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The Thorn is a comic, religious satire movie released on May 24, 1974, as The Divine Mr. J. It was first shown as The Greatest Story Overtold at the Detroit Institute of Art in 1971. It was released on video in the early 1980s as The Thorn. It was written, directed and produced by Peter Alexander. Its release was legally challenged on grounds that its title and advertising deceptively exploited the fame of its co-star, Bette Midler.

The Thorn
aka: The Divine Mr. J
Video box cover in classic religious painting style showing Bette Midler, in traditional Madonna robes and headdress, holding a toddler boy. Title "The Thorn" in large stylized print. Other text, "Magnum Entertainment", "A religious satire", "Bette Midler in her film debut", and "rated R, in color".
VHS videotape cover, c. 1984
Directed byPeter Alexander
Produced byPeter Alexander
Written byPeter Alexander
Based onNew Testament
by various authors
StarringJohn Hassberger
Bette Midler
CinematographyPaul Josephson
Edited byPeter Alexander
Distributed byNational Entertainment
Rochelle Films
Magnum Entertainment
Release date
  • 1971 (1971) (Detroit)
  • May 24, 1974 (1974-05-24) (NYC)
  • 1980 (1980) (re-release)
  • c.1984 (c.1984) (VHS)
Running time
93 min.
CountryUnited States



The Thorn starred John Hassberger as Jesus Christ with supporting roles of Bette Midler as the Virgin Mary; James Harrison as Joseph; John Greenburg as John the Baptist; Fred LaBour as the Angel Fred; Richard Pollard as Rabbi Gabriel; Diana David as Salome; and Jack Castor and Chi Chi as queens.[1]

All of these actors were unknown and had no other film credits, with the exception of Bette Midler who was just beginning to build her singing career, had acted in a Broadway musical, and had briefly played a lead role in the off-Broadway musical Salvation in 1969. Midler had a brief appearance as a boat passenger in the 1966 film Hawaii.

Conception and productionEdit

Originally conceived as The Greatest Story Overtold, an irreverent spoof of the 1965 movie The Greatest Story Ever Told, the film was influenced by the increase in popularity and profitability of Christian evangelism. Peter McWilliams wrote, produced, directed and edited the film under the pseudonym Peter Alexander. He went on to write a broad range of mostly self-published, popular books.

Filmed in 16mm on a shoestring budget, the crew included Paul Josephson on camera and lighting, Craig Reynolds and Jay Cassidy on camera, and Jon Duff on sound recording. It was filmed mostly in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan from 1970 to 1971.

Release, marketing and legal challengeEdit

Poster for premiere showing on 1974 May 24 in New York City

After its premiere showing in Detroit, the film remained underground until it was released by National Entertainment Corp. as The Divine Mr. J a few years later, to capitalize on Midler's growing fame as "The Divine Miss M." Its premiere showing under the new title at the Festival Theater in New York City on May 24, 1974, was picketed by Midler's agent, who also challenged the film's title and marketing in court.[2] The film received very poor reviews[3] and soon closed.

The Divine Mr. J was re-released by Rochelle Films, Inc. in 1980 after Bette Midler's starring role in The Rose.[4] It was blocked from opening in the U.S., but it did show overseas in the early 1980s. It received poor reviews.

The film reappeared as The Thorn on a Magnum Entertainment VHS video release around 1984. It was again blocked by the courts and returned underground.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Divine Mr J (1974)". Film & TV Database. British Film Institute. 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  2. ^ Mair, George (1995). Bette: An Intimate Biography of Bette Midler. Secaucus, NJ: Birch Lane Press/Carol Publishing Group. pp. 96–98.
  3. ^ "Movie Review: The Divine Mr. J at Festival Theater". May 25, 1974. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  4. ^ "Bette on the Boards". 1979. Retrieved May 13, 2011.

External linksEdit