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Bernie Feshbach, 1923-2017: A man who fought against Scientology in his own way

In January, we tried to reach Bernie Feshbach by telephone, but he emailed us to say that he had checked in at a VA hospital.

We told him that we hoped they were taking good care of him.

“They are. Thank you for your good wishes,” he emailed us on January 28.

It was the last thing we heard from him.


We tried to get news of him later on, but it was only this week that we heard from a family member that he had died in February, just a few days after that email he sent us.

We’re sorry, Bernie, that it took us so long to get word of your passing. And we wish we could have written this story sooner.

Bernie Feshbach was our friend, and he was 93 years old.

He first called us one day in 2012 while we were doing some Christmas shopping. We had to ask him a couple of times to repeat who he was. It took a minute for it to sink in.

The Bernie Feshbach? Father to the infamous Feshbach brothers — Scientology mega-donors Kurt, Joe, and Matt — and grandfather to Jessica Feshbach Rodriguez Davis and numerous other Feshbach grandkids?

The very one, he told us.

He then proceeded to tell us how much he detested Scientology and what it had done to his three sons (his oldest son, Dan, wasn’t a Scientologist). But he made it clear to us: He loved his grandchildren enormously, and he didn’t want to do anything that would hurt them. He became a regular Underground Bunker reader and wanted to help us any way he could. He just needed to keep it all under wraps.

“With six Scientology-active grandkids, I don’t want to be declared a Suppressive Person. They would no longer communicate with me. It’s not very complicated,” he wrote to us at one point.

So for several years, we had numerous phone conversations and email exchanges with Bernie, talking about how much he hated Scientology, and how he would never forgive his sons for getting so deeply into it.

“Kurt thinks that I’m an asshole, a terrible person… Matt would put me on the bad person list in a heartbeat,” he said. (Joe died of a heart attack while on a bike ride in 2011.)

Bernie had long given up any hope that his sons might leave the church and reconcile their differences with him. But even though his grandchildren were also Scientologists, he treasured his connection to them.

We discussed the things Bernie had told us with the family member who notified us of Bernie’s death this week. We said that we were considering making Bernie’s statements public. “I’m sure he would like those things to come to light. He was an honest guy and he hated a bully,” they said.

Bernard Feshbach was born on October 25, 1923 in the Bronx, and most of his early stories were about life in the Great Depression, when his father’s fur business failed. But it was also when Bernie could get into the bleachers at Yankee Stadium for 55 cents, and he still vividly remembered Babe Ruth’s swing.

Like the rest of his friends, he tried to enlist the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but his bad eyesight kept him out of the military until 1943. He enlisted in the Army, and after basic training he became a radio operator.

On April 12, 1945 he was in a muddy fox hole during the battle for Okinawa when a bullet tore a hole “big enough to shove a dollar bill through” his leg. He was carried to a hospital ship, where he and the other injured men learned that on that same day, President Franklin Roosevelt had died. Men who hadn’t cried from their war wounds wept openly at the news, Bernie later wrote. And he was one of them.

He was shipped to Saipan to recover, but Japanese snipers kept things lively by firing into the hospital compound. “Once when I was in the Coca-Cola line, they started firing and everyone scrambled and jumped in the ditch in a heartbeat. The Coke wasn’t worth taking another bullet,” he wrote.


[Bernie’s caption: This photo was taken in 1946, aboard the USS St. Mihiel which was serving as a hospital ship. It hauled my ass from Korea to Los Angeles by way of Yokohama and Honolulu. The trip took over a month. Wrote my folks almost every day with mailings from the stops. Hard to believe that I was ever 22 years old.]

After the war, he married — his wife immediately told him that she considered it a mistake, he claimed, and his first marriage was a contentious and unhappy one. He then began a series of careers and bust-and-boom cycles: He spent four years as a hog and cattle farmer in Iowa, he was a traveling dress salesman in the Midwest, he sold Pontiacs in California, and then he learned to become a stock broker in Palo Alto.

He became wealthy through his investments in the 1970s and became known for living large — he was a regular passenger on the Concorde between London and New York, lived in a $15,000-a-month suite at the Hotel Carlyle in London, and spent prodigious sums of money on ex-wives, his four sons, entertaining clients, and on prostitutes, which he detailed at a blog he didn’t even start until he was 84 years old.

Bernie was a heavy drinker, but then he became sober in 1973 and never took another drink. He was also a heavy smoker, and ultimately it was lung cancer that caught up to him last year. He wrote that his doctor told him that he might live another eight years, well past 100, and the idea both pleased Bernie and annoyed him. He had enjoyed getting old, he said, but he didn’t enjoy being old.

