'In 1948, Mr Hubbard's first writings on the nature of life and the human mind began to circulate privately. Passed from hand to hand, word quickly spread that he had made a revolutionary breakthrough . . .' (L. Ron Hubbard, The Man and His Work, 1986)
(Scientology's account of the years 1946-50.)
After their wedding in Maryland, Hubbard and his young bride returned to California and found an apartment at Laguna Beach, a resort much favoured by artists and writers, half-way between Los Angeles and San Diego. John Steinbeck lived there when he was writing his first major novel, Tortilla Flat, a factor Ron no doubt took into consideration when he was looking for a place to settle down and resume his career as a writer.
The problem was that he could neither settle down nor write. Indeed, to judge from his bulging file at the Veterans Administration, in 1946 Ron largely directed his literary talents to the diligent pursuit of a bigger pension. On 19 September, he limped into the VA medical centre in Los Angeles with a miserable litany of by now familiar complaints: 'Eyes are sensitive to bright sunlight and I can't read very much and I have severe headaches . . . My stomach trouble keeps me on a very rigid diet - can only eat milk, eggs, ground meat and strained vegetables . . . I tire quickly and become nauseated when I work hard . . . My left shoulder, hip - in fact the entire left side is bothered with arthritic pains - can't sit any length of time at typewriter or desk . . .'
Once again, the doctors did not seem to be able to find anything markedly wrong with the veteran, other than calcified bursitis, a touch of arthritis in his ankles apparently causing him to walk with a 'hobble-like gait' and 'minimal duodenal deformity'. On the examination report it was noted that there were no scars or indications of gunshot wounds or other injuries.
It was perhaps just as well for Ron that the Veterans Administration did not have access to his private journals, for a very different picture was presented therein. Several scrawled pages were filled with
1. Report of Physical Examination, VA file, 19 September 1946
'Affirmations', many of which concerned his health. Had he been a little more circumspect, the 'Affirmations' could have been viewed as a brave attempt to make light of his ailments, or to cure himself through sheer strength of will, for in some of them he seemed to be trying to convince himself that he was fit:
'Your ulcers are all well and never bother you. You can eat anything.
'You have a sound hip. It never hurts.
'Your shoulder never hurts.
'Your sinus trouble is nothing.'
Unfortunately for his place in posterity, he frequently chose to elaborate. Thus he confessed that his stomach trouble was a device he had used to get out of punishment in the Navy, his bad hip was a pose and his foot injury was an alibi: 'The injury is no longer needed. It is well. You have perfect and lovely feet.' A few of the Affirmations were also stamped with the faintly sinister mark of Aleister Crowley, as in 'Men are your slaves' and 'You can be merciless whenever your will is crossed and you have the right to be merciless.'
VA doctors would undoubtedly have found them fascinating reading, not least for the insight they provided into Hubbard's psyche and his attitude towards the VA:
'When you tell people you are ill, it has no effect upon your health. And in Veterans Administration examinations you'll tell them how sick you are; you'll look sick when you take it; you'll return to health one hour after the examination and laugh at them.
'No matter what lies you may tell others, they have no physical effect on you of any kind. You never injured your health by saying it is bad. You cannot lie to yourself.'
By October, Hubbard was once again down to his last few dollars and when a friend offered him a temporary job taking care of a boat at the yacht club on Santa Catalina Island he jumped at the opportunity. After less than six weeks at Laguna Beach, Sara uncomplainingly packed their bags and prepared to move on. It was a situation with which she would become all too familiar in the months ahead.
While staying at the Catalina Island Yacht Club, Ron managed to stir himself to write an article about fishing for the local newspaper, the Catalina Islander, but this was his only published work in 1946. On 14 November, he wrote to the Veterans Administration from the Yacht Club to complain that his last two pension cheques had not been forwarded. 'I need this money, little as it is, very badly,' he wrote 'and would appreciate any expedition which the matter can be given.'
A week later, he wrote again to explain why he had failed to show up for another medical examination which the VA had requested in October. 'I was unable to report for further examination because I was
2. Transcript - Church of Scientology v. Armstrong
both ill and broke . . . I certainly hope you can scare me up something by way of a pension for I am not eating very well these days and this job I have will vanish shortly.'
Vanish it did and by the beginning of December Ron and Sara were in New York, staying at the Hotel Belvedere, West 48th Street. On 8 December he wrote on hotel notepaper to acknowledge receiving orders to report for another examination, explaining his expensive address by saying that a friend had financed his trip back East in return for his advice on an expedition then being planned.
