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The Heinlein Letters: What L. Ron Hubbard’s close friends really thought of him

HubbardProfileA couple of weeks ago, we looked at a 1949 letter written by L. Ron Hubbard which hasn’t received a lot of attention before. Russell Miller paraphrased the letter in his 1987 book Bare-Faced Messiah, but the full text of the letter has never been published in a book or news article, as far as we know.

In it, Hubbard wrote to his friend Forrest Ackerman about the work he was doing on what would become Dianetics, the 1950 book that would change Hubbard’s fortunes and eventually lead him to create Scientology.

But Hubbard sounded far from a man about to become “mankind’s best friend” and a great humanitarian who was setting out to improve the human race.

Instead, he sounded like kind of a creep.

“Have a nice office…very neat and very quiet, with its own silk and gilt. Could become a den of vice very easily, I fear, so I only allow women over 16 in there,” he wrote to his pal. And he promised Forry that he’d soon send him an early copy of the book…

I shall ship it along just as soon as decent. Then you can 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, evolve the best way of protecting or destroying communism, and other handy house hold hints. If you go crazy, remember you were warned.


That Hubbard, what a card. He also admitted that it was a good “publishing trick” to have people sign releases before they read the book in case it caused them to go insane. (For years he’d been telling people that he had a manuscript that had convinced some of its readers to commit suicide or go insane. Now, he admitted that it was just a good “trick” to get the book attention which, of course it was.) He admitted that he had put the book away for a while, but then had become interested in it again “and have not decided whether to destroy the Catholic church or merely start a new one.”

In all, it was a remarkable look at L. Ron Hubbard before he put on a very different face and told the world that he’d made the most significant scientific advance since man’s discovery of fire — which is the actual boast that he makes at the start of Dianetics.

Our posting of the letter produced a lot of interesting reactions. Someone accused us of not knowing that Hubbard was “joking” and that we were fools to think he was actually saying that Dianetics would give someone the power to “rape women without their knowing it.”

That one caught us by surprise. We thought it was quite obvious that Hubbard was almost always putting everyone on, and the real challenge was to find those extremely rare occasions when he was actually telling the truth.

The other reaction that caught our attention were the readers who questioned the letter’s authenticity. We had anticipated this, and had talked to Gerry Armstrong before we posted the text of the letter. It was Armstrong who had discovered the letter when he saved a huge cache of Hubbard documents from being destroyed in 1980. He had later been sued because he’d kept copies of some of those documents, but he was thoroughly vindicated in court. (At least he was vindicated in that case. We’ve written extensively about his other legal nightmares.) To this day, he and his wife Caroline Letkeman maintain extensive web archives of Hubbard’s documents, which is where we had found the text of the 1949 letter. Gerry told us he doesn’t have an image of the original document, but, he told us, “To my knowledge, the Scientologists have never challenged the letter’s authenticity. I had it when I was doing the biography project, and I have always believed that it is real.”

That wasn’t good enough for some folks who saw our post and didn’t like what the letter said. One of our sources, however, pointed out that what might answer those doubts was that Hubbard had said similar things in letters to his good friend, legendary science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. We were told that there were actually some very interesting things about Hubbard in Heinlein’s collection of letters, some of which had not been made public before.

Oh really?

Well, that set us off on a hunt. And we did find some very interesting items. But here’s the deal. Heinlein’s letters are held by a trust that allows anyone to download copies of them for a small fee. But they are very particular about the use of that material. So what we’re going to do is carefully describe what’s in those letters and supply some short quotes in the name of “fair use.” As for images of the letters for you doubters, we’ll let you pay a few bucks and download the letters for yourself. We promise that you will find exactly what we’re about to reveal.

OK, so here we go.

Robert Heinlein to John Arwine, May 10, 1946

By the end of World War II, Heinlein (1907-1988) and Hubbard (1911-1986) had been friends for years. Heinlein’s career in fiction was still growing and his best books were ahead of him. But that didn’t seem to be the case with Hubbard, who had spent much of the war chasing after naval postings that tended to end in disaster. Now, after the war, Hubbard seemed to be struggling with finding direction, at least from Heinlein’s perspective.

“I don’t understand Ron’s current activities. I am considerably disturbed by them,” Heinlein confided to their mutual friend, John Arwine, who was, like Hubbard, a war veteran. Heinlein told Arwine that he was concerned that Hubbard was trying to be a “Big Operator” rather than getting his writing career back in order.

