Foster and I were in a state of semi-panic as we waited for Julia to get off the phone. We were in an isolated corridor in the American Saint Hill Organization, part of the Scientology Complex – the big blue building in LA. Julia, my de facto senior at Author Services, was huddled in one of the public phone booths, talking quietly, her back to us. Foster and I kept a respectful distance across the corridor, where we looked down at the courtyard below.
“Well, if it’s not approved, we can always jump out the window,” I joked. Foster gave me a nervous smile. We had stuck our necks way out on this one. But that wasn’t unusual for us.
Our preparations for the Dianetics Campaign were almost complete. The last piece of the puzzle was television ads. Scripts had been submitted weeks before, through Julia at Author Services International and up to the Old Man himself, L. Ron Hubbard. We were awaiting approval – but hadn’t heard anything back. Now was the last possible moment. As of 4 AM the next morning, a huge film crew would be moving out, driving 90 miles north to a location in Ojai. Cancelling the ad shoot at this point would be expensive, if not impossible. We had prevailed on Julia to please, please, make a phone call. Now she was talking with someone close to Hubbard – we didn’t know who.
We heard the phone click as Julia hung up the phone. Our hearts leapt into our throats.
“They’re approved,” she said.
The last five months had been a rocket ride, preparing everything needed to launch a huge marketing campaign for Dianetics – the biggest such campaign ever done by the Church of Scientology. And I had learned a lot in the process.
At the same time, it had been fun. At last I was doing what I wanted to do, and I was doing it my way – thoroughly and professionally. I was virtually autonomous, operating loosely under Author Services International. ASI was officially L. Ron Hubbard’s literary agency, with supposedly no connection to the Church. In fact, they were running everything. But I liked the people I was dealing with. They gave me great air cover and very few orders. I was mostly left to get on with it. Nancy and I kept decent hours, got enough sleep, and managed to get in our “study time.” I was mostly studying marketing and advertising.
We enjoyed being in LA after years in Florida. A Sea Org Member is supposed to get a day off every two weeks, called a “liberty” in the usual pseudo-military parlance. Nancy and I managed to actually take those days off, and saw the sights in LA – movies, the Universal City Walk, museums, or out to Venice Beach to see the crazy street performers. We often went to see my brother Kim and his growing family – my niece and two nephews. And Mom was living up in Santa Barbara – we’d go up and see her or she’d come into town. Thanksgiving and Christmas were once again family affairs.
Brother Kimball raises a family
But most of our attention was on getting the campaign launched. Nancy had her team of researchers and surveyors who were out every day. We had added a Public Relations member to the team, a young lady named Beth, who was working out how to get out publicity releases on Dianetics when the time came. She also got roped into a “confidential” proofreading project, which turned out to be Hubbard’s Mission Earth manuscript. He had completed Battlefield Earth, which was being prepared for publication, and this was his next work, a massive ten-volume science fiction series. Beth helped on the proofreading several hours a day at ASI, and came back increasingly disturbed. She was shocked by the graphic, and repeated, descriptions of gay oral sex in the book, and was appalled that such writing was coming from the Founder of a religion. She didn’t last long, and in fact soon decided to leave staff.
One did not criticize Hubbard.
One day, I got a strange phone call. After I picked up the phone and said hello, a strident and intense male voice came on the line.
“If I hear another report of any of your staff nattering about LRH Tech Films, they, and you, will be immediately sent to the RPF. Have you got that?”
I managed to stammer “Yes, Sir.” There was a click on the other end.
I had just had my first conversation with David Miscavige.
The “Tech Films” were Hubbard’s Technical Training Films. He had scripted a series of short, 20 to 30 minute films teaching various points of Scientology “technology,” from how to operate an E-Meter, to how to conduct an auditing session. Each film had a story line – characters who went through some drama to illustrate a point of technology. He had then directed the filming of a number of these scripts himself at his confidential location. Like his earlier photo shoots on the ship, they were strictly amateur hour. The sets were hastily thrown together, something a high school drama department would be ashamed of. The actors were all amateurs – staff thrown into costume for the occasion – and they would stumble their way through Hubbard’s overcooked dialogue.
