Death By Devotion: Tragic Tale of Scientology Celebrity Centre Brainchild Yvonne Jentzsch

If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

By , Contributor

It’s funny how people will take lies as gospel and give power to people who have the worst of intentions. It’s gone on for thousands of years, as Cicero pointed out in Roman times:

“[F]or there are not so many possessed of virtue as there are that desire to seem virtuous. These last are delighted with flattery, and when false statements are framed purposely to satisfy and please them, they take the falsehood as valid testimony to their merit.” — De Amicitia, Scipio’s Dream

I saw this personally when I worked for a lady named Yvonne (Gillham) Jentzsch, the founder of the Scientology Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles. Yvonne was a former kindergarten teacher from Australia who reminded me of the fairy godmother in Walt Disney’s Cinderella. It was because of her that I came to Los Angeles and ended up working for $5 a week and room and board, touting the supposedly spectacular effects of “the world’s fastest-growing religion.” I studied “policies” written by L. Ron Hubbard with sentiments like “always attack, never defend."

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Working as a treasurer, I learned to lie to creditors and to yell at people and accuse them of crimes. I was told that non-Scientologists were stupid “wogs” (a derogatory term Hubbard lifted from the British, like he borrowed most of his “great ideas”). Meanwhile, Scientologists were told that we were the natural aristocracy of the spiritual universe, in so many words.

Thus, when Hubbard insisted that the survival of the planet depended on Scientology taking over, we fell for it. Sounds crazy, but for me it was crazy times, and the U.S. was in the midst of a recession. I had no family to help out, and thought I had no other alternative.

My second job at the Celebrity Centre was to write letters of recruitment. I did very well at that, and met celebrities like Christopher Reeve (who later left), Karen Black, John Travolta, and Lou Rawls (who took only one course). I found it amusing when actress Anne Francis bolted after learning that Hubbard had instructed the public recruitment divisions of Scientology to “capture and control the public.” I figured she just didn’t understand.

Still, I wasn’t sure I believed everything Hubbard said in his booming baritone, no matter how certain he sounded. Was Earth really a prison planet? Was it true that Jesus never really existed? (I’d read the Bible all the way through at age 12 and thought Jesus was pretty cool.) I managed to have fun, anyway. Occasionally, I would pull off some stunt like arranging to go backstage at Paul McCartney’s “Wings Over America” concert in Los Angeles and attending the $250,000 party the band threw a couple of days later. I met people there like Chuck Norris, and Yvonne wanted me to get back in touch with Chuck and get him into Scientology. I still laugh at that idea.

Then Hubbard bought the former Cedars of Lebanon hospital and had it renovated into “the Complex” that is still there today on Sunset Boulevard. Executives like myself were suddenly found lacking and in need of spiritual improvement, which consisted of doing construction work as members of the slave labor “Rehabilitation Project Force.”

That lasted until Hubbard “discovered” that a mistake had been made and that we were actually okay, which happened to coincide with all the major work being completed. That was enough for me. I left the Celebrity Centre staff and went on a game show, Knockout on NBC, and won enough money to retire for a year, setting myself up as a writer and civilian, never to work for Scientology again.

Yvonne Jentzsch was not so lucky. Hubbard sacked her as head of the Celebrity Centre she had founded, even though the organization literally put Scientology on the map with the Hollywood community. She’d gotten people like John Travolta involved, and John adored her. The problem was, Yvonne had lived for years on two to three hours sleep a night and had developed a brain tumor. Hubbard probably didn’t want to foot the medical bills. He announced he was “promoting” her to create and run the “Public Relations Organization” which would promote Scientology all over the world. What he didn’t announce was that he didn’t fund her, and Yvonne was put in the embarrassing position of literally begging for donations to survive.

When she died, Hubbard issued an edict that Yvonne was still a member of the “Sea Organization” (people who signed billion-year contracts in dedication to Hubbard) and that in her next life when she reached age 21 she should report in for duty. Travolta and other celebrities never knew the real story about Yvonne; it was kept from them, as other horrors of Scientology are kept from its celebrities today.

Few knew that when Hubbard died he was screaming at unseen demons and on the psychiatric drug, Vistaril. Ironic, because Hubbard blamed all the world’s problems on psychiatry, the profession he wanted Scientology to supplant. Every aspiring despot summons up a boogeyman, if you haven’t noticed.

lrh_2.jpgHubbard displayed anti-social personality disorder. He smoked like a chimney, which added to the deepness of his commanding baritone. An undisturbed office was kept for him in every organization, with cigarettes on the desk in case he showed up. There were pictures of him everywhere, with his chin turned up in a pseudo-noble pose, as though gazing at the glorious history he imagined.

LRH associated with the worst people possible, like black magician Aleister Crowley, but expected people to think nothing of his associations. He had the thinnest of resumes, yet had people thinking he could run a planet or a galaxy. He railed about the existing government and told outrageous lies; once Yvonne Jentzsch breathlessly informed the assembled Celebrity Centre staff that “LRH” had informed her that Henry Kissinger was secretly a KGB spy. And Jentzsch, the tireless woman who truly solidified his stature on the national stage, by “admiration bombing” (her words) celebrities into believing the glories of his writings, paid the ultimate price for her devotion.

Funny how people like Hubbard pop up on occasion, and those who desire to seem virtuous, delighted with flattery, will believe anything they’re told by such a fellow. These followers, as Eric Hoffer pointed out so well, are “true believers” who are difficult to sway. Personally, I don’t trust a smoker with a baritone voice who associates with nasty people and likes seeing his picture plastered all over the place.

If a bubbly, chubby woman adored by celebrities told me I should follow someone like that, based only on some self-flattering books he wrote and lectures he gave, I’d think twice about it. After all, as Yvonne Jentzsch demonstrated, you could work yourself to death for someone like that, get a brain tumor and die, and he would care less. Sooner or later, people find out folks like that are crazy, but they can do a lot of damage in the meantime, particularly if Hollywood celebrities get behind them.

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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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