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Finally, L. Ron Hubbard’s first ‘Clear’ — Sonya Bianchi — found again after 68 years

 
We’re sad to report that on December 5, Frank T. Hulswit died before we had a chance to talk with him. He was 94.

His wife Sonya is 92, and her son Chris says she is doing poorly. We don’t know if we’ll get a chance to meet her, something we’ve been trying to work out with Chris. But now that her husband Frank has died, we decided that even if we haven’t been able to meet her, we couldn’t wait any longer to tell you that we had finally found L. Ron Hubbard’s first ‘Clear,’ 68 years after she made a memorable appearance at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

For serious Scientology watchers, this has been one of the field’s holy grails, to locate the young woman who stood on stage at the Shrine and couldn’t remember the color of L. Ron Hubbard’s tie. For us, this one is right up there with finding Snow White spy Michael Meisner, locating notorious Snow White figure ‘Jerry Levin/Don Alverzo,’ and tracking down the FBI agent who stopped the Snow White Program in its tracks (Christine Hansen, interviewed for our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely).

For our readers less up on their early Scientology history, let us set the scene. Hubbard’s bestselling book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, had been published on May 9, 1950, and by the summer was spreading like crazy. Here’s how one newspaper described it at the time…

Hollywood’s gone daffy over Dianetics, the hottest fad since the double feature, kidney-shaped swimming pools and Wampas baby stars…

Dianetics is the brainchild of a science fiction magazine writer and former screenwriter, L. Ron Hubbard. His book on Dianetics is a best-seller around the country, but in this home of pyramid clubs and evangelists it’s a landslide.

Three film studios have consulted Hubbard, he says, on how Dianetics can make movies better than ever.

Yes, Hubbard could be great with the press, and by the middle of the summer 1950 he was drawing huge numbers of people who were all pursuing the goal laid out in Dianetics — that with 20 to 200 hours of Hubbard’s style of counseling, they could go ‘Clear’ and attain higher IQ, perfect eyesight, and other super attributes.

So, as the weeks went on, the pressure on Hubbard to prove that he could actually produce a ‘Clear’ began to build. On Thursday night August 10 in Los Angeles, Hubbard decided it was time to prove that he had created a Clear.

Russell Miller, in Bare Faced Messiah, his amazing history of Hubbard and Scientology, has a vivid account of that night, which he got from Arthur Jean Cox, who was in the audience. We’re going to quote Russell’s account, and then on page two of this story you’ll get to meet the world’s first Clear for yourself…

 
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Hubbard returned [to Los Angeles] in triumph at the beginning of August 1950, to be feted by joyful Dianeticists waiting to meet him at the airport. Two years earlier, he had left as a penniless pulp fiction author; now he was back as a celebrity with a book firmly lodged at the top of every bestseller list and a growing legion of followers who truly believed him to be a genius.

He had a busy schedule ahead: apart from personal appearances and interviews, he was to lecture at the newly-formed Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation of California, all the big bookstores wanted him for signing sessions and, most important of all, he was to attend a rally on Thursday 10 August at the Shrine Auditorium. It promised to be Dianetics’ finest hour, for on that evening the identity of the world’s first ‘clear’ was to be announced.

The Shrine was a vast, mosque-like building with white stucco castellated walls and a dome in each corner, unforgettably characterized by the music critic of the LA Times as being of the ‘neo-penal Bagdad’ school of architecture. Built in 1925 by the Al Malaikah Temple, it was the largest auditorium in Los Angeles and could seat nearly 6500 people under a swooping ceiling designed to resemble the roof of a tent. When the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation booked it for the meeting on 10 August, few people expected more than half the seats to be filled.

Arthur Jean Cox, the young teletype operator who had met Hubbard at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, left early for the meeting by streetcar and was surprised how crowded it was. ‘More and more people got on at every stop,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t believe that everyone was going to the meeting but when we arrived at the Shrine on Royal Street, everyone got off. I was absolutely amazed. By the time I got inside there were only a few seats left.’

The audience was predominantly young, noisy and good-humoured. Many people carried well-thumbed copies of ‘The Book’, in the hope of getting them signed by Hubbard, and there was much speculation about ‘the world’s first clear’ and what he or she would be able to do. Dozens of newspapers and magazines, including Life, had sent reporters and photographers to cover the event and those cynics who had predicted a sea of empty seats looked on in astonishment as even the aisles began to fill.

