"There were some things about him that I do feel were rather dangerous. I felt so much under his spell that I told my room-mate that if ever I told her that I was going to marry this man, she should tie me up and not allow me out of the house..."
"I was overwhelmed: here I am in the presence of the most important individual in the cosmos. I mean, this isn't just like meeting a film star or something, I'm meeting God with plus signs..."
Lafayette Ron Hubbard created one of the richest and most controversial cults of our time - the Church of Scientology. He spent much of his later life at sea, on the run from those who accused him of being a crook and a charlatan. But to the millions who at one time or another followed him, and to himself, he was the greatest guru who ever lived.
HUBBARD: "There is one thing you can say about Dianetics and Scientology, and I'm sorry if this sounds odd, but it isn't everybody who can write a book that turns the world on its ear"
But more remarkable still was the story of Ron Hubbard's life: the story of a science-fiction fantasist and self-proclaimed messiah.
Ron Hubbard was determined that from the start that his story would be the stuff of legend. He was born in 1911 and told of how he was brought up on his grandfather's ranch in Montana, which he said in a newspaper interview, covered a quarter of the state. As a small child he was breaking broncos and hunting coyotes. He claimed that he grew up with old frontiersmen, and even became a blood brother of the local Blackfoot Indians.
These were all splendid tales, but all that is known for sure is that while he did use to visit a small livery stable his grandfather owned, he was brought up in an ordinary home, the only child of ordinary American parents. Towards the end of World War I his father joined the American navy. The teenage Hubbard spent holidays in Guam, where the family was stationed. He travelled in China and the East. With a taste for adventure, he went prospecting for gold in Puerto Rico, and, as a student, even led a sea exploration to find pirates' hoards in the Caribbean. But he couldn't resist gilding the lily. A Scientology book later recorded his claim to have communed with native bandits in the high hills of Tibet. But there is no evidence he ever went to Tibet.
CYRIL VOSPER - Hubbard's Staff:
"He told so many stories of his exploits, in South America, the West Indies and places, that he would have to have been at least 483 years old to have had enough time to have done all those things, but that doesn't really matter. I mean, it was just very entertaining really, except that he turned it into a religion."
ROBERT VAUGHN YOUNG - Press Officer:
"In his diaries he was writing little stories, you know, sea adventures and yarns, but sometimes when some of his own representatives found them, they thought these were true. You know, there was an escapade of him fighting an octopus that once one of his personal representatives was telling as a true story, and I was trying to point out to her later that, no, this is just one of his stories that he's interspersing with his private life."
When he was 22, Hubbard married his first wife, Polly. They went to live on Puget Sound, in Washington State, and soon had two children. Hubbard's joy in life was sailing and exploring, but now he had to settle down, and earn some money. With such a prolific imagination, he became a writer, starting with adventures and fantasies in penny-dreadfuls. Then he turned to science fiction and became a best seller.
Two books, 'Final Blackout' and 'Fear', were considered sci-fi classics. But Hubbard's most amazing story was about himself. His literary agent was Forry Ackerman, himself a sci-fi fanatic. One night, deep into the small hours, Hubbard told Ackerman of a bizarre event in a hospital theatre that would shape his entire life.
FORREST ACKERMAN - Hubbard's literary agent:
"He said that he had died on the operating table, and that he rose in spirit form, and he looked at the body that he had previously inhabited and he shrugged the shoulders he didn't have any more and he thought 'well then, where do we go from here?' Off in the distance he saw a great ornate gate, and he wafted over to it, and the gate, as they do in supernatural films, just opened without any human assistance. He floated through and on the other side he saw an intellectual smorgasbord of everything that had ever puzzled the mind of man - you know, how did it all begin, where do we go from here, are there past lives, and like a sponge he was just absorbing all this esoteric information and all of a sudden there was a kind of swishing in the air and he heard a voice, 'no, not yet, he's not ready' and like a long umbilical cord he felt himself being pulled back, back, back and he lay down in his body and he opened his eyes, and he said to the nurse, 'I was dead, wasn't I?'. Then he bounded off the operating table - I don't know how you die, then you bound off an operating table. He got two reams of paper, and a gallon of scalding black coffee, and at the end of two days he had a manuscript called 'Excalibur' or 'The Dark Sword'. And he told me that whoever read it either went insane or committed suicide. And he said that the last time he had shown it to a publisher in New York, he walked into the office to find out what the reaction was, the publisher called for the reader, the reader came in with the manuscript, threw it on the table and threw himself out of the skyscraper window."
