It involves a man who is renowned for his skills at the piano, a teacher who has been hailed for his technique by such well known students as Chick Corea and Tom Constanten.
And now, at the age of 90, the man’s church has compelled him to cut off all contact with a pupil who had been helping to support him financially. Why? Because that pupil dared to walk away from Scientology.
In order to tell this story, we first need to revisit briefly our previous pieces about the late legendary acting coach Milton Katselas and the man who replaced him at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, Allen Barton.As Barton told us two years ago, Katselas spent the last few years of his life bewildered by the attacks being made upon him by Scientology through a wealthy church donor named Grant Cardone.
Katselas was a Scientologist, and his acting school became a famous recruiting ground for actors into the church. But Barton told us that Katselas wasn’t really interested in recruiting for the church, and as he grew older, Katselas also became less involved in Scientology. In 2003 or 2004, he says, the church went on a kind of “jihad” against Katselas, as former students like Jenna Elfman began to cut off ties with him because he wasn’t, in the eyes of Scientology leader David Miscavige, sufficiently devoted to the cause.Barton himself stopped his involvement in Scientology in 2002, and he watched in dismay as Katselas was subject to increasingly vitriolic attacks, particularly a 2007 smear campaign led by Cardone. The next year, Katselas died.
Barton, who had started working at the Playhouse in 1993 and became its CEO in 2003, took over as its majority owner after Katselas’s death. Barton says the Playhouse is going very well as a business, and Katselas would be happy to know that it is still thriving. A few of the actors associated with it are Scientologists, Barton says, but the days when the Playhouse was a recruitment center are long behind it.
Besides running the Playhouse, Barton is a theatrical director and a pianist. And he ascribes much of his success as a musician to his teacher, the legendary piano instructor, Mario Feninger.
Born in Cairo, Feninger became a celebrated performer in France and Italy. He also became involved in Scientology at a very early time, and got to know L. Ron Hubbard personally. Barton believes that Feninger was involved with bringing Scientology to Paris and opening up the original “org” there.
Feninger has long lived in Los Angeles, and in the late 1990s, Barton went to him for lessons.
“He changed my way of playing. And he changed my life,” Barton says. “He’s a sweet guy, and we became very close.”
Here’s a sample of Feninger’s superb playing, showing that he’s maintained his skills late into life…
After 2002, Barton says, Feninger was aware that his pupil had decided to stop participating in Scientology.
“He knew that I’d pulled away from the church. And we were open about that with each other. He’s a tolerant person. It didn’t affect our relationship at all.”
When Feninger ran into some trouble, Barton says he was glad his teacher came to him.“Six weeks ago, he came to me, needing money. I was glad to provide it. He said they were shutting off his utilities, and he needed food. So I put a check in his hand and told him I’d send money every month,” Barton says. He also offered to get others to help, but he warned Feninger that they, like Barton, were people who had left Scientology.
“He said, ‘that may cause problems for me.’ So I told him, if that causes you problems, then I may cause you problems,” Barton says.
“He said, ‘I understand. Let’s try this.’ So I sent him another check since then.”
On February 10, however, Barton received a card from Feninger. Inside it were the two checks, uncashed, and this message: “I can no longer communicate with you. Please come back [to the church].”
“I know that’s money he desperately needs,” Barton says, but he blames the church for ordering Feninger to “disconnect” from him because Barton is no longer in the church, and has been “declared a suppressive person” — church jargon for excommunication.
“It shows what a lie it is that people decide on their own to disconnect from other people. The truth is they will force disconnection on people, even a 90-year-old man who needs the assistance,” Barton says.
“I called Mario this week. He confirmed to me that he had to disconnect because I’ve been declared suppressive,” Barton says. “I told him I loved him, told him he changed my life as a musician, and after I hung up, I knew it was probably the last time I’ll ever talk to him.”
The Underground Bunker has tried numerous times in the past several days to reach Mario Feninger by telephone at his home without luck. We also sent a request for comment to Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw. If we hear from her, we’ll add her statement to this story.
“It’s so indecent that they would interfere with a relationship like this,” Barton says. “I got out of this church in 2002 for the same reason. They told Milton, you must disconnect from these people. It was outright thuggery. That’s when I took myself out. It’s just outright thuggery. It’s insane.”
Barton says he couldn’t keep what had happened to himself. “These bastards told him he can’t talk to me and can’t use that money. I was so pissed, I put that thing on Facebook.”
On February 11, Barton went public on his Facebook page: “My 90-yo piano teacher of the last fifteen years just sent me a note saying he’s cutting all communication, because his church doesn’t like me. Good thing my Steinway isn’t a member, or I wouldn’t be able to play anymore!”
As Barton’s friends began to react, it was clear some of them didn’t know which “church” was being referred to.
Then, soon enough, some people still in the church showed up and began criticizing Barton for going public.
Said one person: “I’m thinking this probably didn’t need to be shared on Facebook. Just a thought.”
Said another, an actress: “Wow! Just to be uber clear, the Church of Scientology has NO ‘Disconnection Policy.’ Wherever you have heard this, that is a lie. They offer a tool to YOU, if YOU decide that someone in your life is harming you and you can not HANDLE the problem using communication or various other ways to solve the situation, then you perhaps can consider disconnecting from them to prevent your own survival from being damaged. If your piano teacher is ‘officially disconnecting’ from you before trying to solve the situation, he’s missed the point. That’s his issue and not the Church’s. I’m tired to the bone of people spreading erroneous ‘data’ about Scientology based on a few people’s personal complete misunderstanding of tools therein.”
Barton responded to the actress, saying that he’d seen many people forced to disconnect, and that it’s very clearly a policy in the church.
She answered back: “I have never heard of anything like you mention ever from anyone at the Church. If you’ve been declared an SP you probably have an inkling why, and there are things you can do to rectify it, should you so choose. Good luck with whatever path you take. I’ll bow out here.”
A day later, the woman disconnected from him, Barton says.
“One Scientologist told me privately that of course disconnection exists, but you shouldn’t talk about it publicly. It’s upsetting to Scientologists and confusing to the public,” he says. “The other Scientologist denied that disconnection exists, but within a day had disconnected from me.”
Two weeks since his announcement on Facebook, Barton still hasn’t heard from his old teacher, and he wonders how Feninger is getting along. And his anger over the incident hasn’t dissipated.
“I’m very pissed. It makes me want to communicate it in as brutal a way as I can. It’s all just so unnecessary,” he says.
CODA: The Bunker just wants to add, on a personal note, that back in the day, this was the kind of story you would find on the front page of the LOS ANGELES FREAKING TIMES, and not on the blog of some dude in New York City.
We know things are tough at the formerly great newspaper out there, but it was once the leading journal of all things Scientology. Doesn’t it bother anyone there that so many Los Angeles Scientology stories are broken here rather than in the city’s supposed paper of record?
Somewhere, Sappell and Welkos must be shaking their heads.
Posted by Tony Ortega on February 26, 2013 at 07:00