While he was in New York, Ron naturally looked up his old science fiction friends and one of them introduced him to Sam Merwin, who was then editing the 'Thrilling' group of magazines. 'I found him a very amusing guy,' Merwin recalled, 'and bought several stories from him. He was really quite a character. I always knew he was exceedingly anxious to hit big money - he used to say he thought the best way to do it would be to start a cult.'
Ron also called on his old friend and mentor, John W. Campbell, in his familiar office in the Street and Smith building. Campbell was delighted to welcome Ron back from the war; he had written to him a year earlier pleading for contributions ('Astounding is in a mell of a hess. I need - and but bad - stories. Any length.') and now he urged Ron to get back to work. He was constantly getting letters from readers, he said, asking when the magazine was going to publish more stories by L. Ron Hubbard. Before he left the building, Ron accepted an assignment to write a five thousand-word feature about the consequences of man landing on the moon for Air Trails and Science Frontiers, a new non-fiction magazine which Campbell had recently launched.
Despite his terrible eye-strain and rheumatism and ulcers and everything else, Hubbard managed to put together an imaginative and informative piece. He prophesied that the first moon landing would take place within five or ten years and argued that a lunar military base would have enormous strategic value. 'It is entirely within reason', he wrote, 'that the nation which demonstrates the courage, intelligence and industrial proficiency necessary to establish a base on the moon will rule the world.'
'Fortress in the Sky', under the byline of Captain B.A. Northorp, was the cover story in the May 1947 issue of Air Trails. The reason Hubbard did not use his own name could be found buried deep in the text. Although he packed the feature with authoritative and impressive detail about the composition and environment of the moon, he simply could not resist the opportunity for further self-aggrandisement. In a section discussing the technical problems of reaching the moon by rocket, he wrote: 'Here and there throughout the world
3. Hubbard file, VA archives
4. Interview with Merwin, Los Angeles, August 1986
5. The John W. Campbell Letters, Vol. 1
many men have been thinking about rockets for some time. I recall that in 1930, L. Ron Hubbard, a writer and engineer, developed and tested - but without fanfare - a rocket motor considerably superior to the V-2 instrument of propulsion and rather less complicated.'
Campbell was still a meticulous editor and a stickler for accuracy. If he believed that his friend was developing rocket motors in 1930 at the age of nineteen, he was also extraordinarily naïve. It is more likely that he turned a blind eye to keep Ron happy in the hope that he would soon return to the pages of Astounding.
Ron and Sara only stayed a matter of weeks in New York. In the New Year they were on the move again, this time to the unprepossessing environs of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, just south of the Pocono Mountains. There Ron fulfilled Campbell's hopes by writing a novel, The End Is Not Yet, about a young nuclear physicist's attempts to prevent the world being taken over by constructing a new philosophical system. It was serialized in three parts in Astounding later in the year, although it was not as well received as some of Ron's earlier work.
On 14 April 1947, the long-suffering Polly filed for a divorce in Port Orchard, Washington, on the grounds of desertion and non-support. She was still unaware that her husband had 're-married'; she did not even know he was living with another woman. That situation was soon to change.
Three weeks after Polly set divorce proceedings in motion, Ron scandalized his family by moving into The Hilltop with Sara. 'It was an awful slap in the face for his mother,' said his Aunt Marnie. 'Hub and May deeply disapproved. It was very difficult for them as they had Polly and the children living with them. The family clammed up about it and never mentioned it. When Ron took Sara up to The Hilltop I said to my sister, "Well, we loved him as a child, Midgie, but he's a perfect stranger to us now."'
The family would have been even more shocked had they known that Ron had married Sara; only Ron's friend, Mac Ford, knew the truth and he kept quiet. 'I ran into Ron one evening when he was taking the children to the theatre in Bremerton,' Ford said. 'We hadn't seen each other since before the war and when we were talking in the lobby he mentioned something about marrying again. I thought it was strange because I knew that he was not divorced from Polly, but I did not say anything because I didn't want to get involved.'
Hubbard filed an agreement to the divorce on 1 June and an interlocutory decree was awarded on 23 June. Polly was given custody of the children, costs and $25 a month maintenance for each child. Knowing Ron, she did not cherish much hope of the maintenance payments arriving regularly, if at all.
6. Interview with Mrs Roberts
7. Interview with Ford
Ron and Sara left The Hilltop in July and returned to California, to a rented trailer on a lot in the seediest section of North Hollywood, where he began writing the first of the popular 'Ole Doc Methuselah' stories - rousing yarns about a Soldier of Light and his devoted four-armed slave, Hippocrates, who travel around the universe in a golden spaceship saving entire civilizations from death and disease and overthrowing despotic inter-planetary dictators as a sideline.
