Richard Dutcher, Mormon moviemaker

Published: Monday, Oct. 28 2002 12:17 p.m. MST

"I had read the Book of Mormon a couple of times, as well as the Bible, and I had been very active, but I never felt that experience of having personal revelation that it was true," he says. "I was at a crossroads, if I was going to keep going. I was sitting in the Carthage jail where Joseph Smith was martyred, and I bowed my head and asked if it was real. I began sobbing and I couldn't stop. Everybody was looking at me and wondering what was happening. It was powerful and wonderful. I was just filled with light. It didn't come from within; it came from without. I was just a participant. It is still something I draw on and go back to."

Just before the start of Dutcher's senior year at Hillcrest High, the family moved again, this time to Kansas; Dutcher remained behind. He stayed with one family and then another, but it proved uncomfortable for both. He was kicked out of his second home at Christmastime and was on his own.

Dutcher spent part of his senior year living out of his beat-up, bumpers-falling-off '71 Mercury Comet. He slept in his car and showered at school or at friends' houses. He had little money, which was nothing new. He had just two pairs of pants to wear, and he survived on macaroni and cheese and 29-cent hamburgers from Dee's.

"I had just enough money to keep gas in the car and eat a little," he recalls. "If there was a choice between seeing a movie or eating, I'd choose the movie. . . . I remember wishing that someday I could buy a can of soda and it would not be a big deal."

Despite his meager circumstances, Dutcher earned good grades, edited the school newspaper, acted in school plays, worked various jobs to support himself and served as student body vice president. He was offered several scholarships, and accepted one to BYU.

"He was not a wild guy, but he marched to his own drummer," recalls Shellie Jorgensen, a Dutcher confidant and former classmate. "He dressed differently than everyone else. Preppy was the fashion, and he wore a black leather jacket, jeans and the same shoes the whole year. He was short and scrawny. Anyone who didn't know him would think he was a nerd, but he wasn't. Everyone who knew him liked him. He was always very kind and very independent, and he was a hard worker. He didn't ask for anything from anybody."

Says Gwen, "He's so free of baggage for someone who went through what he went through. It astounds me. He's got confidence. He had to be independent at an early age. At 14, if he wanted clothes he bought them, and if he wanted meals he cooked them. I admire him for how he was able to come out of it without resentment and with a positive outlook on what he can achieve."

There was never any doubt what Dutcher would do someday. Not in his mind or anyone else's. He never made an announcement or a conscious decision; it was just understood.

"I never considered doing anything else," says Dutcher. "It would be either films or novels."

Says Jorgensen, "He always had a real passion for writing and acting. For years my husband and I have been waiting for him to do this. I told my husband when we got married that this guy is going to be famous someday. He has that something about him."

His love of writing and storytelling came at least in part from growing up alone. His mother was working, his father was gone and his older brother (by 2 1/2 years) was off with his own friends. "I had to make up stories to entertain myself," he says. "I didn't have any money, so I couldn't go anywhere." He wrote his first novel when he was 11. (Years later he realized it was a rip-off of "Alive.")

When he was 13, Dutcher was profoundly moved by an article he read in the Ensign, an LDS Church magazine, in which church President Spencer W. Kimball urged LDS artists to tell the Mormon story.

"It was exciting, thrilling," he says. "We had a really big lawn in Kentucky, an acre and a half of grass that I mowed with a push mower. That's how I would occupy my time, thinking about stories or how to make films or novels."

His love for telling stories came to include the art in all its various forms — writing, theater, movies, acting. It was all the same.

He wrote a play in high school — "It was terrible," he says — and he began acting in plays.

"People loved to see him in our school plays," says Jorgensen. "He'd improvise during the play and have the place roaring with laughter. It would throw the other actors for a loop. It was great. You could see he had an absolute talent for it. He was constantly writing things and acting."

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