When I read in The Hollywood Reporter on August 31 that Elvis Presley Enterprises was suing Arista Music in Germany over ringtones derived from Presley’s back catalog of over 1,000 recordings, I found myself wondering just how much the Presleys were worth these days. Far more than when I knew them, I reasoned, but I thought of something else. I wondered if Lisa Marie Presley would ever be truly happy? After all, I never saw her smile.
In 1980, L. Ron Hubbard of Dianetics fame and Scientology infamy published a booklet entitled The Way to Happiness that listed 21 moral precepts. This booklet was all the rage among Scientologists (I happened to be one at the time). Scientology counseling was designed to compliment it and the booklet became a staple in the organization. In 1984, the Way to Happiness Foundation International was founded and eventually, the booklet was translated into 70 languages, establishing a Guinness world record. Knowing Scientology as I do, I suppose the Guinness campaign was yet another attempt to make Hubbard seem to be “Mankind’s Greatest Friend” as they purported him to be.
In 1986, Hubbard died on a ranch in Creston, California at the relatively young age of 74. He’d been avoiding the public for years, and many Scientologist (including myself) thought his booklet was a lot of “do what I say, not what I do,” because in 1983 he was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in "Operation Snow White,” an infiltration and theft project that got Scientology organizations raided by the FBI and put Hubbard’s wife Mary Sue and several people I knew in prison. I watched the raid take place from across the street of the building that now houses the Scientology Celebrity Centre.
When I found out the details of how Scientology staff had been breaking into government building in Washington, D.C., I wondered why Hubbard and his associates weren’t following tenet #9 of Way to Happiness: “Don’t Do Anything Illegal.” Among other tenets they were violating were #19: “Try Not To Do Things To Others That You Would Not Like Them to Do To You,” and #20: “Try To Treat Others As You Would Want Them To Treat You.”
When I brought these things up to fellow Scientologists at the time, the standard reply was that the U.S. government was not following #10: “Support A Government Designed and Run For All The People.” Therefore, the government was “fair game” in Scientologese. My observation that #19 and #20 sounded like rewordings of Jesus’ Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12) wasn’t popular when shared with Scientology staff, either.
But I digress. In 1983, I was staging one-act plays I’d written at the Celebrity Centre in the Hollywood hills, putting into use a basement theater that had been dormant. I was living in a house nearby with rock keyboard legend Nicky Hopkins and Richard Acunto, who created Survival Insurance in Los Angeles. When my plays received a favorable review in the Los Angeles Times (the only favorable publicity for Scientology I’ve ever seen there), I thought things were on the upswing.
At the time I was dating Nikki Merwin, a former Vegas showgirl who was Mary Sue Hubbard’s best friend. Nikki told me that Hubbard’s only upset about his wife going to prison was Mary Sue getting strip-searched in Kentucky. Nikki described driving around the Hollywood hills with Hubbard looking for a house to buy, only to have him finally conclude derisively there were “too many Scientologists” in the area. (I knew this was true; a friend told me about saying hello to Hubbard and Nikki in nearby Beachwood Canyon when they stopped at a stop sign.)
One day, I heard a rock band rehearsing behind the house and assumed it was Nicky Hopkins and friends. Instead, it was a young rock group whose members included drummer Thad Corea, son of jazz legend and Scientologist Chick Corea, and Danny Keough (left) whose girlfriend Lisa Marie Presley (left) was watching the band rehearse.
One of my odd jobs in the late 1970s was answering “Elvis mail” for Priscilla Presley, a job I quit when I thought she wanted to date me. (I was an aspiring musician; who wanted to try to make it in Elvis’ shadow?) I’d met Lisa Marie at Priscilla’s house and liked her but I wondered why she always seemed to have a bit of a scowl on her face; some called it “her daddy’s pout.” She wasn’t smiling the day I watched the band rehearse, nor other times I saw her at Celebrity Centre. Maybe she smiled when she and Danny got married, but I wasn’t invited so I couldn’t tell you.
A couple of years later, I recorded a song of my own called “Poor Little Girl” and had in mind making a music video. I happened upon Lisa Marie one day in the courtyard at Celebrity Centre and asked if she would ever consider recording a song?
“No!” she barked in no uncertain terms.
“Well, hmm...” I thought for a second. “Would you ever be in a music video?”
She paused, and blinked. I saw a hint of an upturned side of her mouth. I thought I was about to see the famous Presley smile. Finally, she said, “Maybe,” then went off to her Scientology class.
I never made the video but as the years went on, even after I left Scientology in the mid-1990s, I tried to keep up with the Presleys. I wanted them to do well, particularly given how Priscilla had told me that when Elvis died his entire estate was only worth $500,000. She’d done quite a job building up his legacy and fortune. Elvis had been a great inspiration to me and I wanted his little girl to, in Way to Happiness terms, “Flourish And Prosper.”
Unfortunately, a lot of the Presley money went to Scientology, yet I never saw any evidence that Lisa Marie was happy. When she married Michael Jackson (right) and they did a TV interview together, she was angry and challenging at times. (I attributed this to the Hubbard tactic of “attack the attacker.” I thought she could be happy with Nic Cage (left), whom I’d met after his big debut in Valley Girl. That didn’t last long. I’d always liked Danny Keough, and was sad when their marriage broke up, but I’d observed that Scientologists divorced rather easily. I felt sorry for her.
I wanted to reach out to Lisa Marie and tell her how Elvis had Scientology explained to him at a Scientology mission on Sunset Boulevard (long before Priscilla was recruited into Scientology by John Travolta). Actress Peggy Lipton (whose brother, Kenny, I was on Celebrity Staff with) had taken him there. Priscilla told me Elvis had paid for Scientology “services” but never took them. In contrast, I read in the book Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations From The Memphis Mafia that, after emerging from the Scientology lecture, The King had said, "Fuck those people! There's no way I'll ever get involved with that son-of-a-bitchin' group. All they want is my money." I knew it would be fruitless to talk to Priscilla about what I’d discovered and pieced together about Hubbard, none of it good, but maybe Lisa Marie would be different.
I never reached her, but any time she’s in the news I think someday, I’d like to know that she’s truly happy. She and her latest husband, Michael Lockwood, have moved to England and I hope they’re blissful, but knowing Scientology as I do, how could they be? Lockwood’s band Lions Ghosts had a lot of promise -- he’s a very talented guy -- but on the grapevine, I’ve heard that Lisa Marie may have wanted to move there to get away from other Scientologists, not to do Scientology at its UK center called Saint Hill.
Whatever is true, maybe one day she and Michael will break from Scientology and find a true way to happiness. Inheriting millions and marrying superstars didn’t do it for her. I’ve seen too many people blissfully happy after leaving Scientology, including myself, and I wish she’d leave too.
If I could talk to her today, I’d have to say, "darlin’ your daddy was right. Now, c’mon, let me see you smile."