He once ditched school, spent time sucking a bar of soap for swearing, was scolded for a racial slur and wanted to come home before his mission to preach the LDS gospel was complete. Yet he became the man who Latter-day Saints revered as a prophet of God because he learned life's lessons early and well.
That's according to the director of a new film, "Gordon B. Hinckley: A Giant Among Men," which will appear in local theaters on Tuesday as a tribute to the late president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The 53-minute "docu-drama" by Excel Entertainment was never intended to be a feature film, but will be shown locally at Larry Miller-owned theaters at Jordan Commons in Sandy and The District in South Jordan on Tuesday night, with all proceeds to be donated to the LDS Church's Perpetual Education Fund in his honor. The DVD will then be available at LDS bookstores and online at www.hinckleyfilm.com.
President Hinckley's death at age 97 last January left a void for millions of Latter-day Saints, who miss his self-deprecating humor and the wave of his cane, along with the stories of his own coming-of-age at a time when life seemed less complicated.
Film director T.C. Christensen said much is known about President Hinckley's public life as a church leader, but he wanted to portray the daily happenings, decisions and challenges that molded the man who would later shape the public face and the private outreach of the LDS Church worldwide.
"Prophets are men, too," he said. "They don't live this sanctified holy existence the whole time. They are people just like us."
Christensen, whose film credits include LDS-based films "The Work and the Glory" and "Praise to the Man," said he began writing the script in April after working with the Intellectual Properties division of the LDS Church. "They were terrific. Sent me all the stuff I wanted to use. It was a great experience, and I don't think I got turned down on anything I asked for."
He also spoke to Jane Dudley, one of President Hinckley's daughters, about the project and received the go-ahead from the family, he said.
"They didn't want to review (the) script," but attended the film's premiere, along with members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building several days ago. "It went over really well. People were laughing and seemed to be touched."
Christensen said he gathered much of the material for the script from President Hinckley's public addresses, many of them given during the faith's semi-annual general conferences. His own recitation of specific stories provides the narration at several points in the film, Christensen said, with actors illustrating the spoken word.
Because many Latter-day Saints felt they knew President Hinckley personally, Christensen said it was intimidating trying to find actors that would look enough like him and his wife, Marjorie, to be believable. Since the film had a small budget (he declined to say how much), he was also concerned about re-creating the era of the 1920s and '30s in a realistic way.
But a farmhouse in West Bountiful, built in 1852, served as the base for many of the scenes from the young boy's life, and English converts to the LDS Church now living in Utah became extras for the scene where he preached on a soap box in London's Hyde Park as a missionary, and was loudly shouted down. The discouragement he felt that day became a key turning point in his life, he would later recall.
Christensen said it wasn't until he got into the details of President Hinckley's boyhood that he realized "he was such a little rat kid. If he'd been in my Primary class, I would have rung his neck. He gave his mom trouble," which made filming all the more realistic and something viewers should relate to well, he said.
"I don't think I could relate to him if you portrayed him like he was born this prophet telling others, 'No, we must not speak unkind words' on the playground. That's one reason he was so beloved. He was real about who he was," often quipping in public about his own need to "do a little better," Christensen said.