In Scientology's Salvation Navy, What's One Year Out of a Billion?

By , Contributor

Pat Scrufari

L. Ron Hubbard at St. Hill circa 1973

In October of 1972, I completed the Communications Course at the Austin Scientology "org" (short for organization, never called churches in those days). I was immediately "routed" to sign up for the $100 Hubbard Qualified Scientologist Course, which I was eager to do. That’s because on the earlier Comm Course I’d had a major cognition (Scientologese for realization) that Lafayette Ronald Hubbard had come here from another planet to save good old Earth.

Had such a thing been suggested to me by staff at Austin? Probably, but I was relieved, because I didn't have to save the world if L. Ron already had it in progress. Earlier that year, you see, in the process of trying to get my head together in a six-month sojourn in Clayhatchee, Alabama I'd realized there must be something missing in all mankind's religions. After all, if someone had one with all the answers, everyone would be in it.

I was a 23-year-old baby boomer ex-hippie; such thoughts were normal then.

On the HQS Course I got into the auditing (counseling) I'd heard so much about. At first I thought L. Ron himself was supervising my progress when a tall redhead with a receding hairline stepped into the course room one night. He turned out to be the man who ran the org, Whit Whittle, a dead ringer for Hubbard. Whit was an Operating Thetan (OT) 7 and a Class 8 auditor — the top status on both sides (auditing and training, respectively) of Scientology's "Bridge to Total Freedom" grade chart. He had studied with Hubbard at the world headquarters in England called Saint Hill. What an appropriate name, I thought, given what Scientology promised. The staff thought Whit was damn near a god.

I didn’t care about godhood. Everything about Scientology I wanted had to do with being a writer. A couple of years earlier, high on mescaline and listening to a Moody Blues song called "Floating" I'd found myself at a party looking at my body from the ceiling. Scientology promised me I could do that all the time, at will, without drugs. “Exteriorize” they called it. Obviously, that meant as a writer I could sit in my room and research anything, by simply leaving my body and going there spiritually with “total perception.”

I was also into the idea of being "super-literate" which was a course that came after HQS. Then there was the original Dianetics idea of being "clear" — totally in control of your mind with no subconscious (the "reactive mind" in Dianetics terms) to mess you up.

Boy, that L. Ron had everything covered! I figured with all those things under my belt, I'd be super-charged to become the successful writer I imagined I'd be!

And then I got subverted. A stack of newspapers entitled The New Civilization appeared in the course room one night. They came from the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles, run by Yvonne Jentzsch, a smiling, fairy godmother-looking woman that Whit Whittle had trained with at Saint Hill. I found an ad from Axioms Productions. They were looking for artists, actors, writers, and others to join their advertising agency in Los Angeles—NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY—room and board paid!

Holy Saint Hill, the skies had opened! I asked Doug and Paula Hoisington, a married couple who had signed me up for the Comm Course, if they knew anything about the Celebrity Centre. They said sure, lots of celebrities were into $cientology, that’s why they needed a Centre.

“Like who?” I asked, ever the fly in L. Ron’s ointment.

“Like the Moody Blues!” Doug declared proudly.

This was 1972, the year of the Nights in White Satin album. I loved that lush epic, and for “Floating” reasons was astounded the Moodies were into Scientology. “Can I talk to them?” I asked.

At my insistence — they were trying to sign me up for another course, you see — we called Saint Hill in England and spoke to someone in Division 6, the Public Division of Scientology orgs. No, the Moody Blues weren’t Scientologists, I was told. But the Incredible String Band was, the St. Hill staffer quickly added.

“I don’t like them,” I said. “Saw them at a pop festival near Dallas.”

Undaunted, I used the org phone to call the number listed for Axioms Productions. Although I told Sue McDaniel I'd never actually sold any of my writing, being an HQS graduate who had actually verified a past life as a writer in my auditing I figured I was qualified. She didn't seem to care about that, but she was concerned that I was a Sea Org member. I thought about that a second.

"You mean that pledge thing I signed?"

"Was it a billion-year contract?" Sue asked.