But of course it was like the Emperor’s New Clothes all over again. No one wanted to admit that they didn’t see Hubbard’s genius in every detail. It was obvious to anyone with two eyes that they were pathetically amateur, but no one was willing to say so. One of my staff, Linda, had been so impolitic as to make a disparaging comment about the quality of the films within earshot of some other staff. The resulting “Knowledge Reports” had gotten to Miscavige, who took it as a personal affront. After all, he had been the “cameraman” on many of these early films. Hence the call. I took Linda aside and explained the facts of life to her. If one expected to survive in the world of Scientology, one did not say anything negative about the films, no matter how obvious their flaws.
We had enough to do without getting embroiled in politics.
For one thing, I had absolutely no idea how to get books into bookstores. But that was an advantage, too. At least I wasn’t under some delusion that I had all the answers.
One of the first things Foster and I did when we began the Strategic Book Marketing Unit in April, 1982, was to contact the sales staff at Bridge Publications to see what they knew about getting books into public bookstores. The guy in charge of sales was Don Arnow. He had been trying to learn what he could about selling to “the trade” and had talked to the manager of the B. Dalton Bookseller store on Hollywood Boulevard, a guy named Jim Levinson. Jim was a heavy, bearded man with a droll sense of humor. He and I would become good friends years later when he was the West Coast Rep for Publishers Weekly magazine.
“If you want to learn about marketing books to the trade,” Jim told Don, “talk to Len Foreman.” He gave Don a phone number. Jim would often remind me later, with a twinkle in his eye, that he had actually “started” the Dianetics campaign by linking us up with Foreman.
Don, Foster and I went out to see Foreman at his office in Brentwood. Len was a handsome, white-haired gentleman, friendly and courteous. He combined polished East Coast manners with a West Coast tan and smile, to great effect. The women in my unit would later refer to him as “the silver fox.” He had formerly been VP Marketing at Simon and Schuster in New York, and knew the business inside and out. And he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Foster and I rapidly took over the meeting and peppered him with questions, which he answered with a wealth of information. Foster and I started meeting with Len several times a week, and talked Bridge into putting him on a retainer as a consultant.
Foster and Jeff plotting over a beer, with Bev Witter, our PR lady
He laid out for us in detail how one got books into bookstores as a publisher. He told us about the large book chains, at that time B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, and who their national buyers were. And he knew them all personally. He knew all of the major distributors who kept the independent bookstores supplied, and the “IDs” – independent distributors - who got books into drugstores, supermarkets and all the other “non-book outlets.” He told us that we must never bypass the IDs and try to get books directly into drugstores and supermarkets, as some of the Orgs had tried to do. “These guys are Mafia,” he casually explained. “They’ll just throw your books out.” He advised schmoozing the IDs, buying pizza for their delivery guys and so forth.
Bridge had tried to talk to the buyers of the national book chains, but they had routinely refused to carry Hubbard’s books. They had had some very negative experiences, from the days of Doreen Casey’s “Mission International Books,” when she had sent staff in to local bookstores demanding that they take Hubbard’s books. As they had been under “do-or-die” pressure, the staff had been pushy and overbearing with the bookstores, and the book chains had had complaints. They had also promised the bookstores big promotion campaigns, which never materialized, and the books had moldered on their shelves. They wanted nothing more to do with Dianetics or Scientology.
But Len smoothed it all over. “That’s all changed,” he would tell his contacts in the book industry. “This is a different group, and they are serious about launching a major campaign.” If they still balked, he’d turn on the charm. “Come on, you know me. You know I wouldn’t bring you anything flaky. These guys are serious.” Bit by bit they came around.
Foster and I started having weekly Dianetics Campaign meetings at Author Services International, attended by all of the senior execs of Scientology. David Miscavige, the Chairman of the Board of ASI, would sit scowling at the head of the table, and all of the CMO Int Execs, as well as ED Int and his executives, would be ranked along the sides. All of the key ASI execs would also attend. On paper, ASI was Hubbard’s literary agency, and was not connected to the Church. In fact, Miscavige was running all of Scientology from his position at ASI, through regular meetings with all senior Church executives - like the weekly book campaign meetings.