When L. Ron Hubbard walked on to the stage, followed by A. E. van Vogt, whom he had recently recruited, and other directors of the Foundation, there was a spontaneous roar from the audience, followed by applause and cheering that continued for several minutes. Hubbard, totally assured and relaxed, smiled broadly as he looked around the packed auditorium and finally held up his hands for silence.

The meeting opened with Hubbard demonstrating Dianetic techniques. With the help of a pretty blonde, he showed how to induce Dianetic reverie and then he ‘ran a grief incident’ on a girl called Marcia. While the audience obligingly responded when Hubbard spread his arms for applause at the end of each demonstration, it all seemed a little too well rehearsed and there was a murmur of approval when someone stood up in the audience and called out: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, somehow I can’t help but feel that all this has been pre-arranged.’

Immediately people began shouting for Hubbard to demonstrate on someone from the audience and when a young man jumped on to the piano in the orchestra pit, a chant went up: ‘Take him! Take him!’ Hubbard, not in the least flustered by this turn of events, invited him up on to the stage. The young man introduced himself as an actor whose father had studied with Freud, which fortuitously gave Hubbard the opportunity of mentioning his own connection with the great analyst, through his old friend ‘Snake’ Thompson.

Sitting on facing chairs at the front of the stage, Hubbard made a determined attempt to audit the man, but he proved an unresponsive subject, answering almost every question in the negative. The audience soon became bored and restless and began calling, ‘Throw him out, throw him out!’ Hubbard, perhaps somewhat relieved, shook the man’s hand and he stepped down.

The atmosphere throughout had remained perfectly cordial, even if the shouted comments from the audience were increasingly irreverent. When Hubbard was explaining the multitude of mental and physical benefits arising from successful auditing, someone yelled, ‘Are your cavities filling up?’ and caused a good deal of laughter.

As the highlight of the evening approached, there was a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation in the packed hall. A hush descended on the audience when at last Hubbard stepped up to the microphone to introduce the ‘world’s first clear’. She was, he said, a young woman by the name of Sonya Bianca, a physics major and pianist from Boston. Among her many newly acquired attributes, he claimed she had ‘full and perfect recall of every moment of her life’, which she would be happy to demonstrate. He turned slowly to the wings on one side of the stage and said: ‘Will you come out now please, Sonya?’

The audience erupted once more in applause as a thin, obviously nervous, girl stepped out of the wings and into a spotlight which followed her to centre stage, where she was embraced by Hubbard. In a tremulous voice she told the meeting that Dianetics had cleared up her sinus trouble and cured her ‘strange and embarrassing’ allergy to paint. ‘For days after I came in contact with paint I had a painful itching in my eyebrows,’ she stammered. ‘Now both conditions have cleared up and I feel like a million dollars.’ She answered a few routine questions from Hubbard, who then made the mistake of inviting questions from the audience: they had clearly been expecting rather more spectacular revelations.

‘What did you have for breakfast on October 3 1942?’ somebody yelled. Miss Bianca understandably looked somewhat startled, blinked in the lights and shook her head. ‘What’s on page 122 of Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health?’ someone else asked. Miss Bianca opened her mouth but no words came out. Similar questions came thick and fast, amid much derisive laughter. Many in the audience took pity on the wretched girl and tried to put easier questions, but she was so terrified that she could not even remember simple formulae in physics, her own subject.

As people began getting up and walking out of the auditorium, one man noticed that Hubbard had momentarily turned his back on the girl and shouted, ‘OK, what colour necktie is Mr Hubbard wearing?’ The world’s first ‘clear’ screwed up her face in a frantic effort to remember, stared into the hostile blackness of the auditorium, then hung her head in misery. It was an awful moment.

Hubbard, sweat glistening in beads on his forehead, stepped forward and brought the demonstration swiftly to an end. Quickwitted as always, he proffered an explanation for Miss Bianca’s impressive lapses of memory. The problem, Dianetically speaking, was that when he called her forward, asking her to come out ‘now’, the ‘now’ had frozen her in ‘present time’ and blocked her total recall. It was not particularly convincing, but it was the best he could do in the circumstances.

Forrie Ackerman, who was at the Shrine that night to see his client perform, summed up the feelings of many people who were there: ‘I was somewhat disappointed not to see a vibrant woman in command of herself and situation. She certainly was not my idea of a “clear”.’

 
——–

Hubbard was apparently so embarrassed by the debacle, it would be another 16 years before he claimed that he had finally produced the world’s first true Clear in the form of John McMaster, a fascinating figure in his own right.

But what happened to Sonya? After her night at the Shrine, she seemed to vanish.

 
[Continued on page two]

 

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