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New book peels back the cover on Scientology celebs and their legendary acting coach

[Allen Barton, Jenna Elfman, and Milton Katselas]

We’ve mentioned Allen Barton, proprietor of the Beverly Hills Playhouse, numerous times here at the Bunker and at the Village Voice. Most recently, for his play Disconnection, which we heard great things about from some of our readers who attended performances in Los Angeles.

Barton has now published a book about his experiences at the Playhouse, which he took over after the death of legendary acting coach Milton Katselas in 2008. Barton’s book is titled The Oasis of Insanity: The Study and Pursuit of Acting at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.

Milton Katselas was a Scientologist, and he became known for the Scientology celebrities who studied under him at the Playhouse. Barton, a classical pianist, joined the Playhouse community in 1990, and he too fell into Scientology. But by 2000, Barton was becoming disillusioned with his involvement in Scientology — and Katselas soon was having doubts of his own.

Barton decided to include a chapter in his book about Scientology, and he’s generously agreed to let us print an excerpt from it. If you like what you see, you can purchase his book at Amazon.



After about seven years, around 2000-2001, there were several developments that sent me packing from Scientology. Firstly, I had worked myself up to CFO and a top-level stage manager for the classes over several years, and woke up one day with a terrible realization: Looking at the people at Beverly Hills Playhouse who drive me nuts on a regular basis, almost every one of them is a Scientologist. Looking at the people I rely on in my life to provide some sanity, none of them is a Scientologist. That was an interesting “cognition,” to use the word favored inside the church. Your average Scientologist seemed fully as capable as anyone of being mad as a hatter, only they had this very specific and odd nomenclature for describing their common-as-dirt neurosis and other human failings. But having this “tech” gave them an air of superiority, as if having cool vocabulary about it all kept them above the common folk, the unenlightened, it absolved them of the inconvenient fact that they were in fact no better than anyone, as in anyone. The game seemed not to be about becoming a better person, or behaving more sanely, but rather a game of who could use this so-called pursuit of betterment, and its strange nomenclature, in a way that best advanced their position, their feeling of superiority.


In the late 1990s, the Scientology zeitgeist at the Beverly Hills Playhouse reached its peak. Milton had released his book Dreams Into Action and appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show. He directed Jenna Elfman in a series of one-acts he wrote, and she had just won the Golden Globe Award for her work on Dharma & Greg. Jeffrey Tambor was teaching regularly and he was hot in The Garry Shandling Show, Anne Archer and Giovanni Ribisi were doing big movies, and Catherine Bell was starring in JAG. Jason Beghe, another successful actor and longtime BHP student, was brought into the church and pursued it avidly for a number of years. With that number of celebrities going full rah-rah on the BHP, the classes were literally overflowing with students, and since many of our cheerleaders were Scientologists, the traffic between our students and Celebrity Centre was high. By high, I mean about 10 to 15 percent. That was the peak, and that included hard-core Scientologists all the way to people who dabbled with a quick course or two.

When the culture started to shift in 2000 to a kind of maniacal pursuit of Scientology’s version of ethical purity, with Tom Cruise providing the leadership on maniacal, the era of Milton as an “opinion leader” in the church started to wane. Milton, who for decades had taken a fair amount of shit in the broader Los Angeles showbiz community for being a Scientologist, and for supposedly proselytizing for the church via the BHP, was suddenly taking heavy incoming fire — but now it was from the Scientology community for not being Scientological enough! He wouldn’t go to the big church events. He didn’t cheerlead for David Miscavige, the controversial head of the church.

He was “stuck on the Bridge” — meaning he wasn’t doing the necessary work to climb the delineated steps of enlightenment that L. Ron Hubbard had called the Bridge to Total Freedom.


Within Scientology, there is a culture of “flowing power to power,” which translates loosely into, “Protect people in power, because the good they do from that position outweighs the bad,” or further: “Suck up to celebrities, indulge their behavior — they are the front people for this ‘Church.’” During the period when Milton enjoyed his longtime status as an opinion leader, he was afforded significant “ethics protection,” and a young woman’s complaints about his behavior would likely hit a buzz saw of “What did you do to pull Milton’s attention in?” — it was always put on the young woman for having been irresponsible. But as the zeitgeist moved away from Milton, a bigger celebrity was about to take him down.

It was 2004, and we had decided to start a BHP newsletter that we hoped to put out every quarter, with various items of school news, plus an interview with one of our students who had done well in the industry. The introductory issue was going to have an interview with Jenna Elfman, who was at that time the most visible celebrity associated with Milton and the BHP. The phone rang at my apartment, and it was Bodhi Elfman, Jenna’s husband.

“Allen, it’s Bodhi.”

“Hi, Bodhi.”

“Listen, Jenna and I are disconnecting from Milton and the BHP.”

“Uh… What?”

“And we’re telling you you can’t print that interview with Jenna, as she no longer supports the BHP.”

“Uh… Okay…”

“Did you print the newsletter?”

“No, it hasn’t even… No, we’re not even done with it.”

“Because she can’t be in it.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that.”

“And we’re going to be telling everyone we know that we are disconnecting, and encouraging them to do the same thing.”

“Bodhi, listen, what the hell is—“

“Because Milton is a fucking piece of shit, OK? You can tell him that for me. Is he there?”


“IS HE THERE? ARE YOU THERE WITH MILTON? IS HE LISTENING?” Bodhi was screaming at me over the phone.