In the beginning, these turned into briefings, and Foster and I prepared charts showing how the book industry worked. We brought Len to the meetings as well, and he explained the ins and outs of the publishing business. He briefed the assembled execs on the problems that had been caused by Scientologists randomly going in to bookstores and badgering them, and urged that the Scientology Organizations not contact any of their local bookstores. That order did in fact go out.
Foster and I had no love for Kerry Gleeson, since the days that he was the CO of Flag Bureaux. He attended the meetings, and had to listen politely to what we were briefing on. But he was still trying for some measure of control over a campaign that was, by then, way out of his control. He insisted, in the meeting, that Foster and I meet with his Division Six (new public) Executive, Peter Warren (whose wife I had once locked in a closet). Foster said we weren’t interested in meeting with Peter.
“I don’t understand why,” Gleeson complained, “Why won’t you meet with Peter Warren?”
Foster leaned forward until his face was a few inches from Gleeson’s, and enunciated slowly: “Because Peter Warren is a Suppressive Person.”
It was one of those moments that stay with you, just because of their sheer cheek. But I knew at that moment that Gleeson and his execs had lost any power to interfere.
It wasn’t long after that that we heard that Gleeson had been removed from post. He was replaced by an up-and-coming exec from Europe, Guillaume Lesevre. Guillaume stopped by to see me on his way to the Int Base and asked me to have lunch with him. He wanted me to come to Int with him and be his Marketing Exec International. I declined, explaining that I had a campaign to launch. But the man impressed me with his kind, intelligent demeanor.
Len knew people who did book cover designs, and we set them to work on the covers for some of Hubbard’s basic books – Self Analysis, Fundamentals of Thought, Problems of Work. They produced some attractive, commercial covers that I somehow managed to get approved. We needed some great covers to display at the American Booksellers Association Convention, which was going to be held in June at the Anaheim Convention Center. We had a lot to prepare by then, including an entire booth design.
ASI also wanted us to design a cover for the upcoming biography of L. Ron Hubbard, which we were assured was immanent. Omar Garrison, a writer who had done books for Scientology before, was at work on it. We prepared a cover design for that book as well.
We had decided to launch two books – the paperback Dianetics, and Self Analysis in the larger “trade paperback” size. There had been some pressure to release the books in hardback – Hubbard notoriously despised paperbacks as cheap, shoddy substitutes for “real” books – but I had successfully argued that if the objective was to interest lots of people in Scientology, then volume was key, and volume meant paperback.
On Len’s advice, I had set the launch date for September, as he said that this was when a lot of book campaigns were launched. The books were “sold in” to the book chains and distributors through the summer, beginning with the ABA Convention in June, and then the campaign launched in the fall to sell them through the bookstores to the public – that was called “sell-through.”
But this schedule didn’t accord with Hubbard’s plans. His new science fiction book, Battlefield Earth, was set for release that fall as well. It was going to be published by St. Martins Press. Hubbard had a strategy, which was to follow the pattern of 1950. At that time, he was a well-known science fiction writer, and it was his original article about Dianetics in Astounding Science Fiction magazine that first sparked off the 1950 sales of Dianetics. Many of his fans at the time – those who read his fiction – became the early Dianeticists. Hubbard wanted to repeat the pattern, re-establishing his reputation as a science fiction writer and then re-promoting Dianetics into that “fertile ground.” For that reason, he wanted to launch Dianetics later. But I knew it couldn’t be too much later. The books would be in the stores in the fall, and we had to deliver the promised campaign – the stores had already been burned by Scientology’s past failures to deliver a campaign, we couldn’t let it happen again. After some negotiation with ASI, it was agreed that Battlefield Earth would launch in September, and Dianetics (with Self Analysis) would launch in October.
At this point, I happened to see an ad for Dianetics that Hubbard had written. He had sent it to the Division Six Executive International, Peter Warren, who was ED International’s assistant for public dissemination. The ad included the phrase “Get rid of your Reactive Mind,” which Hubbard claimed was a very deep, pervasive “button” and would cause people to buy the book on a stimulus-response basis. Foster and I were discussing this ad once in a meeting with Len Foreman.
“Sounds like a good thing,” he said.
“What does?” I asked.
