Author seeks clues about Swaggart

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 6, 1999

FERRIDAY, La. — When Ann Rowe Seaman first saw the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart on television in 1978, she was struck by his emotional yet intelligent style of preaching.

That magnetism would lead the Santa Monica, Calif., writer and editor to write a master’s thesis on and eventually, a biography of the controversial evangelist.

&uot;He’s a unique American phenomenon,&uot;&160;said Seaman, who is visiting Ferriday for the fifth time this weekend to finish &uot;Swaggart,&uot; an unauthorized biography of the Ferriday native.

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&uot;His arguments are intelligent. At the same time, he’s very much an entertainer. He popularized the idea of integrating your ideas with your emotions.&uot;

Seaman, who also works full-time editing legal briefs for a Santa Monica law firm, is in town to borrow photographs of Swaggart from his cousin, Frankie Jean Terrell, for use in the biography.

The rest of the book, which will be released this summer, is almost complete after seven years of research and more than 150 interviews of people who knew Swaggart.

Seaman’s current project actually stems from a thesis she wrote for her master’s degree in journalism and non-fiction writing at the University of Southern California.

The thesis compared the lives of Swaggart and rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, who along with country musician and fellow Ferriday native Mickey Gilley was Swaggart’s first cousin.

Swaggart and Lewis were pioneers in two of America’s greatest cultural phenomenons, charismatic religion and rock ‘n’ roll, Seaman said.

Also interesting to Seaman was the fact that almost every time one cousin’s career would take off, the other cousin’s career would fall into decline.

When a sexual scandal rocked Swaggart’s ministry in the late 1980s, Seaman said, the media were quick to dismiss the evangelist as a hypocrite and nothing more.

But to do that is to ignore the forces that shaped Swaggart to be the man he was, particularly his emotional yet strict religious background, Seaman writes in her book.

People also ignore the fact that Swaggart’s ministry has had a life-changing effect on thousands of people, she added.

&uot;Obviously, he was doing something for people for him to be so successful,&uot;&160;Seaman said.

She said that she hopes her book will give people a better understanding of Swaggart’s life and ministry.

That’s despite the fact that Swaggart, his immediate family and many of those associated with his ministry refused to be interviewed for &uot;Swaggart.&uot;

But Terrell, Lewis’ sister and operator of the Lewis Family Museum in Ferriday, has allowed Seaman to use many photographs and other Swaggart memorabilia for the book.

&uot;She took me to the cemeteries, because birth and death dates are important in this type of work,&uot;&160;said Seaman, who was referred to Terrell by a Rolling Stone reporter.

&uot;She even introduced me to some of their aged aunts and uncles. It was a very generous thing to do.&uot;

Terrell even showed her religious tracts that were read by Swaggart’s grandmother, who was a major influence on his life.

Terrell said she was glad to help Seaman once she learned that the author wasn’t out to do a &uot;hatchet job&uot; on Swaggart.

&uot;I&160;wanted to see someone do (a biography) well,&uot;&160;Terrell said. &uot;She wasn’t out to tear him down, and she’s not a money-grubber. She wants to get the facts.&uot;