In August, the month The End Is Not Yet began serialization in Astounding, Ron acquired a literary agent. Forrest Ackerman was not a big-time Hollywood agent with a fat cigar, but a young man with thick horn-rimmed spectacles who had been addicted to science fiction ever since he first picked up a copy of Amazing Stories at the age of nine.
'Forrie' Ackerman would one day be the proud owner of the world's biggest collection of science-fiction magazines and would drive around Los Angeles in a red Cadillac with SCI-FI on the licence plate, but in 1947 he was still struggling to capitalize on his devotion to the genre by persuading science-fiction writers that he could represent them. Then thirty years old, he had actually met Hubbard ten years earlier in Shep's Shop, a second-hand bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard which specialized in science fiction.
'I was browsing in Shep's Shop one night in 1937 when I got into conversation with this young red-haired man who told me he held a world record in gliding. He said his name was L. Ron Hubbard and that he had had a lot of adventure stories published in pulp magazines. I asked him if he had ever tried his hand at science fiction and he said, no, oddly enough, he hadn't. But right there, on the spot, he began to outline the plot for a science fiction story set in California 25,000 years in the future, during a second Ice Age. I never saw that story in print, but it seemed to plant a seed in his mind . . .'
Ackerman liked to believe that their brief encounter in Shep's Shop was the spur that started Ron Hubbard writing science fiction. His first act on his new client's behalf was to take him to meet G. Gordon Dewey and Peter Grainger, two Los Angeles businessmen who wanted to diversify into publishing. The meeting was not a marked success: there was some desultory discussion about buying rights to some of Hubbard's novels, but nothing was concluded. Afterwards, Ron offered to drive Forrie back to his apartment in New Hampshire. It was a journey Ackerman would never forget, for on the way Ron began to tell him the incredible story of how he had died on an operating table during the war.
'I remember he had an old rattletrap of a car and he was chewing tobacco. As he drove he would open the door with one hand and squirt tobacco juice out onto the road. When we got to my apartment we sat outside in the car while he continued with the story. It was after five
o'clock in the morning, and the sun was coming up, before he had finished.
'Basically what he told me was that after he died he rose in spirit form and looked back on the body he had formerly inhabited. Over yonder he saw a fantastic great gate, elaborately carved like something you'd see in Baghdad or ancient China. As he wafted towards it, the gate opened and just beyond he could see a kind of intellectual smorgasbord on which was outlined everything that had ever puzzled the mind of man. All the questions that had concerned philosophers through the ages - When did the world begin? Was there a God? Whither goest we? - were there answered. All this information came flooding into him and while he was absorbing it, there was a sort of flustering in the air and he felt something like a long umbilical cord pulling him back. He was saying "No, no, not yet!", but he was pulled back anyway. After the gates had closed he realized he had re-entered his body.
'He opened his eyes and found a nurse standing over him looking very concerned. Just as a surgeon walked into the room, Ron said, "I was dead, wasn't I?" The surgeon shot a venomous look at the nurse as if to say, "What have you been telling this guy?" But Ron said "No, no, I know I was dead."
'The next part of the story I would find very difficult to direct realistically if I was a movie director. According to Ron, he jumped off the operating table, ran to his Quonset hut, got two reams of paper and a gallon of scalding black coffee and for the next 48 hours, at a blinding rate, he wrote a work called Excalibur, or The Dark Sword.
'Well, he kept the manuscript with him and when he left the Navy he shopped it around publishers in New York, but was constantly turned down. He was told it was too radical, too much of a quantum leap. If it had been a variation of Freud or Jung or Adler, a bit of an improvement here and there, it would have been acceptable, but it was just too far ahead of everything else. He also said that as he shopped the manuscript around, the people who read it either went insane or committed suicide. The last time he showed it to a publisher, he was sitting in an office waiting for a reader to give his opinion. The reader walked into the office, tossed the manuscript on the desk and then threw himself out of the window.
'Ron would not tell me much about Excalibur except that if you read it you would find all fear would be totally drained from you. I could never see what was wrong with that or why that would cause anyone to commit suicide.'
Ackerman was frankly incredulous, but was impressed by the sincerity and conviction with which Ron told the story. He also recognized, as an aspiring literary agent, that Excalibur could be just the kind of thing to get a new publishing venture off the ground.
