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January 10, 2008

Inside Scientology’s Celebrity Centre

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/inside_scientologys_celebrity_centre/


My friends’ apartment resides in the bluish glow of Scientology’s LA offices, south and east of its Celebrity Centre in the former Château Elysee. I’m actually always surprised by how little foot traffic I see coming in and out of the main buildings, but clearly the religion based on the writings of sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard has quite the following. The New Yorker checks in on its draw from the entertainment industry.

From the outset, the conversion of celebrities was important to Scientology. An internal newsletter produced by the Hubbard Communications Office, probably in the mid-fifties, asserts, “There are many to whom America and the world listens. On the backs of these are carried most of the enthusiasms on which the society runs.” It goes on, “It is obvious what would happen to America if we helped its leaders to help others. Project Celebrity is part of that program. It is obvious what would happen to Scientology if prime communicators benefitting from it would mention it now and then.” The piece concludes with a list of the day’s stars—Orson Welles, Howard Hughes, Walt Disney, and Greta Garbo among them—referring to them as “game” and “quarry” for Scientologists to “hunt.” Though Scientology is not known to have had success with this early group, the movement now counts Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and many other celebrities as members.

Celebrity Centre is used for Scientology courses and for “auditing,” a mainstay of the religion, in which a person undergoes a guided talk-therapy session, usually while holding a device known as an E-Meter, which is supposed to measure one’s spiritual state. The goal is to eliminate “mental image pictures” associated with traumatic events; when a person is “Clear”—freed of all such associations—he can advance to the mystical and esoteric levels of Scientology. The path to becoming an “Operating Thetan,” or pure spiritual being (“thetan” being Hubbard’s word for the soul), is laid out in a table called “The Bridge to Total Freedom: Scientology Classification Gradation and Awareness Chart of Levels and Certificates.” Scientology is a technological religion and claims to have developed “exact, precise methods to increase man’s spiritual awareness and capability.” Completion of the Bridge takes years, and each stage requires a cash investment. An initial twelve-and-a-half-hour auditing session costs between six and seven hundred dollars, Greg LaClaire, a vice-president of Celebrity Centre, says. (Aspiring Scientologists can mitigate the expense by choosing to be audited by a fellow initiate rather than by a staff member.) In the Holiday 2007 Dianetics and Scientology catalogue, a deluxe Planetary Dissemination Edition E-Meter—billed as a “tool for Golden Age of Tech certainty,” to assist in “faster progress up The Bridge”—was offered, in “Diamond Blue,” for five thousand five hundred dollars.

On Celebrity Centre’s upper floors, there are thirty-nine hotel rooms to accommodate visiting Scientologists. An undated leaflet advertising “a safe environment for Celebrities and Scientologists” contains a plug from Travolta: “Good rest, good food, good service but most of all I felt very safe in this space”; Celebrity, a magazine produced by Celebrity Centre, which features a Scientology celebrity on the cover of every issue, urges readers to stay at the hotel for five to six weeks “to complete your Basics books & lectures courses faster!” In the basement, there’s a drug detox facility. The castle also fosters a feeling of community. “Hollywood’s not a very easy industry to bust into,” Hilary Royce, a former dancer who went to Sarah Lawrence and is now the director of community affairs for the Church of Scientology International, told me. “Any artist at Celebrity Centre would tell you it’s a safe place to study scripts, to network. It’s really a hub.”

The promise of connectedness attracts many Hollywood hopefuls. Celebrity Centre offers a range of Success in the Industry Seminars—Breaking Into Commercials, How to Get Cast in the Pilot Season, Hollywood Acting Class—which it promotes with flyers posted at auditions around town. A former actor I spoke with told me that when he first got to Hollywood, a decade ago, he went to Celebrity Centre for what “seemed like a legitimate industry workshop,” only to find that “it was more or less an opportunity for them to solicit people.”

“I stood in the foyer and watched this massive indoctrination presentation, where Marissa Ribisi, Juliette Lewis, and a casting director came out talking about how great it is to be in Scientology,” he said. “This celebrity panel was confirming that the people in the audience could in fact realize their dreams if they took courses and got ‘Clear.’ Then I was followed by auditors, who tried to get me to go into another room and get audited. It was a pervasive, invasive type of sales pitch. I started to get really pissed, and then they started to say that my stress was causing discomfort in my life.”

The rest of Dana Goodyear’s piece offers a rhythmic history of the Celebrity Centre more than the Church of Scientology, not reminiscent of this staple from Rolling Stone.

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