This story first appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The past year hasn’t been kind to the Church of Scientology. Katie Holmes divorced Tom Cruise. A Vanity Fair cover story that revealed the Scientology-run “audition” process to be Cruise’s wife included an interview with one of Cruise’s original candidates who was forced, she claims, to scrub toilets with a toothbrush as punishment. Meanwhile, Scientologist John Travolta was hit with several lawsuits (albeit unrelated to the Church) that spawned endless Internet speculation. Behind those sensational headlines, details of an organization whose secrecy long has been guarded began to seep out with detractors using the Internet to expose the Church’s sacred documents and allege wrongdoing. Now, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Lawrence Wright, who profiled ex-Scientologist Paul Haggis for The New Yorker in 2011, delves fullon into the history and inner workings of the Church of Scientology in his book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.
Despite bad publicity and questions about its size — one survey puts U.S. membership at 25,000 (the Church claims 8 million worldwide), with the largest concentration in L.A. — Scientology continues to survive, with ex-members claiming it has assets of about $1 billion. As many as 5,000 people belong to the Sea Org, its elite clergy. Adherents are drawn to Scientology’s emphasis on self-improvement, though the Church’s theology and practices remain unknown to the public. (Since 1993, the IRS has classified Scientology as a tax-exempt religion.) Wright’s account, which is detailed through Church documents, court records and hundreds of interviews, including many with ex-members, is disputed by Scientology, which declined to give interviews for the book.
Karin Pouw, a representative for Scientology tells THR that, “The one thing ‘clear’ about Lawrence Wright’s book is that he continues to carry water for a handful of angry, bitter individuals ... [who] regurgitate six decades of false, bizarre tabloid allegations about the religion’s founder, its leadership and its prominent members.” Far from being in decline, she says Scientology opened 30 new churches in 2012. (Read Pouw's complete response here.)
Wright argues that the Church’s mystique rests mainly on its celebrity members. Early on, founder L. Ron Hubbard recruited Hollywood notables like Gloria Swanson. David Miscavige, who has headed the Church since Hubbard’s death in 1986, followed this strategy by cultivating Cruise, who has become the public face of the Church and one of its largest donors. Cruise, now 50, became a Scientologist in 1986 and the biggest celebrity to join the Church since Travolta. Cruise admired Miscavige’s confidence and bravado. Miscavige, in turn, was seduced by Cruise’s celebrity and opulent lifestyle. But by the mid-’90s, Cruise and wife Nicole Kidman drifted away from the Church, which frantically scrambled to win him back. In this exclusive excerpt, Wright details the relationship between Cruise and Miscavige, the star’s renewed commitment to Scientology following his divorce from Kidman and his emergence as possibly the second most- powerful figure in the Church. — Andy Lewis
For five days in October 1998, Tom Cruise, one of the biggest movie stars in the world, secretly drove into a private parking lot in the back of the historic Guaranty Building on Hollywood Boulevard, with the yellow Scientology sign atop. Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino used to have their offices here -- now the lobby is a shrine to the life and works of L. Ron Hubbard. A giant bust of the founder greets the occasional visitor.
Cruise went in a back door that led to a basement hallway and went directly to the "secret" 11th floor, where senior Church officials like David Miscavige and Marty Rathbun maintained offices. "He was not in good shape, spiritually or mentally," Rathbun observed. "He was personally very enturbulated," Scientology terminology for agitated.(1)
Rathbun, then the Inspector General at the Religious Technology Center, which oversees the Church's spiritual materials, had gone to Los Angeles to meet Cruise for auditing, the Church's system of religious counseling. (Rathbun is no longer connected to Scientology and is now one of its most outspoken critics. The Church has dismissed his accounts and refers to him as part of a "posse of lunatics.")
Cruise, the Church's most visible adherent, had been drifting away. According to Rathbun, Miscavige -- Scientology's de facto head since Hubbard's death -- blamed the actor's wife, Nicole Kidman, and viewed her as a gold digger who was faking Scientology. He says that Miscavige was hopeful that if they portrayed Nicole Kidman as a Suppressive Person, Cruise could be peeled away from her.(2)
After that episode of auditing, Cruise went quiet again. He and Kidman were in England filming Eyes Wide Shut for Stanley Kubrick. Suddenly, in January 2001, Rathbun said he got a call from the actor asking for help. Cruise said that he and Kidman were finished. Cruise never offered a public explanation for the divorce, and Kidman herself was clearly surprised by his decision.
This was a decisive moment in Cruise's relationship with Scientology. Rathbun provided the star with more than 200 hours of auditing over the next couple of years. From July through Thanksgiving 2001, Rathbun was with Cruise at the Celebrity Centre frequently, doing auditing rundowns. He paired Cruise with another actor, Jason Beghe, to do training drills; for instance, Beghe would think of a hypothetical date, which Cruise had to figure out using the E-Meter, a Scientology device that measures a body's electrical resistance by gripping two metal rods, a guessing exercise Cruise found really frustrating. (Cruise's attorney says, "Cruise may have had a chance encounter with Beghe at the Celebrity Centre but had no such meeting with him.")(3)
First footnote: Interview with Mark "Marty" Rathbun.
Second footnote: Interview with Mark "Marty Rathbun.
Third footnote: Interview with Jason Beghe.