When Joe Bayly, my grandfather, first wrote The Gospel Blimp, nobody would publish it. It was poking fun at all the Christian non-profits and parachurch organizations that took themselves so very seriously, and Christian publishers were not impressed with the idea. So he created Windward Press and published it himself in 1960. Regular Christians who hated pretension loved it, and the book sold like hot cakes. But it wasn’t just poking fun. It had a serious point. It didn’t just take a hat pin to the pomposity and compromise endemic in the world of Evangelical ministry. It called the whole industry into question. Why did all of these organizations exist? To accomplish the Great Commission more effectively than the church and her members ever could.
“Effectiveness” was the reason they existed. The Gospel Blimp showed clearly that the glorious effectiveness was a often myth and prompted people to wonder whether we needed many of these organizations. The result was many leaders of Christian non-profits felt personally attacked and were very angry at my grandfather.
Then he moved to Wheaton, which was where they were all headquartered. It was a cold reception.
The story continued to resonate, though. It sold and sold and sold. Eventually another publisher even deigned to republish it. Soon it was even being made into a movie, with Shorty Yeaworth, best known today for his cult classic The Blob, directing. The story worked just as well in film, and very little needed to be changed to make a script. Shorty’s wife Jean helped work on it. The movie was filmed, edited, and almost complete when the studio caught fire. All material for The Gospel Blimp film and various other projects was in the building. According to Shorty’s son, Kris, he and various employees ran into the building to save what they could, but foremost on their minds was rescuing The Gospel Blimp. This was not the day and age of digital films and off-site network backups. It wasn’t just a matter of grabbing the right computer or hard drive. Rather, they were dealing with various reels of film, separate audio reels, masters, originals, etc. These materials were the first out of the building, and Kris recounted to me continuing to run in and grabbing things until he almost got trapped, escaping out a window with burns on his legs only shortly before the fuel tank went up.
When the film was released in 1967, it was almost as popular as the book. Just under 40 minutes long, now Christians could enjoy the short story together, and they did. For years, reel-to-reel copies of the movie traveled around the country being projected at Christian schools and churches, gradually wearing out. I’m (just) old enough to remember the days before VCRs. I remember watching reel-to-reel films in school, seeing the countdown to the start of the actual content. You could see the hairs, dust, and scratches that would slowly accumulate with every viewing. As with most things, time and use wore the copies out. As demand increased, you couldn’t just make new copies from the master, or it would wear out. Instead, you made copies of the copies. Then copies of copies of copies. Each generation was one step lower in quality.
Then, in 2005 it was released on DVD by Gospel Communications. I don’t know how that came about, but eventually they decided they were done with it. They sent their remaining stock to Jean Yeaworth, who reached out to my dad and asked if he wanted it. He said he did, and in Dec 2009, we received a box of DVDs and a box of old reels we knew nothing about. In 2013, we republished the book, and throughout this time we kept the DVDs for sale on Amazon until they began to run out in 2015.
My dad reached out to Shorty’s son, Kris Yeaworth and spoke about getting a new master made so we could continue to provide the movie in DVD form. However, the idea fell by the wayside. That seemed like it was going to be the end of the line for The Gospel Blimp film.
In 2018, a low-resolution copy of the film was posted online, seemingly an original digitization from a fairly worn-out physical film. At various times other low resolution films have shown up, and although the artifacts of a worn out film have their charm, we were never pleased with these copies as alternatives.
We thought the film, like the book, was still great entertainment and prophetically on point. Little seems to have changed in the Evangelical non-profit sector. We wanted to provide something better, but branching out into video seemed like a bridge too far.
Still, eventually we got back in touch with Shorty’s son, Kris, who told us he had looked and looked for the original master to The Gospel Blimp. When we told him we had a box of reels, he asked us for pictures. He wrote back, “I was thrilled to confirm, based on what I see, what you have in your possession is in fact the original A+B rolls, comprised of camera original. You also have the magnetic audio track… Again, I’m overjoyed to report that you have in your possession, the ‘holy’ grail of Gospel Blimp filmage, to coin a phrase.”
Kris told us that he could master a new hi-def digital version of the movie if we could pay for the equipment rental and get him the masters. With his warnings not to open or touch anything, and certainly not to ship them, Nathan Alberson made a trip to Monster Bash 2021 in Mars, PA, where Kris was going to be selling pieces of the original Blob. With the masters hand-delivered, we waited. Kris made a beautiful, brand new hi-def wide-screen version of the movie for us, and we were excited.
Then we sat on it. You all know how life goes. We had invested about $1500 and a couple of days of driving, but we didn’t have the time to take the project to completion.
A couple of months ago, I got a bee in my bonnet, and decided it was time. So here we are. Nathan Alberson has a made a wonderful new trailer for the movie, we’ve got a streaming provider, and we’re ready to release it to you.
We’ve invested money in this. Not a lot, but suffice it to say that Warhorn’s financial need is great right now. Nevertheless, we don’t want cost to prevent anybody from being able to watch The Gospel Blimp. We’re making it available right now in a pay-what-you-want model, that will give you permanent access to stream the video. We hope you’ll help us pay for it. Click here to watch it. Enjoy!