Where Are They Now? Johnny Lingo Cast and Mormon Rap
Brooke Ward and Jenny Spencer - October 23, 2012
Where are the actors from the iconic LDS Film "Johnny Lingo"? And whatever happened to the unforgettable "Mormon Rap" duo? LDS Living sought them out so we could tell you exactly that.
Johnny Lingo Cast
Thanks to the movie Johnny Lingo, being called an eight-cow wife is now a compliment. This 1969 film has lived on in Mormon culture through the decades, and not surprisingly, seminary teachers and Young Men and Young Women leaders still show it to their youth. Johnny Lingo has been shown in various denominations throughout the world, not just in LDS churches in the United States.
In the film, Johnny Lingo’s village scorns Mahana, Moki’s ugly daughter, because she looks as if she “has a face like a stone.” But when Johnny Lingo pays eight cows for her hand in marriage, her confidence soars and her ugly-duckling feathers fall away to reveal a beautiful young woman. Lingo confesses that he gave eight cows for Mahana because he always loved her and wanted her to believe in herself. “Many things can happen to make a woman beautiful. But what matters most is what she thinks of herself,” Johnny says.
“I think that’s the underlying message that the film stresses,” says Naomi Wilson, who played the role of Mahana. “That’s such a simple message that seems to resonate with people of different cultures. I think that’s the most surprising dimension of this whole experience: the cross-cultural application of the message. I never had a clue that it would be a factor 42 years later.”
When Hawaii native Naomi Kahoilua Wilson was cast as Mahana, she had no idea that this small role would stay with her for the rest of her life. “I don’t think I understood or appreciated what I was experiencing at the time,” says Wilson. “I didn’t really understand what the Lord was trying to make of us.”
Naomi Wilson and her daughter.
In 1970, she married Brent Wilson and soon after moved to Spokane, Washington. She and her husband are the parents of three children. As a proficient pianist, she teaches classical piano to advanced students and annually gives firesides about Mahana and the importance of believing in oneself. “Mahana has almost become like a shadow sister,” says Wilson. “When I show up for these assignments, no one wants to meet Sister Wilson at first; they will call me Sister Mahana.”
Makee K. Blaisdell grew up in Hawaii and graduated from Brigham Young University, but he quickly entered the world of television in California. He played small roles on many television series throughout the ’60s and ’70s, series like Daniel Boone, Iron Horse, and Star Trek. It is rumored that Blaisdell would have replaced Leonard Nimoy as Spock should Nimoy have left Star Trek after its second season. But he is most notably known for his role as Johnny Lingo. Blaisdell passed away in 1988 in Ventura, California, at age 56.
Francis L. Urry was already a staple name in the world of LDS entertainment in the ’60s when he was cast as the tradesman on Johnny Lingo’s island. He worked with KSL radio and television in Salt Lake City and was often one of the few professionally trained actors on the set of Church films. Before Johnny Lingo, Urry played the role of President Lorenzo Snow in the Church film Windows of Heaven. He was highly praised for his excellent portrayal of the prophet since he was considerably younger than President Snow. Urry passed away in 1985 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Joseph W. Ah Quin has long been a musical legend in Laie, Hawaii. Even though the character of Mahana’s father, Moki, is greedy and unloving, Ah Quin has shown his great love for the people of Hawaii through his voice. He has even sung at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Recently, he has been involved with the internationally known Halau Hula Olana choir in Hawaii.
Watch the entire feature of Johnny Lingo on the Mormon Channel.
“Mormon Rap” Duo
Though he’d been in the business for 15 years, toured with Donny and Marie Osmond, and even performed at the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, all-around musician Walt Gregory struggled to make a living from his music in the mid-’80s. Even so, he and his colleagues in the Walter & Hays Band—Tony Summerhays, Dan Stephensen, and Cory Brown—never lacked for gigs. They were continually booked throughout Utah, gradually acquiring fans with their unique and comical approach to music and eccentric stage presence and costuming.
But when “Mormon Rap” hit the airwaves in 1988, new doors quickly opened for the Utah-based novelty band. The nationally syndicated Dr. Demento radio show started spinning the tune and, before long, record companies were showing interest. Soon, the band was invited to perform at the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon in Disneyland and a number of other fancy shindigs. The song, which gently razzes Mormon culture, became an instant cult classic in Utah, and eventually sold more than 95,000 cassettes worldwide.
Cassette cover of "Mormon Rap," from RateYourMusic.com.
In the following years, the band performed in exotic locations like the Bahamas, Hawaii, and Florida, as well as a number of major U.S. cities. But the band never amassed the same excitement for their other songs, including numbers about cold fusion and the rivalry between BYU and the University of Utah. In 1993, the group disbanded when Gregory decided he wanted to forge a new path on
To this day, Gregory earns his living in a one-man show he performs at corporate events and private parties in Utah and as a jingle-writer.
“I’m in it for life,” says Gregory, who still occasionally performs with Summerhays.
“We’re pretty well best friends,” Gregory says, adding that they try to find ways to shake it up when they perform together.
Gregory also continues to shake it up on his own, with a new album soon to be available on iTunes featuring a dance version of “Mormon Rap” and a follow-up called “Mormon From Jamaica.”
For his part, Summerhays has also continued as a full-time professional entertainer. In June, he celebrated 40 years in the industry with a dance in Murray, Utah. He also enjoys the occasional fishing trip with his son Andrew, who has also been involved in music (and specifically the drums) while studying at Salt Lake Community College.
After the breakup of Walter & Hays, Brown became a supervisor for the Utah Transit Authority, and Stephensen toured with various performers throughout the United States and Europe and went on to become a featured performer at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. In recent years, he has played with Utah-based Easy Street, and the George Dyer show in Branson, Missouri, and continues to freelance in percussion.
Watch a video of "Mormon Rap."
Find out our other "Where Are They Now?" discoveries (including a golf legend, pop group "The Jets," and more) in the September/October 2012 issue of LDS Living! Subcribe or order a single copy.
This is an excerpt from the article "Where Are They Now?" from LDS Living's September/October 2012 issue.
© LDS Living, 2012.