Column: Here’s the skinny on LDS celebrity urban legends

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    Pete Thunell

    Let’s face it, LDS urban legends are as much a part of Provo as student slum housing, one-strap backpacks and 18-year-old brides. My personal foray into LDS legend began a few months ago with a conversation that took a turn towards a curly-haired girl named Felicity.

    As a group of us sat in a restaurant fudging through everyday conversation, my friend Jamie happened to interject that Keri Russell, star of the WB hit show “Felicity” was LDS and used to date a friend of a friend.

    By nature I’m a fairly skeptical guy. In fact, I spent most of the summer trying to convince some friends that I called all the video stores and “The Matrix” still was rated R, no matter how much they insisted it had been downgraded to PG-13 (like Hollywood is sitting around thinking, “our film just grossed more than 200 million but what can we do to get more people in Utah to see it?”).

    Since nothing else in that dinner conversation was really going anywhere entertaining, I called Jamie on it and told her she was blowing smoke about the Felicity thing.

    No matter how much she insisted it was true, I insisted that hearsay — and especially double hearsay — was inadmissible in court (I watch too much “Law and Order”) and therefore I wasn’t going to believe her until I had spoken with a firsthand source who knew for a fact Felicity was LDS.

    A couple weeks later I was relating the story to a friend, when her roommate piped up and said it was true that Felicity was LDS because her sister-in-law used to go to church with her. Well this was too good to pass up, so I asked for the phone number of her sister-in-law and called her right then and there.

    Her sister-in-law, BYU graduate and current Arizona resident Rachel Gooch, confirmed that back in her Mia Maids days, she went to church with Keri Russell who lived right down the street.

    Well, after making this discovery I was flush with the same journalistic excitement that I’m sure the “journalists” at People and “Extra” get to feel all the time. I decided that since I was an utter failure at every other hobby I started, I’d make up a new one — tracking LDS legends. The mere thought of it gave me a Woodward and Bernstein/Indiana Jones feeling, and more importantly it gave me an excuse not to start building models or collecting rocks.

    Without further ado, here are the best findings (meaning I have first-hand sources for them) I made during my hunts. (Disclaimer – My intent is not to judge where these people’s standing in the church currently is. All I found out is if they ever were LDS and I didn’t try to find out what they’re up to these days church-wise, although I think for most of them you can all make a pretty good guess.)

    The crown jewel of my findings would have to be Christina Aguilera. I first heard this one out in New York when a friend told me Aguilera’s parents met at BYU and her father was a member out on Staten Island. I did a little research on some of her Web sites (which proved to be pretty embarrassing in the newsroom) and found out her parents’ names were Fausto and Shelly.

    I called up the BYU Alumni Association and found out that a Fausto Aguilera and his wife Shelly were at BYU in 1979. The best address I could find for Fausto was Staten Island which, coincidentally, is where Christina was born in 1980 (according to Rolling Stone, her parents later split up when she was seven).

    Although strong evidence, this was still circumstantial and didn’t meet the “first-hand source” rules of the game. A few weeks later, someone in the newsroom got me the number of my own Deep Throat informant, a BYU student who called himself simply Larry Darbous. “Larry” got me the number of Christina’s old home teacher, Tom Duty, back when she was nine and living in Pennsylvania. Duty confirmed that he was the home teacher, but doubts Christina would remember him (or the church for that matter).

    The Jewel rumor has been floating around for a while and I was almost positive I had seen something about her being LDS on “Pop-up Video.” Jewel proved to be a fish-in-the-barrel hunt because on the Yahoo Celebrities Web site it states, “Jewel’s Mormon father and mother…” Also on the smoe.org FAQ about Jewel, it states, “According to Jewel, she was raised a Mormon until the age of eight.” On Jewel’s official Web site she doesn’t address the religion issue, but does list Payson, Utah as her place of birth. Her family moved to Alaska while Jewel was still young, which is a shame really because she never got her shot to bear the coveted crown of Miss Payson Onion Days queen.

    One of Provo’s most cherished urban legends is the “Alice Cooper on a mission” story. I remember my freshman year when I was barraged with Alice Cooper stories. Sure the only song I knew of his was “School’s Out,” (a song the BYU marching band played a stirring rendition of at every home football game) but it was common knowledge Cooper, Ozzie, KISS and all those guys bit the heads off bats, chickens, large marsupials, etc. at their concerts.

