The Mind Behind the Religion : Life With L. Ron Hubbard : Aides indulged his eccentricities and egotism

Time Staff Writers

L. Ron Hubbard enjoyed being pampered.

He surrounded himself with teen-age followers, whom he indoctrinated, treated like servants and cherished as though they were his own children.

He called them the “Commodore’s messengers.”

“ ‘Messenger!’ ” he would boom in the morning. “And we’d pull him out of bed,” one recalled.

The youngsters, whose parents belonged to Hubbard’s Church of Scientology, would lay out his clothes, run his shower and help him dress. He taught them how to sprinkle powder in his socks and gently slip them on so as not to pull the hairs on his legs.


They made sure the temperature in his room never varied from 72 degrees. They boiled water at night to keep the humidity just right. They would hand him a cigarette and follow in his footsteps with an ashtray.

When Hubbard’s bursitis acted up, a messenger would wrap his shoulders in a lumberjack shirt that had been warmed on a heater.

Long gone were those days when Hubbard was scratching out a living. Now, in the early 1970s, he fancied silk pants, ascots and nautical caps. It was evident that the red-haired author had enjoyed many a good meal.

It was a high honor for Scientologists to serve beside Hubbard, even if it meant performing such dreary tasks as ironing his clothes or ferrying his messages. But, for some, it was also disconcerting. The privileged few who worked at his side saw personality flaws and quirks not reflected in the staged photographs or in Hubbard’s biographies.

They came to know the man behind the mystique.

They said he could display the temperament of a spoiled child and the eccentricities of a reclusive Howard Hughes.

When upset, Hubbard was known to erupt like a volcano, spewing obscenities and insults.

Former Scientologist Adelle Hartwell once testified during a Florida hearing on Scientology that she saw Hubbard “throw fits.”


“I actually saw him take his hat off one day and stomp on it and cry like a baby.”

Hubbard had been hotheaded since his youth, when his red hair earned him the nickname “Brick.”

One of Hubbard’s classmates recalled a day in 11th Grade when the husky Hubbard, for no apparent reason, got into a fight with Gus Leger, the lanky assistant principal at Helena High School in Helena, Mont.

“Old Gus was up at the blackboard,” recalled Andrew Richardson. “He taught geometry. He was laying out this problem and Brick let loose with a piece of chalk and he missed him. Leger whirled and threw an eraser at Brick, who ducked, and it hit a girl right behind him in the face.”

Hubbard wrestled with the teacher, then stuffed him into a trash can, said Richardson.

“We all got to laughing and he (Leger) couldn’t get up,” Richardson said, chuckling at the memory.

Richardson said that, while the students helped their teacher, Hubbard stormed out and never returned. He left to be with his parents in the Far East, where his father was stationed with the Navy.

In later life, one thing that could throw the irascible Hubbard into a rage was the scent of soap in his clothes. “I was petrified of doing the laundry,” one former messenger said.

To protect themselves from a Hubbard tirade, the messengers rinsed his clothes in 13 separate buckets of water.

Doreen Gillham, who had who spent her teen years with Hubbard, never forgot what happened when a longtime aide offered him a freshly laundered shirt after he had taken a shower.

“He immediately grabbed the collar and put it up to his nose, then threw it down,” said Gillham, who died recently in a horseriding accident. “He went to the closet and proceeded to sniff all the shirts. He would tear them off the hangers and throw them down. We’re talking 30 shirts on the floor.”

He let out a “long whine,” Gillham said, and then began screaming about the smell.

“I picked up a shirt off the floor, smelled it and said, ‘There is no soap on this shirt.’ I didn’t smell anything in any of them. He grudgingly put it on,” said Gillham, who added: “Deep down inside, I’m telling myself, ‘This guy is nuts!’ ”

Gillham said that Hubbard had become obsessed not only with soap smells but with dust, which aggravated his allergies. He demanded white-glove inspections but never seemed satisfied with the results.

No matter how clean the room, Gillham said, “he would insist that it be dusted over and over and over again.”

Gillham, formerly one of Hubbard’s most loyal and trusted messengers, said his behavior became increasingly erratic after he crashed a motorcycle in the Canary Islands in the early 1970s.

“He realized his own mortality,” she said. “He was in agony for months. He insisted, with a broken arm and broken ribs, that he was going to heal himself and it didn’t work.”

According to those who knew him well, Hubbard was neither affectionate nor much of a family man. He seemed closer to his handpicked messengers than to his own seven children, one of whom he later denied fathering.

“His kids rarely, if ever, got to see him,” Gillham said, until his wife Mary Sue “insisted on weekly Sunday night dinners.”

Hubbard expected his children to live up to the family name and do nothing that would reflect badly on him or the church. And for that reason, his son Quentin was a problem.