I chuckled. "Yeah, is that it?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed. "We're all Sea Org members at Axioms. Sounds like you should come out here and join us!"

I'd thought the billion-year thing was just some kind of pledge to keep helping Scientology out until everyone on Earth was clear and sane. The way Whit Whittle talked, that would only take a couple of decades. I was more than a little naive. "Well, heck!" I told Sue. "When would you have a job available?"

"Right now!" she exclaimed. "When can you come?"

I felt like I was about to, right there, in my pants. A job in Los Angeles with an advertising company, room and board paid for, writing?! No wonder I'd seen a double rainbow in the sky the first night I arrived to take the Comm Course.

It felt like perfect timing. The carpenter job I’d had was finished and I wasn’t sure where my next job would come from. A trip to Dallas with a couple of Austin registrars (salespeople) had been disastrous when I’d asked an uncle for the money to do the full Scientology “Bridge” and been aghast when they lied to him and told him I was on drugs and Scientology was my only hope.

A week later, I was on a bus to Los Angeles. I arrived late one night and walked several miles, from downtown L.A. to the Scientology Celebrity Centre on 8th Street. I had about $100 to my name, a small suitcase, a guitar, and my portable Olivetti typewriter.

When I got to the Centre, the young QM (a Navy term for Quartermaster, basically the appointed security person) told me it was closed. No, I couldn’t come inside. Since I was new to the Sea Org, I had to report to the Flag Operations Liaison Office (FOLO), which was on nearby Beacon Street. I picked up my stuff and walked over, and before going up the steps I lit up the celebratory cigar I’d purchased at the bus station.

A young man with red hair, making me wonder if he was a Hubbard, sat behind the desk, listening to my tale of arrival. “Why are you smoking that cigar?” he asked.

“Celebrating getting here,” I proudly told him. “Why?”

“Aberrated!” he exclaimed (the Dianetics word for crazy).

He let me sleep on a bench in the lobby. The next morning I was ushered into the office of Peeter Alvet, the head of the FOLO, who told me that I would go to work wherever the Sea Org needed me, not Celebrity Centre or its offshoot, Axioms. I argued I was a writer. Didn’t he see my typewriter? I threatened to go back to Austin. Finally, to my great relief, he said I could be on staff at Axioms after all.

I went back to CC and was told I had to go to “the ship” to train. “Huh? What ship?”

“The Excalibur down in San Pedro. It’s like basic training. You’ll love it."

My heart sank. My stomach churned. I’d never been on a ship. This sounded military. He gave me a short pitch how the Sea Org was like the Salvation Navy, doing what needed to be done to make a real civilization out of the chaos of Earth and helping mankind.

Damn. This billion years sounded more serious than I’d thought.

I met Sue McDaniel and the people of Axioms Productions, who lived in a house on Berendo Street not far from the famous MacArthur Park that Richard Harris had sang about. I left my belongings at the house on Berendo Street and was taken to the port of San Pedro. The next morning I was pounding on rust pits on the deck in the hot sun. They had to be hammered out, sanded down, and repainted constantly. The Excalibur was captained by a fellow named Scott Mayer who seemed to spend more time running around in his dockside convertible than he did with recruits like me.

It was like a weird summer camp where we took Sea Org Basics courses and learned how special we were, there helping L. Ron (now identified as “The Commodore”) fix up these messed-up Earth people. When I was jammed in an upper berth of a triple-decker bunk bed that night, my face a few inches from the ceiling in an old tub swaying in the ocean waves, I didn’t particularly feel special, but I went along to get along.

A couple of weeks later, after completing my courses and helping fix most of the deck, it came time for me to get a “security check.” This was an interrogation by an auditor behind a Scientology E-meter, designed to prove that I wasn’t a government plant with “evil intentions” toward Scientology.

Or something like that. It was tres strange but I wasn’t exactly in a position to call home for help, since I had no home. The fellow auditing me, a skeptical looking chap in a turtleneck named Bill Yaude, whizzed through the questions, telling me I had a “floating needle.” Then he asked: “Have you ever operated under an assumed name?” I thought about it. “Got a read on that,” he said. “Well?”

