Not every nightclub in Los Angeles presents Powerpoint lectures about religious art, but Wednesday night’s Ye Olde Hushe Clubbe is dedicated to the late Miss Velma and her Universal World Church. For decades the Westlake preacher presented an over-the-top Christmas service that was more like an overblown TV special than a conventional church service. Daniel Paul is a Silver Lake-based architectural historian who attended several of the colorful services and worked with the church to obtain rare photos and video of the legendary spectacles. I asked him what made Miss Velma so special.
Who was Miss Velma? “She and her husband O.L. Jaggers were among the first televangelists in Los Angeles. Dr. Jaggers embraced the media remarkably early with a show on KABC in 1954. He kept moving around once he started weaving in some discussion of UFOs. He was on KCOP, and KDOC in the 70s and 80s. He married Miss Velma, who was his cousin, in 1957. She got really interested in the restoration of youth and by the mid 1960s was creating wildly themed church services. During one she arrived in a Cinderella pumpkin, once she descended from above upon a gigantic fake white horse. She descended out of the sky and preached from a giant eagle. They were ridiculously creative and came up with all these ideas to appeal to the idea of youth.”
How did you find her? “In the 1990s the church made truly jaw-dropping Christmas services that got a whole new wave of people interested. A lot of people saw the show. Jim Shaw, Mike Kelly, Ron Athey, and Frank Zappa were all really interested in her. At the time I was really involved at Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village and I saw a degree of overlap with a lot of the outsider artists I was studying. A big thread in outsider art is visionary art and much of it involves religion, like Leonard Knight at Salvation Mountain. People who might not consider themselves artists but creativity is intrinsic to who they are. I saw a lot in common between Miss Velma and Grandma Prisbrey.”
What was the Christmas show like? “It was a quintessential Los Angeles experience. It was part Lawrence Welk Show, part Santa’s Village, and part Madonna Inn. The Los Angeles Times called it ‘St. Peters Basilica combined with Holiday on Ice.’ Dr. Jaggers would narrate and play piano, they had 17’ tall carved angels from Spain, the Miss Velma singers smiling in their colored robes, rotating Christmas trees, and her in her outfits with her long white hair. I loved it. The aesthetics really spoke to me. They were remarkable experiences that verged on sensory overload. She was earnestly expressing something very creative. I’ve always seen her as a remarkable artist.”
Why are you doing this at a nightclub? “I’ve been going there for a few years and Don Bolles is an excellent DJ. He just went on this long European tour with Ariel Pink and came back with all these new records. Sometimes they have people do Powerpoints. Well, it’s usually me or Dr. Paul who does the catacombs stuff. He ‘s a Ph.D. and does a lot of research on haunted cats.”