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Sunrise Service Sees Another Day Despite Power Struggle

April 12, 1993|RON RUSSELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Easter sunrise at the Hollywood Bowl survived its 73rd year Sunday, but the rift between rival groups vying for control of the service showed no sign of abating.

"After all we've been through in taking the service back on behalf of the people of Hollywood, this one was something special," said publicist Norma Foster, the event's producer.

But the woman who lost control of the service this year because of her controversial association with a popular television ministry saw it differently.

Sunday's service was secular, said minister Bee Beyer. "I don't think it advanced the cause of Christ."

About 6,000 worshipers gathered for the service, one of Southern California's oldest religious celebrations.

Supporters, at odds over the role of televangelist Paul Crouch and his wife, Jan, split into two factions last year and fought for the right to sponsor the event.

Beyer, who had the backing of the Crouches, lost.

Until last month, Sunday's service appeared destined to be scrapped. But Foster and her supporters won permission to use the Bowl from the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn., which subleases the facility from Los Angeles County.

The Philharmonic association had accused Beyer--one of two people who claim the presidency of the Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service Inc. board--of handing over control of the service last year to the Crouches' Trinity Broadcasting Network, an Orange County TV ministry.

Begun in 1919 as a block party Easter celebration among silent film stars in nearby Whitley Heights, the sunrise service has become one of the nation's best-known outdoor Easter events.

Unlike last year, when it was telecast on more than 200 Trinity Broadcasting affiliates in dozens of countries, this year's hurriedly organized service was not televised, and attendance was down by half.

Organizers blamed the decline on uncertainty surrounding the event and concern about possible unrest in the wake of the trial of the four police officers accused of violating Rodney G. King's civil rights.

Last year, critics were upset that TBN's "prayer line" number was superimposed on the screen during the live broadcast and two rebroadcasts of the service. They suggested that TBN stood to gain financially, a charge the ministry denied.

TBN had offered the Philharmonic a $25,000 location fee this year in addition to agreeing to pick up the tab for the event.

But Philharmonic officials said they regarded the TV ministry as a for-profit enterprise and awarded use of the Bowl to TBN's rivals, who include many longtime supporters of the event.

To avoid last-minute legal problems, Foster and her supporters brought in a South-Central Los Angeles cultural group as the official sponsor.

But the controversy did not disappear.

Until late last week, TBN had planned to replay a videotape of last year's event to compete with the live service, but changed its mind after Philharmonic officials threatened to sue, Beyer said. TBN officials declined comment.

Sunday's service, which featured actor Robert Guillaume, opera singer Melanie Holliday and former "Lawrence Welk Show" pianist Bob Ralston, had "Love, Unity and Peace" as its theme.

A letter in the program said that "this year marks a return to the traditional Easter service, which has been a part of the Hollywood community for over 70 years."

Beyer, who attended another sunrise service Sunday, said she and her supporters will not abandon the effort to regain control.

"We're not going to just curl up and die," she said.

Sources on both sides say a prolonged legal battle seems likely.

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