L Ron Hubbard chronic liar


Published on Sep 18, 2008


This is used under the fair use law to prove the lies and crime of the criminal scientology cult.

Mike Rinder speaks about the history of Scientology to TV3's Midweek



Published on Oct 26, 2011

Mike Rinder speaks to TV3.

Lisa Marie Presley’s Undercover War Against Scientology


Published on May 7, 2016

Lisa Marie Presley’s exit from the Church of Scientology and her undercover efforts against the organization are examined with author and journalist Tony Ortega as we look at

“Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me,” a book written by Ron Miscavige, the father of Church leader David Miscavige, in this highlight from the full length Media Mayhem episode with host Allison Hope Weiner.

Watch the full interview here: 

Media Mayhem Shorts Playlist: 

Media Mayhem Full Episodes:

The truth rundown Rathbun 14 The Lisa Mcpherson ex Scientologiest case 


Published on Oct 23, 2011

Disappeared: The Podcast Series - Michele Miscavige

Benjamin Thomas

Published on Nov 17, 2017

This episode covers the unknown whereabouts of Michele Miscavige, the wife of the leader of Scientology.

Michele hasn't been publicly seen by anyone since 2007.

Actress Leah Remini has left the church in recent years and filed a missing persons report on Michele in 2013.

To this day, the LAPD is being uncooperative.

It is difficult to call this a disappearance case because the church officially states that Michelle is fine and doesn't want to make public appearances.

The church released a family photo with Michele and her husband David, claiming the photo was recent.

But given the articles of clothes worn, as well as hair styles, I'm skeptical it was taken after 2007.

Some believe she is being subjected to abuses and is being held captive.

Even more strangely, she may not realize she is being held captive.

Until she makes a public appearance, if only for a minute, we will remain wondering.

There are handfuls of questions but no definitive answers. ----------

Michele Miscavige Resource Links----------

Article with “new” photo released of Shelly and David: 

Vanity Fair article: 

Twin Peaks Compound article: 

Where is Shelly?

Wife of Scientology leader not seen for ten years: 

Article detailing Shelly Miscavige being spotted twice recently: 

The Disappearance Of Shelly Miscavige:

15 Things You Need To Know 

LAPD Dismisses Leah Remini's Missing Person Report on Wife of Scientology Leader 

Letter to Leah Remini regarding her 12 requests to obtain LAPD files on Michele (scroll down the web page): 

Tammy Lynn Leppert Resources:

History of Glass Bank, the parking lot where Tammy was last seen.

Shared by the YouTube user John Adams. 

Schizophrenia Facts and Statistics - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 Episode music by Leonell Cassio. YouTube Channel: 

Episode background video compilation retrieved from

Gerald "Gerry" Armstrong - L. Ron Hubbard’s Assistant - Secret Lives - Scientology - Dianetics.


Published on Feb 27, 2015

Gerald "Gerry" Armstrong - L. Ron Hubbard’s Assistant & Sea Org Member.

Former member of the Church of Scientology and one of its most active critics. "Secret Lives" Scientology - Dianetics.

This video is uploaded with the intent of educating the public regarding Scientology and its belief structure and to help preserve the tech for future generations.

Gerry Armstrong: "I am Scientologists' enemy no.1"


Published on Mar 27, 2012

Gerry Armstrong, Ron Hubbard's former personal secretary, talks about his twelve years in Scientology,

his reasons for leaving the organization, and Scientologists' attack on his speeches denouncing Scientology.

The lecture was given at St.Tikhon's Orthodox University.

The truth rundown Rathbun 1 the Head of Scientology David Miscavige's spiral of violence


Published on Oct 10, 2011

Jon Atack & Jeffrey Augustine Discuss L. Ron Hubbard Jr., Captain Bill, and Scientology


Published on Jul 6, 2017

Jon Atack & Jeffrey Augustine Discuss L. Ron Hubbard Jr., Captain Bill, and Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard Jr., or "Nibs" as he was called, was the #2 figure in Scientology from 1952-1959.

Among his other duties, Nibs served as an Enforcer for his father. Nibs left the Church. He later spoke out against his father and even sued to gain control of his father's estate.

Nibs famously granted Penthouse Magazine an interview in which he said that Scientology was Black Magick spread out over time and that his father thought of himself as the Antichrist.

Nibs was eventually "recovered" by the Church of Scientology for an undisclosed sum of money.

In exchange, Nibs recanted everything he had said about his father and thereby destroyed his own credibility forever.

Jeffrey asks Jon, "Is Marty Rathbun the new L. Ron Hubbard Jr.?"

Revealing Marty Rathbun’s Secrets & Scientology


Published on Jun 7, 2017


Marty Rathbun released a Scientology-esque video yesterday discussing telling a different side of the Scientology story, the Anti-Scientology cult (ASC) and hinting at three people controlling the ASC.

I wanted to continue my expose on Marty and reveal more secrets and details about Marty and his lying habit.

I share my personal experiences working with Mr. Rathbun and consult a few Scientology experts who tell me about Marty’s possible settlement arrangement and whether or not he is back in good graces with Scientology and David Miscavige.

This is a video you do not want to miss! Patreon: *Donate to me & my channel* | VIDEO LINKS | Marty’s Video “INTRO”: 

Proof Marty Rathbun Lied About My Scientology Movie: 

Exposing the Lies of Marty Rathbun | My Scientology Movie: ----

Please subscribe to my channel and leave your thoughts in the comment section below. I read all comments! Steven on A&E’s Storage Wars: 

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WATCH: Liz Hayes takes the Scientology E-Meter test! See her results.

60 Minutes Australia

Published on Mar 23, 2014

Former Inspector General of Scientology, Marty Rathbun, places Liz Hayes on the E-Meter.

A device all Scientologists are scared of.

Leah Remini On Shelly Miscavige’s Disappearance - CONAN on TBS

Team Coco

Published on Jan 26, 2017


Shelly Miscavige's conspicuous absence from Tom Cruise’s wedding was the catalyst for Leah Remini’s exit from Scientology. More CONAN @ Team Coco is the official YouTube channel of late night host Conan O'Brien, CONAN on TBS & Subscribe now to be updated on the latest videos: For Full Episodes of CONAN on TBS, visit Get Social With Team Coco: On Facebook: ‪‬ On Google+: On Twitter: // On Tumblr: On YouTube: // Follow Conan O'Brien on Twitter: //

The truth rundown Rathbun 5 A codified series of steps to get someone back


Published on Oct 25, 2011

Church of Scientology former Executive Director Bill Franks on Hubbard, Miscavige 1/3


Published on Sep 24, 2015

Church of Scientology former Executive Director International Bill Franks discusses L. Ron Hubbard, David Miscavige.

This is a knock out video with a lot of data never previously released.

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Church of Scientology former Executive Director International Bill Franks 2/5


Published on Nov 7, 2015


Bill Franks shares a remarkable incident when L Ron Hubbard tells David Mayo and himself that people depart Scientology Inc

because of upsets *NOT* because of transgressions or harmful acts "overts" which is absolutely backbone theory of all of Scientology.

There are more stories, more important history.

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"Hubbard was opening his kimono to you, making you complicit in his secret." "Yeah, it was pretty uncomfortable.."

Retches at that mental image Uncomfortable.. yeah.. that's not a strong enough word.

John A.

Wow, that was awesome. I wonder if Hubbard realized that by telling Bill and David Mayo that people left because they were upset about what Scientology was doing to them (ARC breaks) rather than what they were doing to others and Scientology (overt acts and withholds) that he was tacitly admitting that the whole movement was perpetuating fraud on its adherents, especially Sea Org members. A good example of truth being stranger than fiction. Great interview, Jeffrey.

Elizabeth Lavet

powerful interview and powerful information.


A request. Please Jeff may we have a special upload on the events with Leah Remini & how the church is handling it etc. I would love to hear your wonderfully analytic overview. I feel it would be a super upload as is such a major event in the world of Scientology.

Mitch Pilchuk

An amazing interview! Great questions and Great answers. Augustine knows the history very well. Great questions and follow up questions. Bill Franks, whew! Good stuff. Thanks to you both.

Chuck Beatty

Great hindsight major conclusion by Scientology's first Executive Director International, Bill Franks. Buyers (dupes or future seekers thinking of giving L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology a try) BEWARE.

Carlos Cornier

I just discovered this interview...I was a Sea Org member in Clearwater from '77 to '82..I had several post/jobs one was course supervisor ( Chuck Beatty) and the other Surveys and Research ( plus 3 months in the RPF in '78) I always wanted to know what happen to Bill...of all the top execs he was cool, at least with me...I was also a member of a music band on the base and given permission to go to LA to record in 81...that's where I finally made my escape..So thank you Bill and ….

Philip Black

As always, you shows are the best! I listen to them multiple times. Is there anyone way for Christmas you could do holiday stories from Scientologists? Will Jessie Prince be back soon??? You are the best Jeffery!! Thank you as always for these.

Phil Jennings

Very insightful interview and an invaluable testimony. Had read and heard some of this before, but the new details are extremely interesting, and a bit stunning. Perhaps something good might have been salvaged if Bill had stayed on as ED. I remember how my mission which had been so theta and active, was turned upside down after the convention, with the Financial Police, etc. Very confusing and distressing at the time, but this now explains everything.

Phil Jennings

Very insightful interview and an invaluable testimony. Had read and heard some of this before, but the new details are extremely interesting, and a bit stunning. Perhaps something good might have been salvaged if Bill had stayed on as ED. I remember how my mission which had been so theta and active, was turned upside down after the convention, with the Financial Police, etc. Very confusing and distressing at the time, but this now explains everything. My viewpoint on Ron's motivations is that he was not solely trying to make money, early on at least. The millions of words he wrote show at least some interest in the "why's" of the human condition and in the counseling techniques he developed. I think he felt, like Thomas Edison, that his contribution was so great, that he deserved to be highly remunerated and celebrated, and later, treated like a sultan, which most Scientologists and SO members did not begrudge him. Gene Denk's diagnosis of dementia and paranoia seem to dovetail with his reported obsession with money later on. On another note, I also remember Rafi, he was quite a trip! I can well imagine his whole spiel with you, Jeffrey. Good answer! I know he's long passed on, but I wish him well wherever he is. I thought his 2D (relationship) seminar was quite interesting.

Marc Headley on Scientology, the Internet, and Technology and Int Base


Published on Apr 21, 2015

Marc Headley discusses Scientology, the internet, and technology with your host Jeffrey Augustine.

Marc Headley is the author of

Blown For Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology.

Mike Goldstein - L Ron Hubbard's Financial Controller - Secret Lives - Scientology - Dianetics


Published on Apr 15, 2015

Mike Goldstein - L Ron Hubbard's Financial Controller & Sea Org Member. Appointed "FBO Dictator" "Secret Lives" Scientology - Dianetics.

This video is uploaded with the intent of educating the public regarding Scientology and its belief structure and to help preserve the tech for future generations.

L Ron Hubbard Death Briefing

Caroline Letkeman

Published on Jan 10, 2015

Chuck Beatty

I was there in the audience, with my then spouse, we both were Sea Org members. The rhythmic clapping that occurs at 13:00 was the first time I'd ever heard this and I'd been to Scientology in house events since Dec 1975.

The crescendo of mood change into a mix of denial gleeful understanding , that Hubbard was somehow indeed carrying on as David Miscavige depicts, shows how a group deals with the death of their cult leader, and the clapping throughout the event, shows a mood change, and that rhythmic clapping happened, I believe, first at this moment in Scientology history.

As far as the fad of rhythmic clapping in the movement's event history, it lasted only a few more years and then this level of spontaneous group crowd behavioral response has never repeated. Scientology's events has a different type of gleeful denial to it today. But none as unique at this LRH Death Event. The LRH Death Event is an ALL TIME top 5 most important videos to watch of Scientology's history. Possibly this event ought to be in the top 1-3 events all time. I often thought this event was the all time event of the movement's history.

The group response of the members, though, at moment 13:00 is a unique moment in this groups' mind as they erupt into this spontaneous mental jump from the mood of sadness to transcendent acceptance of LRH's death and they seem to think that indeed Hubbard is now out there, out of his body, doing the hoped for next level of research.

This is an amazing event of group delusion. Probably the most important in Scientology's raw evidence of group self delusional acceptance of L. Ron Hubbard's words.

Thankyou so much Caroline for putting this event and the other videos up on your channel! Just priceless history! Chuck Beatty ex Sea Org (1975-2003) atheist today


What a Comedy


Thanks for posting this absurdity.  I guess this is when David Miscavige took over the scientology cult.


BTW: Two important things to notice.

1: Broeker and his wife are presented as LRHs closest confidantes and apparent heirs. A year later they completely drop off the radar, as Dave Miscavige completes the coup he set in motion even before LRH died.

2: Where are the OT10 levels Broeker is talking about? How come they haven't been released almost 4 decades later?

Raymond Swan

Lrh disguarded his body but he is not dead just gave up his body how stupid.

me sch

Thanks for posting this , umm, funeral service. too bad more peeps dont investigate this cult before joining... so sad.…

Kaarli Makela

What a joke. Miscavige committed a lousy coup in an organization that is full of contradiction. LRH was messed up - and his invention reflects all of it.

Mike Watkins

Why are they dressed liked captains or sailors? This is one of the creepiest things i've ever watched. And that includes the amazing expose about scientology on the A & E network that is running now. good grief.

Mark H.

Total B.S. ! After you reach the highest level and take as much of your money as they can, you start over at the beginning - look out folks!

Nonna Yourbsns

Lunatics watching more lunatics acting loony.


That's the longest clap EVER! HAHA And the way they all clap in unison is so creepy. DEFINATELY cult-like.


its ez to see how miscavige took over the rest couldnt communicate

s r

Ron would not have been charismatic enough to run a cult. He appesrs to be weak, and David must have realized this when he pushed him out of the way. This was great for the cult, bad for those since damaged by the cult.


Hubbard looks like a Love Boat Captain.


How much is OT 16?


What a lot of tireless clapping!!!!


What a bunch of sheep


creepy as hell...reminds me of a scene from Damien: The Omen 3

Francis Khoury

Why didn't Lafayette R Hubbard wait until he was something like 200 years old before voluntarily "discarding" his body? But no, he had to do it after a normal human lifespan of 74 years, thus requiring blind faith that he didn't simply croak like the rest of us…

Dreamaginations by Joseph

....hmm...No 'body' last respects. recorded last message open casket. ..Nothing. ....ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. .....from a man who wrote 'Countless' Books....just to be HEARD! Where's Mueller? ???

Theresa Akins

LRH's body was not sound when he died and his wife and family didn't receive anything (After jail, Mary Sue was given a house to live in and money to live on frugally). That lawyer was lying bad! As well as David Miscavaige.


the best photo of LRH is his wiring of a tomato-what a whack job

Paul Taylor

It is crazy how they invented this story to make him doing research while he is just dead. And it is even more crazy that all these people really believe it.…


Get your funeral cringe at 25.25, when Broeker display a date LRH wrote down that's hundreds of numbers long. Nervous laugh from a few audience members, and Broeker apparently doesn't know how to react either.

Chris Baranet

Chuck why is Pat so nervous ? Is it because he is lying about all of the OT levels that he says LRH left ?

Chuck Beatty

Thankyou Caroline! You and Gerry have done the world a huge favor by your years of media and the sites of endless important vital material on L. Ron Hubbard. You two are the best for all time in depth look into Hubbard as ex members. Your volume of relevant material is the best. Thankyou! Chuck Beatty ex Sea Org (1975-2003)

Niqole Monte

"Can everyone hear me ok? If not, please move to where you can" this really seems to embody the ideology of scientology! Don't ask me to speak up, you are just sitting in the wrong spot so, you move! I'm saddened to see all the "what a joke" responses bc it negates the harm and horror that so many have suffered thru this cult. It disregards the number of deaths and suicides in which scientology is an accomplice. I used to scoff at the absurdity of these cult members but I've been educated on the evils of this mind controlled group of people. Many are intelligent, most start out wanting to change the world for the better. HellRH studied mind control and the black arts. He was unbelievably charismatic and persuasive, apparently. I don't see it but many have. Countless lives amid countless families have been ruined by this cult. We've all been duped at some point in our lives; give thanks if you didn't fall for something as evil and destructive as this but please don't make light of those who have. Educate yourself rather than making assumptions and jokes. David Ms. Savage, just as HellRH have literally ruined the lives of countless people. They cover up all the suicides and the child sexual abuse along with 4,792 other types of abuse perpetrated by scientology to/on scientologist, their families&friends and those who speak out about them!

Alex S. Gabor

1:03:00 #HeberJentzsch is no longer the President of the #ChurchofScientology. He is being held prisoner against his will in the #RPF or the #Hole or in a facility where I cannot communicate with him. He is my former #twin, #coach, still my #friend, and I will never desert a friend in need or in trouble, #CodeofHonor #CodeofEthics so take note. #FreeTheHeber #SetHeberFree #HeberJentzsch is not your or my #enemy! #DavidMiscavige has been served with legal papers for his release into my custody or be prosecuted for kidnapping and false imprisonment by the #RiversideCounty #SuperiorCourt #Prosecutors


Is it cool to call the science fiction writer LRH? Sounds soooo friggin creepy stupid!


Bare-Faced Messiah By  Russell Miller, Chapter 1 A Dubious Prodigy

The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard is a posthumous biography of Scientology founder

L. Ron Hubbard by British journalist Russell Miller. Originally published: 26 October1987 Author: Russell Miller, Genre: Biography, Page count: 380, Publisher: Michael Joseph, Subject: L. Ron Hubbard

Chapter 1 A Dubious Prodigy

Although Miller implies there was no such person as 'Snake' Thompson, he did in fact exist. William Sims Bainbridge, the eminent sociologist and author of several papers on Scientology, reports this vignette of the man: 
      "Snake Thompson was the best friend of my great uncle, Con (Consuelo Seoane). Together, around 1911, they spent nearly two years as American spies inside the Japanese Empire, charting possible invasion routes and counting all the Japanese fortifications and naval guns. It was an official but top secret joint Army-Navy spy expedition, with Con representing the Army, and Snake, the Navy. They pretended to be South African naturalists studying Japanese reptiles and amphibians, and Con was constantly worried that Snake had a camera hidden in his creel, which would get them shot if the Japanese checked too closely. Thompson habitually wore a green scarf fastened with a gold pin in the shape of a snake." (private email, quoted by Rob Clark, in article <> posted to alt.religion.scientology on 25 Apr 1997) -- Dean Benjamin

The hospital in Tilden, Nebraska, where L. Ron Hubbard was born in 1911. His aunt Toilie, who worked in the hospital, is second from the right.

Ledora May Hubbard, Ron's long-suffering mother, and her husband Harry Ross Hubbard, Ron's father, in the dress uniform of a US Navy officer. Ron remembered his mother sometimes with affection, sometimes with deep dislike; his father found that promotion eluded him and debtors pursued him.

Little Ron in a sailor hat. One day he would be the self-appointed commodore of his own private navy.

Ron's grandfather was supposed to have owned a quarter of the state of Montana. Here he is seen as he really was, a struggling veterinarian, pictured with his wife and their first child (Ron's mother) at Tilden, Nebraska, around the late 1880s.

The Waterbury family photographed in their home town of Helena, Montana. 
Ledora May Waterbury, Ron's mother (left), with an unidentified relative, her sisters Toilie and Midgie and brother Ray

Abram Waterbury, L. Ron Hubbard's great-grandfather, playing the fiddle carved with a negro's head that became part of the family legend

According to the colourful yarn spun for the benefit of his followers, L. Ron Hubbard was descended on his mother's side from a French nobleman, one Count de Loupe, who took part in the Norman invasion of England in 1066; on his father's side, the Hubbards were English settlers who had arrived in America in the nineteenth century. It was altogether a distinguished naval family: both his maternal great-grandfather, 'Captain' I. C. DeWolfe, and his grandfather, 'Captain' Lafayette Waterbury, 'helped make American naval history',[1] while his father was 'Commander' Harry Ross Hubbard, US Navy.

As his father was away at sea for lengthy periods, the story goes, little Ron grew up on his wealthy grandfather's enormous cattle ranch in Montana, said to cover a quarter of the state [approximately 35,000 square miles!]. His picturesque friends were frontiersmen, cowboys and an Indian medicine man. 'L. Ron Hubbard found the life of a young rancher very enjoyable. Long days were spent riding, breaking broncos, hunting coyote and taking his first steps as an explorer. For it was in Montana that he had his first encounter with another culture the Blackfoot [Pikuni] Indians. He became a blood brother of the Pikuni and was later to write about them in his first published novel, Buckskin Brigades. When he was ten years old, in 1921, he rejoined his family. His father, alarmed at his apparent lack of formal learning, immediately put him under intense instruction to make up for the time he had "lost" in the wilds of Montana. So it was that by the time he was twelve years old, L. Ron Hubbard had already read a goodly number of the world's greatest classics - and his interest in religion and philosophy was born.'[2]

 (Scientology's account of the years 1911-21.)

*   *   *   *   *

Virtually none of this is true. The real story of L. Ron Hubbard's early life is considerably more prosaic and begins not on a cattle ranch but in a succession of rented apartments necessarily modest since his father was a struggling white-collar clerk drifting from job to job. His grandfather was neither a distinguished sea captain nor a wealthy rancher but a small-time veterinarian who supplemented his income renting out horses and buggies from a livery barn. It is true, however, that his name was Lafayette O. Waterbury.

As far as anyone knew, the Waterburys came from the Catskills, the dark-forested mountain range in New York State celebrated in the early nineteenth century as the setting for Washington Irving's popular short story about Rip Van Winkle - a character only marginally more fantastic than the Waterburys' most famous scion.

 (The Hubbards' and Waterburys' travels, 1860 to 1922.)

Shortly before the turmoil of the Civil War divided the nation, Abram Waterbury and his young wife, Margaret, left the Catskills to join the thousands of hopeful settlers trekking west in covered wagons to seek a better future. By 1863 he had set up in business as a veterinarian in Grand Rapids, Michigan and on 25 July 1864, Margaret gave birth to a son whom they named Lafayette, perhaps after the town in Indiana at which they had stopped on their journey before turning north to Grand Rapids.

Lafayette, undoubtedly thankful to be known to his friends as Lafe, learned the veterinary trade from his father and married before he was twenty. His bride was twenty-one-year-old Ida Corinne DeWolfe, from Hampshire, Illinois. Diminutive in stature, Ida was a gentle, intelligent, strong-willed young woman whose mother had died in childbirth, with her eighth child, when Ida was sixteen. John DeWolf, her father, was a wealthy banker who clung to a fanciful family legend about the origins of the DeWolfes in Europe. Details and dates were vague, but the essence of the story was that a courtier accompanying a prince on a hunting expedition in France had somehow saved his master from an attack by a wolf; in gratitude the prince had ennobled the faithful courtier, bestowing upon him the title of Count de Loupe, a name that was eventually anglicized to DeWolfe. [No records exist to support this story, either in Britain or France; Vice-Admiral Harry De Wolf, twelfth-generation descendant of Balthazar De Wolf, the first De Wolf in America, says he has never heard of Count de Loupe.[3]]

DeWolfe offered the young couple the use of a farm he owned in Nebraska on condition that Lafe would maintain and improve the property. It was at Burnett, a settlement on the Elkhorn river, one hundred miles west of Omaha, which had recently been opened up by the arrival of the Sioux City and Pacific Railroad.

Burnett was an unremarkable cluster of log cabins, dug-outs and ramshackle pine huts huddled in a lazy curve of the river and surrounded by gently rolling prairie. It might never have appeared on any map had not the homesteaders persuaded the railroad to make a halt nearby. The first train arrived in 1879 and thereafter the town developed around the railroad depot rather than the river; within a few years a general store, saloon and livery stable were in business. The Davis House Hotel, opened in 1884, was considered the finest on the whole Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad.

By the time Lafe and Ida Waterbury arrived in Burnett, soon after the opening of the hotel, Ida was heavy with child; a daughter, Ledora May, was born in 1885. During the next twenty years Ida would produce seven more children and selflessly devote herself to the upbringing of a happy, close and high-spirited family.

For a couple of years Lafe worked his father-in-law's farm, but a bitter family row developed when DeWolfe indicated his intention to exclude his other children and leave the property solely to Ida and Lafe. Rather than be the cause of strife in the family, Lafe moved out, opened a livery stable in town on Second Street and established himself as a veterinarian. His business was a success because he was well-liked and respected in the area, particularly after playing a starring role in a local domestic drama which briefly held the town gossips in thrall. Ida's sister, who had also moved to Burnett, woke up one morning to discover that her husband had left her and taken their infant son with him to New York. Lafe immediately packed his bags, set off for New York by train, tracked down the erring husband and returned to Burnett in triumph, his nephew in his arms.

When Ida gave birth to another daughter in 1886, it was a typically warm-hearted gesture that prompted them to name the baby Toilie. A young man who used to hang around the livery stable had been engaged to a girl called Toilie before he became mentally deranged; whenever he felt 'strange' he would always, for some reason, seek out Lafe and find reassurance from his company. When he learned that Ida and Lafe had had another daughter, he shyly asked if they would call her Toilie, after the sweetheart he knew he would never be able to marry. Years later the irreverent Toilie would say 'I'm nuts because I was named by a crazy man' and shriek with laughter.

Toilie was still a baby when hard times hit Burnett. In January 1887 a catastrophic blizzard swept across the plains west of the Mississippi, killing thousands of head of cattle; most of the local ranchers were mined overnight. The farmers fared no better, for that terrible winter was followed by a succession of blistering summers accompanied by plagues of grasshoppers which devastated the already sparse crops. But at a point when many of the despairing townsfolk were talking about giving up the struggle against the unforgiving elements, the climate suddenly improved and the detested grasshoppers disappeared; unlike many small towns in the Nebraska prairie, Burnett survived the crisis.

By 1899 the local newspaper, the Burnett Citizen, was able to report, as evidence of increasing prosperity, that Lafe Waterbury was among those who had built new dwelling houses in the town that year. It was a fine, two-storey, wood-frame house on Elm Street, sheltered at the front by two huge elm trees. At the rear, beyond a stand of willows, it overlooked prairie stretching away into hazy infinity; deer and antelope often ventured within sight of the back yard and at night the howls of coyotes made the children shiver in their beds. 

The Waterburys certainly needed the space offered by their new home, for by now May and Toilie had been joined by Ida Irene (called Midgie by the family because she was so small), a brother Ray, and two more sisters, Louise and Hope. Another two girls, Margaret and June, would follow in 1903 and 1905. Lafe and Ida doted on their children, thoroughly enjoyed their company and liked nothing more than when the house was full of noise and laughter. Ida was determined that her children would have a happier upbringing than her own - she never forgot being constantly beaten at school for writing with her left hand - and as a consequence the Waterburys were unusually relaxed parents for their time, encouraging their offspring to attend church on Sundays, for example, but caring little which church they attended. Surprisingly, there was considerable choice. For a small town with a population of less than a thousand people, Burnett was an excessively God-fearing community and supported four thriving churches - Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Catholic.

Lafe and Ida always claimed they were too busy to go to church themselves, although Lafe openly declared, to his children, his ambivalence towards religion: 'Some of the finest men I have ever known were preachers,' he liked to say, 'and some of the biggest hypocrites I have ever known were preachers.' He was a large, bluff man with an irrepressible sense of humour, a talent for mimicry and a hint of the showman about him: he often used to announce his intention to put all his children on the stage. In the evenings, when he had had a drink or two, he would sit on the porch and play his fiddle, which had a negro's head carved at the end of the shaft.

Tutored by Lafe, who was considered to be one of the best horsemen in Madison County, all the children learned to ride almost as soon as they could walk and each of them was allocated a pony from the Waterbury livery stable. Also quartered with the horses was the family cow, Star, who obligingly provided them every day with as much milk as they could drink.

In 1902, because of confusion with a similarly-named town nearby, the good folk of Burnett decided to change the name of their town to Tilden, thereby commemorating an unsuccessful presidential candidate, Samuel J. Tilden, who had contested the 1876 election won by Rutherford B. Hayes. May was the first of the Waterbury children to graduate, in 1904, from Tilden High School. Tall, outspoken and independent, she was an unashamed feminist - she was outraged when she read in the newspaper that a policeman in New York had arrested a woman for smoking in the street and thrilled to learn that deaf and blind Helen Keller had graduated from Radcliffe College the same year she graduated from Tilden. It surprised no one in the family when May announced that she wanted a career, declaring her belief that there must be more to life than caring for a husband and bearing children. Accordingly, and with the blessing of her parents, she set off for Omaha to train as a teacher. But by the time she had qualified as a high school and institute teacher, certificate of Nebraska, she was writing letters home about a young sailor she had met called 'Hub'.

Harry Ross Hubbard was not a descendent of a long line of Hubbards but an orphan. Born Henry August Wilson on 31 August 1886 at Fayette, Iowa, his mother had died when he was a baby and he had been adopted by a Mr and Mrs James Hubbard, farmers in Frederiksburg, Iowa, who changed his name to Harry Ross Hubbard.

At school, Harry was not a high flier. He briefly attended a business college at Norma Springs, Iowa, but dropped out when he realized he had little chance of a degree. On 1 September 1904, the day after his eighteenth birthday, he joined the United States Navy as an enlisted man. While serving as a yeoman on the USS Pennsylvania, he began writing 'romantic tales' of Navy life for newspapers back home, earning useful extra income. He was posted to the US Navy recruiting office in Omaha in 1906 when he met May Waterbury and it was not long before her plans for an independent career were more or less forgotten. They married on 25 April 1909, and by the summer of 1910 May was pregnant; her husband, now discharged from the Navy, had found work as a commercial teller in the advertising department of the Omaha World Herald newspaper.

The Waterburys, meanwhile, had left Tilden and moved to Durant in south-east Oklahoma, close to the border with Texas. Lafe had seen the first Model T. Ford trundle cautiously through the main street of Tilden and realized that his livery stable faced an uncertain future; when a close friend in Durant suggested to him that the warmer climate in the south would be better for all the family, he talked it over with Ida and they decided to go, making the eight hundred-mile trip by railroad. Ray, then sixteen, travelled with Star and the horses and fed and watered the animals during the journey.

Only Toilie stayed behind in Tilden. She was twenty-three and working as a nurse and secretary for Dr Stuart Campbell, who had opened a small hospital in a wood-frame house on Oak Street, just a block away from the Waterbury family home. Toilie was reluctant to give up her job and her parents readily accepted her decision not to go with them to Oklahoma.

Campbell, who had set up a practice in Tilden in 1900, had delivered Ida Waterbury's two youngest children, but it was the fact that Toilie was working for him that persuaded May to return to Tilden to give birth to her first child. With only a little more than a year between them, May and Toilie had always been close, walking to and from school arm in arm, sharing a bedroom and incessantly giggling together over childhood secrets.

Toilie was waiting at the railroad depot in Tilden at the end of February 1911 when May, helped by a solicitous Hub, heaved herself down from the train. Although Tilden was still no more than four dirt streets running north to south, intersected by four more running east-west, May noticed plenty of changes in the short time she had been away - four grain elevators had been built, three saloons and two pool halls had opened, Mrs Mayes was competing with the Botsford sisters in the millinery trade and there was even a new 'opera house' - true, it had yet to stage its first opera, but the road shows were always popular, particularly since Alexander's Ragtime Band had set the nation's feet tapping.

May did not have long to wait for the 'blessed event'. She went into labour during the afternoon of Friday 10 March, and Toilie arranged for her to be admitted immediately to Dr Campbell's hospital. At one minute past two o'clock the following morning, she was delivered of a son. She and Hub had already decided that if it was a boy, he would be named Lafayette Ronald Hubbard.

Ida and Lafe Waterbury did not see their first grandchild until Christmas 1911, when Hub, May and the baby arrived to spend the holiday with them in Durant. Lafe, who had been out treating a neighbour's horse, burst into the house, threw his hat on the floor and leaned over the crib to shake his grandson's hand. Baby Ron smiled obligingly and Lafe whooped with pleasure, trumpeting at his wife: 'Look, the little son of a bitch knows me already.'

The biggest surprise for the family was that Ron had a startling thatch of fluffy orange hair. Hub was dark-haired and the Waterburys had no more than a hint of auburn in their colouring - nothing like the impish little carrot-top who gurgled happily as he was passed from one lap to another. Seven-year-old Margaret, known in the family as Marnie, spoke for everyone when she proclaimed her new nephew to be 'cute as a bug's ear'.

During that Christmas May told her parents that Hub had got a new job on a newspaper in Kalispell, Montana, and that they would be moving there from Omaha in the New Year. She was hopeful that it would prove to be a step up for them.

In the spring of 1912, May began writing long and enthusiastic letters from Kalispell. Perhaps missing the family, she often hinted that they might consider joining her and Hub in Montana. Kalispell was a fine, modern city, she wrote, with paved streets, electric lighting and many fine houses. The surrounding Flathead Valley was famous for its fruit and at blossom time the orchards of apples, peaches, pears, cherries and plums had to be seen to be believed. One Kalispell farmer, Fred Whiteside, was so confident about the quality of his fruit that he boasted he would give $1000 to anyone finding a worm in one of his apples.

May's letters gave her parents much to think about, for they both recognized that the move to Oklahoma had not been a success. When they first arrived in Durant, Lafe bought a livery barn on the outskirts of town and for several months the whole family lived in the hayloft above the animals. They built a cookhouse on the property so they had somewhere to eat their meals and then started on a house.

None of the children minded the privations in the least - indeed, they rather enjoyed thinking of themselves as true pioneers - but Lafe found the humid summers very debilitating. It made May's description of the blossom in Montana all the more enticing.

