The 13 Most Intriguing Revelations of The New Yorker's Paul Haggis/Scientology Expose
So you might have heard writer-director Paul Haggis caused a bit of a stir when he left the Church of Scientology in 2009. His defection, he said at the time, was attributable to the church's reluctance to declare its tolerance toward gays and lesbians -- an institutional blind spot exacerbated by its refusal in 2008 to condemn California's Prop 8. But as a much-anticipated new profile in The New Yorker proves, there is a little more to the story. Like 24,000 words more.
Surprisingly for a piece of this scope and magnitude, there's not a ton of new disclosures in Lawrence Wright's article about the church's history, tenets, ascendancy and accused abuses. But what is new is somewhat revelatory -- of chairman and alleged serial-assaulter David Miscavige (above center), head spokescreep Tommy Davis (above right), the celeb/church interface, and of Haggis himself, a thoughtful guy whose relationship with Scientology makes for must-read material on its own. But failing the hour or two you'll need to dedicate to take it all in yourself, Movieline offers these most essential points below. Your mileage may vary; tell me about it in the comments.
1. Paul Haggis is a Hell of a Fund-Raiser...
"The actor Ben Stiller, who has accompanied Haggis to Haiti, recalls that Haggis once raised four and a half million dollars in two hours."
2. ...But Wasn't an Especially Good Kid
"[He] was such a poor student that his parents sent him to a strict boarding school, where the students were assigned cadet drills. He preferred to sit in his room reading Ramparts, the radical magazine from America--the place he longed to be. He committed repeated infractions, but he learned to pick locks so that he could sneak into the prefect's office and eliminate his demerits." Haggis then left school after he was caught forging a check.
3. John Travolta Apparently Healed Marlon Brando
Best. Story. Ever:
[Josh] Brolin says that he once witnessed John Travolta practicing Scientology. Brolin was at a dinner party in Los Angeles with Travolta and Marlon Brando. Brando arrived with a cut on his leg, and explained that he had injured himself while helping a stranded motorist on the Pacific Coast Highway. He was in pain. Travolta offered to help, saying that he had just reached a new level in Scientology. Travolta touched Brando's leg and Brando closed his eyes. "I watched this process going on--it was very physical," Brolin recalls. "I was thinking, This is really fucking bizarre! Then, after ten minutes, Brando opens his eyes and says, 'That really helped. I actually feel different!' " (Travolta, through a lawyer, called this account "pure fabrication.")
4. An Epic Intervention Almost Derailed The Next Three Days
A month before shooting began in Pittburgh in 2009, nine or 10 "Scientology friends" including Anne Archer, composer Mark Isham and EarthLink founder Sky Dayton.
"Paul, I'm pissed off," Isham told Haggis. "There's better ways to do this. If you have a complaint, there's a complaint line." Anyone who genuinely wanted to change Scientology should stay within the organization, Isham argued, not quit; certainly, going public was not helpful. Haggis listened patiently. A fundamental tenet of Scientology is that differing points of view must be fully heard and acknowledged. When his friends finished, however, Haggis had his own set of grievances.
Haggis agreed to stop disseminating his letter of resignation, but it would be the last time he communicated with virtually all of them. Church officials visited him as well in the days that followed, becoming more "livid and irrational" with the defiant Haggis. Indulging them anyway, Haggis put off preproduction just long enough to hear their case before definitively declaring his permanent estrangement from Scientology.
5. Haggis Never Read DIanetics -- and O.T. III Was "Madness"
Coursework made Haggis feel a sense of "accomplishment," but he managed to read only 30 or so pages of L. Ron Hubbard's seminal text. "I thought it was impenetrable." Later on, while attempting to read and ascertain the secret knowledge behind O.T. III -- including disclosures regarding Xenu, planetary federations, thetans, H-bombs, volcanoes and other benchmarks of the Scientological faith -- Haggis claimed to a Scientology supervisor, "I don't understand." Urged to reread in a more literal context, Haggis was further vexed: "'I sat with that for a while,' he says. But when he read it again he decided, 'This is madness.'"
6. We Were Thisclose to A Haggis/Hubbard Screenwriting Collaboration
"Hubbard had written a treatment for a script titled Influencing the Planet and, apparently, intended to direct it. The film was supposed to demonstrate the range of Hubbard's efforts to improve civilization. With another Scientologist, Haggis completed a script, which he called 'quite dreadful.' Hubbard sent him notes on the draft, but no film by that name was ever released."
