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Janis Grady’s new book on life in Scientology: Jon Atack’s take, and an excerpt

Jon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. For more than three years he’s been helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet. Today, he’s introducing a new book he wants you to be aware of.

Janis Gillham Grady’s Commodore’s Messenger: A Child Adrift in the Scientology Sea Organization is a vital addition to the history of Scientology.

The three Gillham children were the founding members of the Commodore’s Messenger Organization. As Janis says, “As a child of 11, in January 1968, I arrived on the Scientology ship, the Royal Scotman where I became an original Commodore’s Messenger for L. Ron Hubbard. Over the next 11 years I spent six hours or more a day with L. Ron Hubbard, until December of 1979, when shortly after, Hubbard went into ‘hiding’ with fellow Commodore’s Messengers, Annie and Pat Broeker.”


The Gillham family were intimately connected with Ron Hubbard from the 1950s, when parents Peter and Yvonne played an important role in establishing Scientology in Australia. Yvonne became famous
as the creator of the Celebrity Center. She is fondly remembered by many who knew her – while Hubbard raged and bullied, Yvonne used empathy and charm to solve problems.

This account deserves to be read alongside other now classic accounts of Hubbard and his system – Joe Winter’s Doctor’s Report on Dianetics and Helen O’Brien’s Dianetics in Limbo, for instance. Hopefully, L. Ron Hubbard, Jr.’s The Telling of Me will one day become broadly available, too.

I relied upon about 150 accounts of Hubbard’s life for my own Let’s Sell These People a Piece of Blue Sky. It surprised me that those accounts tended to agree – I had expected them to be colored by the bitterness that most felt after their time with Hubbard, and their disappointment at the failure of his promises to elevate them to superhuman status. However, resentment has not clouded memory here: Janis’s fine book adds much to the picture, and fits neatly with existing accounts.

As a child, Janis felt the sense of persecution at the Victoria State Enquiry into Scientology. Steve Cannane gives a well-rounded account of the Enquiry in his excellent Fair Game, but it is fascinating to read this personal account. I have never supported efforts to ban Scientology, or attacks upon Scientologists – which only strengthen belief and resistance with a sense of martyrdom. Scientologists need to be rescued from the harms inherent in Scientology, rather than being punished for their convinced and genuine belief in its benefits.

Janis describes Hubbard’s unrequited lust for her mother, Yvonne. On the Clearing Course films, Hubbard revealed that he had recovered from pneumonia while discovering the “R6 Bank” in the
winter of 1965. In 1966, he uncovered the secrets of Xenu, in the midst of another attack. It seems likely that his 100 cigarette-a-day habit had more to do with the pneumonia than volcanoes (though Hubbard had said that smoking was related to volcano envy…). After Yvonne nursed him through his autumn 1967 bout of pneumonia, Hubbard made her his “personal steward” at the Villa Estrella near Las Palmas, on the island of Gran Canaria. The Commodore, as he had recently styled himself, was awaiting the refit of the Avon River and the Enchanter, the first two vessels of the Sea Project (a/k/a the Hubbard Exploration Company).

Hubbard followed the path of tyrannical rulers throughout history – he first separated Yvonne from her boyfriend, Haskell Cooke. Soon afterwards, Cooke was badly injured during the refit of the Avon River and returned home to Mexico. Hubbard accused him of “desertion” and declared him “Suppressive” for leaving, despite injuries received in the Commodore’s service. Yvonne was told
nothing of this. Hubbard continued to reassure her that her children would soon join her from England, but the weeks went by, as he continued his efforts to seduce her.

Yvonne continued to rebuff the Commodore’s sexual advances, so found herself the target of the usual recriminations: an ethics order was promulgated, roundly criticizing Yvonne Gillham and reducing
her to the lowest Sea Org rank of Swamper. Hubbard asserted that she was in a state of “non-existence”. Her crimes seem to have been twice failing to have snacks ready and allowing shellac to be used instead of “filler” to paint a room.

The book is packed with photographs, many previously unpublished. It offers the most complete account of life in Hubbard’s private navy to date.