“The Reactive Mind. It sounds like something valuable, you know, it allows you to quickly react to situations…”
Foster and I looked at each other, dumbfounded. We were so used to the insider terminology that we hadn’t even thought about the impression that phrase might have on someone in the public, someone not familiar with Scientology’s lingo. I organized some fast surveys.
The surveys were very revealing. People did think that the “Reactive Mind” would be something valuable, and thought that if you “got rid of it” you would be a zombie. I went over the results with Frannie at ASI, and she asked me to do up a report right away.
A few days later, Hubbard wrote back that he was very pleased with the surveys, and said that they confirmed “something he already knew since 1950,” that people find the Reactive Mind very valuable. He called for a few more surveys to be done, which we rapidly carried out, and he determined at the end of this that the button should be “Learn to control your reactive mind.” He commended me for the surveys, and I thought nothing further about it. Little did I know that this minor incident would play a major part in my eventual demise, twenty years later.
As work on the campaign progressed, I started working more and more with Len. He knew people in publishing, marketing and advertising, and we would often race around town seeing different professionals –inevitably stopping for lunch at Len's favorite restaurant, Canters, where he would regale me with his vast store of Jewish jokes.
Len introduced me to a media company, Ed Libov & Associates in Marina Del Rey, and we began meeting with them to figure out how best to promote the books. And that depended on my isolating our “target demographic,” which I was getting rapidly worked out with a series of studies and surveys. I was able to get an OK to take our Scientology mailing list and run it through a demographic database. This resulted in a lot of tables, color-coded maps, pie and bar charts that I found fascinating. The best prospects for Scientology were young (25 to 35), some college education, urban, middle income. Men rated slightly higher as prospects, 60% to 40%. There was a lot of other information which I devoured, parsed and analyzed. We then started doing a lot of surveys, pre-qualifying the people we surveyed to make sure they were in the target demographic. Every day I would send the survey team out to do another survey. At night we’d tabulate the results and study them, then out they would go the next day with more questions. Pretty soon I was starting to know these people like they were family.
As part of my research, I studied every Dianetics campaign that had ever been done, from the first release of the book in 1950 to the present. They ranged from the mundane to the bizarre. I found out that, just over the past year, an abortive pilot campaign has been run in San Diego by marketing people from the Int Base – and apparently Hubbard had been calling the shots. They had made some TV ads on a space opera motif, with men in white space suits and helmets. Apparently the rationale was the same as when Hubbard had put such whole track symbols on the books – to manipulate the “wogs” with symbols from the OT III “Xenu” incident. They had also tried to sell hardback books. The results were apparently so embarrassing that the campaign had disappeared without a trace.
But I found one disturbing fact: everyone who had ever successfully run a big campaign for Dianetics had been destroyed – kicked off staff, declared Suppressive, and in one case, Diane Colletto, shot. She had run a campaign in 1979 that had gotten Dianetics on to the Ingrams West Coast bestseller list. She was killed by her husband in front of the Bridge Publications building on matters apparently unrelated to selling Dianetics. But this fact struck me as odd, and eerie. Why had every one of them been attacked? I resolved to keep my eyes open, and, while pushing ahead with the campaign, keeping my eyes open to see if anyone took a shot at me, and if so, where the shots came from.
But I found out some other things, too. Past campaigns, going back to 1950, had been successful when they narrowly targeted a certain public, what they call “niche marketing” these days. Conventional wisdom at that time was that you couldn’t sell books on television. This was 1982. No one had ever done it successfully. But I started thinking about it. Television was expensive, but in terms of cost-per-thousand (CPM), it was the cheapest medium. The problem was, it was a broad shoot, like a shotgun. You blared your message out to a lot of people who would never buy your product. That was what made it expensive. But suppose there was a way to hone in on your target public, to “narrowcast” the message?
I worked with my rep at the media firm, an older lady named Nancy. She educated me in such things as “gross rating points” and “target points.” I studied various types of media buys. It all seemed too expensive, too wasteful. The penny dropped one day when I was looking over a proposed media buy and saw Saturday morning cartoons listed.
“What’s this doing here?” I asked.
“Well, that gets you a lot of target points. There are a large number of your target demographics that are watching those programs.”