8. Interview with Forrest Ackerman, Hollywood, 30 July 1986
Later that morning he telephoned Gordon Dewey and Peter Grainger, repeated the story Ron had told him and asked them if they would take a look at the manuscript. His sly hint of the potential risk only served to whet their appetites. 'They were mad keen to see it,' Ackerman said. 'I remember Dewey saying, "No combination of words, ideas or philosophy will have that effect on me!"'
Ackerman reported the good news to his client, but Hubbard, suddenly and uncharacteristically bashful, refused to produce the manuscript. 'He said it was in a bank vault and it was going to stay there. I think he was quite sincere. He seemed like a man who had seen too many people go crazy or commit suicide, who had enough on his conscience already. I never did get to see the manuscript or show it to any publisher. In fact, I never encountered anyone who said they had seen it.'
Despite Forrie's best efforts, Ron did not make anything like a living wage as a writer in 1947. After The End Is Not Yet, he sold two Ole Doc Methuselah stories to Astounding, a short story, 'Killer's Law', to New Detective and a novel, The Chee-Chalker, to Five Novels Monthly. The income generated from these five stories was barely sufficient to support himself, let alone his present wife, his former wife and his two teenage children.
In October, Ron discovered he could qualify for $90 a month subsistence from the VA if he enrolled at college. He promptly signed on as a student at the Geller Theater Workshop on the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire, but he was still determined to pursue a better disability pension. Two weeks later he composed a letter to the VA in Los Angeles unquestionably designed to tug at bureaucratic heartstrings by painting a pathetic picture of a confused and helpless veteran on the brink of a total breakdown:
This is a request for treatment . . .
After trying and failing for two years to regain my equilibrium in civil life, I am utterly unable to approach anything like my own competence. My last physician informed me that it might be very helpful if I were to be examined and perhaps treated psychiatrically or even by a psychoanalyst. Toward the end of my service I avoided out of pride any mental examinations, hoping that time would balance a mind which I had every reason to suppose was seriously affected. I cannot account for nor rise above long periods of moroseness and suicidal inclinations, and have newly come to realize that I must first triumph above this before I can hope to rehabilitate myself at all.
I cannot leave school or what little work I am doing for hospitalization due to many obligations, but I feel I might be treated outside, possibly with success. I cannot, myself, afford such treatment.To its credit, the VA responded to this dramatic cry for help with commendable speed and arrangements were made for Hubbard to attend Birmingham VA Hospital in Van Nuys for another examination. By this time, his medical records were hopelessly confused as he had given so many different versions of his service career, his injuries and ailments. He took the opportunity of this consultation to add another injury to the record, claiming that he had fallen from a ladder on a ship called the USS Pennant in 1942, injuring his back, hip, left knee and right heel.
Would you please help me?
Sincerely, L. Ron Hubbard
While he was waiting for the results to come through, Ron was greatly discomforted to receive a demand from the VA for $51 which he had been overpaid in subsistence - he had dropped out of college on 14 November, claiming he was too ill to continue studying, but had collected subsistence until the end of the month.
'I cannot imagine how to repay this $51', he whined in a letter to the VA dated 27 January 1948, 'as I am nearly penniless and have but $28.50 to last me for nearly a month to come. Since leaving school in mid-November I have made $115 from various sources - about $40 from the sale of two bits to magazines in late November and the repayment of a bad debt for $75. These comprise my income to date except for the sale of a typewriter tonight for the above $28.50. My expenditures consist of $27 a month trailer rent and $80 a month loud for my wife and self, which includes gas, cigarettes and all incidentals. I am very much in debt and have not been able to get a job but am trying to resume my pre-war profession of professional writing. My health has been bad and I feel that if I could just get caught up financially I could write a novel which has been requested of me and so remedy my finances. It would take me three months and even then I would not be able to guarantee solvency. Is there any provision in the Veteran's Administration for grants or loans or financing so that I could get back on my feet?'
Nothing came of this hopeful inquiry. A few days later the results of Ron's medical examination arrived, but offered little encouragement that he would he awarded a higher pension. As before, nothing too serious was diagnosed, other than arthritis and myositis, an inflammation of the muscle tissue. There was not even, any longer, any evidence of a duodenal ulcer and no evidence at all of the injuries he said he had sustained when he fell from a ladder.