“Umm. Not recently,” I said.

“What do you mean, not recently?”

“I was thinking of, uh, another lifetime. I had a pen name.”

He looked at the E-meter. “Got a read there. Tell me about it.”

So I did. I sweated, wondering if I’d failed. Maybe I’d get kicked out, put on the streets.

“Needle’s floating,” he told me. And then he checked some more questions, and I apparently passed the audition.

The next day I was driven back to Los Angeles and immediately put to work at the Celebrity Centre. At first, they tried me on the switchboard, the old-fashioned kind that you saw in old movies, where you get incoming calls, pull out a plug, and jam it into the appropriate hole for the person being called. It took me about ten minutes to completely screw that up — I had about five minutes training — so I was replaced by a gay black fellow named Joe Crane, who knew what he was doing. Again, I thought this would be the end of me, but they found me another job, running the snack bar operated by Axioms Productions within the Celebrity Centre.

It didn’t take long to figure out that the income from the snack bar was completely supporting Axioms Productions. So much for the advertising agency I thought I was joining. They didn’t need me as a writer just yet; they were doing already written radio commercials for a new citywide campaign called “Dianetics 73.”

Thankfully, I was a whiz at running the snack bar and soon replaced the regular guy there, a mustachioed local named David Green. I got to know the students and pre-clears and one day was stunned when actress Anne Francis stood in front of me ordering a milkshake. I complimented her on her work in the movie Forbidden Planet and her TV show Honey West and she smiled at me.

Ah, Hollywood! Since the snack bar was in the same space as Division 6 of Celebrity Centre, I was privy to all the news of celebrities being recruited into Scientology. The office of Yvonne Jentzsch, the Commanding Officer of the Centre, was upstairs above the snack bar. So what if I was being paid $5 a week? People got to know me and seemed to like me and, oddly enough, two other guys who people breathlessly informed me had been the same famous author I thought I’d been in another life stopped coming around the Centre. Then one day I quit seeing Anne Francis and asked Bob Mithoff in Div. 6 what happened to her.

“She blew,” he said. That meant she’d quit Scientology. I asked why.

“She read something Diana Hubbard wrote about the purpose of Div. 6,” Bob told me.

“What did it say?”

“That the purpose of Div. 6 is 'to capture and control the public',” he said matter of factly.

“What does that mean?”

“We gotta clear this planet!” he informed me with a gleam in his eye. "That a problem?”

“Guess not. Hope you… uh, we get her back. I like her.”

They never did. It should have been a warning to me, but there was so much I didn’t know. Pretty soon, I was getting more auditing — apparently, it was free for staff. After I got the Drug Rundown Yvonne Jentzsch selected me to be the Treasury Secretary for Axioms Productions. After six months training on the Guardian’s Finance Course I would be in charge of paying the bills and be an executive. I’d be writing checks.

That move would be a route to getting put on the street in Los Angeles, with nowhere to go and no one giving a damn whether I lived or died. There was a great deal to learn about Scientology and, like most, I would have to learn the hard way. In the words of L. Ron Hubbard, I would have to “make it go right.” If I didn’t? Well, he also said, “We’d rather have you dead than incapable.”

I was a member of Scientology’s Salvation Navy until October of 1973. I learned that Axioms Productions was a sinking ship, and I’d signed on when torpedoes had already hit it. I was blamed for their financial troubles, given a Committee of Evidence and assigned an ethics condition of Treason, and forced by “Ethics Officer” Chris Many to stay awake for three days while doing filing in Central Files. That apparently didn’t satisfy them, so I was put on the street with nowhere to go. I called my mother in Alabama, desperate, and she wired me $50 by Western Union. By the time I got back to Austin I had $5 left and only one friend to call.

You’d think I’d have been done with Scientology at that point, but oh no. After another ten months, I’d get suckered in again by a call from Yvonne Jentzsch, and would put in another four years on my pledged billion before being screwed by Scientology all over again.

To be continued...

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Skip Press is an author and teacher who has been active in Hollywood for decades. He knows as much about the inner workings of celebrity Scientology as anyone alive.

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