6/22/2007 View Comments
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Ken and Carol Tipton were a typical young couple with dreams of raising a family and starting a business of their own. Ken had an unstoppable entrepreneurial spirit and had tried several businesses selling items such as Amway, water filters and Herbalife weight loss products. He turned his love of flying into a profitable aerial advertising company called HIGH SIGNS that used a powered hangglider.
Ken worked full-time as a computer repairman for IBM and Carol was a registered nurse working in an Intensive Care Unit. One day Ken was called to fix a payroll computer that a woman had vomited on. Ken fixed the computer in time to get the payroll out and the store owner, St. Louis icon and appliance king Steve Mizerany, gave Ken a gift of a floor model Betamax VCR.
After seeing some videos that Steve let customers borrow library style, if they bought a VCR from him, Ken and Carol started looking into opening a video rental store since none existed in St. Louis at that time. Taking their savings that had been put aside for a new home and the new baby that was on it's way, they opened the first videocassette rental store in St. Louis in 1981 called Video Library.
It was a tremendous risk trying to balance a new baby and a new business, but they believed in the American Dream. With hard work, Video Library grew into a multi-million dollar company comprised of video stores and stand-alone robotic video kiosks called Movie Machines. The Movie Machines were invented by Ken and his partners and offered 740 of the Top movies available 24/7 with no employees. Franchises were moving quickly through Missouri, Illinois, and Texas.
Over the years, Video Library was visited many times by a group of religious people that were members of the St. Louis Chapter of Rev. Donald Wildmon's National Federation for Decency (NFD) which has been renamed the American Family Association. The NFD insisted that Video Library remove movies that they claimed to be "...obscene or a detriment to the community and its children." Films such as Hail Mary, Taxi Driver, Agnes of God, Blazing Saddles, Animal House, Mr. Mom, and many other movies were targeted. One of the leaders of the NFD, Vesta Ward, demanded the removal of the movie SPLASH, claiming the movie promoted sex with animals (bestiality) because Tom Hanks makes love to a mermaid.
The Last Temptation
When Martin Scorsese's controversial film, The Last Temptation of Christ, was released on video, the Tiptons' were the only video store chain in St. Louis unafraid to offer the film for rent. The NFD declared war with pickets and boycotts. They harassed the Tiptons and their employees on a daily basis. The situation worsened when the couple received death threats against their young daughter saying she would be "... sent back to God to be reborn to parents who worship the Lord."
When the Tiptons refused to buckle, the NFD blackmailed the Prosecuting Attorney with information about the prosecutor's secret sex life. Obscenity charges were filed against the Tiptons and, misusing the RICO racketeering laws, movies were confiscated before a single film was found to be obscene by a jury. The prosecutor fed the media vague details about investigations alleging that the Tiptons had ties to organized crime. The Tiptons' friends distanced themselves and they were shunned as social outcasts. The Tiptons won two court cases, but the negative publicity and legal fees bankrupted their business and caused the breakup of their family.
After the bankruptcy and divorce of Ken and Carol Tipton, Ken was in a deep depression. He had lost his family, his businesses, his credit was ruined, and he owed the IRS a staggering amount due to penalties and interest on unpaid payroll taxes. The only work he could find was repairing VCRs. He did have one thing of value and that was a $500k life insurance policy. The policy had been in effect well past the two year suicide clause. With thoughts of being worth more dead than alive, Ken consumed every pill he could get his hands on and then sat back watching TV while he waited to die.
What was on TV was a re-run of an L.A. Law episode called "Splatoon" where the law firm was playing in a corporate game of paintball. One scene was exceptionally funny and between Ken's tears and laughter, he vomited up the pills.
SPECIAL NOTE: If you watch this scene from the HEART of the BEHOLDER movie, you can see the character looking at a TV but the TV is never shown. The fee wanted by 20th Century Fox to use a 30 second clip from the L.A. Law episode could not be afforded on the movie's budget. Since this scene saved Ken's life and gave him the second chance he needed, when he was in Hollywood later he sent acrylic mementos to the shows producer - Steven Bochco, the director-Elodie Keene, and the actor in the scene that Ken related to, Michael Tucker, who played Stuart Markowitz - or as he was nicknamed in the episode, "Rambowitz".
A New Beginning
Just like "Rambowitz" in the L.A. Law episode, Ken was in need of serious physical and mental venting. He soon went to Wacky Warriors in Illinois to play paintball for the first time and he was able to vent like a madman at anything that moved. He continued to play every weekend for months which allowed him to lose 40 pounds and his self-esteem improved on a daily basis. Once again, his entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and with a loan from his Uncle, Ken opened Paintball Wargames at the St. Charles Speedway. Since Wacky Warriors was over 70 miles from St. Louis and Ken's paintball park was in the St. Louis suburbs, his business grew quickly. With the success of Paintball Wargames, Ken was able to open a new video store in O'Fallon, MO called Frontier Video and several of his former Video Library employees came back to work for him.