9. Hubbard file, VA archives
However, bureaucracy works in strange and unfathomable ways. Despite the findings of his most recent medical, Ron's bewildering portfolio of infirmities and his dogged determination to be disabled finally paid off. On 27 February he received a letter from the VA regional office with the good news that his combined disability rating had been re-assessed at forty per cent and his pension increased to $55.20 a month. With that, Lieutenant Hubbard USNR had to be satisfied.
Forrest Ackerman, who had noticeably not been getting rich from his ten per cent of Ron's earnings, nevertheless remained on good terms with his client. When Ron came bounding up the stairs to his apartment one afternoon, sweat trickling from under the band of his white straw hat, and said he needed money to get out of town because his ex-wife was after him for alimony, Forrie good-naturedly handed over everything he had in his wallet - $30. 'It was a small fortune to me then,' he recalled.
For some time, Forrie had been trying to persuade Ron to make an appearance at one of the meetings of the Los Angeles Fantasy and Science Fiction Society, of which he was naturally a founding member. The meetings were held every Thursday evening in the basement room of a small hotel on South Bixel Street in downtown Los Angeles and were often attended by writers with an eye to future sales.
Ron first turned up at a 'Lasfas' meeting on 15 April and, as a distinguished guest, was invited to address the members. He gave an impromptu, entertaining little talk about himself and his work, mentioning his 'shame' that he was only able to write about five thousand words a day and touching briefly on his philosophical opus, Excalibur, which he had locked in a bank vault when he 'finally realized how dangerous it was'.
'The real surprise of the evening', the club magazine reported, 'came when Hubbard was talking about his friend, Arthur J. Burks. Someone mentioned Burks's story, "Survival", which had been judged one of the best of 1938 when it appeared that year in Marvel Tales. "Survival?" questioned Hubbard. "I don't remember reading that one. What was it about?" It concerned an invasion of America by the "yellow men of the East", he was told. "What?" said Hubbard. "And how did they escape the peril?" By burrowing under the ground, he was told. Mr Hubbard was surprised at this. In fact, he said, "Good God! That dog! Wait till I get hold of Burks . . ." He explained the outburst: "Back in '38 I wrote a movie treatment of a story called 'Survival'. It concerned an invasion of America by the yellow men of the East. They escaped by burrowing under the ground! I gave that
story and four others to an agent to sell. He lost them. And now I find that Burks has written and sold a story just like it!"'
Among the fans present that evening was a young teletype operator by the name of Arthur Jean Cox. He admitted to mixed feelings about meeting the famous Ron Hubbard for the first time: 'He was an amusing, lively, animated, dynamic man who dominated the conversation, although I had the feeling that he told more lies in the club room in the first half hour than had been told there in the previous month. He talked a lot about his past - I heard the story about the polar bear jumping on his boat dozens of times - but I thought it was all fantasy.
'At that time he was one of the most famous science fiction writers in America, certainly in the top ten. Most of the members of the club were very young and in awe of him, but I didn't like him. His face was pock-marked, as if he'd had smallpox as a child, and I thought he looked like a wolf; he was a very predatory sort of man.'
Hubbard returned to the Los Angeles science fiction society two weeks later to give a talk about immortality and the future of medical science. He had become interested in medical matters, he explained to a mainly spellbound audience, after he had 'died' for eight minutes as a result of wounds received in the war. He was brought back to life 'by the use of several emergency measures'. While convalescing he had plenty of time to satisfy his natural curiosity and he had become convinced that bio-chemists were capable of lengthening life to the point of 'limited immortality'. Joseph Stalin was only being kept alive, he claimed somewhat obscurely, because of a particular serum that had been developed by the Russians.
Afterwards, Ron demonstrated a surprising talent as a hypnotist with a repertoire of parlour tricks. He hypnotised almost everyone in the clubroom: one young man looked at his hand with utter astonishment, convinced he was holding a pair of miniature kangaroos in his palm; another rapidly removed his shoes when he felt the floor getting hot and a third spent a hysterically funny ten minutes on an imaginary telephone trying to fend off a persistent and non-existent car salesman.
It was probable that Hubbard had learned hypnosis from Jack Parsons and he appeared to have no difficulty inducing hypnotic trances - all he needed to do, with some people, was count to three and snap his fingers. But he sometimes forgot to bring a subject out of hypnosis. He told Cox's younger brother, Bill, that he would fall asleep every time he (Hubbard) scratched his nose. Under hypnosis, Bill dutifully obeyed. But later in the evening Hubbard absent-mindedly scratched his nose while he was standing in the centre of a group of fans and Bill Cox instantly collapsed, fortunately falling into the arms of Forrest Ackerman, who was standing behind him.
