Filmmaker David Crouse changes course (with help from Norman Vincent Peale)

In his 20s, David Crouse was an exec with a top radio station.

He was living the life: Going to concerts; meeting Rock & Roll stars like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Idol and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders; making big bucks. But, a New York City record party, with guests blowing cocaine right next to him, proved a turning point.

“For about 10 years, I was in such despair that I took the Bible to bed with me at night,” he says. “The next morning, I’d go right back into the rat race. My life was out of control.”

At 32, David quit corporate broadcasting. He set out to raise money to buy radio stations around the country. To bolster his fundraising efforts, he read Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking.

David was in New York seeking investors on Friday, October 9, 1987. He had a flight out that afternoon. He picked up a copy of USA Today—a paper he “never” read—and sat in his hotel room, skimming it. His eyes opened wide reading that Dr. Peale would give a sermon that Sunday. Peale, then in his late 80s, had retired from New York’s Marble Collegiate Church after being senior minister for 52 years. He had vowed never to preach again.

David changed his flight.

That Sunday morning, it was raining lightly. Having never before ventured past midtown Manhattan, David grabbed an umbrella. He arrived at 29th and 5th 2 hours early. About 100 people were already waiting. David figured church members would have first access. He stood in line despairing of getting a seat.

In less than 5 minutes, a woman came up to him. “Follow me,” she said. With no idea who this stranger was or why she’d singled him out, he followed her to a side entrance. She pointed to a door that led to the sanctuary. When he turned to thank her, she was gone.

He was astonished by “the magnificence” of the empty sanctuary. He chose a seat that proved to be right behind the Peale family, Donald Trump and a “who’s who” of parishioners.

“To this day, I tremble to think I was the one picked. That day completely changed my life’s trajectory.”

What was his first thought after hearing Dr. Peale? “How to get a cab,” he jokes. But when he returned to his hotel room, “My knees hit the ground. I confessed my sins. I sobbed out of grief and joy.”

He left radio to produce documentaries. He moved from Atlanta to Chicago. He met and married Teresa (now his wife of 26 years) and joined a Bible study group. “I plugged in physically and spiritually.”

And then his second Godsign occurred. About 1½ years after seeing Dr. Peale, he sent a $50 check to the Peales’ Foundation for Christian Living. Soon after he received a phone call. A man said, “You haven’t responded to our invitation to lunch with Dr. Peale.” David had missed the invite. He and Teresa were “so excited” to meet the legendary author. 2 days before, David came down with bad laryngitis. By now he’d read 3 of Dr. Peale’s books and was “panicked” he’d be too sick to go.

Teresa suggested: Ask God to restore your voice. The next day, his voice returned.

At that point all David had produced were 2-minute news segments. Still, at lunch he said to Dr. Peale, “I want to tell your life story. Dr. Peale laughed and said, ‘Nobody’d be interested.’” But they decided to meet. They sat and talked in the minister’s shag-carpeted office. After 45 minutes, Dr. Peale agreed.

Back home, Teresa said, “You did tell him you’d never produced a documentary?”

David said, “The subject never came up.”

And so David, aptly named for someone who took on Goliath, looked in the Chicago production bible, a Yellow Pages of local producers. He started with letter Z. When he got to Y, he met with a photographer named Youman, who recommended Chip Duncan, a producer in Wisconsin. David has worked with Chip ever since; David as project developer, Chip as producer.

When David introduced Chip to Dr. Peale, the minister asked him: Who’s your best friend? Chip was confused. “Then Dr. Peale said, ‘Your best friend is the person who brings out the best in you.’”

David and Chip’s documentary Peale, Positive Thinking: The Norman Vincent Peale Story was nominated for an Emmy. David was the first producer to interview 5 living presidents, including George Bush on his last day in the White House. Although presidents Nixon through Bush and many other luminaries were fans, David acknowledges Peale also had detractors. “Adlai Stevenson said: ‘St. Paul is appealing and Peale is appalling.’”

David says, “Dr. Peale loved that line.”

David and Chip have gone on to produce documentaries on President Reagan, Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, C.S. Lewis and others. They have won multiple Emmys.

David also co-founded the C.S. Lewis Festival that brings artists and scholars to Northern Michigan each fall. This year’s opening weekend is Oct. 22-25.

After finishing the Positive Thinking documentary, David decided to promote it at a PBS programming convention in San Francisco. He talked Dr. and Mrs. Peale into attending. Many other producers were there with sophisticated promotional materials about their newest productions. Late in applying, David simply blew up a photo of Dr. Peale and displayed it in the lobby with a notice that Dr. Peale would be available in his hotel room at a particular time.

A producer of a program on trains was meeting people in a hotel room across the hall. David recalls, “Dr. Peale loved trains. He said, ‘When nobody comes to see me, I’ll go meet the train man.’ We got off the elevator and walked down the hall. Dr. Peale said, ‘Look at that line to see the train guy.’ But they were all in line to meet Dr. Peale. 3 hours later, I had the contact info for 200 programming execs, and I knew we had a hit. Dr. Peale never got to meet the train man.”

David has since gotten to know members of Dr. Peale’s family. He’s tried to identify the woman who led him to the side door of the church, hoping to thank her. No one knows who she was.

(Thanks, David, for sharing this delightful story. And thanks, Melissa Kieswetter, for introducing me to David.)

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4 thoughts on “Filmmaker David Crouse changes course (with help from Norman Vincent Peale)

  1. Melissa Keiswetter

    Suzy, I have known David for years and not known of his journey. God signs surround us at all times if we would all look up and around us.
    I am so proud of you and feel blessed to know you. You are a sign from God, a messenger who highlights others and assists in connecting us all.
    Thank you.
    Your Very Honored Friend,

    1. Suzy Farbman

      And I am an equally enthusiastic admirer of yours, Melissa. Thanks for the lovely comment. DF1

  2. Paul Hresko

    David is an amazing man with an amazing life story! It is overwhelming to think what we can accomplish when we seek Gods guidance and direction! Thanks for sharing this Suzy!!

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