Heinlein was apparently aware of Hubbard’s involvement in 1945 and 1946 with Jack Parsons, the Caltech rocket scientist who was into the occult and with Hubbard got up to some pretty strange sex magick rituals. After Hubbard took Jack’s girlfriend Sara “Betty” Northrup away from him, the three of them cooked up a scheme to buy sailboats, sail them to Florida, and then sell them at a profit. Parsons ended up getting rooked in the deal.

Heinlein appears to have been aware of some of these details and warned Arwine not to get involved with Hubbard if he ran into him in New York. “I think you could easily find yourself in some sort of a jam if you let him get too close to you at this time,” Heinlein warned.

As for Hubbard’s history with Arwine, the Scientology founder later turned that friendship into one of our favorite yarns of all time. A couple of years ago, we posted a segment from the 2012 Hubbard birthday celebration, which included this amazing tall tale that Hubbard spun in a lecture that had been turned into a short film by the wizards at Scientology’s Golden Era Productions. If you haven’t seen it, you’re really in for a treat…


LRH_2012_4 from Voice Media Group on Vimeo.

Here’s our summary of what you just saw from our 2012 article…

To recap: Hubbard and his friend Johny Arwine visited Caltech near the end of 1945 and, honest to goodness, every important atomic scientist in the land gathered to hear these two soon-to-be demobbed middling Navy men give them a lecture about what a bunch of reckless morons they were and how they ought to get a grip on that there bomb of theirs.

The scientists, for their part, took umbrage and lashed out at Hubbard, admitting to him that what they actually had in mind was to use the doomsday weapons at their disposal to overthrow the government of these here United States!

Whew! We sure are glad Hubbard and his Navy pal turned in these scoundrels, who were then punished and the country was saved from their treachery. Which reminds us: why isn’t there a national holiday dedicated to this ginger God of a man?

Of course, this event never happened. And rather than save the world from the country’s rebellious atomic scientists, Hubbard instead got into occult “magick” after the war ended, and his buddy John Arwine was actually told to stay far away from Hubbard by their mutual pal, Robert Heinlein.

Leslyn Heinlein to Catherine and L. Sprague de Camp, August 7, 1946

Robert Heinlein’s second wife, Leslyn, also had concerns about their friend Ron Hubbard in the days following the war. In a letter to science fiction writer L. Sprague de Camp and his wife Catherine, Leslyn explains that she and her husband are really concerned about Ron, who seems “possessed by some entity out of one of the more horrid Unk. [Unknown magazine] stories.”

Well, that’s funny. Possessed by some creature out of science fiction? If she only knew how close she really was.

Leslyn warns Catherine to keep Sprague away from Hubbard and his new wife Betty Northrup, who she says is Hubbard’s latest “Man-Eating Tigress.”

They had tried to warn John Arwine about going near Hubbard, but Arwine had stopped answering their letters, she says.

“You see, Ron is working the Poor Wounded Veteran racket…and Johnny is a sucker for the Our Boys stuff,” she writes.

It’s Sprague who answers Leslyn’s letter, and that’s when things really get interesting.

L. Sprague de Camp to the Heinleins, August 13, 1946

Lyon Sprague de Camp (1907-2000) had a very long career in science fiction and fantasy. (We’ll admit that we knew him mainly for his promotion of Robert E. Howard’s Conan character in a series of posthumous collections and pastiches put together by de Camp in the 1960s.)

Reading his letters, de Camp strikes us as a no-nonsense kick in the pants. He reassured the Heinleins that he wasn’t putting up with any funny business from Hubbard. But he disagrees that Hubbard is suffering some kind of post-war breakdown.

“I think he always was that way, but when he wanted to make a good impression or get something out of somebody he put on a first-class charm act,” de Camp writes.

He adds that he’d seen enough of Hubbard before the war to know that he was not a person to be trusted. He says that Heinlein had warned him about Hubbard’s “fascist leanings,” but Heinlein later was happy to realize that Hubbard was a liberal. De Camp tells Heinlein his first impression was the correct one. (Heinlein himself would later go through a significant change of heart from left to right in his own politics.)

De Camp concludes that Hubbard’s politics are less important than his opportunism.

In the name of Fair Use, we’ll quote this next paragraph from de Camp’s letter in its entirety, because it’s really something…

I suppose Polly [Hubbard’s first wife] was tiresome about not giving him his divorce so he could marry six other gals who were all hot and & moist over him? (Seriatim, of course.) How many girls is a man entitled to screw in one lifetime, anyway? Maybe he should be reincarnated as a rabbit. Doesn’t he get a disability pension from Uncle? That would explain Polly’s reluctance in part, since she would get said pension after he dies. Personally I think if anybody gets anything out of him it’s all to the good.

