The 1964 New York World’s Fair was a show stopper.
While Walt Disney introduced the new ride “It’s A Small World” at the fair, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints introduced the Christus statue, copied from Bertel Thorvaldsen’s piece in Copenhagen, Denmark and its iconic video “Man’s Search for Happiness” at the Mormon Pavilion Exhibition, a replica of the Salt Lake City Temple.
The LDS Church had never undertaken such a public and media enterprise before and with the cost coming in at around $3 million, leaders were hoping it would be a good return on its investment. Between the popularity of the Christus statue and the video, the payoff was 100 fold, according to people like former president of the New York Stake Stanley McAllister, who had the idea to be in the fair in the first place.
A young LDS father, Bryce Chamberlain, played the lead role in the video that was fully narrated by Elder Richard L. Evans, an apostle in the church and voice of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
That was 55 years ago.
After the World’s Fair, “Man’s Search for Happiness” for many years was used by missionaries throughout the world to teach those investigating the church its plan of happiness.
The movie depicts various aspects of human life not just on Earth but what the LDS Church believes was a person’s pre-existent life and also what happens after death.
Chamberlain’s role in the film gave him cameo appearances that were without script but with a variety of feelings portrayed through facial and body language.
“Man’s Search for Happiness” reached the eyes and ears of thousands over the years, as did Chamberlain’s face.
Now a spry 87-year-old, Chamberlain reminisces as he prepares to reach out to his public yet again with a special presentation for the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 2020, a key moment in founding the church.
Chamberlain, who was born in Cedar City, raised in Salt Lake City and currently living in Orem, said he was more a loner in elementary school and didn’t find his way until junior high school when he was pulled into sports by a very wise coach.
“It was sports that saved my life,” Chamberlain said. “At my mother’s insistence I had to take chorus and orchestra too.”
Those learning moments would help Chamberlain later in life when he was searching for his own happiness.
Without dwelling on all the ups and downs of his life, Chamberlain said it was a sales job with Shapiro’s Travel Goods in downtown Salt Lake City that help nudge him out of his shell and allowed him to move on into broadcasting and later to live theater and for a time in Hollywood.
About that same time, still shy, Chamberlain, at age 22, was called into a church bishopric and wanted to be able to speak comfortably and clearly to his congregation. So, he took elocution lessons.
“I learned I could do more than dig ditches,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain said he changed drastically, but still today after years of performing in front of thousands of people all over the world he says his stomach still churns.
Getting into the theater opened Chamberlain up to working with some very well-known Hollywood stars including George C. Scott, Colleen Dewhurst, Laraine Day and others.
Chamberlain’s dream was to get into broadcasting. His big break came while he was selling a car to a gentleman who listened closely to his spiel.
A year later KNAK radio in Salt Lake City called him to come visit their sister station in Blackfoot, Idaho, which he did. But by the next year he was working with NBC in Hollywood with “The Dina Shore Show,” “Queen for a Day” and others.
By 1962, Chamberlain had done his first video for the church, had divorced his first wife and met and married his second wife.
“It was while I was on my honeymoon they asked me to be involved with ‘Man’s Search for Happiness’,” Chamberlain said.
After the popularity of the video, and to keep acting in his life he developed the one-man show on the life of Joseph Smith, known as “Joseph Smith, the Man, the Seer.”
Over the years Chamberlain took the show on the road on four continents and through 16 countries, as well as numerous places in North America.
After 40 years and the aging process setting in, Chamberlain moved to Brigham Young and continued one-man shows featuring Brigham, from his curly hair to his collared shirt and coat.
Now as an octogenarian but still wanting to perform, Chamberlain has compiled a one-man show for the bicentennial of the First Vision being celebrated by the LDS Church next year entitled, “My Time with the Prophet Joseph Smith Junior.”
The show is a 45-minute fireside presentation that Introduces Brigham Young as he looks back on the life and influence of Joseph Smith and forward to the 21st century as Brigham Young looks to the current Prophet Russell M. Nelson and what he is doing to help the church prepare for Christ’s return.
With all that he has on the stage and on these prophets of the LDS Church, it is still his iconic appearance in “Man’s Search for Happiness” that many people remember him by.
“Everywhere I go, and I’m an 87-year-old gray haired old man, people recognize me and say ‘hey you were in ‘Man’s Search for Happiness’,” Chamberlain said. “Thousands of people have told me that and have recognized me.”
The impact of that first video that premiered over a half a century ago cannot be understated. It has had a few remakes since with singer Marvin Payne in the main role in a 1986 version.
It is clearly Chamberlain’s role to own.
Chamberlain will never regret that role or what it did for him. He hopes now that people will embrace his new production that is free (excluding travel expenses) and is appropriate for large or small groups.
If you are interested in getting more information on Chamberlain’s one-man show contact firstname.lastname@example.org.