When we spoke with Bernie, it was mostly about Scientology and his sons, and how angry they made him. “It’s just a bunch of self-righteous people, with the church using them as a sump pump for money,” he said about them. “They are the most vengeful people…Just very nasty people. I am really sorry that they carry the Feshbach name.”

We’ve written about the Feshbach brothers numerous times. Here’s how we described them for a 2012 article about Kurt’s involvement in a lawsuit over a Scientology drug rehab he ran…

The Feshbachs are one of the most interesting Scientology families that ever picked up the cans of an e-meter. High school dropout Kurt and his younger twin brothers, Joe and Matt, became notorious in the 1980s for their success at the predatory practice of “short-selling,” and at one point controlled half a billion dollars of investor money as they looked for stocks to destroy. The Feshbach brothers were featured in both Time magazine’s infamous 1991 cover story on Scientology, “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power,” and a lengthy profile in a 1991 issue of Spy magazine.

The Feshbachs were also known for donating fabulous sums to the church, and in the mid-1990s their generosity was rewarded as they were given a sneak peek at the “Super Power” routines being developed at Scientology’s International Base east of Los Angeles. Intended to give Scientologists superpowers, the new routines were being worked out for a new $100 million facility in Clearwater — the Super Power Building — which broke ground in 1998 and [opened in 2013].

In 1995, Marc Headley writes in his 2009 book, Blown for Good, the Feshbach brothers were brought to Int Base for special trials in the new routines. “After a few weeks the Feshbachs ‘completed’ the pilot rundowns and donated at least $4 million to the Super Power Building,” Headley writes.

Another member of the family, Joe Feshbach’s daughter Jessica, became somewhat famous for her own contribution to Scientology — as a spokeswoman who was assigned to be the handler of Katie Holmes. During Katie’s early years as Tom Cruise’s third wife, she never seemed to be without Jessica, who was so protective, she became known for answering reporter questions during interviews of Katie…

Kurt Feshbach may not be the high-rolling short seller he once was, but he’s apparently doing well enough to participate in rich person things, like commissioning a painting from Scientologist portraitist-to-the-wealthy, Dick Zimmerman, who has a studio in Clearwater as well as one in Los Angeles.

[For this article we’ll just link to that painting out of respect for Bernie.]

But for as much as he complained about his sons and their wives, Bernie respected his granddaughter Jessica’s husband, former Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis. It was Bernie who let us know that Tommy had gone to work for Tom Barrack, the billionaire real estate investor who had been a good friend of Tommy’s father, William Davis, who died in 2015.

It was also Bernie who told us that Tommy had seemed to waver in his estimation of the church. For a time, he told us, Tommy had actually sounded critical in his emails about Scientology. But then later, in 2015, Bernie had said something critical about Scientology around Tommy, and he was surprised at how Tommy had angrily responded, defending the church.

Since Bernie died in February, Tommy has filed for divorce from Jessica.

When we weren’t talking about Tommy Davis or Scientology, we learned from Bernie that we had something entirely unrelated in common with him: It turned out that we were both road cycling fanatics.

Bernie rode his Eddy Merckx road bike some 4,000 miles a year into his late 80s. At 88, he had two crashes that sent him to the hospital, and after that he stuck to the exercise bike.


[Bernie plugs his blog from his exercise bike in 2013]

But Bernie wasn’t just a cycling fan. Like everything else, Bernie’s interest in cycling had to be done in a big way, and it got him involved with major names in the racing world.

Bernie was the kind of guy who sent around articles about the latest health discoveries he’d found at places like the New York Times, and we found ourselves getting these messages from him along with a stunning list of other recipients like Eddy Merckx, Eric Heiden, and Davis Phinney.

In the spring of 2013, we were excited to tell Bernie that our travel plans coincided with a major cycling event: We would just happen to be in Brescia, Italy on the day the Giro d’Italia — the Tour of Italy — had its finishing day there. Bernie put us in touch with Jim Ochowicz, president of the BMC Cycling Team, who made sure we got a glossy race bible at the finish line.

That was the kind of guy Bernie was.

“When people tell me that I’m a nice guy, I tell them not to repeat that to anyone else as I have a reputation to maintain as a loud, foul-mouthed, asshole. Gives my life great balance,” he wrote.

We’ll sure miss that foul-mouthed asshole. Thank you, Bernie, for sharing your time, your thoughts, and your wisdom with us.


[Bernie Feshbach, circa 1989, with his granddaughter Rachel.]


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,886 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 32 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,095 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,869 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,643 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,989 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,483 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,523 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,235 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 761 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,850 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,990 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,310 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,285 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 641 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 4,943 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,050 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,452 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,325 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 906 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,411 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,655 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,764 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on September 27, 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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