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The Mind Behind the Religion : Life With L. Ron Hubbard : Aides indulged his eccentricities and egotism

The Scientology Story. Today: The Making of L. Ron Hubbard. First in a six-part series.NEXT: Part Two-- The Selling of Scientology.

June 24, 1990|Joel Sappell and Robert W. Welkos | Time Staff Writers

L. Ron Hubbard enjoyed being pampered.

He surrounded himself with teen-age followers, whom he indoctrinated, treated like servants and cherished as though they were his own children.

He called them the "Commodore's messengers."

" 'Messenger!' " he would boom in the morning. "And we'd pull him out of bed," one recalled.

The youngsters, whose parents belonged to Hubbard's Church of Scientology, would lay out his clothes, run his shower and help him dress. He taught them how to sprinkle powder in his socks and gently slip them on so as not to pull the hairs on his legs.

They made sure the temperature in his room never varied from 72 degrees. They boiled water at night to keep the humidity just right. They would hand him a cigarette and follow in his footsteps with an ashtray.

When Hubbard's bursitis acted up, a messenger would wrap his shoulders in a lumberjack shirt that had been warmed on a heater.

Long gone were those days when Hubbard was scratching out a living. Now, in the early 1970s, he fancied silk pants, ascots and nautical caps. It was evident that the red-haired author had enjoyed many a good meal.

It was a high honor for Scientologists to serve beside Hubbard, even if it meant performing such dreary tasks as ironing his clothes or ferrying his messages. But, for some, it was also disconcerting. The privileged few who worked at his side saw personality flaws and quirks not reflected in the staged photographs or in Hubbard's biographies.

They came to know the man behind the mystique.

They said he could display the temperament of a spoiled child and the eccentricities of a reclusive Howard Hughes.

When upset, Hubbard was known to erupt like a volcano, spewing obscenities and insults.

Former Scientologist Adelle Hartwell once testified during a Florida hearing on Scientology that she saw Hubbard "throw fits."

"I actually saw him take his hat off one day and stomp on it and cry like a baby."

Hubbard had been hotheaded since his youth, when his red hair earned him the nickname "Brick."

One of Hubbard's classmates recalled a day in 11th Grade when the husky Hubbard, for no apparent reason, got into a fight with Gus Leger, the lanky assistant principal at Helena High School in Helena, Mont.

"Old Gus was up at the blackboard," recalled Andrew Richardson. "He taught geometry. He was laying out this problem and Brick let loose with a piece of chalk and he missed him. Leger whirled and threw an eraser at Brick, who ducked, and it hit a girl right behind him in the face."

Hubbard wrestled with the teacher, then stuffed him into a trash can, said Richardson.

"We all got to laughing and he (Leger) couldn't get up," Richardson said, chuckling at the memory.

Richardson said that, while the students helped their teacher, Hubbard stormed out and never returned. He left to be with his parents in the Far East, where his father was stationed with the Navy.

In later life, one thing that could throw the irascible Hubbard into a rage was the scent of soap in his clothes. "I was petrified of doing the laundry," one former messenger said.

To protect themselves from a Hubbard tirade, the messengers rinsed his clothes in 13 separate buckets of water.

Doreen Gillham, who had who spent her teen years with Hubbard, never forgot what happened when a longtime aide offered him a freshly laundered shirt after he had taken a shower.

"He immediately grabbed the collar and put it up to his nose, then threw it down," said Gillham, who died recently in a horseriding accident. "He went to the closet and proceeded to sniff all the shirts. He would tear them off the hangers and throw them down. We're talking 30 shirts on the floor."

He let out a "long whine," Gillham said, and then began screaming about the smell.

"I picked up a shirt off the floor, smelled it and said, 'There is no soap on this shirt.' I didn't smell anything in any of them. He grudgingly put it on," said Gillham, who added: "Deep down inside, I'm telling myself, 'This guy is nuts!' "

Gillham said that Hubbard had become obsessed not only with soap smells but with dust, which aggravated his allergies. He demanded white-glove inspections but never seemed satisfied with the results.

No matter how clean the room, Gillham said, "he would insist that it be dusted over and over and over again."

Gillham, formerly one of Hubbard's most loyal and trusted messengers, said his behavior became increasingly erratic after he crashed a motorcycle in the Canary Islands in the early 1970s.

"He realized his own mortality," she said. "He was in agony for months. He insisted, with a broken arm and broken ribs, that he was going to heal himself and it didn't work."

According to those who knew him well, Hubbard was neither affectionate nor much of a family man. He seemed closer to his handpicked messengers than to his own seven children, one of whom he later denied fathering.

"His kids rarely, if ever, got to see him," Gillham said, until his wife Mary Sue "insisted on weekly Sunday night dinners."

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