One Sunday, Ken got a call from his paintball referee who told him that the group that had come to play that day was the same religious group that had ruined his video business. Ken asked his ref to see if the group minded if a walk-on player came to play with them. They said it was fine and Ken soon showed up in full paintball gear, face mask and all. He also carried a top-of-the-line paintball gun that was far superior than what the religious group was using. It was decided that because Ken's gun out classed the others, that he would play on one team and then switch teams at the end of each game.
To say the least, Ken had a wonderful time getting the best payback possible by shooting the shit out of the Jesus freaks all day long. There have been several complaints about this scene from HEART of the BEHOLDER because it's so damn weird. But life is weird sometimes and this scene not only happened, but it lead to the discovery that the religious group had blackmailed the Prosecutor into ruining Ken.
A woman in the religious group that had played in the paintball game, felt guilty for what had happened to Ken's family and business because of the blackmailing of the prosecutor. She told Ken about a former prostitute who had fallen into the religious group after leaving the sex business. The ex-prostitute found the emotional acceptance she needed by picketing gay funerals, abortion clinics, and anything else the NFD decided to target, which included the Tiptons' video stores.
The Prosecuting Attorney had been a regular customer of the girl and she had told the religious group about the Prosecutor's hidden sex life. With this information, the Prosecutor was blackmailed into targeting anyone the group selected. The ex-prostitute felt terrible about what had happened to the Tiptons and agreed to help set things right.
One of Ken's friends was a TV Reporter named Herb Humphries.
(Click Here for more info on Herb). Herb tried to get the ex-prostitute and the two Madams she had once worked for to go on the record and expose the corrupt Prosecutor. But they were all too afraid to do so. Herb then suggested that a prostitution sting could be setup with help from some St. Louis County cops that Herb knew. All the Madam had to do was to call Herb the next time the Prosecutor ordered a girl and Herb would contact his police friends. An undercover officer would be sent instead and they would bust the Prosecutor.
Because the Prosecutor had friends every where, the sting had to be unauthorized and done with very few people knowing about it. Everything that could go wrong did, but the sting was still successful in exposing the corrupt prosecutor and ending his career. The prosecutor pleaded guilty to solicitation and embezzlement from a Crime Victims Fund that he controlled. The Prosecutor was disbarred, received a large fine, and was sentenced to prison. The Judge suspended the sentence for fear that the prosecutor would be killed by inmates he had put there himself.
Based on a True Story
UPDATE - This movie is based on the true story of what happened to the Tiptons but is also the story of other video store owners from across the country that were targeted by religious groups. The original screenplay was over 400 pages long and to fit within the time frame of a normal feature film, it had to be reduced to 110 pages. Some names were changed and several characters had to be combined as composites to reduce the size of the script. To enhance the entertainment and marketing value of the movie, some scenes were dramatized but the majority of the film is based on real events and real people.
HOTB was screened at the 2005 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase were it was awarded the St. Louis Gateway Film Critics "Critics' Choice Award" for best narrative feature film. During a public panel discussion of HOTB, many former employees of Video Library and customers talked about the picketing and harassment of the Video Library stores and what they had experienced personally. A Post-Dispatch Reporter named Michael Sorkin also brought out more information that the corrupt Prosecutor had embezzled more than $200,000 from the Crime Victims Fund and had his sentence suspended while one of the Madams that supplied women to him got prison time for tax evasion.
After the screening, a group of people came up to us who were members of the Mid-Rivers Baptist Church in St. Peters, MO as well as former members of Rev. Donald Wildmon's National Federation for Decency. The group apologized to Ken and his family for the harassment they caused at the video stores and their home. It kind of reminded me of the old "we were just following orders" statement but these people were genuinely sorry. They realized that they had been used by people who abused their power - both political and religious.
For the record, we have seen no evidence that Rev. Donald Wildmon was personally involved or aware of the actions by his St. Louis Chapter of his National Federation for Decency. However, Wildmon is still in the business of picketing video stores as this link shows.
Ken has been asked many times why he didn't give up when it took 12 years to get HEART of the BEHOLDER made. He admits that there were many reasons. Some reasons were self-serving, some were financial, and some were creative. But the single largest reason was to prove to his children that sometimes life is not fair and sometimes bad things happened to good people. When your family has been hurt by those who abuse their power, the natural urge is to seek some type of revenge. Revenge comes in many forms but there is only one kind of revenge that Ken advocates and also advertises on his car license plate. TBRIS - The Best Revenge is Success.
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