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After publishing the March 4 cover story"The Passion of the Hippie: Remember the first Jesus freak because Calvary Chapel won't," which was based on Lake Forest historian David Di Sabatino's documentary Frisbee:TheLifeandDeathofaHippiePreacher,one of the film's heroes contacted the Weekly.Late minister Lonnie Frisbee's former wife, Connie Bremer-Murray, initially wanted nothing more than extra copies of the article, but that led to an e-mail conversation, which soon included Di Sabatino, about her true feelings about the film, the cover story and Frisbee's legend.
As is to be expected, Connie's recollections of Lonnie and the story of his life have more flesh and blood than could possibly be presented on film or captured in print. She made observations she felt were important to convey, things that might get lost as the story continues to get notice. She considers it false to portray Frisbee as a "dirty hippie," a description the story used to convey "straight" society's view of anyone, like Frisbee, with long hair and a beard in the '60s and '70s. "I was dirty because I was homeless, but Lonnie was fastidious. He was always clean," Bremer-Murray says. She first got to know Frisbee while selling him pot and LSD at a Silverado Canyon commune called the Brotherhood. "He was kind of the clown to us," she recalls. "He was not groovy."
But she later witnessed this ungroovy clown's odd behavior lead to strange and wonderful things in the name of Jesus Christ. And she champions the documentary that argues Frisbee was the spark for the huge growth of the Calvary and Vineyard church movements born in Orange County in the 1970s, yet he's at best a historical footnote because he struggled with homosexuality and died of AIDS in 1993. For that reason, she was anxious to join Di Sabatino in getting the word out about his cinematic Bible story set in 20th-century America, right here in the Orange County counterculture. It screens April 24 at the Newport Beach Film Festival and—you-know-who willing—beyond.
* * *
ConnieBremer-Murray:I wanted to go where nobody knew my name. I didn't want to cause God any grief. I'd gotten caught up in an adulterous affair. I moved up to Meadow Vista in Placer County. I kind of went my own way. It's not that I stopped thinking about God—I was mad at him. He wasn't doing what I wanted him to do. I went off and got hired as a UPS driver. I became the first woman driver in this area, which was a blessing.
I was living my life when I ran into Lonnie one time when I was delivering packages in Nevada City. We had lunch—this was three years after I left him. From that point on, Lonnie and I stayed in touch on the phone, or he'd come up and visit me, or I'd come down and visit him. I think one time I went down there he was particularly needy, but he didn't let me know what it was.
That's one of the things that impacted me about this film. There are faces of so many people I knew and hadn't seen in years.
Bremer-Murray:He has copies of letters, personal letters between Lonnie and me, in his filing cabinet!
DavidDiSabatino:Geez, I guess that's just the nature of the beast. When I find something, it's usually because people often put it on my radar. If I'm told there is footage of something, I try to find out who shot it. I found something that said there had been a documentary by a San Francisco TV station. I queried them, and they sent some stuff. I got that and flipped; as I'm watching the video—most documentaries at that time on the Jesus People always ended with Lonnie as the quintessential hippie—there was footage of him baptizing people [off Corona del Mar]. I jumped out of my seat and said, "This is the opening of the movie!" There's a spark to this story that is well beyond my abilities. It's mystical.
Bremer-Murray:I believe it is mystical. It was three months after Lonnie died that I first met David. He was doing his thesis, and you know, David, the Lord was telling me then this is not an arbitrary person that's just going to come through. I trusted David after a while, and he rang true all along the way.
DiSabatino:It's been a long process, and it has not been without having to continually affirm my goals to these people. There is so much pain involved. All the pain is wrapped up in their lives; I see it on their faces. There's this huge responsibility that if I don't go along with them, it will be exploitation.
Bremer-Murray:Lonnie was exploited. I think I suffered a long time because Lonnie did. It's why in the picture, you don't see me with him after a certain point. I'd seen enough religious people to know I did not want to be one of those wives who share the stage. I'd have felt like a dancing bear.
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