But was Hubbard's extraordinary story true? Excalibur became the stuff of mystery. Hubbard told friends it was too dangerous to publish. But forty years later, a treasure trove from Hubbard's early journals and manuscripts, believed to have been long lost, was discovered by his staff.
GERRY ARMSTRONG - Hubbard's household manager:
"There were two and a half versions of Excalibur. I read them and I didn't go mad and didn't die. They also include the information within related writings, that these came out of a nitrous oxide incident. Hubbard had a couple of teeth extracted, and it was while under the effect of nitrous oxide that he came up with Excalibur."
Hubbard's 'death' was in fact an hallucination under the effects of anaesthetic. So what was the intellectual dish he'd fed on?
"It was not anything particularly revolutionary. The key to Excalibur was this great realisation, by Hubbard, of 'Survive' as being the one command that all existence, and all life and all people, have. That became the basis for a lot of Dianetics and a lot of Scientology."
This idea had a profound impact on Hubbard. In a letter to Polly he wrote 'I have high hopes of smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form.'
The Second World War brought a new dimension to the Hubbard legend. He said that while serving in the U.S. Navy he had been blinded, but that inspired by the insights he had first glimpsed when he died on the operating table he had dramatically been able to cure himself.
HUBBARD IN 1968:
"By 1948 through my own processing, and use of the principles I had isolated up to that time, was able to pass a 100% combat physical, which was very mysterious to the government, how had I suddenly become completely physically well, from being blind and lame."
It was an odd story, because Hubbard's war record shows his recurring problem was a stomach ulcer. There are mentions of conjunctivitis, but none of blindness. Indeed, none of his medical reports, before, during, or after the war, contain any suggestion of blindness, only shortsightedness and astigmatism.
After the war, Hubbard went to Hollywood. As a successful science fiction author he was a welcome visitor to the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Association. Its members recalled that there was one power over the mind he undoubtedly did possess - hypnotism.
"Ron Hubbard came to our club and he hypnotised all of the members except me. I wanted to remain in present time and watch what was going on. I remember it was fascinating, he told one boy he had a little kangaroo in the palms of his hands, and the boy was going all around the room showing everyone this little kangaroo that was hopping around."
In writings and conversations, Hubbard began to speak of his new science of the mind. As Scientology's literature would later depict, Hubbard claimed that in addition to himself, he cured eleven other war veterans and restored sanity to forty mental patients.
JEAN COX - Writer:
"Rumours were beginning to circulate that this new science of the mind or this new philosophy had a significance for mankind that was greater than the discovery of the wheel and equal in significance to the discovery of fire."
In the May 1950 edition of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, Hubbard published his stunning findings as fact. Dianetics was truly born. Thousands of letters poured in to the magazine. In the meantime Hubbard had been pounding the typewriter keys, putting his ideas into a 450-page book. It became a bestseller, and Dianetics a national craze.
Hubbard's theory was that the human mind was bedevilled by 'engrams', memories of painful events, often imprinted before birth on the foetus. He claimed that under the direction of a Dianetics therapist or auditor, as he called them these engrams could be relived and then cleared from the mind. At this stage, Dianetics seemed just an exaggerated form of psychotherapy.
"Well, Dianetics was so popular because it promised a brave new world of everybody clear, no more colds, no more eyeglasses. It cured me of a fear of dogs."
"Among the various things it was said to be able to do was, one person had lost a tooth, and through Dianetic auditing he regrew the tooth. Almost any illness could be cured. Schizophrenia could be cured."
"It opened up the whole world for everybody to become perfect human beings."
Hubbard sold Dianetics auditing courses at $500 a go. The money was rolling in. But he was about to be accused of being a con-man.