7. And There's a Haggis-Directed Scientology Commercial Somewhere
In the late '80s, while working as a writer on thirtysomething, Haggis jumped at the opportunity to make a 30-second TV spot for the Church. Alas:
He was determined to avoid the usual claim that Dianetics offered a triumphal march toward enlightenment. He shot a group of Scientologists talking about the practical ways that they had used Dianetics. "It was very naturalistic," he recalls. Church authorities hated it. "They thought it looked like an A.A. meeting." The spot never aired.
8. Don't Compare David Miscavige to Martin Luther King Jr.
"They thought that comparing Miscavige to Martin Luther King was debasing his character," said Haggis, who originally drew the analogue to say that even respected spiritual leaders are fallible from time to time. (Miscavige reportedly beat and tormented church members in Florida; Rev. King is alleged to have experienced "sexual improprieties.") "If they were trying to convince me that Scientology was not a cult, they did a very poor job of it."
9. David Miscavige's Wife Has "Disappeared"
According to sources, Shelly Miscavige filled several job vacancies in June, 2006, while her husband was away and without his permission. "Soon afterward," Wright notes, "she disappeared. Her current status is unknown. Tommy Davis told me, 'I definitely know where she is,' but he won't disclose where that is."
10. "Blowing" is Hard
When one 30-year Sea Org member attempted leaving the church, Tommy Davis and 19 church members tracked him down at his Texas motel -- at 5:30 in the morning. Davis later admitted "he and an entourage had flown to Texas in a jet chartered by Scientology, and had shown up outside [the man's] motel room at dawn. But he insisted that he was only trying 'to see a friend of mine.'" Speaking of which...
11. Tommy Davis is a Staggering Liar
Asked about a rumored Hubbard memo suggesting "an experiment in which ascending Scientologists skipped the O.T. III level" -- an idea allegedly "shelved" by Miscavige -- the Scientology spokesman called the assertion "libelous." He added: "[Hubbard's writing is] never altered. It's never changed. And there probably is no more heretical or more horrific transgression that you could have in the Scientology religion than to alter the technology."
Which sounded fishy to Wright and pretty much anyone else who's with the churches troubling relationship with homosexuality:
[H]adn't certain derogatory references to homosexuality found in some editions of Hubbard's books been changed after his death?
Davis admitted that that was so, but he maintained that "the current editions are one-hundred-per-cent, absolutely fully verified as being according to what Mr. Hubbard wrote." Davis said they were checked against Hubbard's original dictation.
"The extent to which the references to homosexuality have changed are because of mistaken dictation?" I asked.
"No, because of the insertion, I guess, of somebody who was a bigot," Davis replied.
"Somebody put the material in those--?"
"I can only imagine. . . . It wasn't Mr. Hubbard," Davis said, cutting me off.
"Who would've done it?"
"I have no idea."
"I don't think it really matters," Davis said. "The point is that neither Mr. Hubbard nor the church has any opinion on the subject of anyone's sexual orientation. . . ."
"Someone inserted words that were not his into literature that was propagated under his name, and that's been corrected now?" I asked.
"Yeah, I can only assume that's what happened," Davis said.
After this exchange, I looked at some recent editions that the church had provided me with. On page 125 of Dianetics, a "sexual pervert" is defined as someone engaging in "homosexuality, lesbianism, sexual sadism, etc." Apparently, the bigot's handiwork was not fully excised.
Later, asked to confirm details of Hubbard's heroic military service -- grave injuries from which directly influenced the creation of Scientology, according to Hubbard -- Davis provided records determined to be a "forgery" by an expert at the National Archives. Moreover: "Davis included a photograph of medals that Hubbard supposedly won. Two of the medals in the photograph weren't even created until after Hubbard left active service."
12. An E-Meter is Basically a Scale for Your Brain
"Thoughts have a small amount of mass," the church told Wright in a statement. "These are the changes measured." In all sincerity, the idea that thoughts weigh something is pretty much blowing my mind right now.
13. Haggis Doubts the Church is Through With Him
"My bet is that, within two years, you're going to read something about me in a scandal that looks like it has nothing to do with the church." Be advised!
· The Apostate [The New Yorker]