“Bodhi, you called me at my apartment. Milton is not here with me at my apartment. Milton doesn’t come to my apartment.”


“Milton isn’t here, Bodhi, you’ll have to call and tell him yourself.”

And so it began — the shot heard ‘round Los Angeles. If Reed Slatkin had induced a financial shitstorm that we were still fighting to address, then Jenna Elfman led the “disconnection” shitstorm that would gravely affect the life of the BHP and Milton personally. In the ever-flowing stream of acrimonious gossip about Milton’s advances toward Scientologist actresses, I believe one of the more unpleasant of those interactions had been reported to Jenna in this time frame, and Jenna snapped, she had had enough. She was going to lead a crusade to disconnect from Milton, pending his “ethics change,” which could only occur through intensive Scientology auditing. The disconnection bomb went off on Milton’s “out-ethics.”

Over the next four years, I’d be witness to some insane shit. His behavior had no doubt earned a lot of it, but for me at that time, I found the attacks being leveled on him in response to be completely over the top. Students started taking off. Teachers started taking off. Many of these departures were accompanied by Knowledge Reports the size of small novels, laboring page after page to detail his “out-ethics,” some of it accurate, some of it completely made-up, much of it in my opinion hysterical and totally overblown.


I had disengaged from Scientology for a good while by then, but this period of nonstop attacks on Milton sent me reeling. I would spend hours and hours responding to the KRs on Milton’s behalf, drafting documents worthy of an appellate court brief combined with as vicious an assault as I could manage on the intellectual capabilities of the originator. One time when I was shooting a film at the Golden Era Productions studio outside Los Angeles, I was pulled aside by some staff person and grilled about the accusations of Milton’s various misbehaviors. At Milton’s request, I attended a meeting between him and three of his own BHP staff, moderated by a senior Church executive (who would go on to quit the joint and become a noted critic), who were teamed up on this mission to fix his ethics. There was a lot of screaming, all about how he had betrayed their loyalty to him through his actions, about how he was generally an abusive piece of shit, and why couldn’t he see they were out for his best interests in trying to get him to change? And in one way I suppose they were doing this out of some concern for the guy, but in another, frankly more prominent way, they were coming off like puritanical screaming maniacs intent on destroying him as much as helping him. This was no loving intervention. Punishment, anger and revenge were in the air, and Milton’s energy in the meeting was clearly that of someone defeated and depressed. It was not an energy that suited him, but I know there are many who would probably delight in his finally catching some harsh medicine. For me, though, leaving the meeting afterwards with Milton, I was shaking and furious at their behavior, and Milton actually had to talk me down in the parking lot, because I was so lit by it.

One of his significant antagonists became Grant Cardone, then-boyfriend-and-eventual-husband of Elena Lyons, another beautiful young Scientologist student, with whom Milton had a dalliance of some sort. Cardone is a mucky-muck within the church, a big money guy, a big time donor and renowned Miscavige ass-kisser, and he went nuclear on Milton over the thing with Elena (joining a long line of apoplectic boyfriends and husbands). He wrote a KR that he sent by email, publicly, to 500 people, detailing what he understood to be all of Milton’s unethical actions, in salacious detail, and how Milton should be considered in a condition of “Treason” with his fellow Scientologists, all of whom, of course, are pure, ethical, wonderful human beings by definition.

The email began: “It has come to my attention that Milton Katselas continues to go unhandled and it is my intention to stop him finally! The fact that so many of you have left his school and written KR’s has not ultimately handled this being, as he continues to go unhandled and will continue to wreak havoc and spread his aberration until his ethics are put in.”

You can see in that little intro all the arrogance and presumption that is a consistent trait in the Scientology community. It has ‘come to your attention,’ Grant? Who the fuck are you to have attention worthy of coming to? He also wrote a letter to Milton, using Milton’s frequent refrain, clearly relayed to him by Elena, that the fully aware artist in Los Angeles should “watch out for snipers on the roof.” Cardone told Milton in no uncertain terms that he, Grant, was now that sniper, and he was intent on taking down Milton and the BHP.


By 2007, there were barely a few Scientologists left at the school, either on staff or among the students. I’m sure many of those who left ended up surprised, perhaps even disappointed, that the roof didn’t cave in from their departure, much less that the BHP still thrives all these years later without them. I’m sure all those Scientologists who went after Milton would object to my attitude about it, doth protesting too much their noble, sainted intentions, and saying they were only going after his improvement as a person, that they really cared, and how they were just going to the mat for his sake, in some grotesquely over-the-top version of the “tough love” Milton advocated for as a teacher. I witnessed all this crap, I dealt with all the KRs, I took part in countless meetings, and I only became more and more enraged by it all, and determined to stand by Milton, not because I agreed with everything he said or did, but simply because the guy needed a friend. He needed an ally, someone who wasn’t going to abandon him in a fit of recrimination, throw rocks from a pristine Scientology Glass House, or judge him with the contempt that was now coming his way from so many quarters.

— Allen Barton

Allen goes on to describe what he went through when he was “declared” a “suppressive person” by the church. One of the most difficult results of being cut off by other Scientologists was losing his piano teacher, Mario Feninger, who had relied on Allen’s financial help. We wrote a story about that in 2013. Barton later turned that experience into his play “Disconnection.”


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,814 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,571 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,917 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,411 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,451 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,163 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 689 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,778 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,918 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,238 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,213 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 569 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,871 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 978 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,380 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,253 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 834 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,339 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,583 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,692 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on July 17, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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