Ida had been deeply disturbed by an incident that occurred soon after they moved into their new house. A negro raped a white woman in the town and while a posse was out looking for him, a rumour took hold that there was going to be a negro uprising, causing something approaching panic, particularly in remote outlying areas. At nightfall. Lafe and Ray took guns and went out on horses to protect the approaches to their property, while the girls waited behind barred windows, watching flares bounce through the night and listening to the rattle of cartwheels as farmers shepherded their families into the safety of the town.

Although there was no uprising, both Ida and Lafe were concerned that there might be a 'next time' and they did not want to feel that their safety depended on their willingness to protect themselves with guns. In the fall of 1912, the Waterburys once again sold their house, packed up their belongings and loaded their livestock on to railcars, this time bound for Kalispell, Montana, 1500 miles to the north-west. Long delays at railheads, while waiting with their freight cars to be picked up by north-bound trains, added days to the journey and it was a week before they were hooked on to a Great Northern Railway train labouring across the Rocky Mountains through the spectacular passes that led to Kalispell.

The family reunion was the happiest of occasions and no one received more attention than Ron, who had learned to take his first faltering steps. 'He was very much the love child of the whole family,' said Marnie. 'He was adored by everyone. I can still see that mop of red hair running around.'

letters from Kalispell. Perhaps missing the family, she often hinted that they might consider joining her and Hub in Montana. Kalispell was a fine, modern city, she wrote, with paved streets, electric lighting and many fine houses. The surrounding Flathead Valley was famous for its fruit and at blossom time the orchards of apples, peaches, pears, cherries and plums had to be seen to be believed. One Kalispell farmer, Fred Whiteside, was so confident about the quality of his fruit that he boasted he would give $1000 to anyone finding a worm in one of his apples.

May's letters gave her parents much to think about, for they both recognized that the move to Oklahoma had not been a success. When they first arrived in Durant, Lafe bought a livery barn on the outskirts of town and for several months the whole family lived in the hayloft above the animals. They built a cookhouse on the property so they had somewhere to eat their meals and then started on a house.

None of the children minded the privations in the least - indeed, they rather enjoyed thinking of themselves as true pioneers - but Lafe found the humid summers very debilitating. It made May's description of the blossom in Montana all the more enticing.

Ida had been deeply disturbed by an incident that occurred soon after they moved into their new house. A negro raped a white woman in the town and while a posse was out looking for him, a rumour took hold that there was going to be a negro uprising, causing something approaching panic, particularly in remote outlying areas. At nightfall. Lafe and Ray took guns and went out on horses to protect the approaches to their property, while the girls waited behind barred windows, watching flares bounce through the night and listening to the rattle of cartwheels as farmers shepherded their families into the safety of the town.

Although there was no uprising, both Ida and Lafe were concerned that there might be a 'next time' and they did not want to feel that their safety depended on their willingness to protect themselves with guns. In the fall of 1912, the Waterburys once again sold their house, packed up their belongings and loaded their livestock on to railcars, this time bound for Kalispell, Montana, 1500 miles to the north-west. Long delays at railheads, while waiting with their freight cars to be picked up by north-bound trains, added days to the journey and it was a week before they were hooked on to a Great Northern Railway train labouring across the Rocky Mountains through the spectacular passes that led to Kalispell.

The family reunion was the happiest of occasions and no one received more attention than Ron, who had learned to take his first faltering steps. 'He was very much the love child of the whole family,' said Marnie. 'He was adored by everyone. I can still see that mop of red hair running around.'

letters from Kalispell. Perhaps missing the family, she often hinted that they might consider joining her and Hub in Montana. Kalispell was a fine, modern city, she wrote, with paved streets, electric lighting and many fine houses. The surrounding Flathead Valley was famous for its fruit and at blossom time the orchards of apples, peaches, pears, cherries and plums had to be seen to be believed. One Kalispell farmer, Fred Whiteside, was so confident about the quality of his fruit that he boasted he would give $1000 to anyone finding a worm in one of his apples.

May's letters gave her parents much to think about, for they both recognized that the move to Oklahoma had not been a success. When they first arrived in Durant, Lafe bought a livery barn on the outskirts of town and for several months the whole family lived in the hayloft above the animals. They built a cookhouse on the property so they had somewhere to eat their meals and then started on a house.

None of the children minded the privations in the least - indeed, they rather enjoyed thinking of themselves as true pioneers - but Lafe found the humid summers very debilitating. It made May's description of the blossom in Montana all the more enticing.

Ida had been deeply disturbed by an incident that occurred soon after they moved into their new house. A negro raped a white woman in the town and while a posse was out looking for him, a rumour took hold that there was going to be a negro uprising, causing something approaching panic, particularly in remote outlying areas. At nightfall. Lafe and Ray took guns and went out on horses to protect the approaches to their property, while the girls waited behind barred windows, watching flares bounce through the night and listening to the rattle of cartwheels as farmers shepherded their families into the safety of the town.

Although there was no uprising, both Ida and Lafe were concerned that there might be a 'next time' and they did not want to feel that their safety depended on their willingness to protect themselves with guns. In the fall of 1912, the Waterburys once again sold their house, packed up their belongings and loaded their livestock on to railcars, this time bound for Kalispell, Montana, 1500 miles to the north-west. Long delays at railheads, while waiting with their freight cars to be picked up by north-bound trains, added days to the journey and it was a week before they were hooked on to a Great Northern Railway train labouring across the Rocky Mountains through the spectacular passes that led to Kalispell.

The family reunion was the happiest of occasions and no one received more attention than Ron, who had learned to take his first faltering steps. 'He was very much the love child of the whole family,' said Marnie. 'He was adored by everyone. I can still see that mop of red hair running around.'

Lafe found a small house in Orchard Park, a short walk from May and Hub's home and only a block from the fairground, where he hoped to find work as a veterinarian. With only two bedrooms, it was not nearly big enough for the Waterbury tribe, but it had a barn that would accommodate all the horses and still leave enough room for the long-suffering and widely-travelled Star. Marnie and June, the two youngest children, were given one of the bedrooms and Lafe built a big wood-frame tent in the yard for the other four: inside, it was divided by a canvas screen - Ray slept on a bunk on one side and Midgie, Louise and Hope were on the other. They had a stove to keep them warm in the winter and were perfectly content. On summer evenings, Marnie and June often heard their older sisters whispering and tittering in the tent and sometimes they crept outside to join them and share the cherries they stole almost every night from a neighbouring garden.

The Waterburys were happy in Kalispell: Ida and Lafe made no secret of the pleasure they took in being able to see their grandson every day; Midgie met her future husband, Bob, in the town; and Ray developed an impressive talent for training horses. Under his careful tuition, the family ponies learned tricks like counting by pawing the ground with a hoof and stealing handkerchiefs from his pocket. The Waterbury 'show horses', ridden by the Waterbury children, became a popular feature in the town parades and they always competed in the races at the fairground.

Baby Ron remained the centre of the family's attention and the star of the Waterbury photograph albums - Ron perched in an apple tree, Ron with Liberty Bill, their English bull terrier, on the porch of the Kalispell house, Ron trying to measure the back yard with a tape. Having clearly inherited something of his grandfather's showmanship, Ron thoroughly enjoyed being in the family spotlight.

Lafe was walking down Kalispell's main street one day with Marnie and Ron when he bumped into Samuel Stewart, the governor of Montana, whom he had met several times. 'Hey Sam,' he said, 'I'd like you to meet my little grandson, Ron.' Stewart stooped, solemnly shook hands with the boy and stood chatting to Lafe for a few minutes. After he had gone, Marnie, who had been neither introduced nor acknowledged, turned furiously on her father and snapped, 'Why didn't you introduce me? Don't I matter?' Lafe had the grace to apologize, but Marnie could see by his broad grin that he was not in the least repentant.

As well as being favoured so shamelessly, Ron could always count on the support of his many aunts in any family dispute. While he was learning to talk, he would frequently drive his mother to distraction by running round the house repeating the same, usually meaningless, word over and over again. One afternoon at the Waterbury home, the word was 'eskobiddle'. May, at the end of her patience, finally shouted at him: 'If you say that once more I'm going to go and wash your mouth out with soap.'

Ron looked coolly at her and smiled slowly. 'Eskobiddle!' he yelled at the top of his voice. May immediately dragged him off and carried out her threat. A few minutes later, Ida heard shrieks coming from the back yard and discovered Midgie and Louise holding May down and washing her mouth with soap to avenge their precious nephew.

Less than twelve months after the Waterburys arrived in Kalispell, May broke the news that she and Hub were going to move on; Hub was having problems with his job on the newspaper and had been offered a position as resident manager of the Family Theater in the state capital, Helena. Ida and Lafe were naturally upset but, as May said, Helena was only two hundred miles away and it was also on the Great Northern Railroad, so they would be able to visit each other frequently.

Nevertheless, it would not be the same, both doting grandparents gloomily concluded, as having little Ronald in and out of the house almost every day.

Helena in 1913 was a pleasant city of Victorian brick and stone buildings encircled by the Rocky Mountains, whose snow-dusted peaks stippled with pines provided a scenic backdrop in every direction. The Capital Building, with its massive copper dome and fluted doric columns, eloquently proclaimed its status as the first city of Montana, as did the construction of the neo-Gothic St Helena Cathedral, which was nearing completion on Warren Street. Electric streetcars clanked along the brick-paved main street, once a twisting mountain defile known as Last Chance Gulch in commemoration of the four prospectors who had unexpectedly struck gold there in 1864 and subsequently rounded the city.

The Family Theater, at 21 Last Chance Gulch, occupied part of a handsome red-brick terrace with an ornate stone coping, but it suffered somewhat from its position, since it was in the heart of the city's red-light district and could not have been more inappropriately named. Respectable families arriving for the evening performance were required to avert their eyes from the colourful ladies leaning out of the windows of the brothels on each side of the theater, although it was not unknown for the occasional father to slip out after the show had started and return before the final curtain, curiously flushed.

Harry Hubbard's duties were to sell tickets during the day, collect them at the door as patrons arrived, maintain order if necessary during the show and lock up at the end of the evening. Although his title was resident manager, he chose not to live at the theater and rented a rickety little wooden house, not much better than a shack, on Henry Street, on the far side of the railroad track. May hated it and soon found a small apartment on the top floor of a house at 15 Rodney Street, closer to the theater and in a better part of town.

Travelling road shows, sometimes comprising not much more than a singer, pianist and a comedian, were the staple fare of the Family Theater. Ron was often allowed to see the show and he would sit with his mother in the darkened auditorium completely enthralled, no matter what the act. Years later he would recall sitting in a box at the age of two wearing his father's hat and applauding with such enthusiasm that the audience began cheering him rather than the cast. He claimed the players took twelve curtain calls before they realized what was happening.[4]

When the Waterburys paid a visit to Helena, Hub arranged for them to see the show, made sure they had the best seats in the house and solemnly stood at the door of the theater to collect their tickets as they filed in. Not long after their return to Kalispell, May heard that her father had slipped on a banana skin, fallen and broken his arm. She did not worry overmuch at first, even when her mother wrote to say that the arm had not been set properly and had had to be re-broken. Indeed, her worries were rather closer to home, for Harry had been told by the owner of the Family Theater that unless the audiences improved the theater might have to close.

The news from abroad was also giving cause for concern, despite Woodrow Wilson's promise to keep America out of the war threatening to engulf Europe. On Sunday 2 August 1914, headlines in the Helena Independent announced that Germany had declared war on Russia and a despatch from London confirmed: 'The die is cast . . . Europe is to be plunged into a general war.' Closer to home, rival unions in the copper mines at Butte, only sixty miles from Helena, were also at war. When the Miners' Union Hall was dynamited, Governor Stewart declared martial law and sent in the National Guard to keep order.

It was in this turbulent climate that the Family Theater finally closed its doors, for the audiences did not pick up. Harry Hubbard was once again obliged to look for work, but once again he was lucky - he was taken on as a book-keeper for the Ives-Smith Coal Company, 'dealers in Original Bear Creek, Roundup, Acme and Belt Coal', at 41 West Sixth Avenue. May, meanwhile, found a cheaper apartment for the family on the first floor of a shingled wood-frame house at 1109 Fifth Avenue.

Back in Kalispell, Lafe Waterbury was still having trouble with his arm. He was not the kind of man to complain about bad luck, but no one could have blamed him had he done so. His arm had to be set a third time and just when it seemed it was beginning to heal he was thrown to the ground by a horse he was examining. He was never to regain full strength in that arm and although he was only fifty years old he knew he would not be able to continue working as a vet, with all the pulling and pushing it involved. Only the four youngest Waterbury girls were still at home, but Lafe did not think he could afford to retire, even if that had been his ambition. (His taxable assets were listed in the Kalispell City Directory at $1550, which made him comfortably off, but not by any means rich.) No prospects presented themselves immediately in Kalispell and Lafe and Ida began considering another move. It somehow seemed natural, since they had followed May to Kalispell, that they should now think about moving to Helena.

In the summer of 1915, Toilie, back home on a visit from the East, drove her father to Helena in the family's Model T. Ford so that he could take a look around. They stayed, of course, with May and Hub in their cramped apartment on Fifth Avenue and Lafe was delighted to have the company of his four-year-old grandson every time he went for a walk in town.

Hub presumably talked to his father-in-law about his job and the two men almost certainly discussed the ever-increasing demand for coal and the business opportunities available in Helena. As a bookkeeper, Hub knew the figures, knew the profit Ives-Smith was making and knew the strength of the market - it was information that undoubtedly influenced Lafe's decision to move his family to Helena and set up a coal company of his own.

The Waterburys arrived in 1916 and bought a house at 736 Fifth Avenue, on the corner of Raleigh Street, just two blocks from May and Hub's apartment. Lafe considered himself very lucky to get the property, for it was a sturdy two-storey house, built around the turn of the century, with light and airy rooms, fine stained glass windows, a wide covered porch and an unusual conical roof over a curved bay at one corner. It would quickly become known by everyone in the family, with the greatest affection, as 'the old brick'.

The Waterbury girls had wept bitterly on leaving Kalispell, largely because their father had insisted that Bird, the Indian pony on which they had all learned to ride, was too old to make the journey and would have to be left behind. But their spirits soon lifted as they ran excitedly from room to room in their new home and imagined themselves as fashionable young ladies of substance.

Fifth Avenue was not yet a paved road, but it was lined with struggling saplings which offered the promise of respectability and, more importantly, it was straddled to the east by the Capital Building, a monumental edifice of such grandeur that the girls were all deeply awed by its proximity. To the west, Fifth Avenue appeared to plunge directly into the forested green flanks of Mount Helena and just two blocks south of 'the old brick', Raleigh Street ended in grassy hummocks which led up to the mountains and promised limitless opportunities for play. Marnie, then thirteen years old, could hardly imagine a better place to be.

Lafe rented a yard with a stable adjoining the Northern Pacific railroad track where it crossed Montana Avenue and put up a sign announcing that the Capital City Coal Company had opened for business. It was very much a family affair, as listed in the Helena City Directory for 1917: Lafayette O. Waterbury was president, Ray was vice-president and Toilie (recalled from the East by her father - 'It's time to come home,' he told her, 'I need you.') was secretary-treasurer. Harry Ross Hubbard had also joined the fledgling enterprise, but the only vacancy was in the lowly capacity of teamster.

On 2 January 1917 Ron was enrolled at the kindergarten at Central School on Warren Street, just across from the new cathedral which, with its twin spires and grey stone facade, towered reprovingly over the city. Most days he was walked to school by his aunts, Marnie and June, who were at Helena High, opposite Central School.

Ron, who was known to the neighbourhood kids as 'brick' because of his hair, would later claim that while still at kindergarten he used the 'lumberjack fighting' he had learned from his grandfather to deal with a gang of bullies who were terrorizing children on their way to and from the school. But one of Ron's closest childhood friends, Andrew Richardson, has no recollection of him protecting local children from bullies. 'He never protected nobody,' said Richardson. 'It was all bullshit. Old Hubbard was the greatest con artist who ever lived.'[5]

Although the war in Europe, with its unbelievable casualty toll, was filling plenty of columns in the Independent, local news, as always, received quite as much prominence as despatches from foreign correspondents. Suffragettes figured prominently in many of the headlines and after the women's suffrage amendment was narrowly approved in the Montana legislature, the victorious women celebrated by electing one of their leaders, Jeanette Rankin, to a seat in the US Congress. Women voters also helped push through a bill to ban the sale of alcohol as the Prohibition lobby gained ground across the nation.

Even the news, in February 1917, that Germany had declared its intention to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare did not fully hit home until the following month when it was learned that German submarines had attacked and sunk three US merchant ships in the Atlantic. On 6 April, the United States declared war on Germany; Congresswoman Rankin was one of only a handful of dissenters voting against the war resolution.

Mobilization began at once in Helena at Fort Harrison, headquarters of the 2nd Regiment, but the wave of patriotic fervour that swept the state brought in its wake a sinister backlash in the form of witchhunts for 'traitors' and 'subversives'. In August, self-styled vigilantes in Butte dragged labour leader Frank Little from his rooming house and hanged him from a railroad trestle on the edge of town. His 'crime' was that he was leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical group viewed as seditious.

Although selective draft mustered more than seven thousand troops in Montana by the beginning of August, Harry Hubbard felt, as an ex-serviceman, that he should not wait to be drafted. He had served for four years in the US Navy and his country needed trained seamen. Yes, he had family responsibilities, but he was also an American. He knew his duty and May knew she could not, and should not, stop him. On 10 October, Hub kissed her goodbye, hugged his six-year-old son and left Helena for the Navy Recruiting Station at Salt Lake City, Utah, to re-enlist for a four-year term in the US Navy. Two weeks later, little Ron and his mother joined the crowds lining Last Chance Gulch to watch Montana's 163rd Infantry march out of town on their way to join the fighting in Europe. Ron thought they were just 'swell'.

After Hub had gone, May and Ron moved into 'the old brick' with the rest of the family and May found a job as a clerk with the State Bureau of Child and Animal Protection in the Capital Building. If little Ron experienced any sense of loss from the absence of his father, it was certainly alleviated by the intense warmth and sociability of the Waterbury family. He had grandparents who considered he could do no wrong, a loving mother and an assorted array of adoring aunts who liked nothing more than to spend time playing with him.

It was inevitable that he would be spoiled with all the attention, but he was also a rewarding child, exceptionally imaginative and adventurous, always filling his time with original ideas and games. 'He was very quick, always coming up with ideas no one else had thought of,' said Marnie. 'He'd grab a couple of beer bottles and use them as binoculars or he would write little plays and draw the scenery and everything. Whatever he started he finished: when he made up his mind he was going to do something, you could be sure he would see it through.'

Hub wrote home frequently and made it clear that he was enjoying being back in the service, the war notwithstanding. He had been selected for training as an Assistant Paymaster and if he made the grade, he proudly explained in a letter to May, it would mean that he would become an officer. On 13 October 1918 Harry Ross Hubbard was honorably discharged from enlisted service in the US Navy Reserve Force and the following day he was appointed Assistant Paymaster with the rank of Ensign. He was thirty-two years old, positively geriatric for an Ensign - but it was one of the proudest moments of his life.

Eleven days later, the front pages of the Helena Independent was dominated by a single word in letters three inches high: PEACE. Underneath, the sub-heading declared, 'Cowardly Kaiser and Son Flee to Holland.' The terms of surrender were to be so severe, the newspaper innocently reported, that Germany would forever 'be absolutely deprived from further military power of action on land and sea and in the air'.

Unlike most wives whose husbands had gone to war, May knew that the Armistice did not mean that Hub would be coming home; he had already told her that he intended to make a career in the Navy. It was a decision she could not sensibly oppose, for she was obliged to admit that he had been incapable of making progress in his varied civilian jobs and he was clearly happier in the Navy. Furthermore, his position with the Capital City Coal Company was far from secure, for she knew that her father was worried about the business - they were having difficulty finding sufficient supplies of coal from Roundup and a third coal company had opened up in town, increasing competition. The Waterbury girls were helping with the company's cash flow problems by knocking on doors round and about Fifth Avenue to collect payment for overdue bills.

Lafe Waterbury never allowed his business worries to cast a shadow over his family life and for the children, Ron included, weeks and months passed with not much to fret about other than whether or not the taffy [toffee] would set. 'Taffy-pulls' were a regular ritual in the Waterbury household: a coat hanger was kept permanently on the back of the door in the basement to loop the sugar and water mix and stretch it repeatedly, filling the taffy with air bubbles so that it would snap satisfactorily when it was set. Liberty Bill would always sit and watch the proceedings with saliva dripping from his jaws. Once he grabbed a mouthful when the taffy looped too close to the floor and disappeared under a bush ill the garden for hours while he tried to suck it out of his teeth.

One day Marnie and June were in the basement pulling taffy with Ron when they heard their father laughing out loud in the front room. They ran upstairs to see what was going on and found him standing at the window, both hands clutched to his quivering midriff, tears streaming down his cheeks. Outside, a young lady, in a tight hobble skirt - the very latest fashion in Helena - was attempting to step down from the wooden sidewalk to cross the road. To her acute embarrassment, she was discovering that while it was feasible to totter along a level surface, it was almost impossible to negotiate a step of more than a few inches without hoisting her skirt to a level well beyond the bounds of decorum, or jumping with both feet together. Eventually, shuffling to the edge of the sidewalk, she managed to slide first one foot down, then, with a precarious swivel, the other. By this time Lafe was forced to sit down, for he could no longer stand, and the entire family had gathered at the window.

Laughter was an omnipresent feature of life in 'the old brick'. When Toilie brought home a bottle of wine and gave her mother a glass, the unaccustomed alcohol thickened her tongue and the more she struggled with ever more recalcitrant syllables, the more her daughters howled. Then there was the time when Lafe leaned back in his swivel chair, overbalanced, fell under a shelf piled with magazines and hit his head as he tried to get up - no one would ever forget that. On the other hand almost the worst incident any of the children could remember was the day when their mother's pet canary escaped through an open window into the snow and never returned. Ida had loved that canary when she was lying in bed she would whistle and it would fly over, perch on the covers and pick her teeth.

In the summer, the children spent every waking hour after school outdoors. May, who had changed her job and now worked as a clerk in the State Department of Agriculture and Publicity, bought a small plot of land in the foothills of the mountains, about two hours' walk from the family home and paid a local carpenter to put up a raw pine shack. It had just two rooms inside, with a long covered porch at the front. They called it 'The Old Homestead' and used it at weekends and holidays, taking enough food and drink with them to last the duration, and drawing water from a well on a nearby property. Most times Lafe would drive them out in the Model T. and drop them on the Butte road at the closest point to the house, from where they walked across the fields. The children loved The Old Homestead for the simple pleasure of being in the mountains, playing endless games under a perfect blue sky, optimistically panning for gold in tumbling streams of crystal clear water, picking great bunches of wild flowers, cooking on a campfire and huddling round an oil lamp at night, telling spooky stories.

When they were not planning a trip to The Old Homestead, Ron pestered his aunts to take him on a hike up to the top of Mount Helena, where they would sit with a picnic, munching sandwiches and silently staring out over the sprawl of the city below and the ring of mountains beyond. One of the trails up the mountain passed a smoky cave said to be haunted by the men who had used it as a hideout while being stalked by Indians in the mid-nineteenth century. Marnie used to take Ron, squirming with thrilled terror, into the cave to look for ghosts.

Marnie and Ron, with only eight years between them, were as close as brother and sister. When she was in a school play at Helena High, taking the part of Marie Antoinette, he sat wide-eyed throughout the performance then ran all the way home to tell his grandma how beautiful Marnie was.

While the children remained blithely unaware of events outside the comforting confines of 'the old brick' and The Old Homestead, few adults in Montana were able to enjoy such a blinkered existence. After years of abundant crops and high wheat prices, postwar depression brought about a collapse in the market - bushel prices halved in the space of three months - and the summer of 1919 saw the first of a cycle of disastrous droughts. Every day brought further ominous tidings of mortgage foreclosures, banks closing, abandoned farms turned into dustbowls and thousands of settlers leaving the state to seek a livelihood elsewhere.

In this gloomy economic climate, Lafe Waterbury was forced to close down the Capital City Coal Company. For a while he tinkered with a small business selling automobile spares and vulcanizing tyres, but the depression meant that motorists were laying up their cars rather than repairing them and Lafe decided to retire, thankful that he still had sufficient capital left to support his family.

May helped with the household expenses, although she realized she and Ron would not be able to stay there forever. Hub had been promoted to Lieutenant (Junior Grade) in November 1919, and whenever he could, had been coming home on leave to see his wife and son. He was still intent on a career in the Navy, although he had already suffered some setbacks. He had been obliged to appear before a court of inquiry in May, 1920, while serving as Supply Officer on the USS Aroostock, to explain a deficiency in his accounts of $942.25. He also had an unfortunate tendency to overlook personal debts. No less than fourteen creditors in Kalispell claimed he left behind unpaid bills totalling $125; Fred Fisch, high-grade clothier of Vallejo, California, was pursuing him for $10 still owed on a uniform overcoat; and a Dr McPherson of San Diego was owed $30. All of them complained to the Navy Department, casting a shadow over Hubbard's record.[6] He had a long spell of inactive duty at the beginning of 1921 while he was waiting for a new posting and he and May spent a great deal of time discussing their future. Hub expected May to conform, like other Navy wives, and trail around the country with him from posting to posting; when he was at sea, he wanted her to be close to his ship's home port. May obviously wanted to be with Hub, but she was reluctant to move Ron from school to school and loath to leave her family. She had perhaps secretly hoped that Hub would tire of the Navy and return to civilian life in Helena, but the depression wiped out whatever miserable opportunities he might have had of finding work and she realized it would never happen. In September 1921, Hub was posted to the battleship USS Oklahoma as an Assistant Supply Officer. He anticipated serving on board for at least two years, much of that time at sea, and the opportunities for visits home to Helena would be severely curtailed. As a loyal wife, May felt she could no longer justify staying in Helena. She and Ron packed their bags, bade the family a tearful farewell and caught a train for San Diego, the USS Oklahoma's home port.

Although Ron must have missed the convivial domesticity of 'the old brick', he did not appear to mind, in the least, being a 'Navy brat' - the curiously affectionate label applied to all children of servicemen, many of whom needed more than the fingers of both hands to count their schools. He was a gregarious boy, quick to make friends, and starting a new school held no terrors for him. After about a year in San Diego, the Hubbards moved north to Seattle, in Washington State, when the Oklahoma was transferred to Puget Sound Navy Shipyard.

 (Scientology's account of the years 1922-24.)

In Seattle Ron joined the boy scouts, an event that would figure prominently in a hand-written journal which he scrawled on the pages of an old accounts book, interspersed with short stories, a few years later: 'The year Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-Three rallied round and found me contentedly resting on my laurels, a first class badge. For I was a boy scout then and deaf was my friend that hadn't heard all about it. I considered Seattle the best town on the map as far as scouting was concerned.'

In October 1923, Lieutenant Hubbard completed sea duty on the USS Oklahoma and, after brief spells of temporary duty in San Francisco and New York, was assigned for further training to the Bureau of Supply and Accounts School of Application in Washington DC. The US Navy, which clearly despised any form of land transport, saved itself the cost of two long-distance train fares by giving May and Ron berths on the USS U.S. Grant, a German warship acquired by the US Navy after the First World War, which was due to sail from Seattle to Hampton Roads, Virginia, via the Panama Canal. It was thus December, and the snow was thick on the ground, before the Hubbards were re-united in Washington after a voyage of some seven thousand miles, three-quarters of the way round the coast of the United States. It was on this trip, it seems, that Ron met the enigmatic Commander 'Snake' Thompson of the US Navy Medical Corps, a psychoanalyst he would later claim was responsible for awakening his youthful interest in Freud, although he only made the briefest mention of the journey in his journal. His style of writing was fluent, breezy, schoolboyishly cocksure and addressed directly to the reader. 'If obviously pushed upon,' he wrote, 'I supposed I could write a couple of thousands [sic] words on that trip . . . But I spare you.'

He usually referred to himself in a gently ironic tone, perhaps to avoid giving an impression of thinking rather too highly of himself. When he arrived in Washington, two troops of local scouts were battling for a prized scouting trophy, the Washington Post Cup. Troop 100, he noted, belonged to the YMCA 'and would therefore probably lose', so he joined the other outfit, Troop 10, 'which must have sighed loudly when it perceived me crossing the threshold'.

The journal also contained flashes of humour, delivered deadpan: 'Visualize me in a natty scout suit, my red hair tumbling out from under my hat, doing my good turn daily. Once I saved a man's life. I could have pushed him under a streetcar but I didn't.'

Intent on pushing Troop 10 to victory, Ron began acquiring merit badges with extraordinary speed and dedication. In his first two weeks, he was awarded badges for Firemanship and Personal Health, quickly followed by Photography, Life-Saving, Physical Development and Bird Study. He determinedly thrust his way into the front rank of the Washington scouts (it was absolutely not his nature to languish shyly among the pack) and he was chosen to represent them on a delegation to the White House to ask President Calvin Coolidge to accept the honorary chairmanship of National Boys' Week. He noted the invitation in his journal with characteristic cheek: 'One fine day the Scout executive telephoned my house and told me I was to meet the president that afternoon. I told him I thought it pretty swell of the president to come way out to my house . . .'

Brushed and scrubbed ('even the backs of my hands were thoroughly washed') he waited with forty other boys outside the Oval Office until a secretary emerged and said the president was ready to receive them. ' With fear and trembling, we entered and repeated our names a few times as we pumped Cal's listless hand . . . I think I have the distinction of being the only boy scout in America who has made the President wince.' The great man spoke in such lugubrious tones that Ron compared the occasion to being invited to his own hanging.

In the boy scout diary he kept intermittently around this time, Ron was a lot less forthcoming than in the journal, which was clearly written with an intention to entertain. The most frequent entry in his diary was a laconic 'Was bored.' Yet he would claim in later years that the four months he spent in Washington was a crucial period of his life during which he received 'an extensive education in the field of the human mind' under the tutelage of his friend Commander Thompson.[7] He also noted - in his journal - that he became a close friend of President Coolidge's son, Calvin Junior, whose early death accelerated his 'precocious interest in the mind and spirit of Man.'[8] 

'Snake' Thompson was apparently a friend of Ron's father and a personal student of Sigmund Freud, under whom he had studied in Vienna. His inauspicious nickname was derived from his love of slithery creatures, but it was in his capacity as a student of the founder of psychoanalysis that he took it upon himself to give the twelve-year-old boy a grounding in Freudian theory as well as 'shoving his nose' into books at the Library of Congress.

[Ron would often refer to Thompson in later life, yet the Commander remains an enigma. He cannot be identified from US Navy records, nor can his relationship with Freud be established. Doctor Kurt Eissler, one of the world's leading authorities on Freud, says he has no knowledge of any correspondence or contact of any kind between Freud and Thompson.[9]]

Presumably the hours that Ron and Thompson spent closeted together in the Library of Congress were somehow dovetailed into the time he devoted to scouting, for on 28 March 1924, a few days after his thirteenth birthday, Ron was made an eagle scout.

'Twenty-one merit badges in ninety days,' he recorded triumphantly in his journal. 'I was quite a boy then. Written up in the papers and all that. Take a look at me. You didn't know the wreck in front of you was once the youngest Eagle Scout in the country, did you?'

Neither did Ron. At that time the Boy Scouts of America only kept an alphabetical record of eagle scouts, with no reference to their ages.[10]

1. Oregon Journal, 22 Apr 1943 
2. Mission Into Time, L. Ron Hubbard, 1973

3. Letter to author, 25 May 1986

4. 4. 1938 biography of L. Ron Hubbard by Arthur J. Burks, president of American Fiction Guild

5. Interview with Andrew Richardson, Helena, Montana

6.  Harry Ross Hubbard navy record

7. Facts About L. Ron Hubbard - Things You Should Know, Flag Divisional Directive, 8 Mar 1974 
8. Mission Into Time, L. Ron Hubbard, 1973 
9. Letter to author, 25 Mar 1986. Also US Govt Memorandum, 16 Nov 1966. 
10. Letter to author, 1 Feb 1986


Bare-Faced Messiah

By Russell Miller, Chapter 2 Whither did he Wander?

The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard is a posthumous biography of Scientology founder

L. Ron Hubbard by British journalist Russell Miller. Originally published: 26 October1987 Author: Russell Miller, Genre: Biography, Page count: 380, Publisher: Michael Joseph, Subject: L. Ron Hubbard

Chapter 2 Whither did he Wander?

Fundamental to the image of L. Ron Hubbard as prophet are the tales of his teenage travels. At the age of fourteen, it seems, the inquisitive lad could be found wandering the Orient alone, investigating primitive cultures and learning the secrets of life at the feet of wise men and Lama priests. 'He was up and down the China coast several times in his teens from Ching Wong Tow to Hong Kong and inland to Peking and Manchuria.'[1] In China he met an old magician whose ancestors had served in the court of Kublai Khan and a Hindu who could hypnotize cats. In the high hills of Tibet he lived with bandits who accepted him because of his 'honest interest in them and their way of life'.[2] In the remote reaches of western Manchuria he made friends with the ruling warlords by demonstrating his horsemanship. On an unnamed island in the South Pacific, the fearless boy calmed the natives by exploring a cave that was supposed to be haunted and showing them that the rumbling sound from within was nothing more sinister than an underground river. 'Deep in the jungles' of Polynesia he discovered an ancient burial ground 'steeped in the tradition of heroic warriors and kings . . . Though his native friends were fearful for him, he explored the sacred area - his initiative based on doing all he could to know more'.[3]

There appeared to be no limit to the young man's abilities: 'I remember one time learning Igoroti, an Eastern primitive language, in a single night. I sat up by kerosene lantern and took a list of words that had been made by an old missionary in the hills of Luzon [Philippines]. The Igorot had a very simple language. This missionary phoneticized their language and made a list of their main words and their usage and grammar. And I remember sitting up under a mosquito net with the mosquitoes hungrily chomping their beaks just outside the net, and learning this language - three hundred words - just memorizing these words and what they meant. And the next day I started to get them in line and align them with people, and was speaking Igoroti in a very short time.'[4]

Throughout this period, Ron was said to have been supported by his wealthy, not to say indulgent, grandfather and it was during his travels in the East that he became interested in the 'spiritual destiny' of mankind. 'L. Ron Hubbard learned that there was more to life than science had dreamed of, that Man did not know everything there was to know about life, and that neither East nor West, the spiritual and the material, had any full answer. To L. Ron Hubbard there was a whole field here that was begging for research.'[5]

It would, to be sure, have been an impressive start to any young man's career, if only it had been true.