11. Shangri-La, LASFAS club organ, No. 6, May-June 1948
12. Interview with Arthur Jean Cox, Los Angeles, 18 August 1986
Hubbard also played a cruel, post-hypnotic trick on Bill Cox. He took him to one side at the meeting and told him that the following afternoon, at two o'clock, he would drop whatever he was doing and meet Hubbard at a building site on the corner of Wilshire and Lucas. Hubbard was waiting there next day when, at precisely two o'clock, Cox showed up. Under Hubbard's instructions, Cox first found he could not take his hands of his pockets. Then he was ordered to take hold of a nearby railing and discovered he could not let go. As he struggled to release his grip, Hubbard told him the rail would get hotter and hotter until it was red hot. Considerably distressed, Cox writhed in agony until at last Hubbard laughed, patted him on the shoulder, told him he could go home and that he would not remember anything that had happened.
This incident only later came to light because a fellow science fiction writer, A.E. van Vogt, shared Hubbard's interest in hypnotism. One night at a Lasfas meeting, someone described a particularly vivid dream and Hubbard immediately claimed responsibility for it, saying it was a hallucination he had caused while he was 'out strolling in Astral form'.
Van Vogt did not necessarily disbelieve Hubbard but thought it was more likely that he had induced the dream by post-hypnotic suggestion. With the help of a professional hypnotist friend, he decided to check if any members of the club had been hypnotized by Hubbard without being able to remember it. They started with Bill Cox, put him in a deep trance and quickly learned of the ordeal that Hubbard had put him through. Although van Vogt gravely disapproved, he continued, curiously, to hold Hubbard in the highest esteem.
In the world of science fiction, A.E. van Vogt was considered to be in the very top rank of writers and it was Hubbard who requested that they should meet at the end of the war. Van was invited to dinner with Hubbard at Jack Parsons's house in Pasadena and was instantly dazzled by the force of his personality; like everyone else around Hubbard, he rapidly found himself in a vaguely supplicant position. Very soon he would be running around at Hubbard's beck and call.
'When we were first introduced, a hand of steel grabbed mine and squeezed it so hard that I braced myself. He was physically very strong and in fine physical condition. He had been in command of a gunboat in the Pacific. Once he sailed right into the harbour of a Japanese occupied island in the Dutch East Indies. His attitude was that if you took your flag down the Japanese would not know one boat from another, so he tied up at the dock, went ashore and wandered around by himself for three days. Everyone else was scared except Hubbard; he was a brave man, no question about it.
'I knew his work as a writer, of course, and enjoyed it. He wrote
about a million words a year, straight on to the typewriter at incredible speed. My guess was that he typed at about seventy words a minute. It just poured out - I have seen typists working at that speed, but never a writer. I was in his apartment a couple of times when he said he had to finish a story and he would sit typing steadily for twenty minutes without a break and without looking up. That would have been totally impossible for me.
'When he was out in the evenings, he would begin to think of a plot for a story and throw ideas around, asking people around the table what they thought of this or that. By the end of the evening he would have it worked out in his mind and when he got home he would spend the night writing, tearing the pages out of the typewriter and throwing them all over the floor. Sara told me it was her job when she got up in the morning to collect the pages and put them in order. He left a note to tell her where to send it and he never looked at it again.
'He never told me where he learned hypnotism, but he was certainly a great hypnotist. There were certain people he could hypnotize instantly. He would talk to them for a few moments, take their mind in a certain direction, then just say "Sleep!"'
Hubbard's efforts to use his facility in a more constructive fashion at the science fiction society were somewhat less successful. He once hypnotized a member who was taking a college examination the following day and ordered him to get straight A's, without that happy result. Another attempt to help someone who felt he had a 'block' about spelling similarly failed. By the time a fan approached Ron to ask if hypnosis could help with his emotional problems, Ron could only lamely suggest he tried reading Dale Carnegie's How to Make Friends and Influence People.
That summer, 1948, Hubbard ran into a spot of bother with the law. A trifling misunderstanding over a cheque led to the embarrassment of his being arrested by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff, fingerprinted and charged with petty theft. He was released on bail of $500 while the Sheriff's Forgery Detail investigated the circumstances of the offence. On 19 August 1948 he was arraigned at San Gabriel Township Justice Court where he entered a plea of not guilty and waived trial by jury. However, by the time the trial date came around on 31 August, Hubbard changed his plea to guilty and was fined $25. Remarkably, he did not need time to pay.
