Lights, camera, faith: The Shawn Stevens story

Published: Tuesday, May 29 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

For ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” — Ether 12:6

Shawn Stevens’ life could be a full-length "Mormon Messages" movie.

There are good examples, heart-warming conversions and intense trials of faith. There are good times, unexpected twists and gut-wrenching, tearful decisions. Myriad gospel principles are taught and marks are made in LDS Church history. And there are moments of quiet reflection, life lessons and the recognition of worthwhile blessings.

It’s a story about a man who faced a series of destiny-defining decisions and elected to remain on the strait and narrow path.

“I always wanted more than fame and riches,” Stevens said.

Act I — The young convert

Stevens was born in New Jersey, but his family moved to Burbank, Calif., in the late 1960s when he was 10 years old. Stevens saw the move as fortuitous because he was a performer. He loved to sing, act and entertain people. His grandmother fueled his passion by taking him to plays and shows.

“I took it as my family was moving for me to pursue my career to stardom,” he said.

Stevens developed his musical talent singing a cappella in a local Christian congregation. A member of the church noticed Stevens’ flair for performing and recommended he audition for a part in a production at the Glendale Centre Theatre, owned by Nathan and Ruth Hale, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Utah. Stevens not only got the part, but continued to act with the Hales through his teenage years and had a positive experience. He was also active in his high school drama program.

Following high school graduation in 1976, Stevens began a 48-state tour performing “The Music Man” and “Oklahoma” before accepting a role in a small independent movie being filmed in Kanab, Utah, where he associated with more members of the LDS Church.

“It was my first time being away from my family, and I was impressed with the Mormon community of Kanab,” he said. “I decided I would go check out the LDS Church, and I was more impressed.”

About this time, Stevens was introduced to Bonnie Larson and Lyman Dayton, both members of the church.

Impressed by Stevens’ talent, Larson became his personal manager and has remained a lifelong friend. Dayton was a film producer whose work included “Where The Red Fern Grows,” “Baker’s Hawk” and “Against a Crooked Sky." He invited Stevens to meet the LDS missionaries.

One afternoon, Stevens sat down with the elders and didn’t leave until he was taught all six discussions. He committed to baptism on the spot.

“I was getting all the answers I was looking for,” he said. “Everything just made sense to me. I was soaking it up and couldn’t get enough. We just went through the whole thing.”

Stevens was baptized a week later in September 1977 at age 19.

His family was furious.

Act II — A promising career

Following his baptism, Stevens was invited by Lex de Azevedo to fill the lead role of “Jimmy” in the touring production of “Saturday’s Warrior.”

That was fortunate considering his parents had kicked him out of the house. For different lengths of time he stayed with friends while he battled for a break in the film and television industry. He was getting numerous interviews and auditions, but nothing materialized and he was discouraged.

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