 (Scientology's account of the years 1924-28.)

 (Hubbard's travels in Asia in 1927.)

At the end of March 1924, the Hubbards left Washington DC and moved, once again, from one side of the continent to the other. Having finished his training at the Bureau of Supply and Accounts School, Harry Hubbard was promoted to full Lieutenant and posted back to the Puget Sound Navy Shipyard at Bremerton, in Washington State, as Disbursing Officer.

Bremerton was a nice little town mushroomed around the great naval shipyard, the northern base of the Pacific Fleet, which sprawled along the shore of Puget Sound. Seagulls wheeled and cawed over the quiet high street and the fishing fleet in the harbour and a tangy aroma of salt, tar and oil scented the breeze off the Sound, where bustling white-painted ferries provided the town's main link to Seattle on the opposite shore. The Hubbards found a house two blocks from the shipyard and their son enrolled in the eighth grade at Union High School, on the corner of Fifth and High Avenues.

Run liked Bremerton on sight, as would any thirteen-year-old with a taste for outdoor activities. After school in the summer he invariably joined a group of boys to swim and fish and canoe in the Sound and at weekends he cadged a ride out to Camp Parsons, the boy scout camp on the north-west shore of Hood Canal. Parsons was a permanent campsite in the heart of the Olympic National Park and was considered by thousands of boys to be paradise. There were oysters, clams, shrimp and crabs to be fished from the canal and cooked over campfires; eagles soared in the thermals high overhead and the dense forest all around the camp was alive with deer, beavers, bobcats and black bears. Like countless fellow scouts, Ron's favourite trek from Camp Parsons was the 'Three Rivers Hike', which started with the 'poop-out drag' - a long climb up a sun-baked southern slope - and ended in the late afternoon at Camp Mystery at the top of the pass, where there were meadows full of wild flowers and thrilling views over the Olympic mountain wilderness. It was a boyhood idyll that was to last for only two happy years; in the summer of 1926 his parents decided to move across the Sound back to Seattle. It was no trouble for Harry to commute to work at the shipyard by ferry and they felt that Ron ought to complete his high school education in a bigger and more sophisticated school than Union High. So it was that Ron began his sophomore year at Queen Anne High, a majestic seminary built in sparkling white bricks on a hilltop overlooking Seattle.

He was barely into his second semester when his father received his first foreign posting. Lieutenant Hubbard was to take over as Officer in Charge of the Commissary Store at the US Naval Station on Guam, a remote, mountainous tropical island in the Pacific, three thousand miles west of Hawaii. Largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands, Guam had been ceded to the United States as a prize in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and, as far as the Hubbard family was concerned, was so far away it might as well have been on another planet.

May and Hub talked long into many nights about how they should accommodate their lives to this new upheaval. Guam was a minimum two-year posting and May naturally wanted to accompany her husband, particularly as there as no chance of him returning home on leave. What most worried them was what to do with Ron, who had immediately assumed he would be going too. Then just sixteen years old, he was thrilled at the prospect of exchanging the dreary routine of Queen Anne High for life on a tropical island.

But officers returning from Guam were full of lurid stories about the island and its inhabitants. Many of them concerned the charms of Guam's 'dusky maidens' and the uninhibited enthusiasm with which they pursued young Americans as potential husbands. There was also much gossip about the horrendous strains of venereal disease which were endemic. Time and time again Hub was told by ex-Guam veterans that they would never let a son of theirs set foot in the place.

In the end they made the painful decision to leave Ron behind. May arranged for him to move back into 'the old brick' with her parents and to finish high school in Helena. Ron made no secret of his disgust When his parents broke the news, although he was slightly mollified by his father's promise to try and arrange for him to travel with his mother out to Guam for a short holiday before returning to Helena.

Lieutenant Hubbard sailed to Guam on 5 April 1927; his wife and son followed several weeks later on the passenger steamship, President Madison, bound for Honolulu, Yokohama, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Manila, out of San Francisco. Ron took with him his ukulele and saxophone, two instruments he had been struggling to learn, and a headful of yarns, spun by his father's friends, about how anyone with red hair was instantly proclaimed king on arrival in Guam. To his great chagrin, his return passage was already booked for July, to get him back in time for the start of the junior term at Helena High School. May took sufficient books to tutor her son in history and English during the trip, to make up for him not finishing the semester at Queen Anne High School.

Considering he was still only sixteen, Ron's log of his trip to Guam was acutely observed and literate, even if the prose was occasionally artless and self-conscious ('Westward tugged the ship's twelve thousand horses'). It was also packed with information, reflecting the unashamed curiosity of an inquisitive and extrovert young man travelling abroad for the first time.

Watching San Francisco's Golden Gate disappear from view, Ron admitted to a lump in his throat, although he was soon involved in the timeless and time-wasting pursuits that comprised life on board - shuffle board and deck golf, a dance one evening, a movie the next, and obsessive discussion about who was seasick and who was not. Some of the crew tried to turn Ron's stomach by describing revolting meals of salt pork and slippery oysters, but he was pleased to record that neither he nor his mother succumbed.

First stop, six days out, was Honolulu, where the President Madison was greeted in the harbour by flotillas of small boats rowed by lithe, brown-skinned urchins who dived for quarters flipped overboard from the deck of the steamship. They used to dive for pennies, Ron noted laconically, 'thus has the Hawaiian developed his commerce'. Friends showed the Hubbards around the island while the ship was docked and Ron managed to get a swim and a ride on a surf-board at Waikiki beach. The waves were much longer than those in California, he wrote, and sometimes attained speeds of sixty miles an hour.

Outward bound from Hawaii, Ron made friends with the second engineer who took him on a conducted tour of the ship, including the galley, 'spotless with shining equipment and Chinese cooks who grinned and displayed blank teeth'.

Fifty miles off the coast of Japan, they caught their first glimpse of the 'celestial beauty' of Mount Fuji rising through the clouds and cloaked in a 'pink robe of snow' suggesting, Ron thought, a 'garment for royalty'. They stayed three days in Japan, first at Yokohama and then at Kobe. Ron made meticulous notes about everything he saw, including detailed descriptions of how the people dressed. Much of the devastation caused by the earthquake four years earlier was still evident - including the ruin of a 'hideously scrambled' fort guarding the harbour entrance in which 1700 men had died when the walls collapsed. Ron was generally unimpressed by Japan and clearly unprepared, as a young American innocent of foreign ways, for the sights and smells of the Orient - the disease and the dirt, the stinking slums and the beggars sleeping in the street. 'It doesn't look the happy land so pictured in stories,' he concluded. 'Only at cherry blossom time or in the romantic novel do I believe there is beauty in Japan.'

He was rather more cheered by Shanghai, the President Madison's next port of call, partly because the first flag to greet them as they entered the Yangtze river was the Stars and Stripes, flying from the stern of a US Navy destroyer. The bustling river traffic - 'millions of fishing boats and junks' - astonished him, as did the fact that the 'ragged and decrepit' coolies who unloaded the ship only earned fifteen cents a day and 'fifteen cents Mex at that!' They lived, he added somewhat unnecessarily, 'worse than anyone in the world'.

He and his mother accompanied the ship's chief officer, who was also from Seattle, on a drive through the town. 'Opening down the main avenue over which our car travelled were hundreds of narrow intriguing streets, teeming with life. Great fish floated here and there and paper banners hung overhead. The stores were stocked with every sort of junk. Dried fish rattled on strings in the wind. Queer looking foods and drygoods were side by side. Sikh policemen were everywhere. They are big dark bearded fellows and in their turbans and short trousers of khaki look picturesque. They carry great rattan sticks and a rifle across the back. Tommy Atkins was very much in evidence and the American Marines, as well as Japanese and British marines. On the outside of the British concession I saw a British tommy take a Chinaman by the coat and knock him across the street. On Bubbling Well Road is a beautiful hotel once the home of a Chinese gentleman. The grounds are laid out with pergolas and fountains and the hotel has tapestries and mosaic tile floors.'

It was clear that by the time he reached Shanghai, Ron had adopted some of the more obvious colonial mannerisms, for he casually reported joining the Madison crowd for 'tiffin' at the Palace Hotel later that day and would also soon be referring to the natives as 'gooks'.

From Shanghai they sailed for Hong Kong, a city that was 'very British on the surface and very native underneath' May and Ron took a tram up to the top of the mountain overlooking the harbour, but they found the heat and humidity very exhausting, not to mention the throngs of coolies 'not caring where they spit', and they were glad to leave on the last leg of their voyage on the President Madison to Manila in the Philippines.

In Manila they were to transfer, with fifteen other Navy families, to a US Navy cargo auxiliary, the USS Gold Star, which was anchored across the bay at Cavite, waiting to take them to Guam. There was considerable confusion unloading the baggage from the President Madison, which Ron blamed on the 'lazy, ignorant natives', and it was some time before their trunks were safely on their way and May and Ron could relax with a glass of lemon squeeze at the Manila Hotel.

Next day Ron went sight-seeing with a Lieutenant McCain from the Cavite Navy Yard, an acquaintance of his father. To a boy who loved blood-and-thunder adventure stories, the old Spanish forts in Cavite exercized a compelling fascination. 'All the old guns have been dismantled, but the emplacements remain. Such an awful place in which to fight. The places were traps as it takes four men to even open a door. There are tunnels connecting all of them to an ancient cathedral which is un-used and filled with snakes, bats and trash. Very mysterious. I looked it over well when Mr McCain told me that millions in Spanish gold were buried in those tunnels. Some day I am going back there and dredge [sic] the whole place. Maybe.'

That evening he was taken to 'Dreamland', one of the more respectable bars in Manila where girls were available for hire, for dancing, at five centums a dance. 'Of course we didn't dance,' Ron was at pains to record, 'because by doing so one loses cast. The Charleston has just hit them, but it's too hot (I mean the weather).'

Two days later, the USS Gold Star weighed anchor and set course for Guam, a seven-day voyage across the Philippine Sea which could not have offered a greater contrast to the comparative luxury of a passenger ship like the President Madison. The accommodation was spartan, the food was poor and the officers remained haughtily aloof from their luckless passengers, even eating at a separate table in the dining-room. To make matters worse, the weather was terrible and the ship pitched and rolled and wallowed in a grey, relentlessly heaving sea with the constant threat of a typhoon gathering on the horizon. It was, said Ron, a 'gosh-awful trip'.

When a smudge of land appeared in the far distance and word went round that it was Guam, the relief was palpable. The USS Gold Star hove to off Guam on Monday 6 June, thirty-six days after the Hubbards had left San Francisco. Hub was on the second tender that came out to the ship and Ron spoke for both himself and his mother when he noted: 'We were sure glad to see him.'

Ron's first impression of Guam, with its thickly forested green hills and little red-roofed houses, was favourable. Even the sickly sweet aroma of copra which filled the air was distinctly preferable to the stench of open drains that had predominated at all their previous ports of call. The poverty, filth and disease which had been so prevalent elsewhere were kept in abeyance in Guam by the overwhelming presence of the United States Navy, which pushed, prodded and paid the local Chamorro natives to keep the streets clean and to observe basic hygiene.


1.  Facts About L. Ron Hubbard - Things You Should Know, Flag Divisional Directive, 8 Mar 1974 
2. What Is Scientology?, 1973, p. xlii 
3. ibid., p. xliv 
4. Scientology: A New Slant on Life, L. Ron Hubbard, 1965

5. Facts About L. Ron Hubbard - Things You Should Know, Flag Divisional Directive, 8 Mar 1974

Hub had been allocated a large bungalow surrounded by banana trees in the town of Agana, about five miles from the harbour. It was still not fully furnished when May and Ron arrived, but Ron liked the cool sparse rooms with their highly polished floors of black hardwood, reflecting the light filtering through the bamboo screens. The family had two houseboys and a cook and lived in a style that none of them had ever previously experienced. May, for example, had never had servants in her life and very much enjoyed the novelty.

Ron's father had arranged for him to spend part of the six weeks he was due to stay on the island teaching English to Chamorro children in the local grade school, which was run by the Navy. Ron did not object to undertaking this chore, but found it a more or less impossible task because of his red hair. Although he had not been instantly proclaimed king on arrival, he quickly discovered that his hair caused much excitement and interest, both on the street and in the classroom. The Chamorros, dark-skinned people of Indonesian stock, seemed unable to believe that a human head could sprout such a fiery crine and Ron's students spent their entire lesson staring uncomprehendingly at the top of his head. His parents laughed when he told them what was happening and his mother, drawing on her own teaching experience, softly advised him just to do his best.

When he was not trying to be a teacher, Ron spent a great deal of his time satisfying his natural curiosity by researching the island's history and culture. Some of his notes about Guam and its people bear a strange similarity to stories that would later be incorporated into the L. Ron Hubbard mythology. The Chamorro dialect, for example, which had originally contained some two thousand words and idioms, had been reduced over the years to around three hundred idioms with an almost non-existent grammatical structure - curiously akin to Igoroti, the primitive language Ron was said to have learned in a single night by the light of a kerosene lamp. And one of the Hubbards' house boys told Ron about a devil ghost called 'Tadamona' which was believed to haunt Missionary Point, where a fast-flowing underground river made eerie moaning noises at night . . .

In Guam, as elsewhere, Ron was particularly intrigued by the forts, which held a special romance and mystery he toiled to convey in his journal: 'An especially interesting one is the fort of San Juan de 'Apra [sic] in Apra harbour. Its doors have been sealed for years and, as if to hide the structure, vines wind themselves about it. The walls were built with remarkable skill, especially the corners. Most of the prison and turret have been eroded and have falled [sic] into decay, but the powder house and firing steps remain. The walks that once heard the rhythm of the sentry's beat, and the crash of the evening gun are now the running place of lizards. One cannot imagine the solitude and depression that surrounds it. All that beauty and grandeur which surrounded it yesterday has faded as the rose which dies and leaves its thorn.'

Ron was due to leave Guam on Saturday 16 July 1927, on board an ammunition ship, USS Nitro, bound for Bremerton. His parents drove him down to the harbour in the early morning and accompanied him out to the ship to help him with his bags, now crammed with souvenirs and presents for the family back home in Helena. The three of them had a quiet breakfast together on board and at eight o'clock May and Hub said goodbye and returned ashore on a tender, hardly daring to look back at the lonely figure of their son standing at the rail. The USS Nitro sailed within the hour.

If Ron was sad to be leaving, he made no mention of it in his journal. He 'felt rather lonely' on the first day out, but the two boys with whom he was sharing a cabin, Jerry Curtis and Dick Derickson, were so homesick that both were close to tears. Ron did his best to cheer them up. He particularly liked Dick, who was from Seattle and whom he had met at Camp Parsons. 'Dick and I have been reading up on atheism,' he noted. 'Such a terrible thing to make an issue of. Something is at the bottom of it. I'll find out in the States.'

Four days out, the USS Nitro hove to off Wake Island so that the crew could go fishing and swimming. Ron went ashore in a whale boat and discovered that the island was inhabited by many strange and beautiful birds, apparently quite unafraid of the sailors walking round their nests. In the lagoon, he wrote, the multi-coloured tropical fish looked like 'a forth [sic] of July parade' and the water was so clear he could see through thirty fathoms to the rocks on the bottom.

Deprived of the recreations offered on board the President Madison, Ron found the return voyage, courtesy of the US Navy, to be unremittingly dreary. He liked to watch the stars at night ('never in my life have I seen such beauties') and during the day he enjoyed visiting the engine-room, but much of the time he was bored.

Ironically, Ron had seriously discussed with his father the possibility of a career in the Navy, although he certainly did not seem much enthused by his experience on the USS Nitro. 'If this ship is the cream of the naval duty,' he wrote, 'I'll sure stick to milk. The officers work about an hour and then sit around and look bored. The enlisted personnel bear the brunt of the work.' Nevertheless, he could not have been completely deterred, for he noted that he and Dick would be going to Annapolis (home of the Naval Academy) at the same time.

Off Hawaii, one of the officers told Ron he could go up to the lookout in the crow's nest. 'A moment later found me staring up the forward mast which looked ungodly high. I overcame a nervous tremor and climbed a rope up to the steel ladder . . . Nice prospect a fall was. Then I tackled the first fifty feet of ladder. It surely looked and felt insubstantial. About half way up I thought I'd never been so nervous before. After that ladder came an even smaller steel ladder. Up I went all confidence by this time. In a moment I reached the nest and sure enough there was the lookout reading a 'Western Story'. He invited me to climb in. The last in itself is worse than the rest of it put together. One has to dangle with nothing under him and work half way round to the other edge. Over the side of the box I swung and then in. My God what a relief!'

On 6 August, in thick fog, the USS Nitro nosed into Bremerton and moored to Pier 4A at the Navy Yard. Ron disembarked without a moment's regret, thankful to be back on dry land and away from the cramped and stultifying atmosphere of the ship. Next day he caught a train for Helena, where he was welcomed by the Waterburys like the prodigal son. In 'the old brick', savouring the heady fragrance of his grandmother's baking, which he remembered so well, he regaled everyone with the tales of his adventures and if he embroidered the account just a little, who could have blamed him?

Even a local newspaper apparently felt his exploits worth reporting in a double-column story under the headline 'Ronald Hubbard Tells of His Trip to Orient and Many Experiences'. The interview closely followed the notes Ron had made in his journal except for the surprising claim, somehow neglected in his diary, that he had witnessed an execution while he was in China. 'Ronald Hubbard has the distinction', the story concluded, 'of being the only boy in the country to secure an eagle scout badge at the age of twelve years.'

[He had, in fact, been thirteen. But this small slip-up and the curious omission of the 'execution' from his journal were not nearly as puzzling as the fact that it has never been possible to trace the newspaper from which the cutting was taken.[6] It appears to exist only as a photostat in the archives of the Church of Scientology labelled 'Clipping from Helena, Montana, newspaper circa 1929'.]

On 6 September 1927, Ron enrolled in the junior year at Helena High School, a forbidding Victorian building of rough-hewn grey stone with castellated gables and turrets, just five minutes' walk from the Waterbury home. A cousin, Gorham Roberts, who was in the same year, introduced Ron to many of his new school-mates, but no one found it easy to settle down to work, for the whole school was distracted by the frustrating knowledge that Charles A. Lindbergh was visiting Helena. He was on a triumphant tour of the country after flying the Atlantic alone in his tiny monoplane Spirit of St Louis and returning as a national hero, and there was not a boy or girl in the school who did not fervently wish to catch a glimpse of him.

At first Ron seemed perfectly happy at Helena High, perfectly happy to be back with his grandparents. In October he joined the Montana National Guard, enlisting at the State Armory on North Main Street and claiming he was eighteen to avoid having to wait months for his parents to send consent papers from Guam. As a private in Headquarters Company of 163rd Infantry he felt he cut quite a dash as he strode through the town in his uniform - broad-brimmed hat, khaki shirt and breeches, gloves tucked into the belt - to report for training at the Armory, where twin flagpoles rose from perfectly manicured patches of green grass.

At school, he managed to get himself appointed to the editorial staff of The Nugget, Helena High's bi-monthly newspaper. He would naturally have preferred to have been editor-in-chief, but as a newcomer he had to be satisfied with jokes editor, a position he held jointly with Ellen Galusha. He was photographed with the rest of the editorial staff for the year book, standing in the middle of the group on the steps of the school wearing a suit and a bow tie, eschewing the faintly raffish literary style affected by his colleagues. 'The Nugget is a really good paper . . .' the caption explained. 'The name originates from the large expensive gold nuggets which the prospectors mined in previous years on the main street of Helena.'

Although Ellen Galusha rather upstaged her follow jokes editor by winning first place in the district finals of the Extemporaneous Speaking Contest, Ron felt he kept his end up by having one of his essays selected to represent Helena High in the State Essay Contest. He had also written a short play which was performed by the junior branch of the Shriners and very well received.

After school on 2 December, Ron and a group of his friends rushed round to the showrooms of Capital Ford hoping to see the sleek new Model A. Fords which were said to have arrived in town that day. They found a crowd of around four thousand people jamming the street outside the Ford agency, all with the same idea. Replacement for the beloved Model T., the Model A. was not only a completely new design but was also available in a number of different colours, a development which caused Ron and his friends to gasp with amazement. Later, over sodas at the Weiss Café on North Main Street, the boys hotly debated which of the models - roadster, sports coupé or sedan - was preferable and which colour each of them would be purchasing as soon as they had some money.

That winter was the worst in living memory for the people of Helena. On 8 December, Ron woke to find the overnight temperature had dropped fifty-eight degrees [Fahrenheit] to thirty-five below zero, one of the coldest on record. Outside, a biting blizzard swept down from the mountains, obliterating the town and the surrounding country.

Morning editions of the Helena Independent were full of terrible stories of families marooned and frozen to death, school buses lost in the storm and entire herds of cattle wiped out.

The snow had still not melted when Ron began preparing for the annual Vigilante Day Parade, the high spot of the school year, held on the first Friday in May. Although the theme of the parade always harked back to the pioneer days, Ron plumped for a more unconventional role and decided he would go as a pirate. He somehow persuaded five doubting friends, two boys and three girls, to join him, casually brushing aside any objections based on the rather obvious absence of pirate involvement in Montana's early history. Aunt Marnie helped with the costumes by taking down her drapes and removing the brass rings to provide the pirates with suitable earrings, as worn on the Spanish Main.

Thus it was that as the Vigilante Day Parade, led by the Helena High School Band, progressed along Main Street on the afternoon of Friday 4 May 1928, the settlers, cowboys, cowgirls, miners, trappers, prospectors, Indians and sheriffs were inexplicably joined by a small band of ferocious pirates with eyepatches and painted beards, waving wooden cutlasses. At the dance after the parade, 'Pirates by R. Hubbard' won one of three prizes in the 'Most Original' category.

The report on the parade in the Helena Independent next day positively glowed with pride: 'The parade was larger, more ingenious, spectacular, striking, imaginative and suggestive of the past this year than ever before. The high school students once more covered themselves with glory - besides having a jolly good time and communicating a lot of fun to the bystanders . . . As a success the Vigilante parade was complete, and once more advertized to the world that the Helena High School and Last Chance Gulch puts on a show once a year unmatched elsewhere on the globe.'

A week later, Ron disappeared. When he did not show up for school on Monday 14 May, there were excited rumours in the junior year that he had been expelled. 'Certainly we believed he had left in a hurry, under something of a cloud,' said Gorham Roberts. 'The story was that he had got mad at a teacher and put his butt into a waste-paper basket. Old A. J. Roberts, the principal, was a German from Heidelberg and a strict disciplinarian. Ron knew that he would never put up with such behaviour, so he didn't trouble to come back.'[7]

Aunt Marnie explained it differently: 'He just got itchy feet. He wanted to see something new. He was an adventurer at heart. The wanderlust was in him and he couldn't see himself staying in a little town like Helena when there was adventure ahead. He went off to Seattle to stay with my sister Midgie and her husband Bob. They tried to talk him into staying with them, but he went south, hopped a ship and worked his way back to Guam.'[8]

Whatever the truth, Ron never returned to Helena High. Two years later, he wrote two colourful accounts of the events leading up to his departure from Helena. Although they were only separated by a few pages in his journal, many of the details do not match; indeed some passages read suspiciously like the adventure stories he was constantly scribbling in his spare time.

It seemed he was driving his friends home after the Vigilante Day Parade in his 'mighty Ford' (presumably his grandfather's Model T.) when someone threw a baseball at them and hit him on the head. He stopped the car, chastized the offenders and dealt with them so severely that he broke four 'marcarpals' in his right hand.

'That was the beginning and the end. I couldn't wait and school faded from the picture. My hand was reset four times and life lost its joy. I sold the Ford and went West, taking Horace Greeley's [sic] advice.'

He announced to his grandfather that he had decided on a 'change of scenery' and caught a train for Seattle, where he stayed with his aunt and uncle for a couple of days. On 7 June, trading on his 'scout prestige', he moved to Camp Parsons for about a week, until it became too crowded and he decided to move on.

'I set out at noon, hiking a swift pace under a heavy pack through the lofty, virgin Olympics. At nine o'clock that night I made camp about two miles down the trail from "Shelter Rock". Twelve hours later I was limp on top of a boulder pile, saved from a broken spine by my pack. I gazed at the blood pumping from my wrist and decided it was high time I went to visit herr Docteur.'

No explanation is offered for this incident or for how he managed, in such a parlous state, to find his way back to Bremerton. It was there, while being treated by a Navy doctor, he was told that a US Navy transport, USS Henderson, was due to leave for Guam from San Francisco in a week's time (in the first account), or two weeks (in the second account). That night (first account), eight days later (second account), he was on a Shasta Limited overnight train heading south for California, apparently intent on rejoining his parents in Guam.

By the time he got to the Transport Dock in San Francisco the Henderson had already sailed. With only twenty dollars left in his pocket, Ron invested a nickel in a newspaper and read on the shipping page that the liner President Pierce, bound for China, was moored at Dock 28. An hour later he was standing in line at the dock, waiting to sign on as an ordinary seaman. While in the queue, smoking to calm his nerves, he suddenly decided it would be worth a call to Twelfth Naval District to find out where the Henderson was. Perhaps, he thought, she had not yet sailed for Guam, but had just moved down the coast to another port. His hunch was correct - an officer at Twelfth District told him the Henderson was in San Diego. Within half an hour - he appeared remarkably lucky with connections - he was on a bus bound for San Diego, five hundred miles further south.

When he finally caught up with the Henderson in San Diego, 'faint from lack of sleep and food', he was told that Washington would need to approve his request for a passage to Guam. Nothing if not bold, Ron called on the Aide to the Commandant, who turned out to be extraordinarily obliging and agreed to telegraph Washington immediately. Satisfied there was nothing more he could do for the moment, Ron rented a cheap room near the naval headquarters and slept for eighteen hours. When he woke, he learned that a signal had been received from Washington saying that his father's permission would be needed before he could join the ship.

'With fear and trembling, I had a radio sent out to Guam . . . I walked the streets of San Diego all that day with Old Man Worry gnawing at my brow. Would Dad reply "No!" or would he say "Yes"? You see, I had reason to be worried. This would be the first intimation he would have of my portending return . . .'

Out in Guam, Lieutenant Hubbard no doubt wondered what the hell was going on when he received a message from Washington informing him that his son was in San Diego requesting passage on a ship to Guam. It was to his credit that he immediately cabled his permission, which arrived in San Diego, according to Ron, only an hour before the Henderson was due to sail.

This does not quite accord with the deck log of the Henderson, which records that 'L.R. Hubbard, son of Lieutenant H. R. Hubbard USN, reported on board for transportation to Guam' at 1620 hours on Saturday 30 June. The ship did not sail until 1330 the following day. Neither do the dates match Lieutenant Hubbard's navy record, which indicates that Ron wrote to the Navy Department asking about transports to Guam as early as 10 May; he submitted a formal application for a passage in the Henderson on 28 May.[9]

However, Ron never considered that strict regard for the truth should be allowed to spoil a good story and so he described how he was standing with his suitcase in his hand at the bottom of the gangway to the ship when the cable came through. He had lost his trunk, somewhere between San Francisco and San Diego, but he was unconcerned. 'The Henderson sailed with me aboard,' he noted triumphantly. 'My possessions were: two handkerchiefs, two suits underwear, one pair shoes, one worn suit, one thin topcoat, one tooth brush, two pair socks and two pennies. No wardrobe, no money . . .'

He ended this part of his journal with a jaunty little postscript addressed to the reader: 'I will tell you the secret of this strange life I had. Sssh! I was born on Friday the thirteenth.'

It was, unfortunately, not quite true. 13 March 1911 was a Monday.

1. Facts About L. Ron Hubbard - Things You Should Know, Flag Divisional Directive, 8 Mar 1974 
2. What Is Scientology?, 1973, p. xlii 
3. ibid., p. xliv 
4. Scientology: A New Slant on Life, L. Ron Hubbard, 1965

5.  Facts About L. Ron Hubbard - Things You Should Know, Flag Divisional Directive, 8 Mar 1974

6. Letter to author from Montana Historical Society, 24 Mar 1986

7.  Interview with Gorham Roberts, Helena, Montana, April 1986

8. Interview with Mrs. Margaret Roberts, Helena, Montana, April 1986

9. H.R. Hubbard navy record

Bare-Faced Merriah - Chapter 3 Explorer Manqué

On the final leg of the voyage, Ron's devotion to his studies rather appeared to falter, for he began filling his journal with one-paragraph synopses of short stories that he had either written, or perhaps intended to write, for magazines like True Confession and Adventure

Hubbard later claimed to have spent this period 'studying music' and 'composing operettas'. -- Chris Owen

It was clear from these entries that he was already thinking of a career as a writer, the Naval Academy notwithstanding. Indeed, he gave the impression that he had been grinding away at a typewriter for years, ending one synopsis, titled 'Armies for Rent', with a nonchalant addendum that it would include the 'usual plot complications'.

The budding science-fiction writer poses at his typewriter during a visit to his parents on the island of Guam in 1928

Hubbard learned to fly a glider while at George Washington University. He acquired the uniquely appropriate nickname of 'Flash' and liked to be described as a 'daredevil speed pilot and parachute artist'

'The following years, from 1925 to 1929, saw the young Mr Hubbard, between the ages of 14 and 18, as a budding and enthusiastic world traveller and adventurer. His father was sent to the Far East and having the financial support of his wealthy grandfather, L. Ron Hubbard, spent these years journeying through Asia . . .

'With the death of his grandfather, the Hubbard family returned to the United States and [Ron] enrolled at the George Washington University in the fall of 1930. At George Washington L. Ron Hubbard became associate editor of the University newspaper, "The Hatchet", and was a member of many of the University's clubs and societies . . . Here, also, he was enrolled in one of the first nuclear physics courses ever taught in an American university.

'As a student, barely 20 years old, he supported himself by writing and within a very few years he had established himself as an essayist in the literary world . . . He made the time during these same busy college years to act as a director with the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition of 1931. The underwater films made on that journey provided the Hydrographic Office and the University of Michigan with invaluable data for the furtherance of their research.

'Then in 1932, the true mark of an exceptional explorer was demonstrated. In that year L. Ron Hubbard, aged 21, achieved an ambitious "first". Conducting the West Indies Minerals Survey, he made the first complete mineralogical survey of Puerto Rico. This was pioneer exploration in the great tradition, opening up a predictable, accurate body of data for the benefit of others . . .' (Mission Into Time, published by the Church of Scientology, 1973)

(Scientology's account of the years 1928-29.)

(Scientology's account of the years 1930-32.)

*   *   *   *   *

The USS Henderson arrived off Guam on 25 July 1928 in heavy squalls and lay to on the lee side of the island for five days, waiting for an opportunity to enter the harbour. The weather did not seem to bother Ron. 'That trip was the best I ever took,' he wrote in his journal, 'and the best I ever hope to take. The Navy gave me a kangaroo court martial, there were nine young grass widows aboard, we danced every other night, the movies were good.'

Ron omitted from his journal any mention of how his parents reacted to his return. After more than a year apart, Harry and May were no doubt happy to see their seventeen-year-old son again, but they could not have been too pleased by his impetuous decision to drop out of High School. Since there was no possibility of getting him back to the United States in time for the start of the senior year - even if he would agree to go - it was decided that he should stay on Guam and be tutored by his mother in preparation for the entrance examination to the Naval Academy.

In spite of the limitations of her teaching experience, May seemed undaunted by the task of bringing her wayward son up to a sufficiently high educational standard to get him through the reputedly tough and highly competitive exam. And with servants padding softly about the house, attending unbidden to every household chore, she had plenty of time to devote to her son's studies.

For his part, Ron could not have been happier to substitute the authoritarian regime of old A.J. Roberts at Helena High for what he considered to be the exotic tropical allure of Guam and the gentle coaching of his mother.

In October, the Hubbards had an opportunity to take a recreational trip to China on the USS Gold Star, the ship that had brought May and Ron to Guam in the summer of 1927. Neither of them had much liked the ship, but the prospect of ten days' sight-seeing in Peking outweighed any reservations they might have had about another voyage. Hub warned his son that he would only be allowed to accompany them on condition that he continued his studies while the ship was at sea. Ron readily agreed.

On 6 October, thirty families reported on board the USS Gold Star for transportation to the China ports and return. Like the other officers on the excursion, Lieutenant Hubbard signed on for 'temporary duty' - he was Assistant to the Supply Officer. As previously, Ron kept a log of the trip, using one of the accounts books that his father could always provide. 'It is a delightful sensation', he scrawled in an early entry, 'to once more experience the pounding of engines below me and to hear the swish of a dark-blue sea outside our port.' At the bottom of the page was a world-weary, elegiac postscript: 'Another boat caught. Is ever thus?'

After a stop in Manila, which he reported as being like 'Guam plus XXX and a few trimmings', they sailed north towards the China coast. Ron was reluctantly confined to a desk in Cabin 9, claiming good progress with his studies.