So Hubbard was an opportunistic womanizer working a racket on other veterans — and that’s what his friends thought of him. Ouch.

The collection also contains letters from Hubbard to Heinlein, and we’ll go quickly through a few of them. In September 1948, Hubbard said he was glad that he was going to get an opportunity to write more westerns and wouldn’t have to do so much science fiction. “Between you and me, I hate the hell out of gadgets,” he told Heinlein.

In November 1948, Hubbard made a boast about his upcoming book Dianetics that was similar to the one he made to his friend Forrest Ackerman: “I will soon, I hope, give you a book risen from the ashes of old Excalibur which details in full the mathematics of the human mind, solves all the problems of the ages and gives six recipes for aphrodisiacs and plays a mouth organ with the left foot.”

On March 8, 1949, from Savannah, Georgia — where Hubbard had sent his letter to Ackerman a couple of months earlier — Hubbard again said he was working on his “magnum opus” and hoped to send Heinlein a galley soon. “If it drives you nuts, don’t sue. You were warned!” he writes.

He later brings up “Coventry,” a 1940 short story Heinlein had published as part of his “Future History” series…

Well, you didn’t specify in your book what actual reformation took place in the society to make supermen. Got to thinking about it other day. The system is Excalibur. It makes nul A’s. So even if it does upset a few apple carts and blow a fuse in the current moral and political system, I’m releasing it and to hell with the consequences. Know a good hide-out? I fear the Catholic Church is going to take one look at that book and heave a fit that would make the [József] Mindszenty affair pale. It ain’t agin religion. It just abolishes it. It aint agin anything, which is wherein lieth its deadly poison. It’s science, boy, science. That’s a godly word we all love. Anyway, I’ll send you a galley so you kin man the barricades in time. Cause like the chicken that et the Japanese beetle in good faith, this one is going to come straight out through the side of any society what digests it.

Here is more corroboration of what University of MacEwan professor Susan Raine asserted in a recent paper — that Hubbard was drawing on the “space opera” of the time, including his friend A. E. van Vogt’s famous 1945 novel, The World of Null-A, in which intellectual superman rule the rest of humanity.

And that would become the dominant theme throughout Dianetics and later Scientology — that Hubbard had discovered a hidden history of the galaxy that enabled him to produce a new, more evolved race, the homo novi, who would “clear the planet” and ultimately rule the universe over “eternity.” We can now see he’s already thinking along those lines in 1949.

Also, we see in this message to Heinlein another example of Hubbard, as he had in the letter to Ackerman, saying that his book Dianetics was going to be a problem for the Catholic Church, or would destroy it. That’s a really interesting sort of corollary to what he had been heard to say to several different people in this same period (1948-1949), that he was tired of working for a penny a word as a writer, and the real money was in starting a religion. It’s really fascinating to see that Hubbard fully expected his book to wreak havoc on “any society that digests it.” He ended up being right about that — at least among the small number of people who took him seriously.

Heinlein, for his part, encouraged Hubbard to finish the book and said he was very eager to read it. Later, Hubbard tried to get Heinlein involved in his Dianetics schemes, and also in a related caper about dunning the world’s scientists for monthly dues, but we’ve written about that in the past, and we may come back to it again in the future. For now, there’s plenty here for Hubbard historians to chew on. And thanks again to our tipster who set us on this path — you know who you are.


Jesse Prince is feeling well and is in fighting form

Yesterday, Jesse Prince posted a 6,000-word dispatch on his long-neglected blog which helps bring us up to date on what’s been happening with him. The former Scientology executive had been battling cancer, but he says that as awful as things got, he’s now almost three years clear of the disease, he’s moved to Los Angeles, and he’s feeling much better.

Jesse talks about what it was like to leave Scientology and then spend years dealing with its aftereffects. He describes watching Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder ditch their posts in Scientology’s top ranks and then come out and criticize the church as they too went through similar transformations. He says he’s pleased to see how far they’ve come.

Jesse also explained that he’s still hoping to produce a book, specifically about L. Ron Hubbard’s final four years (1982-1986), which took place in seclusion. We’ll be fascinated to see what Jesse reveals about that time period.


Posted by Tony Ortega on November 8, 2014 at 07:00

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BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48

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SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

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