Ron never mentioned the incident to his friends and the court files were destroyed in 1955, so it will never be known precisely what he had done wrong. He was also fortunate that none of the local newspaper reporters was a science-fiction fan and so no one realized that the L.R. Hubbard charged with petty theft at San Luis Obispo was a famous sci-fi writer.
13. Interview with A.E. van Vogt, Los Angeles, 22 July 1986
14. FBI memo, 13 April 1967
Shortly afterwards, Ron and Sara left California for Savannah, Georgia, where, Ron would claim later, he embarked upon another important stage of his pioneering research into the unexplored recesses of the human mind.
Within a couple of years it would become imperative for L. Ron Hubbard to play down his career as a pulp writer and establish for himself a rather more sober reputation as a scientist, philosopher and guru. Lesser men might have hesitated to undertake such a radical metamorphosis, but not Ron Hubbard, who effortlessly contrived to make it appear as if his whole life had been dedicated to unravelling the mysteries of the psyche.
The story of his childhood in the 'wilds of Montana' and his adoption as a blood brother of an Indian tribe presented a picture of a boy unusually in tune with nature and primitive cultures. His tutelage by a 'personal student' of Freud, his 'wanderings' in the mystic East and his expeditions as an explorer all suggested an upbringing and career of extraordinary dimensions, constantly directed towards a quest for deeper understanding of life's mysteries. Writing science fiction was downgraded to no more than a convenient device designed to finance his 'research'.
During the 'year' he had spent in Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Ron would claim he had had the run of the medical library and access to the medical records of former prisoners of war. He began experimental psycho-analysis on ex POWs, 'using a park bench as a consulting room', and his research continued ever more intensively through the post-war years. In Savannah, he said, he worked as a volunteer lay practitioner in a psychiatric clinic, helping charity patients no one else would treat.
There was, perhaps, no reason why anyone should question the veracity of Hubbard's research, but his friends must have been puzzled that they knew nothing of it. Mac Ford, for example, who had spent so much time with Ron in the late '30s, sailing on Puget Sound and often talking through the night over a bottle of whisky, had never realized that his friend was engaged in research of any kind. In the heated and wide-ranging discussions that took place in the kitchen of Jack Parsons's house in Pasadena, the ideal forum for Hubbard to talk about his theories, he had said not a word about them. Alva Rogers had frequently heard him tapping away at a typewriter in his room, but there was nothing to indicate he was writing anything but fiction. Not even the amiable Forrest Ackerman had any idea that Ron was about to abandon science fiction in favour of philosophy, although in January 1949 he received an amusing letter from his client hinting at the possibility.
Addressing Ackerman, as always, as '4E', Ron wrote from Savannah to say that he had set up an office in the apartment building where he was living on Drayton Street. It was a very nice place, he said, and could easily become a den of vice, 'so I only allow women over 16 in there'. He had acquired a dictaphone machine which Sara was 'beating out her wits on' transcribing not only fiction but his book on the 'cause and cure of nervous tension', which he was going to call either The Dark Sword or Excalibur or Science of the Mind. He was writing so much fiction, Sara was having to work on the manuscript in fits. 'So far, however,' he wisecracked, 'she has recovered easily from each fit.'
If Ackerman did not take the letter too seriously he could hardly be blamed, for its tone was largely facetious throughout. Ron promised that among the 'handy household hints' contained in the book was information on how, to 'rape women without their knowing it, communicate suicide messages to your enemies as they sleep, sell the Arroyo Seco parkway to the mayor for cash, and evolve the best way of protecting or destroying communism'. He had not decided, he added casually, whether to destroy the Catholic Church or 'merely start a new one'.
Although he continued in similar vein, suggesting promotion gimmicks like requiring readers to sign a release absolving the author of any responsibility if they went crazy, it was clear that he expected the book to be a success: 'Thought of some interesting publicity angles on it. Might post a ten thousand dollar bond to he paid to anyone who can attain equal results with any known field of knowledge. A reprint of the preface, however, is about all one needs to bring in orders like a snow storm. This has more selling and publicity angles than any book of which I have ever heard . . .'
(Publicity angles notwithstanding, he could not have been too confident of the book's success, because shortly after writing to Forrie he wrote to the Bureau of Naval Personnel asking for a transcript of his sea service in order to apply for a licence in the merchant marine. He asked for the request to be dealt with quickly as he had a 'waiting berth'.)
The first sci-fi fans knew of L. Ron Hubbard's intention to write a philosophic treatise was an interview with him that appeared in the January 1949 issue of a magazine called Writers' Markets and Methods, during which he mentioned that he was working on a 'book of psychology'. But he added that he was also working on a rewrite of a Broadway play, no less than ten novels and a serial for Street and Smith.