Quentin had once tried suicide with a drug overdose and was confused about his sexual orientation -- a fact that was quietly discussed among his friends and at the highest levels of the church.

“He thought Quentin was an embarrassment,” said Laurel Sullivan, Hubbard’s former public relations officer, who had a falling out with the organization in 1981. “And he told me that several times.”

In 1976, Quentin parked on a deserted road in Las Vegas and piped the exhaust into his car. At the age of 22, he killed himself.

When Hubbard was told of the suicide, “he didn’t cry or anything,” according to a former aide. His first reaction, she said, was to express concern over the possibility of publicity that could be used to discredit Scientology.

Hubbard also had problems with another son, his namesake, L. Ron Hubbard Jr.

Hubbard feuded with his eldest son for more than 25 years, dating back to 1959 when L. Ron Hubbard Jr. split with Scientology because he said he was not making enough money to support his family. In the years that followed, he changed his name to Ronald DeWolfe and accused his father of everything from cavorting with mobsters to abusing drugs.

For his part, Hubbard accused his son of being crazy.

Although Hubbard cast himself as a humble servant to mankind, former assistants said he was not without ego. He craved adulation and coveted fame.

Sullivan, the former public relations officer, recalled how after an appearance he would ask: “How many minutes of applause did I get? How many times did they say, ‘Hip, hip, hurray!’? How many people showed up? How many letters did I get?”

“If you remained in awe of him ... he was great,” said Sullivan, who had a falling out with the church in 1981. “If you crossed him, or appeared to cross him, he would lash out at you, scream at you, accuse you of things.”

Gillham and other former aides said he would accuse even his most devout aides of trying to poison him if he did not like the taste of a meal that had been laboriously prepared for his table. “Somebody’s trying to kill me!” former aides said he would shout. “What have I done? All I’ve tried to do is help man.”

He envisioned global conspiracies designed to smash Scientology, and he ingrained this dark view in the minds of his followers through his many writings.

“Time and again since 1950,” Hubbard said in 1982, “the vested interests which pretend to run the world (for their own appetites and profit) have mounted full-scale attacks. With a running dog press and slavish government agencies the forces of evil have launched their lies and sought, by whatever twisted means, to check and destroy Scientology.”

“Our enemies on this planet are less than 12 men,” he announced in a 1967 tape-recorded message to his adherents. “They are members of the Bank of England and other higher financial circles. They own and control newspaper chains and they are oddly enough directors in all the mental health groups in the world which have sprung up.”

Chief among his suspects were psychiatry and government agencies that probed his organization, including Interpol the Paris-based international police agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI.

Former Scientologist Hartwell told the Florida hearing that she was present when Hubbard made a film about “bombing the FBI office.”

“I was in makeup and we had so much blood on those actors, which was made out of Karo syrup and food coloring,” Hartwell said. “And we couldn’t get enough on them to suit Hubbard. We had guys’ legs off, there were hands off, arms -- I mean, it was a mess from the word go.”

Even before Scientology, Hubbard believed that unseen forces were against him.

“I watched him operate,” said “Dianetics” publisher Arthur Ceppos, who later split with Hubbard. “If he felt he was under attack, that’s when his paranoia showed.”

This siege mentality led Hubbard to author a series of church policies on how to combat suspected foes -- writings that, more than any of his others, have worked to reinforce Scientology’s cultish image and undermine its quest for legitimacy.

He counseled his followers to discredit the opposition to “a point of total obliteration” and to remember that “the thousands of years of Jewish passivity earned them nothing but slaughter. So things do not run right because one is holy or good. Things run right because one makes them right.”

In this spirit, during the mid-1970s, Scientologists launched nasty smear campaigns and turned to criminality, burglarizing private and government offices.

Eventually, 11 top Scientologists were jailed, including Hubbard’s wife Mary Sue, who oversaw the sweeping operation. Hubbard was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

At one point during this period, FBI agents raided church headquarters in Los Angeles and Washington. Hubbard and three trusted aides, fearing that his enemies had at long last gained the upper hand, ran for cover. They fled a Scientology compound near the town of Hemet and drove to Sparks, Nev., where they used false names and lived in a nondescript apartment for six months until things cooled off.

“When the raids happened he never really knew what they (the FBI) had,” recalled Dede Reisdorf, one of those who accompanied Hubbard.

To disguise Hubbard’s appearance, Reisdorf said, she cut his red hair and dyed it brown. He often wore fake glasses, donned a phony mustache and pulled a hunter’s cap down over his ears.

“He got to a point,” Reisdorf said, “where he wouldn’t even walk in front of a window. ... He was afraid of being seen by somebody. There was always somebody in a bush somewhere. A reporter or an FBI agent or an IRS agent.”

It was not the last time Hubbard would go into hiding. In 1980, on St. Valentine’s Day, Hubbard pulled another disappearing act. This time, he never returned.