Rosie Refutes Cult Connection

O'Donnell distances herself from Oscar-nominated documentary she narrated after learning filmmakers had ties to cult-like group

By Josh Grossberg Mar 21, 2002 8:45 PMTags
Rosie O'Donnell wants you to know that she's not a member of any cult--especially a racist homophobic one.

The recently out talk show host has demanded her name and voice be removed from an Oscar-nominated documentary after learning the filmmakers behind the project have ties to the Fourth Way School, a "personal development" group that, according to reports, is a cult that bars African Americans and gays from its ranks.

O'Donnell agreed to do the voiceover work on the documentary short Artists and Orphans: A True Drama after being asked by director Lianne Klapper McNally, a former producer for CBS News. The film has a theme near and dear to Rosie's heart: children in need. It follows a troupe of American artists as they traveled to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to attend a theater festival and ended up helping young orphaned children in the war-torn country.

The film, which has been playing the festival circuit, is one of three nominees competing in the Best Documentary Short category at this Sunday's Oscars. The other two are: Sing!, which follows the struggles of a community-based youth chorus, and Thoth, about a street musician who performs a one-man opera.

But little did the daytime diva know that McNally was a member of the Fourth Way, or that the group's founder, actress-director Sharon Gans, also launched the theater troupe that's documented in the movie.

Gans reportedly founded the Fourth Way in San Francisco in the late 1970s. She preached something called "Higher Influence" and recruited members through her theater troupe. Gans eventually relocated to New York and decided to make the documentary.

The group's ties to Artists and Orphans came to light in an MSNBC report last week. In a followup story in the New York Post Wednesday, one unnamed former member is quoted saying, "On the whole, the group feels gays are not capable of emotional or psychological growth...if they weren't lazy and passive, they would work on themselves and be normal [heterosexual]." The ex-member also said the Fourth Way does not accept blacks.

The connection has startled O'Donnell, who, as we all know by now, says that being gay "is really no big deal" and calls herself the poster child for gay parents. She is also a strong advocate for gay adoption and has three adopted children.

"She was told that it was supposed to be a charitable organzation for children. It's not, it's a cult," says Rosie's rep, Cindi Berger.

Indeed, on her talk show Wednesday, Rosie railed against the Fourth Way and explained that she didn't know about the relationship between the group and the documentary when she did the project. "What is my luck that of all the theater groups in the world, the one I pick would be a cult?"

Although fans might think the outspoken O'Donnell would have nothing but invective for McNally for misleading her into doing the documentary, it was just the opposite.

"I'm so sickly codependent, I want to save that woman from the cult," Rosie said on her show. "I am going to get every bit of information on the cult and send it to her...I know you're watching me, I talked to you about your kid. There is a God. Get out of the cult! Call me."

Meanwhile, an attorney for the filmmakers, David Goldstein, said that allegations of the film being "the work of some kind of nefarious cult [are] completely baseless."

Goldstein adds in the Post, "Furthermore, the inflammatory accusation that certain people affiliated with the film are involved in an organization that endangers the welfare of children or discriminates against...gays and lesbians or families is without foundation."

There is no immediate word from the filmmakers on whether they will consent to O'Donnell's demands to have her name and narration removed. Berger says O'Donnell's lawyers are also looking into ways to force the issue.