This was the conundrum. In 1949, the year in which Hubbard's 'research' was presumably approaching fruition, he once again began writing fiction at a prolific rate: 'Gun Boss of Tumbleweed' and 'Blood on his Spurs' for Thrilling Westerns, 'Gunman' and 'Johnny the Town Tamer' for Famous Westerns, 'Plague' and 'The Automagic Horse' for
15. L.R. Hubbard navy record
Astounding, 'Beyond the Black Nebula' and 'the Emperor of the Universe' for Startling Stories, and many more.
Not a month passed in 1949 without the name of L. Ron Hubbard appearing on the cover of one of the pulp magazines. Nevertheless, rumours began to circulate among science-fiction fans in the summer of 1949 that Ron Hubbard was also writing a book about philosophy and was intending to unveil an entire new 'science of the mind'. What was most surprising to the fans was that Hubbard had found the time to produce such a science, for it had long been expected by science fiction devotees that one of their number would eventually come up with some world-shaking discovery. Many of the technological developments of the previous twenty years, including the atom bomb, had been predicted with uncanny accuracy by science-fiction writers and to the fans it was entirely logical that science fiction should give birth to an important new science.
The rumours were fuelled by the fact that no one had seen Hubbard for months - he had not attended any of the recent gatherings of the Los Angeles science fiction society, neither had he made an appearance in any of the magazine offices in New York. It was said he was holed up somewhere in New Jersey and that John W. Campbell was somehow involved in his plans. But no one knew exactly where Hubbard was or precisely what he was doing or what the new 'science' might entail, although everyone was agreed that Hubbard was on to 'something big', whatever it was.
The first tantalizing details were revealed in an editorial in the December issue of Astounding Science Fiction. With an implicit sense of history in the making, Campbell announced that an article was in preparation about a new science called Dianetics. 'Its power is almost unbelievable; it proves the mind not only can but does rule the body completely; following the sharply defined basic laws set forth, physical ills such as ulcers, asthma and arthritis can be cured, as can all other psychosomatic ills . . .' On the facing page, by a curious coincidence, there was a story titled 'A Can of Vacuum' by L. Ron Hubbard, about a practical joke which results in remarkable scientific discoveries.
By January 1950, the rumours had reached the ears of Walter Winchell, the syndicated columnist on the New York Daily Mirror. 'There is something new coming up in April called Dianetics,' he wrote in his column on 31 January. 'A new science which works with the invariability of physical science in the field of the human mind. From all indications it will prove to be as revolutionary for humanity as the first caveman's discovery and utilization of fire.'
In the April issue of Astounding, Campbell announced that the long-awaited article was at last ready for publication: 'Next month's
issue will, I believe, cause one full-scale explosion across the country. We are carrying a 16,000 word article entitled "Dianetics - An Introduction to a New Science", by L. Ron Hubbard. It will, I believe, be the first publication of the material. It is, I assure you in full and absolute sincerity, one of the must important articles ever published. In this article, reporting on Hubbard's own research into the engineering question of how the human mind operates, immensely important basic discoveries are related. Among them:
'A technique of psychotherapy has been developed which will cure any insanity not due to organic destruction of the brain.
'A technique that gives any man a perfect, indelible, total memory, and perfect, errorless ability to compute his problems.
'A basic answer, and a technique for curing - not alleviating - ulcers, arthritis, asthma, and many other nongerm diseases.
'A totally new conception of the truly incredible ability and power of the human mind.
'Evidence that insanity is contagious, and is not hereditary.
'This is no wild theory. It is not mysticism. It is a coldly precise engineering description of how the human mind operates, and how to go about restoring correct operation tested and used on some 250 cases. And it makes only one overall claim: the methods logically developed from that description work. The memory stimulation technique is so powerful that, within 30 minutes of entering therapy, must people will recall in full detail their own birth. I have observed it in action, and used the techniques myself . . .
'It is not only a fact article of the highest importance; it is the story of the ultimate adventure - an exploration in the strangest of all terra incognita; the human mind. No stranger adventure appeared in The Arabian Nights than Hubbard's experience, using his new techniques, in plowing through the strange jungle of distorted thoughts within a human mind. To find, beyond that zone of madness, a computing mechanism of ultimate and incredible efficiency and perfection!'
Rarely can any editor have penned such a fulsome and glowing testimonial. The world, or at least the world of science fiction, waited with bated breath.