To Bloom Again

Quiet, intellectual John Bloom transformed himself through his alter ego, Joe Bob Briggs, into a drive-in-movie critic on TV. Now a new character is emerging: John Bloom himself.

"I can remember the night of that meeting," Bloom recalls, "being on the phone with an editor for two hours just raging about how they sold me down the river, and what're you gonna do about it. There was an insinuation of more money. Somehow, it seems like what they wanted was my approval for what they'd done; it seemed like a betrayal of principle, even though what I did was financial suicide. There was a voice that said, 'Don't put yourself in financial poverty for the next five fuckin' years.' When I saw that clip, 'As of this moment, Joe Bob is dead,' that just made me want to ensure that Joe Bob would live."

Roy Bode was associate editor of The Dallas Times Herald in 1985 and describes himself as the "damage control" guy for the "We Are the Weird" fallout.

"Satire is a difficult thing for any writer to execute," Bode says, "and it was often easy for the reader to miss John's intent as Joe Bob Briggs. John always said that column was intended to satirize rich entertainers, but if that's where he wanted to go, he didn't take us there. Satire is not generally directed at starving Africans and the poor and downtrodden."

Notwithstanding the issue of racial sensitivity, Bode says, "I think the column should've been killed for practical reasons. Every time John sat down to write he would feel constrained, and every time an editor sat down to edit it, they would feel constrained. Joe Bob Briggs would've lost his edge."

Agent Eisenberg made sure, however, that Joe Bob Briggs didn't skip a week in syndication, hopping immediately from the Los Angeles Times Syndicate to Universal Syndicate. One byline, however, was fatally wounded that day. John Bloom wrote about a dozen columns for D Magazine as Bloom, but the combination of financial strictures (he'd just purchased a condo) and the promise of quick cash from national offers spurred him to wear Joe Bob's shitkickers full-time.

Bloom insists his abandonment of a career in daily journalism was already on the horizon before he quit the Times Herald. He notes that he'd been writing for newspapers since he was 15, when he began doing sports coverage in Little Rock. "The daily grind," as he calls it, was already taking its toll.

Yet as late as 1990, there was some lingering sensitivity when someone reminded him that Joe Bob Briggs could be funny, but John Bloom could be brilliant. Steve Blow, then a fresh face on The Dallas Morning News's "Metro" cover, wrote a column that began: "A friend will call me when he really likes a particular column [of mine]. 'That was almost up there in the John Bloom category,' he will say. We laugh, I feel highly complimented, and we shake our heads once more at the sad, strange death of John Bloom."

Blow's column included an interview with Bloom. At that point, Bloom was about to publish his fourth Joe Bob collection, had just begun Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel, and had been given bit parts in Great Balls of Fire! and Hollywood Boulevard II. Blow declared that the John Bloom transformation was "the only known case in nature of a butterfly turning into a worm" and quoted Bloom as saying of his calamitous Dallas controversy, "It hurts a little."

A few weeks later, Joe Bob Briggs wrote in his nationally syndicated column: "A guy from the Dallas Morning News came to my office just last week, sat in a chair grinning for two hours, listened to everything I had to say, acted like he was a fan of my work, and then went back to the office and took shots at me in his Sunday column. It wasn't so much that he took the shots. It was that he grinned for two hours. He lied." Briggs finished by declaring Blow "not much of a writer." Bloom, a longtime critic, obviously had no stomach for being the object of criticism.

To this day, Bloom refers to the "We Are the Weird" episode in Dallas as "traumatic." And the two people he credits most for helping him through it are Eisenberg and Ole Anthony, founder of the Trinity Foundation, a nondenominational spiritual group that expounds first-century A.D. Christian principles. Anthony, a friend of Bloom's since 1979, urged Bloom into a religious conversion in 1984. Trinity teachings also provide a key to the mystery that has been pondered by many of John Bloom's ex-colleagues and fans: why he has hung on to Joe Bob Briggs for so long, and why he has incorporated more John Bloom into the recipe.

The address on John Bloom's driver's license is an apartment among a group of houses and condos near Lakewood where members of Ole Anthony's Trinity Foundation live. Currently, an otherwise homeless woman and her child live in Bloom's place; when John flies into town from his Greenwich Village apartment, he almost always stays in a hotel. Trinity Foundation's program for housing and feeding the homeless is less famous nationally than its work with the media to investigate and expose fraudulent televangelism. Some call this nonprofit public foundation a community, others a cultish sect for its expressed desire to take Christianity back to its Jewish roots. One of its stated purposes is to defang Christianity of its bureaucracy.

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