“But…” I tried to vocalize what was bugging me, “I don’t want to talk to people who watch Saturday morning cartoons!”
Well, which viewers of which programs would I be interested in talking to? I started going through programming lists. Soap operas, no. Old classic movies, yes. Stock car racing, no. Old Twilight Zone reruns, yes. It was all very subjective and not very scientific, but it was based on a lot of knowledge I had soaked up about our target demographic and what they liked. They weren’t followers. They didn’t watch what everyone else did. They were mavericks, iconoclasts, mold-breakers. They liked the odd, the intriguing, the quirky. They liked… well, the kinds of things that I liked, that most Scientologists I knew liked.
I had a lot of arguments with the media firm, because some of my choices went against traditional media wisdom. They fought me tooth and nail, but I managed to cobble together some kind of a media strategy that I knew would reach the kind of people I was interested in talking to – people who would be intrigued by Scientology.
The ABA Convention went well. We had everything ready – a big booth with huge transparencies of the new covers, literature and catalogs, and media schedules for the fall campaign. The reception from the book trade was lukewarm, but Len was able to pump it up. Walking around the floor of the ABA Convention with him was amazing – he seemed to know everyone. Every couple of feet someone would call out “Lenny!” By the end of the convention, we had “sold in” 250,000 books – most of that to a national distributor, Ingrams, who had warehouses all over the US and supplied most of the bookstores. Waldenbooks and B. Dalton declined to order, but said they would watch the sales and order from Ingrams. It was a start, a foot in the door.
In July, Foster was called up to the Int Base, and was briefed on a new project he would be doing – the computerization of all of Scientology management. I was crestfallen – I had thought that he and I and Bruce Wilson would do the Dianetics Campaign together – the three Musketeers taking on all odds. But Foster didn’t feel that this was a project he could turn down. He assured me he’d be located right there in the Complex and he still considered the Dianetics Campaign to be his project as well. He was as good as his word, and in the coming months and years we met often, and he helped me out many times – unofficially. I was also able to help him a bit – designing a logo for his new enterprise, the International Network of Computer Organized Management, or INCOMM.
Another blow came when I heard that Bruce and Tina had blown the Sea Organization – left “without authorization.” They had taken Gwennie, now 12 years old, with them and fled to the US Virgin Islands, where Bruce’s family lived. According to the rules of Scientology, they would be “declared Suppressive” and I would not be able to talk to them or Gwennie. As it turned out, I was able to bend the rules somewhat, convincing various Ethics Officers that Gwennie had only been 12 when she left, and was therefore “not Suppressive.” In that way I was able to keep in touch with her over the years with infrequent letters.
So with Foster on his new project, and Bruce blown, I was on my own as the Strategic Book Marketing Unit I/C, the SBMU I/C, which was to be my post for the next four and a half years. I had plenty to do getting the campaign ready for launch. After the ABA sales, the pressure was on to get a campaign together. Don Spector was writing TV ads. He had been Creative Director for BBDO West and Foote, Cone and Belding, and seemed to know how to go about it. He studied the demographics and surveys and wrote three ads. They were in a testimonial format – one was a marathon runner, one a businessman, and one was an airplane pilot. Each ad ended up saying that they owed their success to Dianetics. They seemed straightforward and competently done, so I submitted them to Julia Watson at Author Services, who had taken over as my de facto senior from Frannie, and she forwarded them to Hubbard.
Hubbard hit the roof. They were awful, he said. He took particular exception to the ending of one ad where a businessman threw a wadded up ball of paper and hit a wastebasket clear across the room – a sort of slam-dunk. Hubbard said that you never end an ad with something being thrown away as it says to the viewer, subliminally, that they should throw the product away. He tended to look at all advertising as a series of subliminal messages and these, he said, were sending the wrong subliminal message.
He proceeded to rewrite them, dictating exactly how the ads were supposed to go. After Julia showed me the dispatch, I called Don and had him meet me. As it was late, I told him to meet me at Sarnos, a restaurant up Vermont Street. Julia and I met him there and went over the ads with him. It was not going well – Don was a veteran Creative Director and for him to have his work rejected like this was unusual. In the middle of the meeting, Julia had to go take a call, and when she came back, she was white. She pulled me aside and said that I had to fire Don, we could not work with him. I protested, but she was firm – that was the order from on high. I somehow managed to talk to Don, tried to soften the blow, but he was crestfallen and stormed out. I never saw him again.