The Gold Star re-fuelled with coal at Tsingtao, a busy port on the Shantung Peninsula only recently returned to China after being occupied for some years, first by the Germans, then the Japanese. Ron took the trouble to research Tsingtao's history and concluded that the Chinese, with all their corruption, were unworthy heirs to their own territory inasmuch as they had failed to profit from the efforts of Germany and Japan to clean up their country. 'A Chinaman can not live up to a thing,' he wrote, 'he always drags it down.' On 30 October he noted thankfully: 'We have left Tsingtao forever, I hope.'

On the following day the Gold Star anchored off T'ang-ku, from where its passengers took a train to Peking.[1] Like American tourists the world over, they made sure they got at least a glimpse of all the sights, which Ron described as 'rubberneck stations'. He was decidedly unimpressed by Peking's historical and religious architectural heritage.

The Temple of Heaven, probably the supreme achievement of traditional Chinese architecture, he considered 'very gaudy and more or less crudely done'. The summer palace was 'very cheap as to workman-ship' and the winter palace was 'not much of a palace in my estimation'.

The Lama temple, closed a few days after their visit by the newly-formed National Government, was 'miserably cold and very shabby . . . The people worshipping have voices like bull-frogs and beat a drum and play a brass horn to accompany their singing (?).'

As for the Imperial palaces in the Forbidden City, one was 'very trashy-looking' and most of the others were 'not worth mentioning'. Only the Great Wall of China seemed to fire his imagination and that mostly because it was 'the only work of man's hand visible from Mars'. If China turned it into a 'rolly coaster', he added, 'it could make millions of dollars every year.'

Neither did the Chinese people endear themselves to the opinionated young American. He found them shallow, simple-minded, dishonest, lazy and brutal. 'When it comes to the Yellow Races overrunning the world, you may laugh,' he noted. '. . . [The Chinese] have neither the foresight or endurance to overrun any white country in any way except by intermarriage. One American marine could stand off a great many yellowmen without much effort.'

Even the climate failed to please. Winter lasted from October to May, he said, the cold was intense, and it was so dry that dust formed ankle-deep in the roads and caused 'Peking sore throat', a formidable complaint that endured all winter.

'I believe that the most startling thing one can see in northern China', he wrote, 'is the number of camels. These are of a very mean breed but they resist cold and carry burdens which is all the Chinaman requires of them. Every day in Peking one can see many caravans in the streets. They have a very stately shamble. They carry their head high; their mean mouths wagging and their humps lolling from side to side. All my life I have associated camels with Arabs and it strikes a discordant note with me to see the beasts shepherded by Chinamen.'

The Gold Star stopped at Shanghai and Hong Kong before heading back to Guam, but Ron tired of further descriptive writing, apart from taking a final swipe at the luckless Chinese race. 'They smell', he concluded, 'of all the baths they didn't take. The trouble with China is, there are too many chinks here.'

On the final leg of the voyage, Ron's devotion to his studies rather appeared to falter, for he began filling his journal with one-paragraph synopses of short stories that he had either written, or perhaps intended to write, for magazines like True Confession and Adventure

Hubbard later claimed to have spent this period 'studying music' and 'composing operettas'. -- Chris Owen

It was clear from these entries that he was already thinking of a career as a writer, the Naval Academy notwithstanding. Indeed, he gave the impression that he had been grinding away at a typewriter for years, ending one synopsis, titled 'Armies for Rent', with a nonchalant addendum that it would include the 'usual plot complications'.

Predictably, the Orient was his favourite setting and the hero was invariably a white adventurer, as in 'Secret Service': 'Adventure. All in a day's work. Casual laddie in Hankow. Saves town. Joins Brit SS to carry out such orders as "Giovinni in Mukden exciting Communists. Use your own judgement. C13".'

None of his efforts, it must be said, were startlingly original: 'Love story. Goes to France. Meets swell broad in Marseilles. She takes him to her sink, bedroom and bath where he lives until notable citoyens object. He stands them off and takes the next boat for America having received a long expected will donation.'

On page 119 of the accounts book, Ron settled down to write a complete, though untitled, story which began: 'A lazy sun peeped over the horizon to throw glittering streamers of light across the breakers on the surf. The laggoon [sic] lay blue and cool. Tropical birds winged about their daily business and two figures lay stretched on the white coral sand. Two ragged figures, several feet apart . . .'

Ron's grasp of English grammar was as uncertain as his spelling. It transpired that these two figures, a boy and a girl, were the sole survivors of a shipwreck. The girl roused the boy in traditional fashion ('Bob! Bob! Speak to me!'), whereupon Bob spoke thus: '"Their [sic] gone, all gone, they're dead and the ship is at the bottom."'

Alone on a desert island paradise, nature takes its course and they swear undying, though entirely chaste, love. But after being rescued and returning to the United States they drift apart. The story - interrupted on page 123 by the scribbled working of some hated algebra equations - ends with a poignant reunion in a San Francisco hotel lobby during which the couple laugh at their earlier foolishness. 

Although Ron's narrative writing was still immature, he demonstrated an obvious talent in the craft of short-story writing, structuring the narrative skilfully and compensating for what he lacked in literary skill by sheer productivity. 

The Gold Star arrived back at Guam on 18 December and in the weeks and months that followed Ron turned out dozens of stories and essays, filling one accounts book after another. His mother took a photograph of him as a budding young writer, sitting at a desk in the bungalow with his fingers poised on the keys of a big upright typewriter, although he actually preferred to write by hand in a large, untidy script, frequently crossing out words or sentences, sometimes even whole pages, as he progressed.

Like all writers, there were some days when it just would not come right:

'The sun was hot, the day was still, the palm trees gaudy green, lined the beach of that tropical isle . . .

'The sun was hot, the day was still and Hospital Corpsman James Thorpe surveyed his tiny domain . . .

'The sun was hot, the day was still . . .

'The sun was hot and except for the monotonous drone of the sea beating the cruel reef the day was still . . .'

At the age of eighteen, Ron was a pink-faced, lanky youth with a cowlick of red hair and a spotty complexion, but he was writing as if he was a well-travelled man of the world, a carefree, two-fisted, knockabout adventurer with a zest for life. It was an image he was able to create by using the slender experience of his brief travels in the East to provide a gloss of verisimilitude on the overheated combustion of his imagination.

In this way, he felt able to philosophize about 'the untrustworthy, lying, cruel, changeable, satirical Lady Luck', as if he had suffered more than once from her capriciousness: 'This humorist of humorists, this demon of demons has dragged men from their places in the sun into the slime of oblivion; has made beggars kings; has, with a whisper, made and crushed thousands; has laughed at the beings who supposed they ruled our destinies; and has killed enough men to patch hell's highway its blistering length.'

Only when dealing, gingerly, with the opposite sex did the pubescent man of the world lose his assurance. The story that began so tortuously with 'The sun is hot . . .' was about a male nurse in the Navy who fell for his native assistant. 'She took the chair with a sly glance at the boy and folded her slim brown hands in her lap. The Corpsman was suddenly aware that she was beautiful. He swam for a moment in the depths of her clear brown eyes and then seated himself quickly upon the grass. He was somewhat startled by his discovery and told himself fiercely that she was native, native, native.'

When, inevitably, they fell into each other's arms ('Dimly he saw Marie on the porch and in a moment he felt her in his arms . . .') Ron seemed unsure how to proceed with the story. He scored through the next four lines so heavily as to make them illegible, then abandoned it.

As his attention was so diverted by his fantastic excursions into his imagination, it was perhaps no surprise that Ron failed the entrance examination to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Mathematics, which he detested, let him down.[2] His father was disappointed but still convinced that Ron could get through the examination. Lieutenant Hubbard's tour of duty in Guam was soon coming to an end and he knew that his next posting would be to Washington DC, where he was to be Disbursing Officer at the Naval Hospital. He discovered that Swavely Preparatory School in Manassas, Virginia - which was within the Washington DC metropolitan area - ran a special course for Annapolis candidates and after a lengthy exchange of telegrams between Guam and Manassas, he managed to enrol Ron for the 1929-30 school year.

The Hubbards returned to the United States at the end of August 1929 and went straight to Helena, Montana, for a happy family reunion. (Their return was not prompted by the death of Ron's 'wealthy grandfather', as suggested in 'official' biographies, since Lafayette Waterbury was still very much alive. He died, aged sixty-seven, on 18 August 1931.) May, who had sometimes found the tropical climate in Guam exhausting, was particularly pleased to be home, filling her lungs with the sweet mountain air of Montana, and she decided to stay on for a while when the time came for Hub to take Ron to Washington.

On 30 September Ron started back at school in the leafy environs of Manassas. In Helena, May sat down to write her son a loving, but gently chiding, letter on the family's rickety typewriter:

Dearest Ronald,

Am thinking a lot about this, your first day at school. Do hope you like it and that you study every lesson thoroughly. Remember you are paying for the information and so do not hesitate to ask a teacher again and again about anything that is not clear. I want you to hold to just this one job - getting through school and passing examinations at the top. Don't write anything outside your school stuff. Don't read anything outside of school requirements. When you are through with lessons, get outdoors for your health. If you stick to this rule you will win through.

I am feeling worlds better in this mountain air. It is a wonderful change from the tropics. It is too bad that dad could not also have had it instead of going so early on the job. He did it for yon so when you feel like slacking, I want you to remember dad gave up his hard earned leave to put you where you are. There is only one way you can pay dad and that is by making good. Your success is our biggest goal in life . . .

May went on to tell her son about the weather, a two-day fishing trip and the trout she had caught, and Toilie being mad because he had not written her any letters. He was to let her know if he wanted his hiking boots. 'I am on my toes to hear all about your school . . .' she concluded. 'With love and best wishes. Mother.'

Lieutenant Hubbard's heartfelt hope that his son would follow him into the US Navy through the Naval Academy was soon to be dashed. During his first semester at Swavely, Ron went to a doctor complaining of eye-strain and was sent to the Naval Hospital for tests. These revealed him to be so short-sighted that he stood no chance of passing the medical requirements for entry to Annapolis. May, meanwhile, had arrived from Helena and moved into a small house in Oakcrest, Virginia, which Hub had rented for them. Many evenings she would sit with her husband fretting about Ron: Hub's gloom about what the future held for his son was greatly exacerbated by the Wall Street Crash, which seemed as if it would engulf the country in catastrophe.

Ron himself exhibited little regret that a career in the Navy was no longer an option. At Swavely he was made an associate editor of the school's monthly newspaper, the Swavely Sentinel, and he was also busy rehearsing for his part as Anatol in Episode, a one-act comedy which was to launch the Swavely Players' season on 13 December. In truth, being an editor or an actor was a sight more alluring to him than being in the Navy, although he would never have admitted it to his father.

While Ron was happily immersed in school life at Swavely, his father was in frequent contact with the Registrar at George Washington University to try and find a way of getting his son accepted as an undergraduate. Lieutenant Hubbard was advised that if Ron could earn sufficient credits at a recognized school - Woodward School for Boys, a YMCA 'crammer' in Washington DC, was mentioned - he would not be required to sit the College Entrance Examination for the university.

Accordingly, Ron was enrolled at Woodward in February 1930. At the beginning of May he took time off from his studies to enlist as a Private in the US Marine Corps Reserve, adding two years to his age and giving his occupation, for some reason, as 'photographer'. It seems he was unconcerned by such piffling mendacity, even on official

documents, for his bold signature appears at the bottom of his Service Record, confirming both the errors and his physical description height 5'10½", weight 165lb, eyes grey, hair red, complexion ruddy. Six weeks later he was inexplicably promoted to First Sergeant, a leap in rank that was astonishing even by his own standards of self-regard.[3]

Ron's lack of concern for literal truth was exemplified by the persistence with which he claimed he had once been the youngest eagle scout. Even when he won the Woodward school finals in the National Oratorical Contest, with a speech on 'The Constitution; a Guarantee of the Liberty of the Individual', the school newspaper did not fail to mention that he was 'at one time the youngest eagle scout in America', although it was not immediately apparent what this had to do with oratory.[4]

To the intense pleasure of his parents, Ron graduated in June. In a letter to another university (Lieutenant Hubbard was clearly determined to keep his son's options open), his father wrote proudly: 'Ronald worked day and night to prepare for the several examinations and was successful in passing all of them. In my own opinion he has covered considerably more ground than is usual in any high school course and the fact that with all the handicaps he has encountered he has succeeded, he is therefore the best possible subject for university and college work.'[5]

On 24 September 1930, Ron was admitted as a freshman to the School of Engineering at George Washington University, with a major in civil engineering - a discipline suggested by his father. He was photographed for The Cherry Tree, the university year book, standing in the back row of the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers in a smart suit and spotted tie, staring solemnly at the camera, hair smarmed back and instantly identifiable by his curiously protuberant lips, which often gave him an unfortunately sullen demeanour.

The GW Campus, in the heart of Washington DC, was a lively place to be at the start of the 'thirties, despite Prohibition and the worst depression in American history. Even though the newspapers were full of stories about children scavenging for food in garbage cans and pictures of gaunt faces waiting in bread lines, civil engineering students seemed to face a bright future, for people were already beginning to talk about the new era of technocracy, the absolute domination of technology, and the 'Great Engineer' - Herbert Hoover - occupied the White House, just a few blocks from the campus. In New York, the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world, was nearing completion, testimony to the vision, brilliance and the bright prospects of American civil engineers.

Unhappily, it was a future Ron viewed with some jaundice, for his heart was not in engineering and he had no time for worthy folk like civil engineers. While lecturers droned on about the theory of structure and stress analysis, Ron's imagination roamed the world of the adventure comic strips which were just then beginning to make an impact on American mass culture. His lusty fantasies were still peopled by spies and commissars, pirates and warlords, English soldiers of fortune with impeccable credentials and the stiffest of upper lips pitted against Chinamen of barely credible inscrutability.

His mother's advice - 'don't write anything outside your school stuff' - was quickly forgotten as he covered page after page of his notebooks with swashbuckling yarns, usually set in the Orient and always scribbled in obvious haste as if he could never wait to arrive at the dénouement. His literary interests naturally attracted him to the staff of the university's weekly newspaper, the Hatchet, but while Ron considered himself well enough qualified to be an editor, all he was offered was the job of reporter, which lowly position he only managed to endure for a few months in the spring of 1931.

However, he had become much enamoured of late with the infant sport of gliding and the idea of learning to fly and he was able to use his influence at the newspaper to stimulate interest in the formation of a university gliding club. On 1 April 1931, the Hatchet reported that an initial meeting of the George Washington University Gliding Club was to he held soon. The club had secured the use of a Berliner primary trainer and plans were being made to buy a power glider to train students for power flight. Anyone interested, the report concluded, should contact L. Ron Hubbard at theHatchet office.

Thereafter, Ron made sure that the activities of the gliding club were extensively covered. On 15 April it was reported that 'several GW men who are well versed in the science of aviation and motorless flight' were expected to attend an initial meeting the following day. 22 April: 'Glider Club Begins Training at Congressional Airport.' 13 May: 'Members of Glider Club Try Out Theories In Air.'

Ron adored gliding and spent a great deal of time hanging around at Congressional Airport in Rockville, Maryland, hoping to cadge an extra flight and a tow in the Old Ford that pulled the gliders into the air. He never hesitated to cut classes if it meant 'going up' and he relied on his fellow students to brief him on the content of the classes he missed. It was not an ideal way to qualify as a civil engineer.

Although Ron was elected president of the gliding club, it rather appeared from the reports in the Hatchet that he was in danger of being overshadowed by his vice-president, one Ray A. Heimburger. The 13 May story noted, for example, that Heimburger was the first member to release his tow-line in the air, at the height of forty feet, while Ron was still 'trying his hand at the art of making turns in the air'. Einstein's theories were a 'pipe', Ron was quoted as saying, 'compared to the navigation of a motorless ship'. A few weeks later, Heimburger won second place in a spot landing contest at the Curtis Wright Air Show in Baltimore; another GW student took third place, but Ron did not merit a mention.

If there was any jealousy between the president and his deputy, it was forgotten on 13 July when they both passed their tests at Congressional Airport. Ron was rated 85 - average - by the examiner and was awarded Commercial Glider Pilot Licence No 385.[6] By then he had completed 116 flights - evidence of the amount of time he had devoted to the sport in the two months since the gliding club began training.

It was hardly surprising that Ron's success as a glider pilot was not matched by academic achievement and his grades at the end of the second semester were disappointing. He got an A for physical education, B for English, C for mechanical engineering, D for general chemistry and Fs for German and calculus. His overall grade for the year was D average, a result which gave no pleasure at all to his parents. They were convinced that he could do better.

After a stern warning from his father that he would be expected to show a big improvement in his second year, Ron left Washington to spend the summer vacation at Port Huron, Michigan, where he had arranged to help a friend, Philip Browning, run a gliding school. While he was there, Browning taught him to fly a small stunt plane, although Ron never held a licence for powered flight.[7]

Ron was still in Port Huron when he learned in August that his beloved grandfather had died. The entire family gathered in Helena for the funeral - all six Waterbury 'girls' (Hope had died in childbirth in 1928) were there with their husbands and children and Ray came from Canada with his wife. Lafe was buried at Forestvale Cemetery, a quiet patch of prairie mid-way between the town and the mountains. Immediately after the funeral, Ron returned to Washington to report for two weeks' annual training with the 20th Marine Corps Reserve and was rated 'excellent' for military efficiency, obedience and sobriety.[8]

On the morning of Sunday 13 September 1931, the good people of Gratis, Ohio, a small farming community in Preble County, were surprised to see a small biplane swoop out of the sky and land on a field to the east of the town. The pilots, according to an awed report in the Preble County News, were Philip Browning and 'L. Ron "Flash" Hubbard, dare-devil speed pilot and parachute artist'.

The newspaper reported that the two flyers were forced down after running short of fuel. George Swisher, on whose farm they landed, must have been a phlegmatic sort of chap, because it was averred that his first words were: 'Anything I can do for you boys?' After the 'dare-devil speed pilot and parachute artist' had explained the problem, an obliging local by the name of Raymond Boomershine volunteered to run into town to get them some gas.

'Meanwhile,' Ron would recall, 'a lot of people were arriving. They wanted to know if we needed any help. And we said the plane had to be turned around and although they were all in their Sunday best they grabbed the tail and turned her around. Then Raymond Boomershine came back with the gas and helped us fill the tank. We tried to pay him and he said "Nope" and my pal said, "We don't know how to thank you." And Raymond said, "Well, if you put it that way, I always wanted to ride in one of them things. How about a short hop?" That started it. Everyone and his kids got a ride.'[9]

According to the Preble County News, a total of thirty-six 'daring souls' were given a joy-ride that Sunday, by which time it was too dark for the fliers to leave. They stayed the night with Mr and Mrs Luther Kiracofe and next day 'roared on to St Louis, headed for more adventures'.

On the same day Ron was roaring to St Louis, he was also placed on 'scholastic probation' at George Washington University because of his poor grades. When he eventually returned to Washington he appeared unabashed by this stricture, for he continued to devote much of his energy to the gliding club in the hope of raising sufficient funds to purchase a soaring plane.

A few years later Ron would provide, in his usual jaunty prose, a picturesque description of how he had become disillusioned with civil engineering: 'I have some very poor grade sheets which show that I studied to be a civil engineer in college. Civil engineering seemed very handsome at the time. I met the lads in their Stetsons from Crabtown to Timbuctu and they seemed to lead a very colorful existence squinting into their transits. However, too late, I was sent up to Maine by the Geological Society to find the lost Canadian Border. Much bitten by seven kinds of insects, gummed by the muck of swamps, fed on johnny cake and tarheel, I saw instantly that a civil engineer had to stay far too long in far too few places and so I rapidly forgot my calculus and slip stick . . .'[10]

At the end of the next semester, Ron's grades showed no improvement and he remained on probation. He was nevertheless elected a member of Phi Theta XI, the Professional Engineering Fraternity, and was photographed for the year book in formal evening dress, black tie and starched wing collar, as if grimly intent, like his fraternity fellows, on pursuing a career building bridges. On the evening of 8 January 1932, Ron could be found among the eight hundred revellers at the first Engineering Ball, held in the west ballroom at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington. Music for dancing was provided by Red Anderson and his orchestra - 'Mood Indigo', 'Goodnight Sweetheart', 'Minnie the Moocher' and 'When the Moon comes over the Mountain' were the popular songs of the day - and the cabaret featured The Troubadours, under the directions of one Trimble Sawtelle. The Hatchet listed Ron as one of the members of the organizing committee and declared the event to be a 'pronounced' success.

A more important event for Ron that month was the publication of his first article in a magazine. 'Tailwind Willies', in the Sportsman Pilot, described his adventures flying across country in the Midwest with his friend Philip 'Flip' Browning. 'We had three weeks' excess time before we had to get back to the college grind,' he wrote. 'Our resources were one Arrow Sport biplane, two toothbrushes and four itchy feet . . . We carefully wrapped our "baggage", threw the fire extinguisher out to save half a horsepower, patched a hole in the upper wing and started off to skim over four or five states with the wind as our only compass . . .'

The forced landing at Gratis was not apparently considered worthy of mention, perhaps because there appeared to be no shortage of spectacular, not to say unlikely, incidents. At Newport, Indiana, for example, they stopped to take on gas but got stuck in a muddy field. 'I crawled out to let Flip take a whirl at it alone. By using up half the field he managed to wish the muddy Sparrow into her element, and after building some altitude, wheeled over to the place where I stood and called down that there was another field a short distance away. After pacifying a sheriff, who was about to lock me up for trespassing, by shoving him into a mud puddle, I hopped onto the running board of a Purdue Boy's car and burned road over to Flip's new landing place - if you could call it that. The second field was little better than the first and three attempts were necessary before we willed the Sparrow up just in time to see a nine-foot telephone wire at the height of our prop. Flip threw the nose down and the wires were a scant foot above my head . . .'

Any hope of Ron knuckling down to his studies disappeared early in 1932 when the Hatchet announced its intention to publish a monthly Literary Review. Nothing could have suited him better, for it provided him with a further excuse to neglect his tedious engineering books while he wrote more short stories, and sifted through the hundreds he had already written, to find something suitable for publication.

It was unthinkable, out of the question as far as Ron was concerned, for the Literary Review to appear without a contribution from L. Ron Hubbard and the first issue, published on 9 February 1932, carried a short story eponymously titled 'Tah', about a twelve-year-old boy soldier in China on a route march to a gory death at the point of a bayonet. It was clearly a successful debut, for the third issue included 'Grounded', another bloodthirsty Hubbard story, this one a description of a naval engagement on the Yangtze river, swirling with headless corpses, in which the Commanding Officer of HMS Spitfire meets a sticky end.

In May, Ron won the Literary Review's drama contest with a one-act play, The God Smiles. Set in a café in Tsingtao in Communist China, the plot hovered uncertainly between Chekhov and farce and involved a White Russian officer and his lover hiding behind a curtain to escape arrest by a tyrannical warlord.

Ron was pleased to have his work acknowledged, but he was by then immersed in a new and consuming project that would temporarily take precedence over all his other interests - even gliding. He was making plans to lead an 'expedition' to the Caribbean.

Other, less bombastic, students might have been inclined to describe the venture as a 'summer cruise', but that was not Ron's way. No, it was to be nothing short of a fully-fledged expedition and he was to be its leader. He had already decided on a suitably grandiose title - the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition. Its dubious scientific aim was to explore and film the pirate 'strongholds and bivouacs of the Spanish main' and to 'collect whatever one collects for exhibits in museums'.[11]

The background to the 'expedition' was that Ron and his friend Ray Heimburger had discovered a big old four-masted schooner, the Doris Hamlin, berthed in Baltimore and available for charter through the summer. Two hundred feet long and 1061 gross tons, she had never been fitted with engines and was thus not exactly overwhelmed with business. Ron had a long talk with the skipper, Captain Fred Garfield, and reckoned that if he could get together about fifty other students they could afford to charter the Doris Hamlin for the whole of the summer vacation. After all, he reasoned, with unemployment in the Unites States topping thirteen million, no one could entertain much hope of finding a vacation job. It did not take him long to find enough volunteers to join him - a tribute to his enthusiasm, organizational ability and salesmanship.

The first report of the forthcoming expedition in the Hatchet, on 24 May 1932, was not by-lined but bore all the hallmarks of L. Ron Hubbard's florid literary style. 'Contrary to popular belief,' it began, 'windjammer days are not over and romance refuses to die the death - at least for fifty young gentleman rovers who will set sail on the schooner Doris Hamlin from Baltimore on 20 June for the pirate haunts of the Spanish Main . . .

'According to L. Ron Hubbard, the strongholds and bivouacs of the Spanish Main have lain neglected and forgotten for centuries and there has never been a concerted attempt to tear apart the jungles to find the castles of Teach, Morgan, Bonnet, Bluebeard, Kidd, Sharp . . . Down there where the sun is whipping up heat waves from the palms, this crew of gentleman rovers will re-enact the scenes which struck terror to the hearts of the world only a few hundred years ago - with the difference that this time it will be for the benefit of the fun and the flickering ribbon of celluloid. In their spare time, if they have any, they will scale the heights of belching volcanoes, hunt in the thick jungles, shoot flying fish on the wing . . .'

Apart from exploring and 're-enacting' pirate scenes (a perhaps questionable contribution to science), the 'gentlemen rovers' also planned to collect valuable botanical specimens, write articles for travel magazines and make a number of short movies. 'Scenarios will be written on the spot in accordance with the legends of the particular island and after a thorough research through the ship's library, which is to include many authoritative books on pirates.'

The itinerary was similarly crowded - during the one hundred-day cruise it was planned to stop at sixteen ports on the islands of Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Nevis, Montserrat, St Croix, Vieques, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica, Gonave, Tortue and the Bahamas. More experienced expedition leaders might have paused to ponder the feasibility of attempting to sail five thousand miles in one hundred days in an old four-master with no auxiliary power, but Ron was able to draw on all the overweening confidence of his twenty-one years and would not consider anything remotely less ambitious.

The expedition certainly appeared to have impressive backing. There were reports that the University of Michigan was providing technical support, the Carnegie Institute and the Metropolitan Museum were somehow involved, a sea-plane had been shipped on board to take aerial pictures, Fox Movietone and Pathé News were competing for film rights and The New York Times had contracted to buy still photographs. Members of the expedition, it was said, would be sharing the profits from these various lucrative deals.

It seemed that young Ron Hubbard had pulled off quite a coup and it was in the spirit of the greatest possible optimism that the Doris Hamlin set sail from Baltimore on 23 June, only a few days behind schedule. As the schooner slipped her moorings, spread her four great sails and leaned into Chesapeake Bay, every man on board believed he was on the threshold of a great adventure. Ron, standing in the bows with the wind ruffling his red hair, was grinning as broadly as the rest, even though ten of the 'gentleman rovers' had entertained last-minute second thoughts and pulled out, leaving the expedition in what he would later ominously describe as a 'delicate financial situation'.

In Washington, nothing was heard of the expedition until 5 August, when the Hatchet reported that the schooner had arrived, 'with everything ship-shape', at Bermuda on 6 July. The story quoted a letter, presumably from Ron, explaining some of the expedition's early difficulties: 'We had one H--- of a time getting out of the Chesapeake Bay with the wind blowing in like the very devil. After that we had a couple of days of calm. Then a stiff breeze came along and we keeled over and ran before it nicely. But next it blew into a storm and for two days we were tossed and rolled about enough to make nearly everyone sick. After that we got a break and the last three days our bowsprit has been cutting through the brine at eight or nine knots.'

What was not explained was why, two weeks after leaving Baltimore, the Doris Hamlin was in Bermuda, six hundred miles out in the Atlantic and almost as far from Martinique, her planned first port of call, as Baltimore. It was a question that could not be answered until early in September when the Doris Hamlin sailed back into Chesapeake Bay three weeks before her expected return. In Baltimore, Captain Garfield, a man of few words but with thirty years' sailing experience, sourly declared the voyage 'the worst trip I ever made'.

Even Ron, who did his best to put a brave face on it, could barely conceal the fact that the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition had been a disaster. From the start, nothing had gone right: after leaving the east coast of the United States, storms had driven the schooner far off course and Captain Garfield had told Ron they would have to put into Bermuda to replenish the fresh water tanks, which had sprung a leak. Ron, who knew there was barely enough money in the kitty to cover expenses, ordered the Captain to stand off the island to try and avoid harbour charges. Garfield refused. A heated argument followed but the veteran skipper was not of a mind to take orders from a twenty-one-year-old and sailed his ship into Bermuda harbour.

At this first landfall, eleven members of the expedition promptly announced they had had enough adventure and intended to go home. They had been disgusted, Ron explained, by the 'somewhat turbulent seas'. It transpired that the ship's cook also suffered from seasickness and so Ron fired him and hired two Bermudans to take his place. By the time he had paid off the cook and settled the bills for fresh water supplies, mooring and pilotage, the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition was in danger of running out of money before it even arrived in the Caribbean.

Two days out from Bermuda, bound for Martinique, Ron discovered that all the fresh water which had been taken on board had leaked away and his relationship with the Captain became even more acrimonious. It took the Doris Hamlin seventeen days to reach Martinique, where she arrived a month to the day after leaving Baltimore.

As soon as the anchor splashed into the blue water of the bay at Fort de France, once notorious for yellow fever, several more 'gentleman rovers' abandoned ship and made their own way home, disinterested in further roving with Ron. After they had gone ashore, Ron decided on a showdown with the increasingly surly Captain Garfield. As a result of the fresh water débâcle, he said, he would not be handing over any more money to the Captain. Garfield stomped off, muttering dark threats.

News of this development instantly reached the ears of the six-man crew, whom Ron had earlier affectionately described as 'old sea dogs'. Faced with a threat to their wages, they instantly turned rabid and demanded Ron pay them in full, in advance. The leader of the rapidly disintegrating expedition tried to placate them and promised to cable home for more money.

Meanwhile, Captain Garfield was sending his own cable home - to the owners of the Doris Hamlin, warning them that the charter fees were at risk. Their response was immediate and unequivocal. Garfield was ordered to sail the ship straight back to Baltimore. Ron pleaded for more time, swore there was no shortage of money, threatened dire retribution in the courts, appealed to the Captain's better nature - all to no avail. In desperation, he went ashore to seek advice from the US Consul in Fort de France, but was told there was nothing that could be done.

The Doris Hamlin weighed anchor and set a course for home with not a single pirate haunt explored. The 'gentlemen rovers' could do no more than stare moodily from the schooner's rails as the islands they hoped to visit passed by on the horizon and dropped astern. 'When we left Martinique, the whole aspect of the trip had changed,' Ron confessed. 'Morale was down to zero.'

Captain Garfield was obliged to stop at Ponce in Puerto Rico to take on supplies of food and water and Ron went ashore once more to make a final attempt to salvage the expedition. At the Ponce Harbor Board he was told he could take legal action against the owners of the Doris Hamlin but that it might take months to resolve. Sadly, he accepted defeat and the remaining 'gentleman rovers' were carried unwillingly back to Baltimore.

After his return to Washington, he wrote an account of the expedition's troubles for the Washington Daily News, contriving to cast Captain Garfield in the worst possible light. To head off assumptions that the whole trip had been a flop, he concluded in typically rhapsodic vein: 'Despite these difficulties, we had a wonderful summer. The lot of us are tanned and healthy and we know what few men know these speedy days - the thrill of plowing thru blue seas in a wooden ship with nothing but white wings to drive us over the horizon.'

By the time Ron and Ray Heimburger got round to preparing a report for the Hatchet on 17 September 1932, the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition had been miraculously transformed into something of a triumph. Slow sailing, unforeseen expenses and lack of experience were blamed for the cutback in the itinerary, but 'although the expedition was a financial failure, nevertheless the adventures and scientific ends accomplished well compensated for the financial deficit.'

Among the scientific accomplishments claimed was the collection of a great many specimens of flora and fauna for the University of Michigan, some of them 'very rare', the provision of underwater film to the Hydrographic Office, and 'much research work in the field of natural life while at the various islands'. The New York Times, it was reported, had bought some of the photographs taken on the expedition.

Life on board the Doris Hamlin was presented in the rosiest of lights and there was even a hint of romantic adventures ashore: 'By way of amusement on board the ship, the boys entertained themselves with chess, bridge, volley-ball tournaments, etcetera, and on land, when they weren't out catching sharks or harpooning or visiting some colourful spot, they were capably entertained by the dark-eye señoritas at the various ports.'

All in all, the report concluded that the expedition was nothing short of a 'glorious adventure'.

Curiously, no trace may be found of the many contributions to science which Ron claimed on behalf of the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition. The Hydrographic Office has no record of receiving the expedition's underwater films,[12] the University of Michigan can find none of the specimens brought back by the 'gentleman rovers'[13] and the archives at The New York Times hold no photographs from the expedition, no evidence that it was ever intended to buy such photographs, nor indeed any indication that the newspaper was even aware of the expedition's existence.[14]

Mystery similarly surrounds the West Indies Minerals Survey, that 'pioneer exploration in the great tradition' during which Ron is said to have completed the first mineralogical survey of Puerto Rico. This would certainly have been an impressive achievement for a twenty-one-year-old civil engineering student, but the US Geological Survey knows nothing about it[15], neither does the Puerto Rican Department of Natural Resources[16] nor Doctor Howard Meyerhoff, visiting professor in geology at the University of Puerto Rico, 1931-2.[17]

When Ron returned home from the Caribbean, he discovered that his grades for his second year at George Washington University were disastrous: a B for English, but D in calculus and electrical and magnetic physics, and an F for molecular and atomic physics. He was perhaps not surprised and as his expectation of graduating was fast receding he could see no point in wasting a third year studying a subject in which he had no interest. When he adjudged the moment to be appropriate, he announced to his parents that he had had enough of civil engineering and did not intend to return to university.

May and Harry Hubbard were mortified. As they saw it, their son was squandering a fine opportunity to enter a respectable profession and enjoy a successful career; it seemed such a waste. But Ron adamantly refused to listen to their entreaties that he should face up to his responsibilities, return to university, study hard and graduate.