Anyone interested in Scientology – one of the most fascinating stories ever told – will find Janis’s account compelling. She checked her recollection with other eye witnesses, so adds a wealth of detail to the history of Scientology. I look forward to book two!

— Jon Atack

Editor’s note: An earlier version of Jon’s review contained a paragraph which referred to Janis, as a young girl, fending off an advance by L. Ron Hubbard. We removed that paragraph when it turned out that Jon was thinking of something from another book, Steve Cannane’s Fair Game, which refers to Janis’s sister, Terri, also one of the “Messengers,” dodging an attempt by Hubbard to kiss her.

Janis provided this brief excerpt from her book to give you the flavor of it.

Many crew members used their lunch times to climb the hill and explore the ruins of Agadir. We did not have a car to drive around the hill to make it to the top, but we all enjoyed the climb as something interesting to do. The area between Agadir harbor and the new town was a beautiful beach with a fairly new café called the “Jour et Nuit” meaning “Day and Night.” I loved going to this cafe, that also became a late-night hangout for the crew for hamburgers, fries and great milkshakes, but the favorite snack was strawberries and whipped cream. I stopped eating hamburgers there when a small fried cockroach dropped out on a slice of tomato from my cheeseburger. I was lucky it was in one piece. But I kept going back for the strawberries and cream.

In February, instead of everyone staying aboard, a house was rented for LRH and Mary Sue, while the Commodore Staff Aides, a few management personnel and the four Commodore’s Messengers moved into The Hotel Modern, a newly constructed hotel. Our ship’s carpenter improved the hotel bathrooms for us, building wood seats to fit over the squatter “hole” type of toilets at the end of the hall. Habib, the local hotel attendant, lived on a mattress under the stairs, where he also kept his prayer mat.

Every morning, we woke up hearing the Mosque calling all the locals for prayer, and again in the evening. We did not pray, but many of the locals who were mostly Muslim stopped what they were doing, pulled out their prayer mats, and faced the east as they knelt down to pray to Allah. Once prayer time was over, they went back to work.

The Messengers worked full-time as galley crew and stewards for the Aides and management staff. Our only schooling was an hour a day of French by Marie-France Berlin, a French woman who also served as Mary Sue’s steward. The four messengers lived in two rooms on the hotel’s ground floor. Suzette and I shared a room with windows that opened out to a back alleyway, across from the entrance to a house of ill repute.

Through the bars on our window, we sometimes talked in broken French and English to the men heading into the house for their entertainment, as we had nothing else to do. Feeling like we were being treated as slaves, Suzette, Terri, Annie and I composed a poem. Suzette was good with words, so I considered her the main contributor. We sent the poem to the ship to let everyone know that we missed them, and someone published it in the OODs (Orders of the Day). I only remember the first verse of three lines:

“With bars on our windows
And locks on our doors,
We are even chained to the cold bare floor.”

While Peter, Terri and I had been involuntarily living a life of servitude to LRH and Mary Sue, Dad, having no idea what our lives were really like, pursued his life as a Scientologist and Mum worked for the Sea Org in America. I wondered if the Commodore or Mary Sue ever gave a second thought to us children working full-time for them for $5 or $10 a week and sometimes nothing, with no parental guidance, while receiving almost no education? The Commodore did joke with me sometimes and call me a “poor little waif”. At 13, and knowing nothing else, I did not grasp the hypocrisy of LRH heading up the Church of Scientology that taught about ethics and spiritual freedom, while my siblings and I were indentured servants contributing to the economics of himself and Scientology that was supposed to be “saving the planet”.

My parents, meanwhile, thought Peter, Terri and I were in good hands with Mary Sue as our legal guardian and Terri and I working with LRH daily. Little did they know of the dangers we faced both on and off the ship.


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,819 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,576 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,922 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,416 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,456 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,168 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 694 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,783 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,923 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,243 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,218 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 574 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,876 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 983 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,385 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,258 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 839 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,344 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,588 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,697 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on July 22, 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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