulnerable.
That newfound commitment attracted him to the life of Oscar Romero.
As testament to Fr. Bud’s powers of persuasion, actor Raul Julia agreed to the starring role for a fraction of his rate.
The film was a success. And Fr. Kieser went on to produce a another feature film about the life of Dorothy Day. Among Hollywood writers, one of his most cherished and coveted contributions to the industry was the Humanitas Prize, awarded to writers whose work best explores Judeo Christian values and the human condition.
For some, this Paulist film will be a history lesson of sorts. For others it may be nostalgic. His was a life lived for God in a most unlikely place often during turbulent times. Fr. Bud Keiser: drama personified.