Lieutenant Hubbard, accepting at last that Ron could not be persuaded to change his mind, cast about for something worthwhile to keep his son occupied until he was ready to think again about a proper career; he was determined not to allow Ron to fritter away his time scribbling more stories. At the Naval Hospital where he was still working as Disbursing Officer, he heard that the Red Cross was looking for volunteers to work in Puerto Rico. On 13 October, he wrote to the Navy Department requesting a passage to San Juan for his son, supporting his request with a note: 'The purpose of sending my son to Puerto Rico is to place his services at the disposal of the American Red Cross in their relief work on that island.' Two days later, the request was approved.

On 23 October 1932, Ron reported on board the US Navy transport, USS Kittery, at Norfolk, Virginia, for transportation to Puerto Rico. Among his fellow passengers were a number of nurses and the wife of the director of the American Red Cross. While he was still at sea, readers of the November issue of the Sportsman Pilot were entertained by a second L. Ron Hubbard article, this time about his escapades as a glider pilot. He described 'the most terrible nightmare I have ever gone through' - how his glider had folded a wing at four hundred feet, how he had battled to prevent it going into a spin and how, as he crashed, 'so many wires wrapped themselves about my neck that I was unable to wear a collar for weeks.' A few weeks later, he modestly added, he set up an unofficial world record by flying a glider at a speed of eighty miles an hour at a level altitude for a duration of twelve minutes.

The USS Kittery arrived at Port au Prince, Puerto Rico, on 4 November. The log book records that L. R. Hubbard left the ship along with his fellow passengers, but by then he had plans other than volunteer relief work. Somewhere between Norfolk, Virginia, and Port au Prince it seems that Ron decided to abandon the Red Cross and strike out into the hills in search of the gold he was convinced must have been left behind on the island by the Conquistadores.

He would later claim that he spent at least six months prospecting in Puerto Rico: 'Harboring the thought that the Conquistadores might have left some gold behind, I determined to find it . . . After a half year or more of intensive search, after wearing my palms thin wielding a sample pack, after assaying a few hundred sacks of ore, I came back, a failure.'[18]

It is possible that his real motive was not so much a genuine expectation of striking gold as a desire to escape the dreary clutches of the Red Cross. As he noted in an article written on his return to the United States: 'Gold prospecting in the wake of the Conquistadores, on the hunting grounds of the pirates in the islands which still reek of Columbus is romantic, and I do not begrudge the sweat which splashed in muddy rivers, and the bits of khaki which have probably blown away from the thorn bushes long ago.'

Quite how long he spent splashing through muddy rivers was not documented. Certainly at one point during his short sojourn on the island, he appears to have been employed as a field representative for a prospecting company called West Indies Minerals and a photograph exists of him standing disconsolately in a pith helmet, hands in his pockets, watching a party of three or four labourers digging on a hillside.

But if he was supervising the first mineralogical survey of Puerto Rico, it was a survey destined never to materialize in any archive. Indeed, it rather seems as if the 'West Indies Minerals Survey' derived from a trip undertaken, at the insistence of Ron's angry and disappointed father, more as a penance than an expedition.

1. Deck log, USS Gold Star

2.  L. R. Hubbard Service Record Book, US Marine Corps

3. 3. Ibid. 
4. Unidentified newspaper clipping 
5. Letter from H. R. Hubbard to South Eastern University, 1930

6. Certified airman's file, Federal Aviation Administration, 12 May 1986 
7. Ibid. 
8. L. R. Hubbard Service Record Book, US Marine Corps

9.  Preble County News, 21 July 1983, (reprint of original article) 
10. Adventure, 1 October 1935

10. The Hatchet, 24 May 1932

11. Letter from Oceanographic Office, Dept of Navy, 22 June 1970 
13. Letter to author from University of Michigan, 23 April 1986 
14. Letter to author from Director of Archives, The New York Times, 14 April 1986 
15. Report from Clifford Kaye, US Geological Survey, 22 June 1970

16. Letter from Dept of Natural Resources, San Juan, 10 Oct 1979 
17. Letter from Dr Meyerhoff, 11 Feb 1980

18. Adventure, 1 October 1935

Bare-faced Messiah Chapter 4 Blood and Thunder

Bare-faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard is a posthumous biography of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard by British journalist Russell Miller. Originally published: 26 October 1987 Author: Russell Miller, Genre: Biography, Page count: 380, Publisher: Michael Joseph, Subject: L. Ron Hubbard

'His first action on leaving college was to blow off steam by leading an expedition into Central America. In the next few years he headed three, all of them undertaken to study savage peoples and cultures to provide fodder for his articles and stories. Between 1933 and 1941 he visited many barbaric cultures and yet found time to write seven million words of published fact and fiction.' (A Brief Biography of L. Ron Hubbard, 1959)

Precious little care went into compiling the many biographies of L. Ron Hubbard. Had anyone bothered to research Hubbard's published output, it would immediately have been obvious that he had not written anything like seven million words during this period. Between 1933 and 1941, he published about 160 articles and stories, almost all of them in pulp magazines. The nature of the medium proscribed lengthy literary efforts, thus pulp fiction tended to be short, with few stories running to more than 10,000 words. If he had written seven million published words, the averagelength of each of his contributions would have been an impossible 44,000 words.

A little intelligent inquiry would also have established that Hubbard never left North America during the years in question: the 'fodder' for his stories derived not from expeditions to faraway places, but from past experiences embellished by his fecund imagination. Neither did he visit 'barbaric cultures', except, perhaps, those to be found in New York and Los Angeles . . .

(Scientology's account of the years 1933-36.)

*   *   *   *

Ron arrived back in Washington DC in February 1933, not too disappointed at his failure as a gold prospector and hotly anxious to renew his acquaintanceship with a young lady he had met on a gliding field shortly before his father sent him packing to Puerto Rico.

The object of his ardour was a twenty-six-year-old farmer's daughter from Elkton, Maryland. Her name was Margaret Louise Grubb, but everyone called her Polly. She was a bright, pretty girl with bobbed blond hair and an independent streak in keeping with the age of Amelia Earhart who, nine months earlier, had become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Earhart inspired thousands of American women to take an interest in aviation and at weekends Polly used to like to walk out to an airfield near her home to watch the gliders wobble uncertainly into the air behind a tow from an aged and rusting Ford.

An only child whose mother had died years earlier, she both looked after her father and supported herself financially (she had got her first job, working in a shoe shop, at the age of sixteen). But despite her responsibilities, she was soon determined to learn to fly and was well on the way to getting her own licence[1] when a young man with startling red hair showed up at the airfield one weekend.

Polly could hardly fail to register Ron's arrival since he was immediately the focus of attention among the little group of leather-helmeted pilots waiting for a tow. They seemed to gather naturally around him, laughing frequently while he talked non-stop, slicing the air with his hands to illustrate his various aerial exploits. For his part, it was not long before Ron noticed the attractive young woman in flying gear and strolled over to talk to her.

Although she was nearly four years older than Ron, the difference in their ages did not bother Polly in the least. Other, less open-minded, women might never have considered the possibility of a romance with a man younger than themselves, but Polly found Ron to be an irresistible companion - kind, considerate, entertaining and always able to make her laugh. He talked a great deal about his travels in the East, but she was never bored; indeed, she was constantly amazed at all the things he had seen and done. He was so much more mature, so much more worldly, than the young men she knew around Elkton, a rural community of less than six thousand people close to the north-east corner of Chesapeake Bay. Most of them had never been further than Wilmington, Delaware, ten miles up the road.

Polly's father was, understandably, faintly alarmed to learn that his daughter was 'walking out' with Ron Hubbard. It was not that he did not like the young man; he, too, thought Ron was charming. Nor was he concerned that Ron was younger than Polly. What worried him was the fact that Ron had neither money nor career prospects and apparently had no intention looking for a job, since he planned to support himself by writing. In Mr Grubb's eyes, being a writer was not a job, and nothing Ron could do or say would convince him otherwise, particularly since he could only produce two articles from the Sportsman Pilot as evidence of his earning potential.

However, both Mr Grubb and Ron's parents recognized the futility of trying to oppose the match. Polly was quite as headstrong as Ron and if she had made up her mind to marry him, there was nothing anyone in the world could do to stop her. And Ron, still the adored only child, always got his own way with his parents. Blessings were reluctantly bestowed and the marriage took place in Elkton on Thursday 13 April. Many of the guests correctly speculated about the whirlwind nature of the courtship and the speed with which the ceremony was arranged. Polly and Ron moved into a little rented house in Laytonsville, Maryland, where she had a spontaneous abortion. In October, she discovered she was pregnant again.

In May Ron received an assignment from the Sportsman Pilot to cover an amateur flying competition at College Park Airport, near Washington. His report was competent enough and written in his usual breezy prose: 'Since I was, perforce and per poverty, among the spectators, I can speak only from the ground view and venture the point that those six [pylon] races suffered on only one score. They inherited the disadvantage of all conventional pylon races - we on the ground had nothing to watch save an empty sky as the ships disappeared for their swing around the course. The finishes, though, made up for that temporarily empty sky. The home stretch brought the ships down a brisk wind, through some bumps for which the field's tree-trimmed boundaries must be blamed, and down across the finish line in a power dive to fifty feet. That satisfied the spectators; it looked meteoric and heroic. And you know spectators.'

The article was published in the May/June issue of the magazine, with photographs also provided by Ron. It was his first published piece as a professional writer and he was very proud of it, but it could hardly be described as a promising start to his career. Months would pass before his by-line appeared again.

For a short while it seemed it did not much matter that Ron was finding it difficult to make a living as a writer, for on Friday 18 August, a headline in the Washington Daily News proclaimed: 'Youthful DC Adventurer Finds Gold in Nearby Maryland After Trek Fails.' The three-column story reported that L. Ron Hubbard, while on furlough from his job as general manager of West Indies Minerals Inc, had discovered gold on his wife's farm in Maryland.

Much was made of the irony of a prospector striking gold in his own back yard: 'Hubbard, still in his twenties, left here last year for Antilles, West Indies, in search of gold so that he might return and marry the girl he met shortly before his departure. He returned a short time ago empty handed and considerably weakened from fever . . . "Imagine me going 1300 miles in search of gold when it lay right at the back door of my bride-to-be," Hubbard said dejectedly.'

Ron told the newspaper that mining would soon be under way 'on a large scale' and he had also encountered several specimens of a curious white metal he believed was either platinum or iridium. Two photographs accompanied the story, one of Polly, fetchingly attired in boots and jodhpurs, panning for gold, and another of the young couple examining a large chunk of rock with an explanatory caption: 'L. Ron Hubbard, the prospector, says the boulder in the above photo is the largest specimen of gold quartz he has ever seen.'

Paradoxically, despite having struck gold, Ron's financial situation remained precarious. In September, his glider pilot licence expired and he was unable to renew it as he had not completed the necessary ten hours' solo flying in the previous six months. The problem was simply that he had no money, but in a plaintive letter to the Bureau of Aeronautics he side-stepped confessing he was broke by claiming the difficulty was that there was 'no glider within two hundred miles in which I would care to risk my neck'. The Washington Glider Club had offered him the use of their Franklin but it was in such a sorry condition he had to 'beg off' and he did not want to use a primary glider because 'I cracked one up once in Port Huron, Michigan, for the simple reason that most primaries won't fly.'

Ron was, as always, optimistic about the future. 'Here's the point,' he wrote. 'I am going to get me a glider next spring. A big Franklin. It took me two months of waiting on good flying days and inspectors the last time I took the commercial exam. I don't want to have to go through all that next springs [sic], for springs at best are fleeting. I've flown a great deal more than most glider pilots. Maybe you've seen one of my glider articles in aviation magazines. My one ambition is to get a glider of my own.

'And here's my plea. Isn't there some way you can extend this thing in view of the circumstances . . . Isn't there something you can do about it?'[2]

It was a naïve hope: no bureaucracy is structured to indulge the roseate ambitions of young men and the Bureau of Aeronautics was no exception. Its dour reply was brief: 'It is regretted that your glider pilot's licence . . . cannot be extended as requested. Also it is the policy of this Department not to extend licences.'[3] Officially it was the end of Ron's gliding career, for he never again held a licence although he would apply, a couple more times, for a student pilot's licence.

In October, Ron contributed another feature to the Sportsman Pilot, this time a profile of Chet Warrington, a well-known Washington pilot, and in November he wrote an article about the infant science of radio navigation. His lack of a licence notwithstanding, he always adopted a chatty, aviator-to-aviator style: 'Personally, I abhor navigation. It takes too much algebra and I don't speak good algebra . . . It's my ambition to step into a ship some day and take off in rain and fog with the other coast in mind as a destination. But I don't like circular rules and too many gadgets. I'm lazy, I want someone to tie a piece of string to the hub of the prop and lead me right where I want to go. That's my ambition, and I'll bet my last turnbuckle in a power dive that it's yours too.'

In addition to his three pieces for the Sportsman Pilot, Ron also sold an article titled 'Navy Pets' to the Washington Star in 1933. But that was the sum of his published output for the year.

The going rate for freelance writers around that time was a cent a word. Polly, whose thickening waistline added greatly to her worries, calculated at the end of 1933 that her husband had managed to earn, during the course of that year, rather less than $100.

There were better times ahead, however, for Ron soon discovered his natural habitat as a writer - the blood and thunder world of 'the pulps'.

Pulp magazines had an honorable literary genesis in the United States and an eclectic following: John Buchan wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps in 1915 for Adventure magazine, which at one time counted among its subscribers such unlikely fellow travellers as Harry Truman and Al Capone. Writers like C.S. Forester, Erle Stanley Gardner and Joseph Conrad were introduced to huge new audiences through the pulps, as were unforgettable characters like Buffalo Bill, boy detective Nick Cartot and the ever-inscrutable Dr Fu Manchu. The most successful of all pulp heroes, Edgar Rice Burrough's 'Tarzan of the Apes', made his first appearance in the pages of All-Story magazine and went on to spawn the longest-running adventure comic strip and Hollywood's biggest money-making film series.

By the early '30s, pulp fiction was a major source of inexpensive entertainment for millions of Americans and a convenient means of escape from the anxieties and realities of the Depression. For as little as a dime, readers could enter into an action-packed adventure in which the heroes slugged their way out of tight spots in various exotic corners of an improbable world. Good invariably triumphed over evil and sex was never allowed to complicate the plot, for no hero ever proceeded beyond a chaste kiss and no heroine would dream of expecting anything more.

In 1934, more than 150 pulp magazines were published in New York alone. Black Mask was considered the best of the bunch by writers, largely because it paid its top contributors as much as a nickel a word, but ArgosyAdventureDime Detective and Dime Western were all said to offer more than the basic rate of a cent a word to the best writers. As the average 128-page pulp magazine contained around 65,000 words and as many of them were published weekly, the market for freelance writers was both enormous and potentially lucrative.

Of all this L. Ron Hubbard knew virtually nothing until he began to cast around for new outlets as a matter of urgency after his first disastrous year as a writer. 'He told me', said his Aunt Marnie, 'that he went into a bookstall and picked up all the pulp books from the rack. He took a big pile home to see what it was that people wanted to read. He thought a lot of it was junk and he knew he could do better. That's how he started writing mystery stories.'[4]

More importantly, perhaps, it dawned on Ron that he had been writing in the pulp genre for most of his life. The swashbuckling short stories he had scribbled across page after page of old accounts books when he was in his teens were, he belatedly realized, precisely the sort of material that was to be found between the lurid covers of the most popular 'pulps'.

Polly was fast expanding and every week they were deeper in debt. Ron knew he had to earn money somehow and the 'pulps' seemed to offer the best hope. He began writing one story after another, winding page after page into his typewriter without a break, often hammering away all night. Typing at phenomenal speed, never needing to pause for thought, never bothering to read through what he had written, he roamed the entire range of adventure fiction with red-blooded heroes who were gunslingers, detectives, pirates, foreign legionnaires, spies, flying aces, soldiers of fortune and grizzled old sea captains. For a period of six weeks he wrote a complete story of between 4,500 and 20,000 words every day, gathered up the pages when he had finished and mailed it to one or another of the pulps in New York without a second look.

It did not take long to pay off. One morning Ron went out to collect the mail and found there were two cheques waiting for him, totalling $300 - more money than he had ever earned in his life. The first was from Thrilling Adventures for a story called 'The Green God', the second from The Phantom Detective for 'Calling Squad Cars'. More acceptances soon followed - 'Sea Fangs' was bought by Five Novels Monthly, 'Dead Men Kill' by Thrilling Detective, 'The Carnival of Death' by Popular Detective . . .

By the end of April Ron had earned enough money to take Polly on a short holiday to California. They took a cheap hotel room at Encinitas, a resort a few miles north of San Diego, but Polly, now seven months into her pregnancy, found the unaccustomed heat somewhat debilitating. On 7 May 1934, she decided to take a dip in the ocean to cool off and got caught in a rip tide. She was a strong swimmer but only just managed to get back to the beach and the exertion brought on labour. Later that day she gave birth to a son.

The baby weighed only 2lb 2oz and clung to life by the most gossamer of threads. Praying he would survive, they named him Lafayette Ronald Hubbard Junior. Ron constructed a crude incubator, first out of a shoe box, then by lining a cupboard drawer with blankets and keeping it warm with an electric light bulb; Polly wrapped the mewling mite in cotton wool and fed him with an eye-dropper. For two months they maintained a day and night vigil, taking it in turns to watch over the infant and marvelling at its will to live. While Polly was pregnant, Ron's father always used to ask her how 'his Nibs' was doing and by the time the danger period had passed L. Ron Hubbard Junior was known to the entire family as 'Nibs', a name that would stick for the rest of his life.

Fatherhood in no way moderated Ron's desire to be seen as a devil-may-care adventurer and fearless aviator and he assiduously promoted this image at every opportunity. In July, for example, he was the subject of a glowing tribute in the 'Who's Who' column of the Pilot, 'The Magazine for Aviation's Personnel', which described him as 'one of the outstanding glider pilots in the country'. The author, H. Latane Lewis II, made no secret of his admiration.

'Whenever two or three pilots are gathered together around the Nation's Capital,' he wrote, 'whether it be a Congressional hearing or just in the back of some hangar, you'll probably hear the name of Ron Hubbard mentioned, accompanied by such adjectives as "crazy", "wild" and "dizzy". For the flaming-haired pilot hit the city like a tornado a few years ago and made women scream and strong men weep by his aerial antics. He just dared the ground to come up and hit him . . . Ron could do more stunts in a sailplane than most pilots can in a pursuit job. He would come out of spins at an altitude of thirty inches and thumb his nose at the undertakers who used to come out to the field and titter.'

It was not too surprising that Ron was considered to be eminently suitable for inclusion in the 'Who's Who' column, for it was patently obvious that he had been at pains to project himself as the most colourful of characters: 'Before he fell from grace and became an aviator, he was, at various times, top Sergeant in the Marines, radio crooner, newspaper reporter, gold miner in the West Indies and movie director-explorer . . .' Among his other achievements, it seems he taught himself to fly powered aircraft ('He climbed into a fast ship and, without any dual time at all, gave the engine the soup and hopped off . . .'), then became a barnstormer and 'flew under every telephone wire in the Middle West', before settling down to become director of the flying club at George Washington University. H. Latane Lewis II concluded that Ron was 'one of aviation's most distinguished hellraisers'. It was a sobriquet with which the subject heartily concurred.

When Nibs was bawling and burping like other contented babies, the twenty-three-year-old 'distinguished hell-raiser' decided it was time to make the acquaintance of his fellow pulp writers. Leaving Polly and the baby at home, he caught a train for New York and checked into a $1.50-a-night room at the Forty-fourth Street Hotel, which he had been assured was where many visiting writers stayed.

In 1934, with the country still in the stranglehold of the Depression, there were few tourists in New York, but even before the Wall Street Crash the Forty-fourth Street Hotel had rarely attracted much tourist trade. It was a seedy establishment on Times Square largely patronized by out-of-work actors, third-rate vaudeville performers, wrestlers, touts and bookies. Frank Gruber, the only pulp writer resident when Ron arrived, accurately characterized his fellow guests as 'all-round no-goods and deadbeats'.

Gruber was an aspiring writer from Mount Morris, Illinois, who had come to New York to make his fortune on the strength of selling one story to Secret Agent X magazine and a couple more to Underworld. That he was not succeeding soon became evident when he explained to Ron how to get a free bowl of tomato soup at an Automat. All you had to do, he said, was pick up a bowl, fill it with hot water, skip the nickel slot which dispensed soup powder and grab a couple of bags of crackers. You took your bowl of hot water to a table, crumbled the crackers into it, then tipped in half a bottle of tomato ketchup. 'Presto!' said Gruber triumphantly. 'Tomato soup.'

Not entirely motivated by charity, Ron offered to buy Gruber a meal. Sitting in Thompson's Restaurant on Sixth Avenue, just around the corner from the hotel, Ron pumped the other man for information about which editors were easiest to see, who was buying what kind of material and which magazines paid most. He made a list of the commissioning editors at the most important publishers - Street and Smith, the Frank A. Munsey Company, Popular Publications and Dell Magazines.

A few days later, Gruber took Ron along to Rosoff's restaurant on 43rd Street, where members of the American Fiction Guild met for lunch every Friday. Most of the successful pulp writers in New York were members of the Guild and most of them gathered at Rosoff's at lunchtime on Fridays. They were names familiar to millions of pulp readers: Lester Dent, creator of Doc Savage; George Bruce, acknowledged ace of battle-in-the-air yarns; Norvell Page, who was said to earn $500 a month for his stories in the Spider; and Theodore Tinsley, a regular contributor to Black Mask. President of the Guild was Arthur J. Burks, who had been dubbed 'King of the Pulps' in a New Yorker profile and quoted as saying that any pulp writer who did not make at least $400 a month was not worth his salt. It was a remark that was to cause him considerable embarrassment, for it was common knowledge in the Guild that Burks never earned that much, despite turning out around two hundred thousand words every month.

Ron was not the kind of young man to be overawed by such illustrious company and he walked into the Guild lunch at Rosoff's as if he was quite as famous and successful as any man present. He was also a good deal younger than most of the members, but acted as if he had seen and done more than any of them. By the end of the lunch, he was confidently presiding over one end of the table, holding the attention of everyone within earshot with an enthralling blow-by-blow account of his expedition to explore pirate strongholds of the Spanish Main.

It was accepted, at the American Fiction Guild lunches, that members might be inclined to blur the distinction between fact and fiction. What mattered more than strict adherence to literal truth was that the stories should be entertaining, and on that score young Hubbard could not be faulted. He was a natural story-teller, able to set the scene quickly and evocatively, describe the action in rich detail, recount credible dialogue and interject humour with an acute sense of timing. Arthur Burks was happy to welcome him as a new member of the Guild, after he had paid his $10 membership fee, of course.

Ron did well in New York. He made the rounds of the pulp publishers, talked his way into the offices of the important editors, sold a few stories and generally made himself known. In the evenings he used to sit in Frank Gruber's room at the Forty-fourth Street Hotel, kicking ideas around with other young writers and holding forth, although his host eventually tired of Ron's apparently endless adventures. One evening Gruber sat through a long account of Ron's experiences in the Marine Corps, his exploration of the upper Amazon and his years as a white hunter in Africa. At the end of it he asked with obvious sarcasm: 'Ron, you're eighty-four years old aren't you?'

'What the hell are you talking about?' Ron snapped.

Gruber waved a notebook in which he had been jotting figures 'Well,' he said, 'you were in the Marines seven years, you were a civil engineer for six years, you spent four years in Brazil, three in Africa, you barnstormed with your own flying circus for six years . . . I've just added up all the years you did this and that and it comes to eighty-four.'

Ron was furious that his escapades should be openly doubted. 'He blew his tack,' said Gruber.[5] He would react in the same way at the Guild lunches if someone raised an eyebrow when he was in full flow. Most of the other members expected their yarns to be taken with a pinch of salt, but not Ron. It was almost as if he believed his own stories.

Back home with Polly and the baby, Ron continued writing for 'the pulps' at a ferocious rate, turning out endless variations on a hairy-chested theme. His protagonists thrashed through jungle thickets pursued by slavering head-hunters, soared across smoke-smudged skies in aerial dog-fights, wrestled giant octopi twenty fathoms beneath storm-tossed seas, duelled with cutlasses on blood-soaked decks strewn with splintered timbers and held dervish hordes at bay by dispensing steel-jacketed death from the barrel of a machine-gun. Women rarely made an appearance except to be rescued from the occasional man-eating lion or grizzly bear. The titles he gave to his stories vividly attested to their genus - 'The Phantom Patrol', 'Destiny's Drum', 'Man-Killers of the Air', 'Hostage to Death' and 'Hell's Legionnaire'.

Interspersed between these gripping sagas, Ron still wrote occasional features for the Sportsman Pilot in his capacity as aerial hell-raiser. 'There are few men in the United States - nay, the world - as well qualified as I to write upon the subject of cross-country flying,' he began a piece in the September 1934 issue. 'It so happens I hold the world's record in dead reckoning. I just have to marvel about it. Probably no other pilot in the world could do it. Probably no other pilot in the world actually has done it so well.'

The braggadocio was a tease, as he soon made clear. On a fifty-mile flight from New London to Mansfield, Ohio, navigating by the sun, he claimed to have missed his destination by a record margin. 'The ship bumped to a beautiful landing. But, and but again, Mansfield was nowhere in sight. We grabbed a farmer's suspender and snapped it for attention. We asked, disdainfully, where we might be. Well, there's no use dragging this out. We were 37 miles off . . . That, I maintain, is a world record.'

In December he was offering readers tips about flying to the West Indies: 'With the long, long shores of Cuba behind you, you hit Port au Prince. Right now we start assuming definitely that your plane has floats on it, though we've been assuming it vaguely all along. Otherwise, you'll get your wheels wet. Port au Prince isn't favoured unless you can wangle the Gendarmerie du Haiti into letting you use their fields. You'd have to be a better wangler than we are . . .'

Two months after this feature was published, on 25 February 1935 Ron again applied for a student pilot's licence. He never got round to taking the test to become a qualified pilot and never actually applied for another licence,[6] but he blithely continued writing for the Sportsman Pilot, offering advice to fellow aviators and filling many pages of the magazine with dashing accounts of his aerial exploits.

Ron's published work in 1935 included ten pulp novels, three 'novelettes', twelve short stories and three non-fiction articles. In October, Adventure magazine invited him to introduce himself to readers in their 'Camp Fire' feature, 'where readers, writers and adventurers meet'. Ron began in jocular fashion - 'When I was a year old, they say I showed some signs of settling down, but I think this is merely rumour . . .' - and touched on all the familiar highspots of his dazzling career, his 'Asiatic wanderings', his expeditions, his 'barn-storming trip through the Mid-West', and so on.

Perhaps because the same issue of Adventure also published one of his 'leatherneck yarns', Ron chose to elaborate on his experiences as a 'top-kicker' in the Marines. 'I've known the Corps from Quantico to Peiping, from the South Pacific to the West Indies,' he wrote. 'To me the Marine Corps is a more go-to-hell outfit than the much lauded French Foreign Legion ever could be . . .' Expressing the hope that his thumbnail sketch would be a passport to the readers' interest, he ended with the promise: 'When I get back from Central America, where I'm going soon, I'll have another yarn to tell.'[7]

Ron did not go to Central America but to Hollywood, where one of his stories, 'The Secret of Treasure Island', had been bought by Columbia to be filmed as a fifteen-part serial for showing at Saturday morning matineés. An advertisement in the Motion Picture Herald boasted that L. Ron Hubbard, 'famous action writer, stunt pilot and world adventurer' had written an 'excitement-jammed yarn with one of the best box office titles in years'.

Ron, of course, was pleased to add the title of 'Hollywood scriptwriter' to his ever increasing roll-call of notable accomplishments and he would soon be claiming screenwriting credit for a number of successful movies, among them John Ford's classic, Stagecoach,[8] and The Plainsman, starring Gary Cooper. Most biographies of L. Ron Hubbard describe his Hollywood career, inevitably, as a triumph: 'In 1935, L. Ron Hubbard went to Hollywood and worked under motion picture contracts as a scriptwriter of numerous films making an outstanding reputation there with many highly successful films. His work in Hollywood is still remembered.'[9] He was also said to have salvaged the careers of both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff by writing them into scripts when they were out of work. In short, Ron became another 'Hollywood legend'.[10]

Sadly, it appears he was an unsung legend for his name cannot be found on any 'highly successful films', with the exception of The Secret of Treasure Island. But this lack of recognition never prevented Ron from reminiscing about his golden days in Hollywood: 'I used to sit in my penthouse on Sunset Boulevard and write stories for New York and then go to my office in the studio and have my secretary tell everybody I was in conference while I caught up on my sleep because they couldn't believe anybody could write 136 scenes a day. The Screen Writers' Guild would have killed me. Their quota was eight.'[11]

Ron did not stay long in Hollywood knocking out 136 scenes a day and by the end of the year he was back in New York. Polly was pregnant again and mindful of what had happened with Nibs, they decided she should have the baby in a New York hospital. On Wednesday 15 January 1936, she produced a daughter, Catherine May. Unlike Nibs, Catherine was a lusty, full-term baby, perfect in every way except for a birthmark on one side of her face. Not long after she was born, the Hubbards travelled by train to visit Ron's parents in Bremerton, Washington.

Harry Ross Hubbard had been promoted to Lieutenant Commander, at the age of forty-eight, in December 1934 and the following July he was posted, for the third time, to Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, as an Assistant Supply Officer. For Ron's mother it was a particularly welcome move: her much-loved sister, Toilie, was by then also living in Bremerton and their younger sister, Midgie, lived across the bay in Seattle. May and Harry had already decided they would retire to Bremerton after he left the Navy and so they bought a small house at 1212 Gregory Way, just two blocks from the Navy Yard.

Ron's seventy-two-year-old grandmother, Ida Waterbury, was still at 'the old brick' in Helena, but in October 1935 Helena was hit by an earthquake. The first tremor was felt during one of President Roosevelt's Friday night 'fireside chats' on the radio. Throughout the following week, fifty-six further shocks were recorded, none of them serious, but at ten o'clock on the evening of 18 October a series of violent tremors shook the town, reducing many of the public buildings to rubble and generating widespread panic. 'The old brick' survived the earthquake, but in a dangerous condition. Next day, old Mrs Waterbury caught a train for Bremerton to stay with May and Hub at Gregory Way.

It was in these circumstances that Polly, Ron and their two small children were welcomed into the bosom of the Waterbury family when they arrived in Bremerton in the spring of 1936. All the Waterburys liked Polly. 'She was a lot of fun,' said Marnie, 'a good sport.' Polly reciprocated their warmth, was comfortable with the family and happy to have grandparents and great-aunts around to help take care of the boisterous Nibs while she looked after the baby.

Such was the conviviality of the milieu that Polly and Ron soon began looking for a home of their own in the Bremerton area. Property was cheap in rural Kitsap County and they found a little wooden house at South Colby, a small community with a post office and general store facing Yukon harbour to the south of Bremerton. The house was set among cedar trees on a steep hillside overlooking orchards and meadows sloping down to Puget Sound; from the front porch at nights you could see the lights of Seattle on the other side of the water. Polly fell in love with the place and named it 'The Hilltop'.

Although the house had three rooms upstairs, Ron decided he needed more privacy for writing and employed a local carpenter to build a rough pine cabin in the trees at the back of the property which he could use as a 'studio'. He put in a desk and typewriter and went back to work, churning out such stirring epics as 'The Baron of Coyote River' for All Western, 'Loot of the Shantung' for Smashing Novels and 'the Blow Torch Murder' for Detective Fiction.

The responsibilities of fatherhood weighed lightly on Ron's shoulders and he ignored any suggestion that he should adapt his working habits to accommodate family life. He liked to work all night and sleep all morning, sometimes not making an appearance until two or three o'clock in the afternoon, at which time Polly would be expected to produce 'breakfast'.

Although he was selling stories almost every week, they never seemed to have enough money and the owner of the general store in South Colby was frequently threatening to cut off their credit. Ron was completely unconcerned by the mounting bills. One day he took the ferry into Seattle and came back with an expensive phonograph that he had bought on credit at the Bon Marche department store. When Polly despairingly asked him how he was going to meet the payments he replied, with a grin, that he had no intention of making any. He figured it would be at least six months before Bon Marche got round to repossessing their property, meanwhile they could enjoy it.

Financial worries apart, Polly was perfectly content at The Hilltop. She enjoyed being a mother and was a keen gardener, spending much of her spare time clearing the ground around the house and planting shrubs and flowers. Ron was less easily satisfied by the quiet charm of South Colby and made frequent trips to New York 'on business'. As his absences became longer and longer, Polly suspected, correctly, that he might be seeing other women - she was also acutely aware that there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.

It was not philandering that took Ron away from home so much as the reality that being stuck out in the backwater of South Colby was uncomfortably at odds with his perception of himself. He had spent much of his adult life vigorously and successfully promoting himself as a 'dare-devil adventurer'. It was a description that would be used about him time and time again and he never tired of it. But it was also an image that needed to be sustained, bolstered here and there, and he could hardly do that sitting in a cabin in Kitsap Country. No, he needed to be in New York holding his fellow writers in thrall with epic tales and making sure everyone knew that Ron 'Flash' Hubbard (he sometimes admitted to 'Flash' as a nickname) was 'quite a character'.

Who dared doubt it? Absolutely not the editor of Thrilling Adventure, who was pleased to share his conviction with his readers: 'I guess L. Ron Hubbard needs no introduction. From the letters you send in, his yarns are among the most popular we have published. Several of you have wondered too how he gets the splendid color which always characterizes his stories of far-away places.