We had to find someone new, and fast. Our projected launch date was just a few months away. Len Foreman made a few calls, and recommended an ad producer named Jim Kellahan. Julia and I drove out to see him. We showed him the Hubbard ads, but he said he did not work that way, he scripted his own ads. Julia got the OK for him to write new ads, and he wrote four – two for Dianetics and two for Self Analysis. Julia sent the ads up to Hubbard for OK.
The ads had to be shot right away, and so Kellahin assembled a crew and set a date for filming. But weeks went by, and still we had heard nothing back on the ads. It finally came right down to the wire and that fateful afternoon in the corridors of ASHO. The last minute approval of the ads was the last piece of the puzzle that had to fall into place.
Nancy and I went on the ad shoot, along with Len Foreman. The first ad was about two mountain climbers. One of the mountain climbers slips, and the other one, the girl, rappels down and rescues him. Then they ascend to the top. The shoot took place on a remote mountain road in Ojai, and the stunt work was done on the side of a cliff next to the road. At the end of the day, a helicopter arrived and did the final, sweeping shot of the couple on the top of the mountain. It was impressive.
That night, Nancy and I snuck away and had dinner with my Mom, who was living in Santa Barbara. The next day we got on a boat and went out to the Channel Islands, where the second ad would be filmed. It was about a “marine biologist” who was studying the seals on the island and, of course, recommends Dianetics. On the long trip, I got to know the cinematographer, Laslo Kovacs, who told me an amazing story about escaping from Hungary with rolls of exposed film of Communist atrocities wrapped around his body. Kovacs had filmed such classics as Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and Paper Moon.
Once back in LA, Kellahin and crew filmed two simple testimonial ads for Self Analysis, our second release.
The ads were all masterfully filmed and edited, and were instantly approved for use. By October, we had everything in place – the books were in the stores, thanks to Ingrams, the ads were ready to go, the media strategy was set. At the end of October, we would push the button, and the largest campaign for Dianetics ever done would be underway.
And with it would come the largest boom ever for the Church of Scientology, a boom that would mask, for a while, the grim fact that the Church was beginning to fall apart at the seams.
Just prior to the launch of the campaign, on October 17th 1982, a Mission Holders Conference was held in San Francisco by David Miscavige. It was a bloodbath. He and other ASI and CMO International execs berated the Mission Holders for hours, calling them criminals. They were not allowed to leave the room. Anyone who objected was declared on the spot.
These were many of the top figures in Scientology at the time, men and women who owned and operated Scientology’s franchise operations. Many of them owned whole chains of Missions themselves. They were responsible for funneling thousands of new people into Scientology weekly. Their names were almost legendary within Scientology – Kingsley Wimbush, Martin Samuels, Bent Corydon, Brown McKee. Yet they were all declared, their missions seized. Even those not declared were assessed extortionate fines, and if they refused, were given “gang bang” Security Checks, where they would be put on an E-Meter and a group of executives would shout accusations at them.
Some of this filtered down to us. Some on the rumor line, some the “official line.” We were told that the Mission Holders were criminals, and were “robbing the Church” and trying to take over Scientology. We were told that the key Mission Holders were Suppressives, and they had to be dealt with very forcefully. Miscavige was asserting his authority and “saving the Church from SPs.”
The whole thing made me sick. How could those people all be Suppressive if they were responsible for bringing so many people into the Church? I didn’t know who was right and who was wrong. To me, it was another thing to add to my growing list of mysteries. Why had every person who had ever run a Dianetics Campaign been destroyed? Why had most of the highly productive Mission Holders been declared? It made no sense.
I thought that the campaign would, in some almost magical way, help to resolve all this - sort of like taking an old car out on the freeway and just blowing all the crud out of the engine. It seemed that getting a huge inflow of new people would help to blow the petty politics and infighting out of Scientology and get everyone on track.
And I was about to hit the accelerator.