Unity and “The Word”

Throughout its history, Unity has turned to the modern media of each era to find new ways in delivering inspiring messages about spiritual living with its early printed materials, radio and television shows, and use of social media today.

Unity had several broadcast programs, including Morning Inspirations, The Unity Viewpoint, The Daily Word, and Voice of Unity, but in April 1969 it launched what would become a very popular TV segment called “The Word.”

The show was created by Rosemary Fillmore Rhea, daughter of Waldo Rickert Fillmore, and her husband Ralph Rhea. The couple’s idea was to create a program that centered on the meaning of a single word and how that one word could empower people to live better lives. The scripts were written by Ralph and initially narrated by Rosemary.

“We attempt to make ‘The Word’ a capsule of positive thinking—it is good news that comes as a pleasant surprise in contrast to the somewhat depressing news of the day,” Rosemary Rhea said, according to The Unity Movement: Its Evolution and Spiritual Teachings by Neal Vahle.

“The programs ask for nothing and are nonreligious and use a single word as a basis for every segment. The words are selected because of their applicability to everyday living—something helpful which people can use in their day-to-day activities.”

Originally envisioned as a five-minute piece, “The Word” soon became one-minute segments, likely due to programming schedules.

The show gained national exposure and popularity when it started featuring Hollywood stars of the 1960s and 1970s as the on-screen narrators of “The Word,” made possible after the couple’s visit to Hollywood and their chance encounter with the mother of popular actor Robert Wagner, a Unity student.

“One star introduced us to another,” Rosemary recalled.

Eventually, Unity had a long list of famous movie stars, television personalities, authors and playwrights, athletes, and radio broadcasters agreeing to participate in “The Word.”

The list included Lloyd Bridges, Robert Wagner, Steve Allen, Hugh O’Brian, Barbara Eden, Laura Huxley, Phyllis Diller, Betsy Palmer, Frankie Avalon, Howard Duff, Jonathan Winters, Dorothy Collins, Joe Campanella, Rudy Vallee, Ruth Warrick, Anne Francis, Ernest Borgnine, Janet Blair, baseball star Brooks Robinson, Jane Powell, Phil Silvers, June Allyson, Jane Russell, Jayne Meadows, James Farentino, broadcaster Sid Collins, and Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Len Dawson and running back Mike Garrett.

In addition to the Rheas appearing as presenters in the segments, other well-known Unity personalities such as Charles R. Fillmore, James Dillet Freeman, and J. Sig Paulson were featured.

The segment was sometimes taped at Unity Village, but most often it was filmed at the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, California, which was convenient to the celebrities and had architecture similar to Unity Village.

The first program aired April 1, 1969, and focused on the word “laugh.” Each presentation started out with a four-word sentence introducing the word, such as “The word is laugh.” Next was a brief musical interlude before the narrator began. The message was presented within about a dozen sentences. Each presenter then closed with a five-word sentence reminder: “Remember, the word is laugh.” After the tape leader and trailer were timed out, the actual narration lasted 40-45 seconds.

The expense for the program had the potential for being a considerable burden for Unity. Buying religious time was fraught with difficulty. However, Rosemary Rhea chose to present the broadcast as “inspirational” and without religious connotations. Thus, “The Word” as a spot announcement could be considered as public service broadcasting without charge to Unity.

Celebrities found in “The Word” an opportunity to break out of their personas and would donate their time as volunteers for a worthy cause. This further reduced Unity expenses for the program.

At some point, it was decided the program would no longer run on Saturdays and Sundays. Otherwise, “The Word” format changed very little during its years on the air.

The last segment of “The Word” aired December 31, 1973, featuring Rosemary Rhea and the word, Preparation.

She said, “Many of life’s greatest gifts come to us only on the condition that we prepare to receive them. Love comes only after thought, and preparation has shown us how to first give love to others. Friends come to us when we stop being critical and quarrelsome. Progress in our work comes when we have prepared through gathering knowledge and have learned how to work with people. The process seems to be to decide what you want, discover what is required of you, and then make your preparation to give and receive.”

"The Word From Unity" was revived briefly in 2002–2003, when Unity president Tom Zender rationalized the decision in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States and the outbreak of the Iraq War.

“Because of recent events, many people are feeling a lack of spiritual fulfillment,” he said, as documented by the Publishing, Radio, and Television Department papers now held in Unity Archives. “They are looking for rational answers to irrational events, and a way to achieve a level of inner harmony that will help guide them spiritually and emotionally.”

The new series of messages was titled “Daily Word’s Thought for Today.” Plans were to broadcast the new spots on several national cable television networks, including Home and Garden TV, PAX, Travel, Court TV, SoapNet, and Inspirational channels. The new spots were designed for radio broadcast and arrangements made with CBS and BET radio networks.