'The answer is, he's been there, brothers. He's been and seen and done. And plenty of all three of them!'

In July 1936, New York literary agent and columnist Ed Bodin added a further feather to Ron's crowded cap by reporting in one of his columns that Ron had hit a staggering one million words in print. It was a claim as pointless as it was absurd, yet it would be remorselessly escalated over the years until by 1941 Ron was being variously credited with an output of between seven and fifteen million words.[12]

Whatever the real figure, Ron was certainly proud of his productivity, the sheer number of words he was able to hammer out of his typewriter, and there is no question that he was a truly prolific writer. By 1937 he was using a roster of marvellously improbable pen names - 'Winchester Remington Colt, Kurt von Rachen, René Lafayette, Joe Blitz and Legionnaire 148 among them. His legendary writing speed led to rumours that he typed on to a continuous roll of paper that fed automatically into an electric typewriter with a keyboard of his own design featuring single keys fur commonly used words like 'and' and 'the'. It was also said that editors in New York sent messengers to Ron's hotel room with a cover illustration and note asking him if he would be kind enough to write a story to fit the picture. The punchline was that the messengers would be told to wait while Ron dashed off the story, such was the prodigious fertility of his imagination.

Towards the end of 1937, Ron sold his first hardback novel. Buckskin Brigades, published by Macaulay, was said to have been inspired by his experiences as a small boy in the wilds of Montana when he became a blood brother of the Blackfoot Indians. The theme of the book revolved around the mistreatment of the Indians by the Hudson Bay Company, although the message did not perhaps get across too forcibly because the Hudson Bay Company sent Ron a case of whisky after publication.

Polly was very pleased that Ron had been able to cross the divide between pulp fiction and 'respectable' publishing, although she was even more pleased that Macaulay had offered an advance of $2500 for Buckskin Brigades. It was money they badly needed to clear their debts. They both waited - Ron was back from New York - with considerable impatience for the cheque to arrive. On the morning the local post office telephoned to say there was a money order for collection, Ron rushed out of the house and was gone for hours. He returned in the late afternoon in a state of high excitement and announced to Polly that he had bought a boat, a wonderful boat, a thirty-foot ketch called the Magician. It was a double-ended Libby hull, the kind they used to catch salmon up in Alaska. It had a small cabin and he was going to put a new engine in it and change the rigging and . . . Polly could hardly believe her ears. She had a drawer full of unpaid bills and her husband had just blown all their money on a boat!

Ron's best friend in Bremerton was a thrusting young insurance salesman by the name of Robert MacDonald Ford. 'Almost the first thing Ron did when he got the boat', Ford recalled, 'was to get some letter-heads printed. Ron was always having letter-heads printed, always on the best bond paper. The heading was "Yukon Harbor Marine Ways". There was no such company, but that didn't bother Ron - he only wanted the letter-head so he could buy things for the boat at wholesale prices.'

Ford met Ron because he was always on the look-out for new business. When one of his policy holders ran into a car owned by a Lieutenant-Commander H.R. Hubbard and caused $15 worth of damage, he delivered the settlement draft personally at 1212 Gregory Way in the hope of selling some more insurance. Ron's mother was home when Ford called. 'She was a funny little woman,' he said, 'sort of wrinkled and dried up. When I asked her if she knew anyone who needed insurance she said her son, who lived out at South Colby, didn't have any. She telephoned him right then, offered to pay half the cost and we wrote the business over the 'phone. I figured if she was going to pay I'd have a good chance of collecting the premiums.'

A couple of weeks later, Ford decided to pay his new policy holder a visit, accompanied by his wife, Nancy. It took them a little while to find The Hilltop at South Colby and when they finally arrived at the house Polly answered the door and said her husband was still asleep as he had been working all night. She apologized and invited them to return for dinner that evening.

The Fords and the Hubbards liked each other on sight and quickly discovered they had much in common. They had children of similar ages, both wives were avid gardeners and excellent cooks, and Ron and Mac were the same age, keen on sailing and loved to talk. That first evening spent together at The Hilltop ended with much hilarity when the two men skulked off to the County gravel pile in the dead of night to fill ballast bags Polly had been sewing for the boat.

Thereafter, Ford was a frequent visitor. He used to sit in the cabin with Ron drinking China tea and playing chess by candlelight, using the exquisitely carved chess set he said he had brought back from the East - even the pawns were fearsome little warriors carrying swords. Sometimes they would shoot at a target pinned to the cabin wall with Ron's air pistol; sometimes they would just talk for hours on end, well into the night. They often discussed what was happening in Europe, what Hitler was up to and whether or not there would be a war.

'He was a sharp guy,' said Ford, 'very stimulating and fascinating to be around. He was interested in a lot of things and was pretty well informed. When he talked about the things he'd done, sometimes I would think he was feeding me a line, but then you'd find out that it had actually happened. He told me once that when he was gliding a guy wire had snapped and smoothed off the ends of his fingers, leaving them very sensitive. I'm pretty sure that happened. When we went to see Stagecoach - the original one with John Wayne - he told me he'd worked on the script. I looked for his name on the credits, but didn't see it, although I didn't necessarily disbelieve him. It's possible he exaggerated his exploits a little, but he was a writer and did have a very fertile imagination. Certainly he got into a lot of things.

'He and Polly were on pretty good terms. She was an independent sort of gal, wouldn't take a lot of crap from anybody. They had their arguments, yes, but by and large it wasn't that bad. She'd take a drink, but never much. We didn't drink too much in those days. They were in fairly dire straits for money; the grocer was always pressing them to pay his bill. It would take Ron two or three nights to finish a novelette. Whenever he got some money in, he'd see the grocer was satisfied and then he'd play for a while on his boat, the Maggie.'[13]

The Fords and the Hubbards joined Bremerton Yacht Club at the same time and whenever there was a dance they could be found at the same table, usually laughing and always enjoying themselves. In some combination the two families were involved in any number of madcap projects and outings - Polly and Nancy once took a ferry across to Victoria in Canada to visit a horticultural show and returned with dozens of stolen cuttings stuffed into their bras.

On another memorable occasion, Ron and Mac decided they would build an experimental sail-boat with inflatable rubber wheels on the theory that it would be subject to less friction than a conventional hull. They constructed a crude timber frame with three axles and six wheels made out of inner tubes on wooden drums and borrowed a mast and sail from a small boat in the harbour. It was agreed that Ron, the more experienced sailor of the two, would conduct the first trials. He kitted himself out for the occasion in sea boots, cap and yachting rig, and they towed the strange craft out into the Sound with a row-boat. Ron confidently stepped on board and as he did so there was an ominous crack. One of the crucial joints of the frame snapped under his weight and the entire contraption rapidly disintegrated.

The sight of Ron in his natty sailor suit clinging grimly to the wreckage and bellowing to be taken off was too much for Ford. He collapsed in the bottom of the row-boat and the more he laughed the angrier Ron became. In the end, Ford rowed ashore and let someone else pick up his friend. 'He had a real temper and I sure as hell wasn't going to let him catch me when he had his temper up like that,' he explained. 'He would have killed me if he'd got his hands on me at the time. I stayed out of sight for a couple of hours but he soon cooled down. We had dinner together that night.'

Undaunted by the failure of the rubber-wheeled boat, the two friends could soon be found testing a model boat with an unusual V-shaped keel of their own design in Polly's washing machine, trying to figure out an accurate method of measuring the drag. Then they spent several days on the Maggie with a complicated arrangement of zips and canvas sleeves with which they hoped to improve the efficiency of the sails.

While the men were playing, it was inevitable that Polly and Nancy would spend a great deal of time together with their children. Thus Nancy knew that Polly suspected Ron of having affairs with other women during his frequent absences back East. Nancy told Mac, who said he was sure Polly was wrong.

A few weeks later, the Hubbards arrived separately at the regular Saturday night dance at Bremerton Yacht Club. Polly drove alone from The Hilltop and Ron sailed across in the Maggie, making no attempt to conceal his surly demeanour. 'They were not speaking to each other,' said Ford, 'and it took us a while to find out what had happened. It seems Ron had written letters to a couple of girls in New York and left them in the mail box to be picked up. Polly found them and got so mad that she opened the envelopes, switched the letters and put them back in the box. She didn't tell him what she had done until they had been picked up. Polly was a great girl, a lot of fun.'

Next morning, Ron packed his bag and caught a train for New York, still in a vile temper.

1. Letter to author from Mrs Catherine Gillespie, Dec 1986

2. Certified airman's file 
3. Ibid

4 Interview with Mrs Roberts

5. Frank Gruber, The Pulp Jungle, 1967

6. Certified airman's file

7. Adventure, 10 October 1935 
8. Interview with Robert Macdonald Ford, Olympia, Washington, 1 September 1986 
9. Facts About L. Ron Hubbard, Flag Divisional Directive of 8 Mar 1974 
10. L. Ron Hubbard autobiographical notes, 1974 
11. Rocky Mountain News, 20 February 1983

12.  A Brief Biography of L. Ron Hubbard

13. Interview with R.M. Ford

Bare-Faced Merriah - Chapter 5 Science Fictions

'By 1938, Hubbard was already established and recognized as one of the top-selling authors . . . [and] was urged to try his hand at science fiction. He protested that he did not write about "machines and machinery" but that he wrote about people. "That's just what we want," he was told. The result was a barrage of stories from Hubbard that expanded the scope and changed the face of the literary genre . . .' (About L. Ron Hubbard, Writers of the Future, Volume II, Bridge Publications Inc., 1986)

 (Scientology's account of the years 1938-40.)

*   *   *   *   *

To science-fiction fans, 1938 marked the dawn of a new era they were pleased to call the 'Golden Age'. Before then, science-fiction pulps with gosh-wow titles like AmazingWonderPlanet Storiesand Startling had usually been ridiculed if not ignored. Crowded into the darkest corner, or on to the lowest shelf of the news-stand, they were only sustained by the devotion of a small group of passionately loyal enthusiasts who, dreaming of time machines and space travel in the grimly haunted days of the Depression, were widely considered to be dotty.

The sad truth was that the nineteenth century heritage of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe and H.G. Wells had largely degenerated, by the early 'thirties, into trash - uninspiring tales of slavering robots and talking animals written in penny-dreadful prose, mediocre fiction without the science. Bug-eyed monsters figured prominently, either invading earth with the intention of enslaving the human race or carrying away our 'fairest maidens' for use as love-toys on some alien planet. Readers needed considerable faith to relish repeated workings of the same tedious themes, but then science-fiction fans were acknowledged to be particularly fanatical, if not particular.

It was possible to date, precisely, the metamorphosis that ushered in the Golden Age because it began with the appointment of John W. Campbell Junior as editor of Astounding magazine, at the age of twenty-seven, in early 1938. Campbell was the man who dragged science fiction out of the pulp mire and elevated it to an art form.

Opinionated, overbearing and garrulous, he was a chain-smoking intellectual dynamo bursting with ideas which he would expound at length, driving home every point by stabbing the air with his long black cigarette holder. His first science-fiction story, 'When The Atoms Failed', was published inAmazing in 1930 and he quickly made a name for himself as an original, imaginative and sophisticated writer. One of his best stories was transformed, through no fault of his, into one of Hollywood's worst movies, The Thing From Outer Space.

As an editor, Campbell used his magazine to speculate on the implications - emotional, philosophical and sociological - of future scientific discoveries. He expected style, skill, ingenuity and technical proficiency from his contributors. Few of the existing pulp writers could meet his exacting standards and so he set out to nurture new talent. Almost all the biggest names of the Golden Age - Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt and many others - were first published in Astounding. Campbell never compromised. Faulty plots were ruthlessly rejected with pages of closely typed criticism - Theodore Sturgeon once got a story back with a seven-page explanation as to why a particular fission of light metals was not feasible. Yet Campbell's critiques to writers were always accompanied by a flood of new ideas and suggestions for other stories. 'No editor was ever more helpful,' said Jack Williamson, one of his contributors. 'He read every story submitted. Those he rejected came back with useful comments, and many a letter accepting one story also included ideas for another.'[1] The mechanical ants in Williamson's novel, The Moon ChildIsaac Asimov always remembered his first meeting with Campbell in the Seventh Avenue offices of Street and Smith, the publishers of Astounding. 'I was eighteen and had arrived with my first story submission, my very first. He had never met me before, but he took me in, talked to me for two hours, read the story that night and mailed the rejection the following day along with a kind, two-page letter telling me where I had gone wrong.'[2]

Campbell was both a visionary and a realist. He believed in supernatural power and space travel and rockets and a multiplicity of worlds, but he also fervently believed that science fiction should live up to its name. His writing was studded with extraordinary technical detail explaining how complex machines worked, yet his scientists were always real people with human emotions and foibles.

One of what he called his 'pet ideas' was that less than a quarter of the functioning capacity of the brain was used. 'Could the full equipment be hooked into a functioning unit,' he wrote in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1937, 'the resulting intelligence should be able to conquer the world without much difficulty.' Working on this doubtful premise, Campbell made unremitting attempts to encompass telepathy, ESP and other odd psychic phenomena into a science he called 'psionics'.

As the reputation of Campbell's Astounding grew, new magazines appeared on the streets thick and fast - Marvel Science Stories was out first, closely followed by Startling StoriesDynamic Science Stories and Fantastic Adventures. To distance his own magazine from the more garish pulps, Campbell changed the title to Astounding Science Fiction, which he thought sounded more dignified and more accurately reflected the content.

Campbell first met L. Ron Hubbard at about the time he took over as editor. Ron provided a typically bombastic account of the circumstances: 'I got into science fiction and fantasy because F. Orlin Tremaine, at the orders of the managing director of Street and Smith, brought me over and ordered John W. Campbell Jr . . . to buy whatever I wrote, to freshen up the mag, up its circulation, and to put in real people and real plots instead of ant men. John, although we became dear friends later, didn't like this a bit.'[3]

Tremaine was an editorial director of Street and Smith and might well have effected the introduction - he would certainly have known Ron, since Ron had contributed many stories to Street and Smith's stable of adventure pulps. But it was inconceivable that Campbell would have been ordered to buy everything Ron wrote. Campbell was an editor of total dedication and a notorious perfectionist - he would never have relinquished his right to edit or to ask contributors for a rewrite if he thought it was necessary. 'Those who could not meet his requirements,' said Isaac Asimov, 'could not sell to him.'

Whatever the circumstances of their meeting, it was clear that the young editor and the young writer hit it off, for in April, 1938 Campbell wrote Ron a long, funny letter, full of friendly gobbledegook, to chide Ron for not making contact when he was recently in New York. 'HUBBARD SNUBBARD: HUBBARD SNUBBARD: HUBBARD SNUBBARD,' Campbell began. 'When I was a little boy, on me fodder's knee, he says to me, says he to me (yes, I was a little boy, and I did have a fodder, and he did have a knee, and he did say to me): "Never take offense, where offense isn't meant." So thata is data . . .'

He continued in similar vein for several pages, invited Ron to contribute some anecdotes about himself for a feature he was writing on the pulp magazine industry and ended: 'My best to your wife and kiddies. I am now about to sign off. By the way, forgive the bad copy; I only learned to type a couple of weeks ago, and can't control the engine sometimes. Addio, John.'[4]

Ron's first story for Astounding, and his first venture into science fiction, was 'The Dangerous Dimension', published in the July 1938 issue. It was a diverting little tale about a mild-mannered university professor, Henry Mudge, who works out a philosophic equation enabling him to transport himself to any part of the universe by thought alone. Teleportation causes him endless difficulties since every time he thinks about a place he finds himself whisked there with no more than a 'whup!' By and large, he is remarkably unperturbed, as when he thinks himself to Mars ("Oh dear," thought Mudge. "Now I've done it!").

'The Dangerous Dimension' was followed later in the year by a three-part novelette, 'The Tramp', which also dealt with fantastic powers of the mind. The tramp, one 'Doughface Jack', falls from a train and suffers severe head injuries. After an operation to save his life during which a silver plate is inserted into his head, he discovers he has the power to heal, or to kill, with a single glance. The surgeon is so envious of his patient's remarkable new powers that he decides to have the operation, too, with less happy results.

When, by and by, it became important to promote an image of Ron as one of the world's great thinkers and philosophers, these two stories would be presented as clear evidence that L. Ron Hubbard had begun his research into the workings of the mind. Science fiction, it was explained, was 'merely the method Ron used to develop his philosophy'.[5]

It was a philosophy which was supposedly fully expounded in Excalibur, an unpublished book Ron was first said to have written in 1938. Modestly described as 'a sensational volume which was a summation of life based on his analysis of the state of Mankind',[6] much would be heard of this great work in later years; indeed, it would become a cornerstone of the mythology built around his life. It was claimed that the book derived from Ron's 'discovery' that the primary law of life was to survive, although, naturally, the part played by 'his explorations, journeys and experiences in the four corners of the earth, amongst all kinds of men, was crucial'.[7]

The first six people to read the manuscript were said to have been so overwhelmed by the contents that they went out of their minds. Curiously, however, few of Ron's fellow writers were aware of the existence of the book, with the exception of Art Burks: 'Ron called me one day and said, "I want to see you right away, I have written the book." I never saw anybody so worked up. Apparently he had written it without sleeping, eating, or anything else and had literally worked himself into a frazzle.

'He was so sure he had something "away out and beyond" anything else that he said he had sent telegrams to several book publishers telling them that he had written the book and that they were to meet him at Penn Station and he would discuss it with them and go with whoever gave him the best offer. Whether he did this or not, I don't know, but it is right in line with something he would do.

'He told me it was going to revolutionize everything: the world, people's attitudes to one another. He thought it would have a greater impact upon people than the Bible.'[8]

Burks's recollection of the manuscript was that it was about seventy thousand words long and began with a fable about a king who gathered all his wise men together and commanded them to bring him all the wisdom of the world in five hundred books. He then told them to go away and condense the information into one hundred books. When they had done that, he wanted the wisdom reduced into one book and finally into one word. That word was 'survive'.

Ron developed an argument that the survival instinct could explain all human behaviour and that to understand survival was to understand life. Burks particularly remembered a passage in which Ron explained how emotions could be whipped up to the point where a lynch mob was formed. 'It made the shivers move up your back from your heels to the top of your head,' he said.

Burks was sufficiently impressed by Excalibur to agree to write a brief biographical sketch of Ron for use as a preface. It was the usual 'red-headed fire-eater' material, with only one surprising new claim - that 1934 was the year Ron 'rounded off his application of analytical geometry to aerial navigation'.

The preface also mentioned a facet of Ron's character which few members of the American Fiction Guild had noticed - his unwillingness to talk about himself. 'Long ago he discovered that his most concrete adventures raised sceptic eyebrows and so, without diminishing his activities, he has fallen back on silence. We hear of him building a road in the Ladrone Islands or surveying the Canadian border and bellowing squads east and west with the perfection of a trained military man and delve though we may, that is as far as we can get.'

Burks concluded with a tactful reference to the difficulty of reconciling the adventurer with the author of a philosophic treatise: 'One envisions the philosopher as a quiet gray-beard, timid in all things but thought. It is, withal, rather upsetting to the general concept to think of L. Ron Hubbard as the author of Excalibur.'

Although Excalibur was never published - Burks was convinced that Ron was deeply disappointed he could not find a publisher - Ron assiduously stoked rumours about its existence and its content. 'He told me once that he had a manuscript in his trunk that was going to revolutionize the world,' said his friend Mac Ford. 'He said it was called Excalibur, but that's all I know about it. I never saw it.'[9]

Unquestionably, Ron himself believed in Excalibur, for in October 1938 he wrote a long and emotional letter to Polly in which he expressed his hope that the manuscript would merit him a place in history.

Polly had recently had a riding accident which resulted in her losing the tip of one finger. Ron tried to cheer her up with a funny catalogue of his own imagined ailments and promised her a jewelled Chinese fingernail holder which she could be 'snooty' about. He wrote of his frustration about his work, the constant shortage of money ('I still wonder how much money we owe in incidental bills. It's grave, I know . . .') and the need to spend so much time in New York, away from her and the children.

Then he turned to the subject which was clearly in the forefront of his mind: 'Sooner or later Excalibur will be published and I may have a chance to get some name recognition out of it so as to pave the way to articles and comments which are my ideas of writing heaven.

'Living is a pretty grim joke, but a joke just the same. The entire function of man is to survive. The outermost limit of endeavour is creative work. Anything less is too close to simple survival until death happens along. So I am engaged in striving to maintain equilibrium sufficient to at least realize survival in a way to astound the gods. I turned the thing up so it's up to me to survive in a big way . . . Foolishly perhaps, but determined none the less, I have high hopes of smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form even if all books are destroyed. That goal is the real goal as far as I am concerned . . .

'When I wrote it [Excalibur] I gave myself an education which outranks that of anyone else. I don't know but it might seem that it takes terrific brain work to get the thing assembled and usable in the head. I do know that I could form a political platform, for instance, which would encompass the support of the unemployed, the industrialist and the clerk and day laborer all at one and the same time. And enthusiastic support it would be. Things are due for a bust in the next half dozen years. Wait and see.'

Ron was clearly worried that he would be hampered by his reputation as a pulp writer: 'Writing action pulp doesn't have much agreement with what I want to do because it retards my progress by demanding incessant attention and, further, actually weakens my name. So you see I've got to do something about it and at the same time strengthen the old financial position.'

Towards the end of the letter he wrote about strange forces he felt stirring within him which made him feel aloof and invincible and the struggle he had faced trying to answer the question 'Who am I?' before returning to the theme of immortality: 'God was feeling sardonic the day He created the Universe. So it's rather up to at least one man every few centuries to pop up and come just as close to making him swallow his laughter as possible.'

Ron's nickname for Polly was 'Skipper' and hers for him was 'Red'. The letter finished with a single encouraging line: 'I love you, Skipper, and all will be well. The Redhead.'

While Ron's philosophical work languished for want of a publisher, his literary endeavours in other fields continued to find wide favour. Apart from marking his début in science fiction, 1938 was the year Ron rode the range of Western adventure. His name appeared in Western Story magazine almost every month with a series of two-gun titles designed to set the pulse racing - 'Six Gun Caballero', 'Hot Lead Payoff', 'Ride 'Em Cowboy', 'The Boss of the Lazy B', 'The Ghost Town Gun-Ghost', 'Death Waits at Sundown', etcetera.

Campbell thought Ron was wasting his time with Westerns and told him so in a letter dated 23 January 1939: 'I don't, personally, like Westerns particularly, and, in consequence, haven't read your Western stuff. But I'm convinced that you do like fantasy, enjoy it, and have a greater gift for fantasy than for almost any other type. The fact that editor after editor has urged you to do that type seems to me indication that you always have had that ability, and that, in avoiding it heretofore, you've suppressed a natural, and not common, talent. There are a lot of boys that run out readable Westerns, but only about three or four men in a generation that do top-notch fantasy.'[10]

Campbell wanted Ron to contribute to Unknown, a new magazine he was in the process of launching which was to specialize in bizarre fantasy, and promised to reserve space for him with a proviso that only 'genuinely first-rate fantasy' would be considered. In response Ron produced a story called 'The Ultimate Adventure', which was used as the lead novel in the April 1939 issue and marked the beginning of a tenure during which his name was virtually a permanent fixture in the magazine.

The protagonist in 'The Ultimate Adventure' was a favourite Hubbard stereotype - a wimp transported by magic to another, vaguely Oriental, world and miraculously mutated into a roistering adventurer. The wimp in this case was a destitute orphan. Beguiled by a mad professor, tie finds himself in a scene from The Arabian Nights, is condemned to death as a suspected ghoul, shoots his way out, falls in with a band of genuine ghouls who eat human heads, rescues a fair princess from the cliché castle and finally turns the tables on the mad professor. It was rip-roaring stuff.

A second L. Ron Hubbard story, 'Slaves of Sleep', appeared in the July issue of Unknown. This time the hero was not a penniless orphan but an heir to a shipping fortune, although quite as ineffectual. Another wicked professor (Ron did not have much time for academics) causes the young man to be cursed with eternal sleeplessness, banishing him to a world where he is a seventeenth-century sailor on the Barbary coast embroiled in hair-raising adventures. Fortunately, he has a magic ring for use in really tricky situations - as when he single-handedly defeats an enemy fleet by obdurately ordering the ships to fall apart.

Compared to previous years, Ron's output in 1939 was positively dilatory - just seven novels and two short stories. But then be had other things on his mind. A year earlier, his friend H. Latane Lewis II, who was by then working for the National Aeronautic Association, had recommended him to the War Department in Washington as the right man for an advisory post in the Air Corps.

In a letter to Brigadier General Walter G. Kilner, Assistant Chief of the Air Corps, H. Latane Lewis II unexpectedly promoted Ron to the rank of 'Captain', perhaps to enhance his case: 'When you asked me last week to procure advice on the problem of bringing a more agreeable and adventurous type of young man into the Air Corps, I did not know I would be fortunate enough to receive a call today from Captain L. Ron Hubbard, the bearer.

'Captain Hubbard, whom you know as a writer and lecturer, is probably the best man to consult on this subject due to his many connections. He has offered to deliver his views in person.

'As a member of the Explorers Club he has occasion to address thousands of young men in various institutions concerning his sea adventures and his various expeditions. Though he only pursued soaring and power flight long enough to emass [sic] story information, he is still much respected in soaring societies for the skill and daring which brought him two records. He often speaks at Harvard . . .'[11]

Nothing came of Ron's offer to deliver his views in person, possibly because the Brigadier General discovered L. Ron Hubbard was not a Captain, not a member of the Explorers Club, not a lecturer, held no flying records and had never addressed Harvard.

Ron, as ever, was unabashed but as the situation in Europe deteriorated - the newspapers were full of alarming reports that a German invasion of Poland was imminent - he became increasingly enamoured with the idea that his panoply of talents should be available to Washington.

On 1 September, the day England and France declared war on Germany, he wrote to the Secretary of the War Department: 'Because of the possibility that our nation may, in the near future, find itself at war and because I well know the difficulty of finding trained men at the height of such a crisis, I wish to offer my services to my government in whatever capacity they might be of the greatest use . . .' He continued with a resumé of his career which was, for Ron, a model of restraint and veracity. It was just possible that he inadvertently implied he had only left university in order to lead an expedition to the Caribbean, and his military experience was perhaps just a little over-emphasized, but by and large he stuck to the facts. He even had the grace to point out that though he had spent five years studying psychology and human behaviour it was purely for his own benefit. His 'pioneering' notes on emotional reactions, he added, would be published in the coming year.

Unfortunately for Ron, two days later, President Roosevelt declared the neutrality of the United States, temporarily thwarting his ambition to play a role in the defeat of Hitler.

Following the move to South Colby, Ron became accustomed to spending summers at The Hilltop, burning the midnight oil in his little cabin in the woods and sailing the ruffled reaches of Puget Sound in the Maggie at weekends, and winters in New York, where he could enjoy the amiable and cosmopolitan company of his fellow writers.

He usually stayed in the cheapest hotel room he could find, but in the fall of 1939 he scraped together enough money to rent a small apartment in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side at 95th and Riverside. To make a place where he could work without distraction, he rigged up a curtained enclosure about the size of a telephone booth, lit with a blue electric bulb to cut down the reflected glare from his typing paper.

Most of the top science fiction writers of the day tended to gather in John W. Campbell's cluttered office in the Street and Smith building on Seventh Avenue and it was there that other contributors to Astounding and Unknown made the acquaintance of L. Ron Hubbard. L. Sprague de Camp thought that he looked like a 'reincarnated Pan who had been doing himself a bit too well on the ambrosia'[12]and Isaac Asimov, who greatly admired Ron's work, became quite flustered at meeting him for the first time.

'He was a large-jawed, red-haired, big and expansive fellow who surprised me,' Asimov recalled. 'His heroes tended to be frightened little men who rose to meet emergencies, and somehow I had expected Hubbard to be the same. "You don't look at all like your stories," I said. "Why? How are my stories?" he asked. "Oh they're great," I said enthusiastically and all present laughed while I blushed and tried to explain that if the stories were great and he was not like his stories, I didn't mean he was not great.[13]

While he was in New York, Ron lobbied assiduously and moved inexorably towards the fulfilment of a long-standing ambition - to be accepted as a member of the Explorers Club. He had often hinted, over the years, that he was a member, but in reality it was an accolade that had proved singularly elusive. The club occupied a handsome red brick and stone building of suitable neo-Gothic dignity on East 70th Street, but its worth as a prime piece of Manhattan real estate was as nothing compared to the privilege of being allowed to walk through the wrought iron gates as a member. Membership of the snooty Explorers Club of New York, founded in 1904, conferred prestige, social standing and influence. Ron longed to join this exalted fraternity, not least because it would, at a stroke, forever legitimize his doubtful career as an explorer and adventurer.

He could be the most charming and sociable of men when he so desired and he worked hard to make the right connections. On 12 December 1939, he was formally proposed for membership of the Explorers Club on the basis of what appeared to be an impressive application, citing the valuable data he had obtained for the Hydrographic Office and the University of Michigan during his expedition to the Caribbean, his pioneering mineralogical survey of Puerto Rico and his survey flights in the United States, undertaken to 'aid adjustment of field and facility data'.

The club's membership committee did not, it seems, require any of these claims to be checked and on 19 February 1940, L. Ron Hubbard was duly elected, to his enormous and undisguised pleasure. Thereafter, he would rarely forgo the satisfaction of giving his address as 'Explorers Club, New York.'

It not being in his nature to blush quietly on the sidelines, Ron was soon making his presence felt. Within a matter of months the club magazine was reporting rumours that 'our red-headed Captain Ron Hubbard' liked to wrestle fully-grown brown bears. Ron wrote a good-natured denial, slyly contriving to portray himself as both sport and saint: 'I do not make a practice of going around picking on poor, innocent Kodiak bears. The day I arrived in New York City, this thing began: I picked up my phone to hear a cooing voice say, "Cap'n, do you like to wrassle with bears?" And since that day I have had no peace. How the story arrived ahead of me I do not know, I mean the whole thing is a damned lie!

'A man can spend endless months of hardship and heroic privation in checking coast pilots; he can squeeze his head to half its width between earphones calculating radio errors; he can brave storm and sudden death in all its most horrible forms in an attempt to increase man's knowledge, and what happens? Is he a hero? Do people look upon his salt-encrusted and exhausted self with awe? Do universities give him degrees and governments commissions? No! They all look at him with a giggle and ask him if he likes to wrassle bears. It's an outrage! It's enough to make a man take up paper-doll cutting! Gratitude, bah! Attention and notoriety have centred upon one singular accident - an exaggerated untruth - and the gigantic benefits to the human race are all forgotten!'

In the early months of 1940, Ron was forced to abandon the pursuit of further gigantic benefits for the human race in favour of earning a living. Working under the blue light in the curtained cubicle in his apartment on the Upper West Side, he produced three stories that would come to be regarded as classics- 'Fear', 'Typewriter in the Sky' and 'Final Blackout'.

'No one who read "Fear" in Unknown during their impressionable years would ever forget it,' claimed Brian Aldiss, science fiction writer and historian.[14] The stream-of-consciousness narrative, akin to literary psychoanalysis, charts the disintegration of an academic who writes an article debunking the existence of spirits and demons and is punished by being dragged into a nightmare of black magic and hallucinations. In contrast, 'Typewriter In The Sky' was a typical Hubbard swashbuckler about a character called Mike de Wolfe who finds himself trapped in the past as the unwilling victim of a science fiction writer named Horace Hackett. Transported to the Spanish Main, de Wolfe is saddled with the implausible name of Miguel Saint Raoul Maria Gonzales Sebastian de Mendoza y Toledo Francisco Juan Tomaso Guerrero de Brazo y Leon de Lobo and is required to duel with English sea dog Tom Bristol for the hand of the fair Lady Marion, 'flame-headed, imperious and as lovely as any statue from Greece'. It was an ingenious little tale, but hardly great literature, particularly since the protagonists were given to uttering lines like 'God's breath, milord, you jest!' and 'By gad, he's got spunk!' or even 'Peel your peepers!'

Final Blackout was a novel which many science-fiction fans considered Hubbard's finest work and led to hopeful comparisons with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. (When it was published in hardback later, Ron contrived, unsuccessfully, to appear self-effacing in a jacket note: 'I cannot bring myself to believe that Final Blackout, as so many polls and such insist, is one of the ten greatest stories ever published.')

Serialized in the April, May and June issues of AstoundingFinal Blackout precipitated furious controversy in fan magazines and bitter accusations that it was Communist or Fascist propaganda. The story was set in a Europe laid waste by generations of war and populated only by marauding bands of renegade soldiers. Leading a brigade of 'unkillables', the hero, identified only as the 'Lieutenant', fights his way to England, where he establishes a benign military dictatorship until he is overthrown by his former commanding officers, with the backing of the United States.

It was a peculiarly grim and apposite story to be published in the spring of 1940. Viewed from the United States, the war in Europe seemed like a prelude to Armageddon, the potential destruction of civilized life under the heel of the jackboot. While American liberals were campaigning for positive action from the government to aid the Allies in the fight against Fascism, the anti-war neutralist lobby was equally vociferous. Partisans of both left and right read political significance into The Final Blackout: it was pro-war, anti-war, Communist or anti-Communist, depending on the reader's political inclinations.

Even Ron's friends could not agree about his intentions. Ron was a member of a war-game circle which had been started by Fletcher Pratt, a naval historian who also enjoyed writing science fiction. Using scale models of real warships made from balsa wood, they re-enacted naval battles on the floor of the living-room in Pratt's New York apartment until the group became too large and it was necessary to transfer the battleground to a hired hall on East 59th Street. While the balsa battles were being fought, they often discussed the war and its attendant politics.