    When I first checked out Cooper’s Web sites, I found out his father’s name was Ether Moroni Furnier. Not exactly a good Catholic name if you’re catching my drift. I was convinced all the stories were true, but for a while couldn’t get any solid leads. Then I found out Jay Evenson, who is the Deseret News’ editorial page editor and teaches an opinion writing class at BYU, interviewed Cooper once a few years ago. Come to find out, Cooper’s family were members of an offshoot of the LDS Church. I guess all those “kicked off the mission” stories weren’t true. Close, but not quite.

    The next subject elicited great interest from my sister who had recently seen and drooled over “The Skulls.” We heard at a family shindig that (get ready, this one is straight out of “Ferris Bueller”) my brother’s wife’s sister’s husband had gone out with the little sister of Paul Walker who was the rich son Caleb Mandrake in “The Skulls,” the jerk in “She’s All That” and the na?ve hoopster in “Pleasantville.” He also mentioned that Paul and the Walkers (a great band name, I might add) are LDS.

    Well I got on the horn and got the number of my…whatever you call him (in law of the in law I suppose), Hubble Hausman, a BYU graduate who lives in New York with his wife Lauren. I forgot the time difference, woke Hubble up and asked the big question. Although somewhat disoriented, Hubble came through and confirmed the story.

    The biggest shocker of them all came a couple months ago (more shocking, even, than the “Visit to the Skaggs Ranch” poster located in the main floor east hallway of the Widstoe Building – go look at it and you’ll see what I mean). My friend Aaron said his sister’s friend knew the wife of the “Silver Spooner” himself, Rick “Don’t Call Me Ricky” Schroeder, and that he recently was baptized in the LDS Church. Of course I leaned on Aaron for some digits, but Aaron failed miserably (I warned him I’d write that).

    I was starting to give up hope that I’d find out the skinny on Schroeder, when a guy I know told me how his friends told him they saw Schroeder at General Conference. I renewed my efforts and through some friends got a hold of BYU student Val Dame from Ontario, Oregon. Dame confirmed that her brother-in-law’s sister is married to Schroeder and that Dame saw Schroeder in the circle at her nephew’s blessing.

    Although I’ve gone on too long, here are some others you might be interested in: Back in the day, Jeremy Miller, Ben on “Growing Pains,” used to be in the ward of former Daily Herald reporter Steve Gardner.

    According to the “Famous Mormons” Web site, ronj.webpipe.net, Tal Bachman who sang the “She’s so hiiiiiiiigh” song, and his father Randy Bachman of Bachman Turner Overdrive (they did “Takin’ Care of Business” and a great cameo on the “Simpsons”) are both members of the church. Coincidentally, there is a picture of Rick Schroeder on Tal Bachman’s Web site. Eerie.

    Neil LaBute, the director of disturbing films, including the recent film “Nurse Betty,” staring Chris Rock, Renee Zellweger and Morgan Freeman, graduated from BYU and according to an interview with the Dallas Observer, also is LDS. Judging by what I read about his films, though, don’t be looking for him to be coming out with “Legacy III” any time soon.

    Of all stories, though, my personal favorite was when I heard that the King himself Elvis Presely, though he never was a member, did receive the discussions from Bobby Kauo, who is a high councilman for the BYU 9th Stake. Kauo confirmed that while Elvis was at the Polynesian Cultural Center filming “Blue Hawaii” (I knew there was a reason that was Elvis’ best film) Kauo taught him the discussions.

    And finally, yes it’s true, those two guys on the R.C. Willey commercial are LDS too. Well actually it’s just me and my friend Dave. We got the gig by promising our director friend Lance we’d do it for next to nothing (of course at the time we didn’t know about the commercial actors strike and now we’re dangerously close to losing our SAG cards). It’s something and hey, everyone referred to Dave and me as the “talent” for a whole morning – something bewildering and not likely to happen again to us in our lifetimes.

    This is all the information I have for now, but the fight for frivolous knowledge goes forth and I have new leads to follow. For instance, I remember seeing Bull from “Night Court” play Joseph Smith in the movie “Brigham” – honest, like I could make that up. I’ve also heard things about people on “Baywatch,” “Angel” and others. I’ve even left Steve Martin alone just so I’d have something to look forward to. Just don’t e-mail me and tell me your brother’s companion’s sister’s boyfriend saw him wearing a CTR ring on Letterman; you know the rules.