Dr. Fred Eichelman: How Actress Laurie Prange is Honoring America’s Most Famous Writer Of Hymns

Laurie Prange is a noted actress who has become a film producer to bring attention to a writer of hymns that have spanned over one hundred years. It is a project most dear to her heart where she herself portrays the prolific 19th century blind hymn-writer Fanny Crosby who wrote over 8000 hymns, most notably Blessed Assurance. Fanny lost her sight at 6 weeks old and despite impossible odds and setbacks during her lifetime, she was able to achieve impossible dreams and lead an enriched life as God’s servant. As a child, her grandmother took it upon herself to be “her eyes”. She would sit young Fanny on her lap on the porch and describe in detail the physical world surrounding her…sunrises and the sunsets. Fanny learned early on through her grandmother and mother to “choose” to see her blindness as a ‘gift’ that awakens more spiritual insight.

Laurie says “I have never been so inspired working on a project. You could say I have been obsessed with Fanny Crosby. The more you read about her, the more she gets under your skin. The challenge to portray Fanny Crosby and tell her story has enriched my own life’s journey and also my own faith’s walk. We shot just under 40 hours of footage a few years back where I play her from childhood to the evening of her passing. It was shot on a shoestring budget but beautifully shot like an oil painting. The project has been stalled several times because we ran out of the resources needed for quality postproduction to see it to its completion. It was put on hold for a few years and then I picked it up again. The generous talents and support of many people have carried it to this point and I am determined to finish it. The finished piece will be about a half hour long…an intimate docudrama showing her faith’s journey as a Christian through her poetry and music.” It is a film Laurie believes should be shown in every church and Bible Study.

Fanny was born in 1820 and died in 1915. In her day she was the most beloved woman in America. Referred to as the “Methodist Saint”…she was the Mother Teresa of her time. In her later years she would walk the streets of the New York Bowery District ministering to the needs of the poor. The last years of her life Fanny continued her work through various Missions and prisons in New York, encouraging the lost and deprived. She never stopped. Encouraged to slow down in her advanced years she would say, “I’ll never stop…I always considered that for old people!”

Laurie adds “…She had a mind like a steel trap, retaining anything she heard and could recite entire books of the Bible by heart. She was the first woman to speak before Congress and met and knew as personal friends every president during her lifetime. She loved her country and was laid to rest holding an American flag across her breast.” This writer in testimony of her patriotism read about an incident where Fanny was sitting in a cafe in New York and overheard disparaging remarks made about America across the room. The story went on to relate how this petite elderly blind woman in a black Victorian dress “lunged” across the tables with her cane to take the commentator to task.

Laurie Prange was raised in a Christian family with four brothers and one sister. Although sheattended a Christian school she had never heard the name Fanny Crosby, but certainly knew and sung her hymns: All the Way My Savior Leads MePraise Him Praise Him!To God Be the GloryPass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior, Jesus Keep Me Near the CrossRescue the Perishingand Safe in the Arms of Jesus.

Laurie Prange’s own life was influenced by very Christian parents. Her mother was an Army nurse during WWII and that is how she met her father who was an Army pilot. They were steadfast devout Christians and the best parents and role models a child could have. While growing up, the kids in the neighborhood gravitated to their house because these were parents with solid values and rules who invited all the children to have a safe place to play Laurie has great memories of her childhood.

Laurie went through a low point in life in 10th grade when her brother was killed in Vietnam. It was an emotional tsunami for her and was the beginning of her faith’s unraveling that stayed with her throughout her 20’s. She channeled all of her grief and anger into drama classes.

During her 3 years in high school she represented her school in many Los Angeles acting competitions and always placed 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. In her senior year she performed a 1st place monologue on the Royce Hall stage at U.C.L.A. And later that year a performance of Anouilh’s Antigone brought the attention of several Hollywood agents who wanted to sign me. She was getting advice to change her name and hair color etc. and went with the agent who told her “not to change a thing.”

Her first professional role was starring with Julie Harris and Robert Stack in a Name of the Game TV series season opener. This appearance coincided with a three- page TV Guide article about how she had been signed from a high school production for such a big role and my career took off from there.

She worked throughout the 70’s and 80’s guest starring on many TV series such as Gunsmoke, Night Gallery, The Man and the City with Anthony Quinn, The Lady’s Not for Burning with Richard Chamberlain, The Waltons, a recurring role in The Incredible Hulk, Highway to Heaven to name a few.

There were also miniseries’ including Testimony of Two Men and The Dark Secret of Harvest Home with Bette Davis.

One major change that came in Laurie’s life was her future husband, Richard Lyons, a devout Christian and talented musician.  He was an answer to your parents’ prayers. Laurie says, “Richard is the only Christian I ever dated. He was raised Baptist and I was raised a Lutheran.

My parents were very happy when I fell in love with a man who was raised with the same values that I was. My communication with God through prayer never ceased but I became detached from my Christian faith. I hear people today as they try to talk intellectually about how ignorant those who have faith are and I say to myself ‘Oh my!…that’s the same rhetoric I bought into in my 20’s!’”

Laurie believes it was God’s hand that placed her husband into her life and her into his.

Fanny Crosby’s life apparently reached through the ages to touch Laurie. Not an accident, but a God thing as many Christian young people would say today. Laurie knew what it was like as her brother was killed in Vietnam and she went through such a dark period. Her film Into The Light shows what all Fanny went through emotionally and how it took her to a deeper level of faith. She went on to work with the poor and the needy. As Laurie put this together it shows how she put things together to become the amazing woman she was. How she came to this deeper level and went on to inspire others.

Laurie says “This project has been a challenging journey to complete and I cannot abandon it. Life itself is challenging and I am determined. We hope to market the finished piece to churches all around the country and also to the Christian media. I feel honored to use whatever talents God gave me to put into a project that honors Him. Fanny Crosby has gotten under my skin. You start researching her and you can’t let her go. Her life inspires.”

And this writer is inspired to support this film and to encourage all religious groups to use it. Further information will be given on how to secure a copy.

Dr. Fred Eichelman

Dr. Fred Eichelman is a retired teacher and a director for Point North Outreach, a Christian media organization. He recently had a book published, Faith, Family, Film-A Teacher's Trek. Fred is a former local Republican Committee chairman and has attended hundreds of conventions from political to science fiction. He sees the two as compatible. Fred also tells us he values very much a title we gave him since he could not be a PolitiChick. PolitiDude.

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