'Hubbard gave a varied impression of himself,' recalled L. Sprague de Camp, who was also a member of the war-game circle. 'Some thought him a Fascist because of the authoritarian tone of certain stories. But one science-fiction writer, then an idealistic left-liberal, was convinced that Hubbard had profound liberal convictions. To others, Hubbard expressed withering disdain for politics and politicians, saying about the imminence of war: "Me, fight for a political system?"[15]

There was certainly no doubt that Ron was anti-German, for on 16 May he wrote a letter to the FBI in Washington on his exotic personalized stationery featuring his initials and a charging cavalryman: 'Gentlemen; May I bring to your attention an individual whose Nazi activities, in time of national emergency if not at present, might constitute him a menace to the state?'

This luckless individual was a German steward at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York whose sister, according to Ron, was a member of the Gestapo. Ron accused him of being anti-American, an illegal immigrant and 'definitely fifth column'. 'My interest in this is impersonal,' he added, 'though possibly shaded by the feeling of dislike which he always inspires in me.'

J. Edgar Hoover replied promptly, thanked Ron for the information and promised an investigation. But when an FBI agent called at Ron's apartment on Riverside Drive, he discovered that Ron had moved out on 1 June. The agent reported that Ron had told neighbours he was moving to Washington DC, but as he left no forwarding address, the case was closed.[16]

Ron had not gone to Washington DC but to Washington State, back to The Hilltop and to Polly and the children. There was perhaps little time for a lengthy family reunion, however, for he was deeply involved in the planning of his next great adventure - the Alaskan Radio-Experimental Expedition. He was, of course, the leader and would be carrying with him, for the first time, the flag of the Explorers Club.

The signal honour of carrying the club flag was jealously guarded and only granted to members taking part in expeditions with proven serious scientific objectives. Every application was obviously subjected to rigorous scrutiny by the Flag and Honors Committee, lest the significance of its award be devalued. Thus Captain Hubbard proposed eminently laudable aims for his Alaskan Radio-Experimental Expedition, notably to rewrite an important navigation guide - the US Coast Pilot, Alaska, Part 1 - and to investigate methods of radio position-finding with experimental equipment and a new system of mathematical computation. In a committee room at the Explorers Club, these creditable aspirations clearly met with unhesitant approval.

In and around Bremerton, members of the Waterbury family had a rather more prosaic perspective on the Alaskan Radio-Experimental Expedition, referring to it simply as 'Ron and Polly's trip'. As far as the family was concerned, Ron was going to take Polly on a cruise up to Alaska. Aunt Marnie viewed the venture as a wangle entirely typical of her nephew. 'Ron dreamed up the trip as a way of outfitting the Maggie,' she said. 'His brain was always working and when he was trying to figure out how he could afford to outfit the boat he wrote letters to all these different manufacturers of instruments and equipment offering to test them out.'

The letters were written on crisply designed notepaper headed 'ALASKAN RADIO-EXPERIMENTAL EXPEDITION', with a sub-heading 'Checking data for the US Coast and Geodetic Survey and the US Navy Hydrographic Office'. The expedition's base was given as Yukon Harbor, Colby, and its address, inevitably, was the Explorers Club of New York. With such impressive credentials, it was no surprise that manufacturers responded positively to letters from 'Captain L. Ron Hubbard, Director AREE '40' asking for equipment to be submitted for scientific testing.

Aunt Marnie knew all about 'Ron and Polly's trip' because they had asked her to look after Nibs and Katie at The Hilltop while they were away. She and her husband, Kemp, were living in Spokane, but Kemp had been unemployed throughout the Depression and they were happy to move into The Hilltop as Kemp thought he might find work at the Navy Yard in Bremerton. 'It was a beautiful spot,' said Marnie. 'Polly had fixed up the house and the garden real nice. She was very clever with flowers, very good at gardening. From the garden you could see the ferry boats coming over from Seattle.'

A few days before they were due to leave, Ron offered to take Marnie and Toilie for a trip round the bay in the Maggie. It was not an outing that augured well for the Alaskan Radio-Experimental Expedition - 'We were quite a ways out', Marnie recalled, 'when the engine suddenly went phut-phut - out of gas. Polly was furious and shouted at Ron, "I thought you were going to re-fuel it." He had forgotten to do it. We prayed for a wind to blow so we could get in under sail. In the end we had to drain the little oil lamps. That gave us enough fuel to give the engine a shot to get us moving, then we would drift for a bit and give it another shot and finally we got back. That was my last trip on the Maggie.'[17]

The 'expedition' departed its Yukon Harbor 'base' in July, with May, Marnie, Toilie and Midge and their various children waving farewell from the quayside. Marnie and Kemip settled into The Hilltop with Nibs and Katie, their own two children and Marylou, the daughter of Marnie's sister, Hope. For the next several months their only contact with Ron and Polly was through letters posted from various ports in British Columbia as the Maggie sailed erratically northwards along the Pacific coast of Canada.

From the start, the Maggie's new engine, fitted only a few weeks before they left Puget Sound, gave trouble. On their second day out, nosing through thick fog in the Juan de Futa Strait, between Vancouver Island and the US coast and barely eighty miles from Bremerton, the engine spluttered and died. They very nearly ran aground before Ron could get it going again. The same thing happened in Chatham Sound, off Prince Rupert, also, coincidentally, in a pea-souper.

On Friday 30 August, the Maggie limped into the harbour at Ketchikan, Alaska, with the engine crankshaft banging ominously. Ketchikan was a small fishing and logging community surrounded by spruce forests on the southern tip of the Alaskan panhandle, some seven hundred miles from Bremerton. The Maggie's arrival merited a story in the Ketchikan Alaska Chronicle, although no mention was made of the expedition:

'Captain L. Ron Hubbard, author and world traveller, arrived in Ketchikan yesterday in company with his wife aboard the vest pocket yacht, Magician. His purpose in coming to Alaska was two-fold, one to win a bet and another to gather material for a novel of Alaskan salmon fishing.'

It seems Ron told the newspaper that friends had wagered it was impossible to sail a vessel as small as the Maggie to Alaska and he was determined to prove them wrong. 'Captain Hubbard covered their bets and, now that he has arrived, will have the satisfaction of collecting.'

Ron no doubt wished the story was true, for he had hopelessly underestimated the cost of the trip and they were already so short of money that they could not afford to get the engine repaired. More in hope than anticipation, he sent an angry cable to the engine supplier in Bremerton demanding a replacement crankshaft, free of charge. Meanwhile, they were effectively marooned in Ketchikan.

While Ron and Polly were carefully saving wherever they could, a letter arrived from Marnie saying that Nibs had been up crying all night with a toothache and she had taken him to the dentist. Ron was angry that Marnie should involve them in further expense and dashed off an irritable reply telling her it was none of her business and she should have waited until they got back. Marnie responded furiously: 'What kind of heel are you?'

Despite these trials, Ron did his best to invest the trip with scientific purpose. In mid-September, he despatched a package of sailing directions and eleven rolls of film to the Hydrographic Office in Washington DC with a note expressing the hope that they would prove of value. He was also able to report favourably to the Cape Cod Instrument Company in Hyannis on the accuracy of its 'Cape Cod Navigator', which he had tested with 721 bearings on radio beacons. 'It has at all times performed its duties like a true shipmate,' Ron wrote.

A solution to their predicament presented itself later that month in the shape of Jimmy Britton, the owner and president of the local radio station. KGBU Radio was a home-spun operation which proclaimed itself to be 'The Voice of Alaska' since it was virtually the only radio station in the area. Jimmy Britton made all the announcements, read the news, conducted interviews, played records and filled in time as best he could.

KGBU was usually so short of material that anyone in Ketchikan was welcome on the air to talk about almost anything. It was hardly surprising, then, that the arrival in town of Captain Hubbard, leader of a scientific expedition carrying the flag of The Explorers Club of New York, was nothing short of a godsend to Britton, particularly as Hubbard was not only willing to broadcast, he seemed positively eager to do so. He was soon regaling listeners with a gripping account of his expedition and his adventures navigating through fog-bound, tide-bedevilled and uncharted waters.

Britton recognized that Ron was a natural broadcaster and storyteller, with a seemingly limitless reservoir of material, and his talks on KGBU became a regular and popular feature for several weeks. In one of them he revealed how, after only a week in Alaskan waters he had discovered, with the help of his advanced radio navigational instruments, a source of interference which had baffled the local coastguard and signal station. In another he described his role in tracking down a German saboteur who had been sent to Alaska with orders to cut off communications with the United States in the event of war. And his dramatic and sometimes hilarious account of how, on a fishing expedition with a friend, he lassooed a swimming brown bear which then climbed on to their boat, had listeners everywhere glued to their sets. Off the air, at Jimmy Britton's request, Ron re-organized the station and wrote new programming schedules with all the confidence of a man who had spent a lifetime in broadcasting.

With little interference from other radio stations, KGBU's signal, on 900 watts and 1000 kilocycles, carried for hundreds of miles and could often be heard as far south as Seattle and Bremerton. It was for this reason that Ron always contrived to mention that he and his wife were stranded in Ketchikan because the Regal Company of Bremerton had refused to meet its obligations and replace their defective crankshaft. When a new crankshaft arrived in early December, Ron was convinced it was his constant needling on the air that was responsible.

As soon as the new crankshaft was fitted, Ron and Polly set sail for home. No one was more sorry to see them go than Jimmy Britton: he felt that KGBU had hardly begun to tap Ron's fund of stories. The Maggie sailed back into Puget Sound on 27 December 1940. Ron bought Marnie a yellow canary to thank her for looking after the children and not a word was said about the dentist.

Beset once more by debts, Ron went straight back to work to earn some money. For many weeks a light could be seen burning all night in the window of the little cabin at the back of The Hilltop as the stories rolled relentlessly out of his typewriter. In one of them, 'The Case of the Friendly Corpse', published in Unknown, Ron cheekily disposed of Harold Shea, the hero of a story by L. Sprague de Camp that had appeared in the magazine two months previously. Ron had his own hero meet Harold Shea and demonstrate a magic wand which turned into a serpent and proceeded to swallow up poor Harold. L. Sprague de Camp fans were outraged that Hubbard should so brusquely dispatch someone else's hero.

When he was not working, Ron spent a lot of time, as before, with his friend Mac Ford, who had recently been elected to the state legislature. During the hours they spent playing chess they talked at length about the war in Europe and the likelihood of the United States becoming involved. Ron seemed somewhat subdued after his return from Alaska; he was convinced that the Japanese were planning to attack the West coast mainland and gloomily prophesied that US forces would be driven back to the Rockies before they could stem the tide of the invasion.

Unbeknown to Ford, Ron had made up his mind to join the Navy and was making painstaking preparations to ensure he was offered a commission, tenaciously cultivating useful contacts and soliciting letters of recommendation wherever he could. Jimmy Britton of KGBU Radio was naturally happy to oblige and despatched a two-page eulogy to the Secretary of the Navy on 15 March 1941, listing Ron's abundance of accomplishments. Among them he mentioned that Ron was a 'good professional photographer' whose work he had seen in National Geographic Magazine. No one else had, for National Geographic had never published any of Ron's pictures.[18] 'I do not hesitate', Britton enthused, 'to recommend him without reserve as a man of intelligence, courage and good breeding as well as one of the most versatile personalities I have ever known.'

Ten days later, Commander W. E. McCain of US Naval Powder Factory at Indian Head, Maryland, added his support: 'This is to certify that I have personally known Mr L. Ron Hubbard for the past twenty years. I have been associated with him as a boy growing up and observed him closely. I have found him to be of excellent character, honest, ambitious and always very anxious to improve himself to better enable him to become a more useful citizen . . . I do not hesitate to recommend him to anyone needing the services of a man of his qualifications.' (McCain was the Lieutenant who had shown Ron and his mother around Manila in 1927 and whom Ron mentioned in his journal.)

Meanwhile, Ron was in touch with his Congressman, Warren G. Magnuson, who was a member of the Committee on Naval Affairs. Ron had suggested to Magnuson that the US Navy should set up its own Bureau of Information, both to improve the Navy's public relations and to counter the 'defeatist propaganda' about naval affairs which Ron claimed was 'flooding the press'. At Magnuson's request, he produced a nine-page report which the Congressman submitted with an introduction which cannot have displeased the author: 'This plan of organization has been prepared by Captain L. Ron Hubbard, a writer who is well-known under each of five different pen names. His leadership in the Authors' League and the American Fiction Guild, his political and professional connections and the respect in which he is held by writers and newsmen make his aid in this organization valuable. His participation in this organization will give to it an instantaneous standing in the writing profession, and bring to it a standard of high ideals . . .'

As if this was not enough, the Congressman also took it upon himself to write to no less a person than President Roosevelt to extol the virtues of 'Captain' Hubbard. The letter, dated 8 April, added yet another laurel to Ron's crown with the improbable claim that he held more marine licences than anyone else in the country. It also introduced an aspect of his personality that was certainly not obvious to other people who knew Ron Hubbard - his 'distaste for personal publicity'.

'Dear Mr President,' Magnuson wrote. 'May I recommend to you a gentleman of reputation? L. Ron Hubbard is a well-known writer under five different names. He is a respected explorer as Captain Bryan, Navy Hydrographer, will confirm. [Bryan acknowledged the sailing directions and films that Ron sent to the Hydrographic Office from his Alaskan trip.]

'Mr Hubbard was born into the Navy. He has marine masters papers for more types of vessels than any other man in the United States.

'He has written for Hollywood, radio and newspapers and has published many millions of words of fact and fiction in novels and national magazines. In writing organizations he is a key figure, making him politically potent nationally.

'An interesting trait is his distaste for personal publicity. He is both discreet and resourceful as his record should indicate.

'Anything you can do for Mr Hubbard will be appreciated . . .'

On 18 April, Ron reported to the Naval Reserve Headquarters in Washington DC for a physical examination. Next day, he persuaded the Dean of the School of Civil Engineering at George Washington University to write a letter to the Navy Yard recommending him for a commission. Professor Arthur Johnson complimented Ron's leadership, ingenuity, resourcefulness and personality and strove to explain why such a paragon had failed to graduate: 'His average grades in engineering were due to the obvious fact that he had started in the wrong career. They do not reflect his great ability.'

Unquestionably the most lyrical of all the letters of recommendation was that signed by Senator Robert M. Ford on the notepaper of the House of Representatives for the State of Washington. Ford was not the kind of man to be too bothered by protocol or paperwork. 'I don't know why Ron wanted a letter,' he said. 'I just gave him a letter-head and said, "Hell, you're the writer, you write it!"'[19]

Ron was unstinting in praise of himself. 'To whom it may concern,' he began. 'This will introduce one of the most brilliant men I have ever known: Captain L. Ron Hubbard.

'He writes under six names in a diversity of fields from political economy to action fiction and if he would make at least one of his pen names public he would have little difficult entering anywhere. He has published many millions of words and some fourteen movies.

'In exploration he has honourably carried the flag of the Explorers Club and has extended geographical and mineralogical knowledge. He is well known in many parts of the world and has considerable influence in the Caribbean and Alaska.

'As a key figure in writing organizations he has considerable political worth and in the Northwest he is a powerful influence.

'I have known him for many years and have found him discreet, loyal, honest and without peer in the art of getting things done swiftly.

'If Captain Hubbard requests help, be assured that it will benefit others more than himself.

'For courage and ability I cannot too strongly recommend him.'

On 19 July 1941, L. Ron Hubbard was commissioned as a Lieutenant (Junior Grade) in the US Naval Reserve.

1. Jack Williamson, Child of Wonder, 1985 
2. Isaac Asimov, In Memory Yet Green, 1979

2.  Ron The Writer, Author Services Inc., 1982 
4. The John W. Campbell Letters, Vol. I, 1985

5.  Ron The Writer, Author Services Inc., 1982 
6. L. Ron Hubbard, Mission Into Time, 1973 
7. Ibid

8. The Aberee, Dec. 1961 
9. Author's interview with Ford, 1 September 1986

10.  The John W. Campbell Letters, Vol. I, 1985

11.  Letter from H. Latane Lewis II, 14 February 1938

12. 12. L. Sprague de Camp, Elron and the City of Brass (Fantastic, August 1975) & Science Fiction Handbook, 1953 
13. Asimov, op. Cit

13. Brian Aldiss, Trillion Year Spree, 1986 

15. Fantastic, August 1975 
16. FBI files on L. R. Hubbard

17. Author's interview with Mrs Roberts, April 1986

18. Letter to author from National Geographic, 3 Mar 1986

Bare-Faced Messiah  Chapter 6 - The Hero Never Who Never Was

'Commissioned before the war in 1941, by the US Navy, he [Hubbard] was ordered to the Philippines at the outbreak of war in the US and was flown home in the late spring of 1942 in the Secretary of the Navy's private plane as the first US returned casualty from the Far East.' (A Brief Biography of L. Ron Hubbard)

'He served in the South Pacific, and in 1942 was relieved by fifteen officers of rank and was rushed home to take part in the 1942 battle against German submarines as Commanding Officer of a corvette serving in the North Atlantic. In 1943 he was made Commodore of Corvette Squadrons, and in 1944 he worked with amphibious forces. After serving in all five theaters of World War II and receiving 21 medals and palms, in 1944 he was severely wounded and was taken crippled and blinded to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital.' (Facts About L. Ron Hubbard)

(Scientology's account of Hubbard's war years.)

*   *   *   *   *

By July 1941, the United States was effectively, although unofficially, at war. US marines had taken over the British garrison in Iceland and US warships were already escorting convoys of lend-lease supplies across the North Atlantic. The isolationist lobby bitterly accused President Roosevelt of needlessly leading the nation into the conflict, but the momentum was irreversible. When Germany invaded Russia, Roosevelt immediately promised US aid, declaring the defence of Russia to be 'vital to the defence of the United States'.

In August, as the apparently invincible Nazi Panzer divisions pushed the Red Army back towards the outskirts of Leningrad, Roosevelt met the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, off the coast of Newfoundland and signed the Atlantic Charter, confirming US-Anglo co-operation and calling for 'the right of all peoples to choose the form of Government under which they will live'. A few days later, a German U-Boat unsuccessfully attacked an American destroyer, the USS Greer, south of Iceland and Roosevelt issued orders to 'shoot on sight'. In October, the US Navy suffered its first casualty when another destroyer, the USS Kearney, was sunk by a submarine in the North Atlantic. After the loss of the Kearney, the United States embarked on an undeclared naval war against Germany.

Lieutenant L.R. Hubbard, US Naval Reserve, did not exactly play a central role in these events. In moments of fantasy he could no doubt picture himself on the bridge of the Kearney, heroically choosing to go down with his ship, a wry smile playing on his lips as the last of his crew was rescued; in reality, he was being shunted from one desk job to another in public relations.

In the light of his success as a writer, it was not surprising that the US Navy assigned Lieutenant Hubbard to a job in publicity, even though the fledgling officer's literary talent was largely confined to the abstruse field of science fiction, far divorced from the sober requirements of military public relations.

But Ron naturally considered himself supremely well qualified and he had barely been in uniform five minutes before he was offering the benefit of his advice to his senior officers. On 21 July, with two full days' service completed, he wrote to Congressman Magnuson thanking him for his help in obtaining a commission and mentioning that he had already submitted three ideas to accelerate recruiting, all of which were 'going into effect'.[1] Magnuson replied; 'Glad to bear your commission went through. Know you will be right at home in your work with Navy Press Relations.'

A week later, Ron had other plans. In a second letter to Magnuson, dated 29 July and written from The Explorers Club in New York, he said that 'as Press Relations was getting along well enough' he had offered to write two articles every week for national magazines, with the aim of selling the 'American bluejacket' to the public. He had, he said, been given a 'free helm' and 'because this program will net about three times as much as Navy pay I think it no more than right that I return anything above pay and expenses to Navy Relief. So all goes along swimmingly.'

Well, not quite swimmingly: it transpired that Ron was a little over-confident about his ability to sell US Navy stories to national magazines. He might have written two articles every week, but none was published.

When it became clear to the Navy that Lieutenant Hubbard was wasting his time, it was decided to send him to the Hydrographic Office in Washington to annotate the photographs he had taken during his trip to Alaska with Polly. He arrived on 22 September and stayed two weeks. In a memo to the Assistant Hydrographer, it was noted that several dozen of his photographs were 'fairly clear' and of 'some navigational interest'. Ron had also suggested changes and amplifications to the Sailing Directions for British Columbia. Some were unimportant, the memo continued, 'but in the aggregate they represent a very definite contribution'.[2]

It was a contribution that marked the end of Ron's career in public relations. On 24 November, after six weeks' leave, he was posted to Headquarters, Third Naval District, in New York, for training as an Intelligence Officer.

Throughout this period, his father was stationed at the Navy Yard on Mare Island in San Pablo Bay, California, as officer in charge of the commissary. Now fifty-five and still a Lieutenant-Commander, Harry Hubbard's relationship with his son had deteriorated over the years and they saw little of each other. Any pleasure Hub might have experienced when he learned Ron was following him into the Navy could not outweigh his overall disapproval of, and disappointment with, his son. Harry Hubbard was a deeply conservative, utterly conventional plodder, a man ruled by routine and conformity. He could never come to terms with what he viewed as his son's eccentricities - his refusal to get a job, his habit of staying up all night and sleeping all day, his prolonged absences from home, his lack of regard for his family. Hub was extremely fond of Polly and adored his two grandchildren - Nibs, then seven years old, and Katie, who was five. Sometimes he felt he was closer to them than their own father and he was saddened that this should be the case.

As far as Ron was concerned, he had nothing in common with his father who had spent virtually his entire life pushing paper in the Navy with nothing in prospect but a pension. To Ron it was a grey and unappealing existence compared to his own world, at least as it existed in his thoughts. Ron still saw himself as an adventurer cast in the mould of his fictional heroes and never missed an opportunity to promote himself as a fearless, devil-may-care, globetrotter. It was no wonder father and son inexorably drifted apart - their characters were simply too different to be compatible.

Ron was still at HQ Third Naval District in New York when, a few minutes after three o'clock on the afternoon of Sunday 7 December, an announcer broke into a New York Philharmonic concert being broadcast on CBS: 'We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.' At that very moment, bombs were still falling on the ships in Pearl Harbor and before the Japanese pilots headed for home, five US battleships had been sunk or beached, three others damaged, ten smaller warships disabled and some 2400 men killed. Next day, the President signed a declaration of war.

If Ron was chafing to get into action he was to be disappointed. On 18 December, he was posted to the Philippines, but got no further than Brisbane, Australia, where while waiting for a ship to Manila, he so antagonised his senior officers that in February 1942 he was on his way home again on board the USS Chaumont. 'This officer is not satisfactory for independent duty assignment,' the US Naval Attaché in Melbourne reported on 14 February. 'He is garrulous and tries to give impressions of his importance. He also seems to think he has unusual ability in most lines. These characteristics indicate that he will require close supervision for satisfactory performance of any intelligence duty.' It was claimed that Ron assumed authority without bothering to obtain official sanction and attempted to perform duties for which he had no qualifications, thus becoming 'the source of much trouble'.[3]

At Headquarters Twelfth Naval District in San Francisco, it was decided that Ron's talents might be more profitably employed in censoring cables. In a despatch dated 22 April, the Chief Cable Censor in Washington recommended that no disciplinary action be taken following the report from Melbourne 'as it is thought that the Subject's qualifications may find a useful outlet in the Office of the Cable Censor, New York'.

Ron did not enjoy his desk job at the Office of the Cable Censor and in June he put in a request for sea duty on a patrol boat, preferably in the Caribbean area, 'the peoples, language and customs of which I know and of which I possess piloting knowledge.' His request was approved - he was taken off cable censorship work and ordered to report to a shipbuilding yard in Neponset, Massachusetts, to supervise the conversion of a heavy beam trawler, the Mist, into a US Navy gunboat to be classified as USS YP-422. When she was ready to put to sea he was to take over as Commanding Officer.

Here at last was his opportunity to prove he was the hero he devoutly believed himself to be. (Had he not fought and won countless battles in the pages of his fiction?) Fighting men of calibre were certainly desperately needed, for the months following Pearl Harbor saw some of the darkest days of the war for the United States. Although jukeboxes around the country were tinnily cranking out patriotic jingles like 'Goodbye, Mama, I'm Off To Yokohama' and 'You're a Sap, Mister Jap', the initial euphoria that had greeted the war soon began to fade as the Allies were routed in the Pacific: Guam fell, then Manila, then Singapore, Bataan and Corregidor.

It was, then, with a certain sense of fulfilling his destiny that Lieutenant Hubbard travelled to Neponset, his orders contained in a signal in his pocket: 'LTJG LAFAYETTE R HUBBARD DVS USNR HEREBY DETACHED PROCEED IMMEDIATELY NEPONSET MASS . . . DUTY CONNECTION CONVERSION YP422 AT GEORGE LAWLEY AND SONS AND AS CO OF THAT VESSEL WHEN PLACED IN FULL COMMISSION.'

The conversion work was carried out swiftly and on 9 September 1942, Ron despatched a message to the Commandant of Boston Navy Yard reporting that USS YP-422 was in excellent condition, crew training was 'approaching efficiency' and morale was high. 'As soon as a few deficiencies are remedied,' he added 'this vessel will be in all respects ready for sea and is very eager to be on her way to her assigned station or task force.'

Like his father, Ron tended to be somewhat absent-minded about personal debts. While he was supervising the conversion of the YP-422 he was being pursued by tailors in Brisbane and Washington DC for unpaid uniform bills and he still owed $265 to the Bank of Ketchikan. When the Alaskan bank reported Lieutenant Hubbard's debt to the Bureau of Navigation in Washington, Ron wrote an indignant letter to the cashier: 'You are again informed that the reason for non-payment of this note is the sharp decrease in pay which I was willing to take to help my country. Until this war is ended I can only make small and irregular payments.'

The implication was that Lieutenant Hubbard was far too busy fighting a war to be bothered by trifling debts, but sadly, when the USS YP-422 set out on her shakedown cruise, Lieutenant Hubbard was nowhere to be seen on board. On 1 October, Ron was summarily relieved of his command and ordered to report to the Commandant, Twelfth Naval District 'for such duty as he may assign you'. No explanation was contained in his orders, although earlier he had been involved in an unwise altercation with a senior officer at the shipyard. Considerable tension had developed between the officers in charge of the conversion work and those officers assigned to crew the ten YPs being converted at the Neponset shipyard, culminating in an extraordinary order prohibiting YP officers from approaching the conversion office or even speaking to any of the shipyard workers. Ron had taken it upon himself to fire off a memorandum to the Vice-Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, naming the officer responsible and pointing out that the YP commanding officers were all 'startled' by the order.[4] He might have been better advised to keep quiet: on 25 September the Commandant of Boston Navy Yard sent a signal to Washington stating his view that Hubbard was 'not temperamentally fitted for independent command.'

With his dreams of glory temporarily crushed, Ron waited for his next assignment without much optimism, anticipating he would probably be put back in command of a desk. However, he perked up considerably when his orders came through - he was to be sent to the Submarine Chaser Training Center in Miami, Florida. This immediately opened up a vista of wonderful new images - 'Ron the Fox', ace sub hunter, fearless scourge of the Japanese submarine fleet, etcetera.

Wearing dark glasses, Lieutenant Hubbard arrived at the Training Center on 2 November and quickly made friends with another officer on the course - a young Lieutenant from Georgetown, Maine, by the name of Thomas Moulton. Ron light-heartedly explained that he was obliged to wear dark glasses as he had received a severe flash burn when he was serving as Gunnery Officer on the destroyer Edsel. He had been standing close to the muzzle of a five-inch gun which fired prematurely and while his injuries did not impair his vision, he found any kind of bright light painful without dark glasses. Moulton, understandably, was impressed.

By judiciously lacing his conversation with jargon and anecdotes, Ron possessed an uncanny ability to be totally convincing. It was soon 'common knowledge' at the Center that he had served on destroyers; indeed, said Moulton, he was 'used as something of an authority in the classroom'.[5]While they were training together in Miami, mastering the intricacies of tracking and attacking enemy submarines, Moulton was treated to further details of his new friend's astonishing exploits in the early months of the war. His strong recollection was that Ron was a reticent sort of hero, reluctant to talk about himself, but over the weeks his story came out bit by bit.

On the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, it seemed that Ron was landed from the Edsel on the north coast of Java in the Dutch East Indies, not far from the port of Surabaya, to carry out a secret mission. The Edsel was sunk a couple of days later [not quite accurate - she was sunk in March 1942] and went down with all hands. When the Japanese occupied the island, Ron took off for the hills and lived rough in the jungle. Once he was almost caught by a Japanese patrol and was hit in the back by machine-gun fire before he was able to make his escape. Those wounds still troubled him, he confessed. He often suffered severe pain in his right side and the bullets had damaged his urinary system, making it difficult for him to urinate. He was in bad shape for quite a while after being shot, but eventually he teamed up with another officer and they constructed a raft on which they sailed across the shark-infested Timor Sea to within one hundred miles of the Australian coast, where they were picked up by a British or Australian destroyer. It was, Moulton thought, a remarkable piece of navigation.

In January 1943, Ron was sent on a ten-day anti-submarine warfare course at the Fleet Sound School in Key West, Florida, prior to being posted to Portland, Oregon, as prospective Commanding Officer of USS PC-815, a 280-ton submarine-chaser under construction at the Albina Engine and Machine Works. Ron asked Moulton if he would be his Executive Officer. Moulton was really hoping for a ship of his own, but he so admired Ron that he agreed.

While the PC-815 was being built, the two officers found time to enjoy life a little in the pleasant city of Portland. Moulton's wife came over from the East Coast and Polly was able to visit from Bremerton, which was only 150 miles to the north. As a foursome they enjoyed each other's company and frequently had dinner together, despite rationing, in one of the restaurants overlooking the green valley of the Willamette river and the distant snow-capped peak of Mount Hood. On one well-remembered occasion, the prospective Commanding Officer of PC-815 and his Executive Officer drove up to Seattle for a dance at the tennis club. Ron was wearing his mysterious dark glasses, as usual, and was being gently teased by one of the women in their group. When he explained why they were necessary, the woman raised her eyebrows as if she did not believe him. Moulton was quite shocked. However, to prove what he was saying, Ron took off his glasses and within five or ten minutes his eyes began watering and were clearly sore. His friend was deeply gratified.

At ten o'clock on Tuesday 20 April 1943, the USS PC-815 was commissioned. Ron noted the event in a pencilled entry on the first page of the ship's log book, signing his name with a proud flourish. Two days later, the Oregon Journal published a photograph of Ron and Moulton in uniform with an article about the commissioning of the new ship. Ron wore his dark glasses and an intrepid expression, his coat collar was turned up and he gripped a pipe in his right hand: he looked just like a man ready to go to war.

In the story, Ron was described as a 'veteran sub-hunter of the battles of the Pacific and Atlantic . . . an old band at knocking tails off enemy subs'. To add a little local interest, it seems he told the reporter that he had grown up in Portland and came from a long line of naval men. He said his grandfather, 'Captain' Lafayette Waterbury, and his great-grandfather, 'Captain' I.C. DeWolfe, had both helped make American naval history, although naturally he did not elaborate on their contribution. [His great-grandfather's name was Abram; 'I.C.' were his grandmother's initials.]

His membership of the Explorers Club received a prominent mention, of course, along with the fact that he had commanded three 'internationally important' expeditions. He was also persuaded to reveal that during the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition he had become the first man ever to use a bathysphere for underwater filming.

When the reporter asked Ron for a comment about his new ship, he obliged with a picturesque quote that began by sounding like Humphrey Bogart and ended like the President: 'Those little sweethearts are tough. They could lick the pants off anything Nelson or Farragut ever sailed. They put up a sizzling fight and are the only answer to the submarine menace. I state emphatically that the future of America rests with just such escort vessels.'

On the evening of 18 May, the USS PC-815 sailed from Astoria, Oregon, on her shakedown cruise. Her destination was San Diego, but she had only been at sea for five hours when, at 0230 hours off Cape Lookout on the coast of Oregon, she encountered at least one, perhaps two, enemy submarines in the middle of a busy shipping lane!

Ron provided a graphic account of the engagement that followed in a secret Battle Report to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet:[6]

'Proceeding southward just inside the steamer track an echo-ranging contact was made by the soundman then on duty . . . The Commanding Officer had the conn and immediately slowed all engines to ahead one third to better echo-ranging conditions, and placed the contact dead ahead, 500 yards away.

'The first contact was very good. The target was moving left and away. The bearing was clear. The night was moonlit and the sea was flat calm . . . The USS PC-815 closed in to 360 yards, meanwhile sounding general quarters . . . Contact was regained at 800 yards and was held on the starboard beam while further investigation was made. Screws were present and distinct as before. The bearing was still clear. Smoke signal identification was watched for closely and when none appeared it was concluded the target must not be a friendly submarine. All engines were brought up to speed 15 knots and the target was brought dead ahead . . .'

On its first attack run, the USS PC-815 dropped a barrage of three depth charges. When it had re-established contact, a second attack was made at 0350 hours, this time laying down a pattern of four depth charges.

Ron lapsed into rather unmilitary lyricism to describe the ensuing events: 'The ship, sleepy and sceptical, had come to their guns swiftly and without error. No one, including the Commanding Officer, could readily credit the existence of an enemy submarine here on the steamer track and all soundmen, now on the bridge, were attempting to argue the echo-ranging equipment and chemical recorder out of such a fantastic idea . . .

'At 0450, with dawn breaking over a glassy sea, a lookout sighted a dark object about 700 yards from the ship on the starboard beam. When inspected the object seemed to be moving . . . Although very probably this object was a floating log no chances were taken and the target was used to test the guns which had not been heretofore fired structurally. The gunners, most of whom were men of experience, displayed an astonishing accuracy, bursts and shells converging on the target.

'The target disappeared for several minutes and then, to test the guns not brought to bear on the first burst, the ship was turned in case the object reappeared. The object appeared again closer to the ship. Once more fire was opened and the target vanished.'

Ron stressed that he considered it likely this target was no more than driftwood, but he thought it was good for the morale of the gunners to ensure the newly-installed guns worked. The USS PC-815mounted four further attacks on the elusive submarine in the hope of forcing it to the surface, without success. At the end of the sixth attack the ship's supply of depth charges was exhausted. Urgent signals requesting more ammunition at first met with no response.

At nine o'clock in the morning, two US Navy blimps, K-39 and K-33, appeared on the scene to help with the search. By noon, Ron believed that the submarine was disabled in some way, or at least unable to launch its torpedoes, since the PC-815, lying to in a smooth sea, presented an easy target and had not been attacked. In the early afternoon a second, smaller, sub-chaser, the USS SC-536arrived, but was unable to make contact with the target.

On the bridge of PC-815, Ron offered to lead the other ship on an attack run, blowing a whistle to signal when to drop its depth charges. 'With the bullnose of the SC nearly against our flagstaff,' Ron wrote, 'we came to attack course . . .' Five depth charges were dropped on the first run and two on the second.

"The observation blimps began to sight oil and air bubbles in the vicinity of the last attack and finally a periscope. This ship also sighted air bubbles . . . At 1606 oil was reported again and this ship saw oil. Great air boils were seen and the sound of blowing tanks was reported by the soundman . . . All guns were now manned with great attention as it was supposed that the sub was trying to surface. Everyone was very calm, gunners joking about who would get in the first shot.'

But the submarine did not surface. Far from being discouraged, it seemed that Ron was by then convinced that there was not just one but two submarines lurking somewhere beneath them. His sonar operator had reported making a second, separate, contact a few hours earlier.

Shortly before five o'clock, a Coast Guard patrol boat brought in further supplies of ammunition. Manoeuvring alongside, twenty-seven depth charges were transferred on to the USS PC-815 and made ready for firing. Not long afterwards, a second Coast Guard patrol boat, the Bonham arrived, followed by another sub-chaser, the USS SC-537. There was now a total of five ships and two observations blimps involved in the search for the enemy submarines off the coast of Oregon.

All through the next day, sweep and search operations continued, although not all the Commanding Officers were as keen or convinced as Ron. 'Neither the SC-537 nor the Bonham', he noted 'showed any understanding whatever and refused by their actions to cooperate.' The SC-537, he added with barely concealed disgust, failed to drop a single depth charge. As if in compensation, the USS PC-815made one attack run after another, forging back and forth at high speed, dropping barrage after barrage.

Still no wreckage, no bodies, floated to the surface. Ron was not in the least deterred. 'Because we had three times found two sub targets on the previous day, we considered from her failure to surface that one sub was gone down in 90 fathoms. The other still had batteries well up for it made good speed in subsequent attacks . . .

'All during the following night, the USS PC-815 kept the area swept as well as it could. The moonlight showed up an oil slick which we investigated, though the slick was too thin for samples . . . A report that the sub had surfaced off Sand Lake caused all vessels except the Bonham to go flying north to that position. But before flank speed was attained the reported "sub" was reported as a fishing vessel . . .

'At 0700, May 21, 1943, being near the area of the attacks the night before this ship stopped to search . . . Suddenly a boil of orange colored oil, very thick, came to the surface immediately on our port bow . . . The Commanding Officer came forward on the double and saw a second boil of orange oil rising on the other side of the first. The soundman was loudly reporting that he heard tanks being blown on the port bow.

'Every man on the bridge and flying bridge then saw the periscope, moving from right to left, rising up through the first oil boil to a height of about two feet. The barrel and lens of the instrument were unmistakable . . . On the appearance of the periscope, both gunners fired straight into the periscope, range about 50 yards. The periscope vanished in an explosion of 20mm bullets.'

The USS PC-815 made one further attack run and dropped its last two depth charges. At midnight, after being in action for some sixty-eight hours, Ron received orders to return to Astoria.

He noted in his report, rather sourly, that they were greeted with 'considerable scepticism' on their return. Nevertheless, his conclusion was unequivocal: 'It is specifically claimed that one submarine, presumably Japanese, possibly a mine-layer, was damaged beyond ability to leave the scene and that one submarine, presumably Japanese, possibly a mine-layer, was damaged beyond ability to return to its base.

'This vessel wishes no credit for itself. It was built to hunt submarines. Its people were trained to hunt submarines. Although exceeding its orders originally by attacking the first contact, this vessel feels only that it has done the job for which it was intended and stands ready to do that job again.'

Despite the scepticism, the US Navy mounted an immediate investigation of the incident. Ever since Pearl Harbor, Americans had been jittery about the possibility of an attack on the mainland by Japanese submarines. In February 1942, a lone enemy submarine had surfaced about a mile offshore north of Santa Barbara, California, and lobbed twenty-five shells at an oil refinery. If it happened once, it could presumably happen again and the Navy certainly needed to know if the USS PC-815had indeed stumbled across enemy submarines close to the coast of Oregon.

The Commanding Officer and Executive Officer of PC-815 were ordered to report immediately to Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander Northwest Sea Frontier, in Seattle. Fletcher studied Ron's eighteen-page Battle Report and interviewed the Commanding Officers of the four other ships and two blimps involved. The tape from the PC-815's attack recorder, which recorded the strength and characteristics of the sonar signals, was evaluated by experts. When all the reports were in, Fletcher swiftly came to the conclusion that the hundred depth charges dropped during the 'battle' had probably killed a few fish but no Japanese.

In a secret memorandum to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, dated 8 June 1943, Fletcher stated: 'An analysis of all reports convinces me that there was no submarine in the area. Lieutenant Commander Sullivan [Commander of the blimps] states that he was unable to obtain any evidence of a submarine except one bubble of air which is unexplained except by turbulence of water due to a depth charge explosion. The Commanding Officers of all ships except the PC-815 state they had no evidence of a submarine and do not think a submarine was in the area.'[7]

Fletcher added that there was a 'known magnetic deposit' in the area in which the depth charges were dropped. The implication was clear: Lieutenant Hubbard, Commanding Officer of USS PC-815, had fought a two-day battle with a magnetic deposit.

Neither Ron nor Moulton would accept this verdict. They believed that denying the existence of the submarines was a political decision taken to avoid spreading alarm among the civilian population. Moulton pointed out that the Reader's Digest had recently published a story about the attack on the oil refinery near Santa Barbara and it had caused something approaching panic among people living along the coast of California. It was hardly surprising, they concluded, that the top brass wanted to hush up the fact that US Navy ships had been fighting enemy submarines only about ten miles off the coast of Oregon.

The disconsolate crew of the USS PC-815, who had no doubt expected to return home as conquering heroes, had to be satisfied with this explanation and forego public recognition of their battle. It was a bitter pill for them to swallow. The only reward their Commanding Officer could arrange was a rare treat recorded in the ship's log on the day they returned to Astoria: 'Ice cream brought on board.'

As Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Hubbard's record was unquestionably blighted by the Admiral's damning report, although there was no suggestion that he should be relieved of his command. There was plenty of good-natured joshing in the service about the man who had attacked a magnetic field, but it would probably have been forgotten eventually and need not have affected Ron's career, except that the luckless USS PC-815 was soon in even worse trouble.

Towards the end of May, the PC-815 was detailed to escort a new aircraft carrier from Portland to San Diego. Thankfully this voyage was completed without incident. On arrival in San Diego Ron said goodbye to his friend Tom Moulton, who had been transferred to HQ Thirteenth Naval District in Seattle for further assignment.

San Diego is the most southerly coastal town in California, only ten miles from the Mexican border at Tijuana. Just offshore from Tijuana there is a small group of islands known as Los Coronados, used by local fishermen to dry their nets.

On the afternoon of 28 June, the PC-815 steamed unknowingly into Mexican territorial waters and fired four shots with its 3-inch gun in the direction of the Coronados islands. She then anchored off the island and fired small arms - pistols and rifles - into the water.

The Mexican government may not have considered that the United States was launching a surprise attack, but the incident was deemed sufficiently serious for an official complaint to be lodged. Lieutenant Hubbard, fresh from his notorious battle with a magnetic deposit, was not exactly well placed to be forgiven for this new blunder.

On 30 June, a Board of Investigation was convened on board the PC-815 in San Diego Harbor. Lieutenant Hubbard was first to give evidence and stoutly denied that he had done wrong. He had ordered the gunnery practice because he was anxious to train his crew and he believed he had authority to be in the area. When asked why he had anchored for the night he admitted that he had not wanted to spend the entire night on the bridge. 'On three separate occasions,' he added, 'when leaving my officers in charge of the bridge they have become lost.'[8]

The next witness was the Gunnery Officer, who cheerfully confessed that he thought the Coronados Islands belonged to the United States. After listening to more than thirteen hours of evidence, the three-man Board of Investigation concluded that Lieutenant Hubbard had disregarded orders, both by conducting gunnery practice and by anchoring in Mexican territorial waters without proper authority.

It was recommended, in the light of the short time he had been in command, that he should be admonished in lieu of the more drastic disciplinary action that the offences would normally have deserved.[9] But it was also decided that he should be transferred to other duties.

On 7 July, after just eighty days as Commanding Officer of his own ship, Ron signed his last page of the PC-815's deck log: '1345, Signed on Detachment, L. R. Hubbard.'

In a fitness report covering his brief career as a Commanding Officer, Rear-Admiral E.A. Braisted, Commander, Fleet Operational Training Command, Pacific, rated Lieutenant L.R. Hubbard as 'below average' and noted: 'Consider this officer lacking in the essential qualities of judgement, leadership and cooperation. He acts without forethought as to probable results. He is believed to have been sincere in his efforts to make his ship efficient and ready. Not considered qualified for command or promotion at this time. Recommend duty on a large vessel where he can be properly supervised.'[10]

Ron was posted to temporary duty in the Issuing Office at Headquarters, Eleventh Naval District in San Diego, where he almost immediately reported sick with a variety of ailments ranging from malaria to a duodenal ulcer to pains in his back. He was admitted to the local naval hospital for observation and remained there as an in-patient for nearly three months. He wrote home to inform the family that he was in hospital because he had been injured when he picked up an unexploded shell from the deck of his ship; it had exploded in mid-air as he threw it over the side.[11]

In later years Ron would tell a story of how he had helped the staff at San Diego Naval Hospital during this period.[12] It seemed a regiment of marines had been shipped home with a disease called filoriasis about which the doctors knew nothing. Ron, because of his experience in 'the South Pacific', advised them that although there was a serum available to treat the condition, his understanding was that a spell in a cold climate would work equally well. Accordingly, the regiment was despatched to Alaska where, Ron said, 'I am sure they all recovered.'

This good deed done, in October 1943 Ron was sent on a six-week course at the Naval Small Craft Training Center on Terminal Island, San Pedro, California. In December he learned he was to be given another opportunity to go to sea - as the Navigating Officer of the USS Algol, an amphibious attack cargo ship under construction at Portland, Oregon.

To judge from an entry in his private journal, he was not particularly thrilled about going back to sea, nor indeed, about being in the Navy at all. 'My salvation is to let this roll over me,' he noted gloomily on 6 January 1944, 'to write, write and write some more. To hammer keys until I am finger worn to the second joint and then to hammer keys some more. To pile up copy, stack up stories, roll the wordage and generally conduct my life along the one line of success I have ever had.'[13]

'The only thing that ever affected me as a writer,' he recalled years later in a newspaper interview,[14]'was the US Navy when their security regulations prohibited writing. I was quiet for about two years before I couldn't take it any more and went and took it out on a typewriter and, wearing a stetson hat in the middle of a battle theater, wrote a costume historical novel of 60,000 words which has never seen the light of day.'

For the first six months of 1944, Ron remained in Portland during the fitting out of the Algol. News of the war in the Pacific was of bitter fighting and heavy casualties. US Marines were working their way from island to island towards Japan, but at shocking cost. In the attack on Tarawa Atoll, more than a thousand Americans were killed and two thousand wounded: news pictures of the beaches littered with dead Marines shocked the nation and brought home the terrible reality of war. On 15 June, two divisions of US Marines began an assault on Saipan in the southern Marianas, and in the battle that followed 16,500 Americans were killed or wounded.

The USS Algol was commissioned in July and immediately put to sea for trials. Through August and most of September she was exercizing at sea; as Navigating Officer, Ron signed the ship's deck log every day, but there was little to report except 'under way, as before'. He seemed to have had second thoughts about wanting to see action, for on 9 September he applied for an appointment to the School of Military Government, citing among his qualifications his education as a civil engineer, membership in the Explorers Club, wide travel in the Far East and experience of handling natives. The Algol's Commanding Officer approved Ron's application, noting on his fitness report that while Lieutenant Hubbard was a capable and energetic officer, he was 'very temperamental and often has his feelings hurt'.

On 22 September, the Algol was at last ordered to Oakland, California, to start taking on supplies in preparation for sailing to war. The excited rumour among the crew was that the ship was to take part in a major new offensive in the Pacific aimed at the final defeat of the Japanese.

At 1630 on the afternoon of 27 September- the day before Ron was due to leave for Princeton - the ship's deck log recorded an unusual incident: 'The Navigating Officer reported to the OOD [Officer On Duty] that an attempt at sabatage [sic] had been made sometime between 1530-1600. A coke bottle filled with gasoline with a cloth wick inserted had been concealed among cargo which was to be hoisted aboard and stored in No 1 hold. It was discovered before being taken hammer keys until I am finger worn to the second joint and then to hammer keys some more. To pile up copy, stack up stories, roll the wordage and generally conduct my life along the one line of success I have ever had.'[13]

'The only thing that ever affected me as a writer,' he recalled years later in a newspaper interview,[14]'was the US Navy when their security regulations prohibited writing. I was quiet for about two years before I couldn't take it any more and went and took it out on a typewriter and, wearing a stetson hat in the middle of a battle theater, wrote a costume historical novel of 60,000 words which has never seen the light of day.'

For the first six months of 1944, Ron remained in Portland during the fitting out of the Algol. News of the war in the Pacific was of bitter fighting and heavy casualties. US Marines were working their way from island to island towards Japan, but at shocking cost. In the attack on Tarawa Atoll, more than a thousand Americans were killed and two thousand wounded: news pictures of the beaches littered with dead Marines shocked the nation and brought home the terrible reality of war. On 15 June, two divisions of US Marines began an assault on Saipan in the southern Marianas, and in the battle that followed 16,500 Americans were killed or wounded.

The USS Algol was commissioned in July and immediately put to sea for trials. Through August and most of September she was exercizing at sea; as Navigating Officer, Ron signed the ship's deck log every day, but there was little to report except 'under way, as before'. He seemed to have had second thoughts about wanting to see action, for on 9 September he applied for an appointment to the School of Military Government, citing among his qualifications his education as a civil engineer, membership in the Explorers Club, wide travel in the Far East and experience of handling natives. The Algol's Commanding Officer approved Ron's application, noting on his fitness report that while Lieutenant Hubbard was a capable and energetic officer, he was 'very temperamental and often has his feelings hurt'.

On 22 September, the Algol was at last ordered to Oakland, California, to start taking on supplies in preparation for sailing to war. The excited rumour among the crew was that the ship was to take part in a major new offensive in the Pacific aimed at the final defeat of the Japanese.

At 1630 on the afternoon of 27 September- the day before Ron was due to leave for Princeton - the ship's deck log recorded an unusual incident: 'The Navigating Officer reported to the OOD [Officer On Duty] that an attempt at sabatage [sic] had been made sometime between 1530-1600. A coke bottle filled with gasoline with a cloth wick inserted had been concealed among cargo which was to be hoisted aboard and stored in No 1 hold. It was discovered before being taken on board. ONI, FBI and NSD authorities reported on the scene and investigations were started.'[15]

No further mention was made of the incident. There was no explanation of why Lieutenant Hubbard, the Navigating Officer, was poking around in cargo being loaded on to the ship or of how he had managed to find the 'petrol bomb'. Neither was the result of the investigations recorded. Shortly after ten o'clock that evening a brief signal was received 'Lt Lafayette Ron Hubbard, D-v (S), USNR 113392, is this date detached from duty.'

On 4 October, the USS Algol sailed for Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, from where she would take part in the invasion of Luzon in the Philippines and the landings on Okinawa, earning two battle stars. Her erstwhile Navigating Officer, meanwhile, was on a four-month course in 'Military Government' at the Naval Training School, Princeton, prompting him to claim ever after that he finished his education at the venerable Ivy League university of the same name.

While he was at Princeton, Ron was invited to join a group of science-fiction writers who met every weekend at Robert Heinlein's apartment in Philadelphia to discuss possible ways of countering the Kamikaze menace in the Pacific. They were semi-official, brainstorming sessions that Heinlein had been asked to organize by the Navy, in the faint hope of coming up with a defence against young Japanese pilots on suicide missions. 'I had been ordered to round up science fiction writers for this crash project,' Heinlein recalled, 'the wildest brains I could find.'[16]

Heinlein's apartment was only three hundred yards from Broad Street Station in downtown Philadelphia and the group gathered on Saturday afternoons, arriving on Pennsylvania Railroad trains which ran every half hour into Broad Street. 'On Saturday nights there would be two or three in my bed,' said Heinlein, 'a couple on the couch and the rest on the living-room floor. If there was still overflow, I sent them a block down the street to a friend with more floor space if not beds.'

Heinlein tried to avoid asking Ron to walk down the street as Ron had said that both his feet had been broken when his last ship was bombed. 'Ron had had a busy war - sunk four times and wounded again and again,' Heinlein explained sympathetically.

Sunday morning was set aside for the working session, after which everyone sat around swapping stories and jokes. Ron often got out his guitar and entertained them in a rich baritone voice with songs like 'Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest' and 'I Learned about Women from Her'. He could also reduce the assembled company to helpless laughter with his repertoire of fast-moving burlesque skits in which he played all the roles.

On Saturday 2 December, Jack Williamson, then a Sergeant in the US Army, hosted a dinner in Philadelphia for fellow science-fiction writers and their wives. He was to be sent overseas in a couple of days and this was his farewell party. Among those present were the Heinleins, the de Camps, the Asimovs and L. Ron Hubbard. 'The star of the evening', Isaac Asimov recalled, 'was Ron Hubbard. Heinlein, de Camp and I were each prima donna-ish and each liked to hog the conversation - ordinarily. On this occasion, however, we all sat as quietly as pussycats and listened to Hubbard. He told tales with perfect aplomb and in complete paragraphs.'[17]

The host was less impressed. 'Hubbard was just back from the Aleutians then,' said Williamson, 'hinting of desperate action aboard a Navy destroyer, adventures he couldn't say much about because of military security.

'I recall his eyes, the wary, light-blue eyes that I somehow associate with the gunmen of the old West, watching me sharply as he talked as if to see how much I believed. Not much.'[18]

Heinlein's group never came up with any ideas about how to prevent US Navy losses from Kamikaze pilots, but it did not matter much because the war was drawing to a close and Japan was running out of aircraft and pilots to fly them. The last big Kamikaze strike was launched in January 1945 against the US fleet (including Ron's old ship, the USS Algol) taking part in the invasion of Luzon. That same month Ron was transferred to the Naval Civil Affairs Staging Area in Monterey, California, for further training, having finished about mid-way among the 300 students on his course at the school of Military Government. In April he again reported sick and a possible ulcer was diagnosed.

On 2 September 1945, after the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese signed the surrender instrument on the quarterdeck of the USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay. Three days later, Ron was re-admitted to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Oakland, not as a result of heroic war wounds, but to be treated for 'epigastric distress'. It was in this rather inglorious situation, suffering from a suspected duodenal ulcer, that the war ended for Lieutenant L. Ron Hubbard, US Navy Reserve.

He, of course, saw it somewhat differently: 'Blinded with injured optic nerves, and lame with injuries to hip and back, at the end of World War Two I faced an almost non-existent future . . . I was abandoned by family and friends as a supposedly hopeless cripple and a probable burden upon them for the rest of my days . . . I became used to being told it was all impossible, that there was no way, no hope. Yet I came to see and walk again . . .'[19]

If his own account of his war experiences is to be believed, he certainly deserved the twenty-one medals and palms he was said to have received. Unfortunately, his US Navy record indicates he was awarded just four routine medals - the American Defense Service Medal, awarded to everyone serving at the time of Pearl Harbor, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War Two Victory Medal, this last received by everyone serving on V-J Day.

1. Memorandum from Hubbard to Magnuson, 22 July 1941

2. Memorandum for Assistant Hydrographer, 22 October 1941

3.  Despatch from US Naval Attaché, Melbourne, 14 February 1942

4. Memorandum from C.O. USS YP-422, 12 September 1942

5. Moulton testimony in Church of Scientology v. Armstrong, 21 May 1984

6. USS PC-815 Action Report, 24 May 1943

7. Memorandum from Commander NW Sea Frontier, 8 June 1943

8. Record of proceedings, Board of Investigation, USS PC-815, 30 June 1943

9. Letter of admonition from Commander, Fleet Operational Training Command, Pacific, 15 July 1943 
10. Report on the Fitness of Officers, 29 May - 7 July 1943 
11. Letter from L. Ron Hubbard Jr., 26 January 1973 
12. L. Ron Hubbard autobiographical notes, 1972

13.  Ron The Writer 
14. Rocky Mountain News, 20 February 1983

14. Deck log of USS Algol, US National Archives 
16. Foreword to Godbody by Theodore Sturgeon, 1986

17. Asimov, op. cit. 
18. Williamson, op. cit. 
19. Hubbard, My Philosophy, 1965 and passim

Bare-Faced Messiah  Chapter 7 Black Magic and Betty

'Hubbard broke up black magic in America . . . because he was well known as a writer and philosopher and had friends among the physicists, he was sent in to handle the situation [of black magic being practised in a house in Pasadena occupied by nuclear physicists]. He went to live at the house and investigated the black magic rites and the general situation and found them very bad . . . Hubbard's mission was successful far beyond anyone's expectations. The house was torn down. Hubbard rescued a girl they were using. The black magic group was dispersed and never recovered.' (Statement by the Church of Scientology, December 1969)

(Scientology's account of the years 1945-46.)

*   *   *   *   *

Hubbard was a patient at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital for three months after the war, although the doctors were undecided as to precisely what was wrong with him. He was certainly neither blind nor crippled, but seemed to be suffering from endless minor aches and pains. His medical record shows that he was examined exhaustively, almost every week, complaining of headaches, rheumatism, conjunctivitis, pains in his side, stomach aches, pains in his shoulder, arthritis, haemorrhoids . . . there seemed to be no end to his suffering. Sometimes the doctors could find symptoms, sometimes they could not. In September, for example, he was declared 'unfit for service' because of an ulcer, but in November his ailments were described as 'minimal'.

It may be, of course, that Ron was simply preparing the ground to claim a veteran's disability pension, for he certainly wasted no time putting in his application. Lieutenant Hubbard was 'mustered out' of the US Navy on 5 December 1945, and on the following day he applied for a pension on the basis of a sprained left knee, conjunctivitis, a chronic duodenal ulcer, arthritis in his right hip and shoulder, recurrent malaria and sporadic undiagnosed pain in his left side and back.[1]

On the claim form, Ron said his wife and children were living with his parents at 1212 Gregory Way, Bremerton, until he was able to get a house of his own. He described himself as a freelance writer with a monthly income of $0.00; before he joined the Navy he claimed his average earnings had been $650 a month.

Satisfied he had presented a convincing case for a pension, Ron drove out of the Officer Separation Center in San Francisco at the wheel of an old Packard with a small trailer in tow, both of which he had recently acquired. Home and the family were to the north, up in Washington State. But Ron headed south, towards Los Angeles, to a rendezvous with a magician in a bizarre Victorian mansion in Pasadena.

John Whiteside Parsons, known to his friend as Jack, was an urbane, darkly handsome man, not unlike Errol Flynn in looks, and the scion of a well-connected Los Angeles family. Then thirty-one years old, he was a brilliant scientist and chemist and one of America's foremost explosives experts. He had spent much of the war at the California Institute of Technology working with a team developing jet engines and experimental rocket fuels and was, perhaps, the last man anyone would have suspected of worshipping the Devil.

For Jack Parsons led an extraordinary double life: respected scientist by day, dedicated occultist by night. He believed, passionately, in the power of black magic, the existence of Satan, demons and evil spirits, and the efficacy of spells to deal with his enemies.[2]

While still a student at the University of Southern California, he had become interested in the writings of Aleister Crowley, the English sorcerer and Satanist known as 'The Beast 666', whose dabblings in black magic had also earned him the title 'The Wickedest Man In The World'. Crowley's The Book of the Law expounded a doctrine enshrined in a single sentence - 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law' - and Parsons was intrigued by the heady concept of a creed that encouraged indulgence in forbidden pleasures.

In 1939, Parsons and his young wife, Helen, joined the OTO, Ordo Templi Orientis, an international organization founded by Crowley to practise sexual magic.[3] A lodge had been set up in Los Angeles and met in a suitably sequestered attic. Meetings were conducted by a priestess swathed in diaphanous gauze, who climbed out of a coffin to perform mystic, and painstakingly blasphemous, rites.[4] Parsons quickly rose to prominence in the OTO and by the early '40s he had begun a regular correspondence with Crowley, always addressing him as 'Most Beloved Father' and signing his letters 'Thy son, John'.

When Parson's father died, his son inherited a rambling mansion and adjoining coach-house on South Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena. South Orange Grove was where the best people lived in Pasadena in the '20s and '30s, and although its discreet gentility was fading by the end of the war, most of the large houses in the area were still in single occupancy, the paintwork had yet to peel and the lawns were regularly watered and manicured.

The residents of South Orange Grove Avenue did not welcome the arrival of young Jack Parsons, for the elegant three-storey family mansion, shaded by huge palms and flowering magnolias and set in its own grounds, was rapidly transformed, under his ownership, into a rooming-house of dubious repute - the only way he could afford to keep the house was by renting rooms. This might not have caused too much upset in the neighbourhood, except that when he advertized for tenants in the local newspaper, he specified that only atheists and those of a Bohemian disposition need apply. Thus were the myriad rooms at 1003 South Orange Grove Avenue occupied by an exotic, argumentative and peripatetic assortment of itinerants and ne'er-do-wells - out-of-work actors and writers, anarchists and artists, musicians and dancers, all kinds of questionable characters and their equally questionable friends of both sexes. Noisy parties continued for days on end, guests slept on the floor when they could not find a bed and sometimes they simply forgot to leave.

Understandably the neighbours were outraged, although they would undoubtedly have been even more alarmed had they known that the house was also destined to become the headquarters of a black magic group which practised deviant sexual rites. Parsons converted two large rooms into a private apartment for himself and a temple for the OTO lodge. In his bedroom, the biggest room in the house, there was an altar flanked by pyramidal pillars and hung with occult symbols. The other room was a wood-panelled library lined with books devoted to the occult and dominated by a huge signed portrait of Crowley hanging over the fireplace.

No one was allowed into these two rooms unless specifically invited by Parsons; when members of the OTO turned up for a meeting, the doors remained firmly closed. Other residents sometimes glimpsed Parsons or one of his followers moving about the house in black robes, but no one really knew what went on in the 'temple'[5] On one occasion, two smirking policemen arrived at the front door to investigate a complaint that the house was being used for black magic orgies. They had been told, they said, something about a ceremony requiring a naked pregnant woman to leap nine times through a sacred fire, but they made it so obvious that they considered the whole thing to be a joke that Parsons had no difficulty convincing them he was a bona fide and respectable scientist, and persuaded them to leave without conducting a search.

Among his other interests, Parsons was also a science-fiction fan and occasionally turned up at meetings of the Los Angeles Fantasy and Science Fiction Society, where devoted fans gathered every week to meet the top science fiction writers. Jack Williamson, a regular contributor to Science Wonder Stories, encountered Parsons at a meeting in 1941 and was surprised to learn he was a scientist. 'He had read my novel Darker Than You Think, which deals with the supernatural,' Williamson recalled. 'I was astonished to discover he had a far less sceptical interest in such things than I did.'[6]

To Parsons there was an attractive affinity between magic and science fiction and on Sunday afternoons in the summer his science-fiction friends tended to congregate in his kitchen for endless discussions about the relative merits of sci-fi writers, their ideas and stories. One of the fans who regularly took the streetcar to South Orange Grove Avenue on Sunday afternoons was a young man called Alva Rogers, who would eventually become a 'semi-permanent resident' - an arrangement that was not in the least unusual. On an early visit be met and fell in love with a young art student who was renting a room in the mansion and thereafter he would spend the night with her whenever he could.

Rogers was fascinated by the house, its owner and the occupants. 'Mundane souls were unceremoniously rejected as tenants,' he said. 'There was a professional fortune teller and seer who always wore appropriate dresses and decorated her apartment with symbols and artefacts of arcane lore. There was a lady, well past middle age but still strikingly beautiful, who claimed to have been at various times the mistress of half the famous men of France. There was a man who had been a renowned organist in the great movie palaces of the silent era. They were characters all.'

According to Rogers, Parsons never made any secret of his interest in black magic or his involvement with Aleister Crowley. 'He had a voluminous correspondence with Crowley in the library, some of which he showed me. I remember in particular one letter from Crowley which praised and encouraged him for the fine work he was doing in America, and also casually thanked him for his latest donation and intimated that more would shortly be needed. Jack admitted that he was one of Crowley's main sources of money in America.

'I always found Jack's insistence that he believed in, and practised, magic hard to reconcile with his educational and cultural background. At first I thought it was all fun and games, a kick he was on for its shock value to his respectable friends. But after seeing his correspondence with Crowley, and the evidence of his frequent remittances to Crowley, I had to give him the benefit of the doubt.'[7]

In the summer of 1944, Helen Parsons left her husband and ran off with another member of the lodge, by whom she was pregnant.

Parsons consoled himself by transferring his affections to Helen's younger sister, Sara Northrup, who was then eighteen, a beautiful and vivacious student at the University of Southern California. Within a few months, Sara dropped out of her course and moved in with Parsons, to the great distress of her parents. At South Orange Grove Avenue she became known as Betty (her middle name was Elizabeth). Completely under the spell of her lover, she was soon inculcated onto the OTO and assisting in its ceremonies. In accordance with the teachings of 'the Beast', Parsons encouraged Betty to enjoy sex with other members of the lodge, or indeed any man who took her fancy. It would not affect their relationship, he loftily explained to anyone who cared to listen, since jealousy was a base emotion unworthy of the enlightened and fit only for peasants.

'Betty was a very attractive blonde, full of joie de vivre,' said Rogers. 'The rapport between Jack and Betty, the strong affection, if not love, they had for each other, despite their frequent separate sextracurricular activities, seemed pretty permanent and shatterproof.'[8]

It was soon to prove an illusion. One afternoon in August 1945, Lou Goldstone, a well-known science-fiction illustrator and a frequent visitor to South Orange Grove Avenue, turned up with L. Ron Hubbard, who was then on leave from the Navy. Jack Parsons liked Ron immediately, perhaps recognized in him a kindred spirit, and invited him to move in for the duration of his leave.

Ron, ebullient as always, was not in any way intimidated by the egregious company and surroundings; on the contrary, he felt instantly at home. Most evenings he could be found dominating the conversation at the big table in the kitchen, where the roomers tended to gather, telling outrageous stories about his adventures. One night he unbuttoned his shirt to display the scars left by arrows hurled at him when he encountered a band of hostile aborigines in the South American jungle.

Like almost everyone in the house, Alva Rogers thought Hubbard was an enormously engaging and entertaining personality. Rogers also had red hair and Ron confided to him his belief, confirmed by extensive research he had undertaken at the 'Royal Museum' in London, that all redheads were related, being descended from the same line of Neanderthal man. 'Needless to say,' Rogers recalled, 'I was fascinated.'

For a while, Ron shared a room with Nieson Himmel, a young reporter who had also met Parsons through a shared interest in science fiction. Perhaps because of the inbred scepticism of newspapermen, Himmel was less impressed than most by his new room-mate: 'I can't stand phoneys and to me he was so obviously a phoney, a real conman. But he was certainly not a dummy. He was very sharp and quick, a fascinating story-teller, and he could charm the shit out of anybody. He talked interminably about his war experiences and seemed to have been everywhere. Once he said he was on Admiral Halsey's staff. I called a friend who worked with Halsey and my friend said "Shit, I've never heard of him."

'I was not one of his favourite people because I liked to try and trip him up. One time he told a story about how he was walking down a corridor in the British Museum when he was suddenly grabbed by three scientists who dragged him into an office and began measuring his skull because it was such a perfect shape. I said, "Gee, Ron, that's a great story - didn't I read it in George Bernard Shaw?" Another time he said he was in the Aleutians in command of a destroyer and a polar bear jumped from an ice floe onto his ship and chased everyone around. I recognized it as an old, old folklore story that goes way back.

'He was always broke and trying to borrow money. That was another reason he didn't like me - I would never lend him a cent. Whenever he was talking about being hard up he often used to say that he thought the easiest way to make money would be to start a religion.'[9]

Parsons shared none of Himmel's mistrust. He considered that Ron had great magical potential and took the risk of breaking his solemn oath of secrecy to acquaint Ron with some of the OTO rituals.[10] Betty, too, was much enamoured with the voluble naval officer, so much so that she soon began sleeping with him. True to his creed, Parsons tried to pretend he was not concerned by this development, but others in the house thought they detected tension between the two men. Himmel, who was himself in love with Betty, was furious that she had been seduced by Hubbard. 'Betty was beautiful, the most gorgeous, intelligent, sweet, wonderful girl. I was so much in love with her and I knew she was a woman I could never have. Then Hubbard comes along and starts having affairs with one girl after another in the house and finally fastens on to Betty. I couldn't believe it was happening. There he was, living off Parsons' largesse and making out with his girlfriend right in front of him. Sometimes when the two of them were sitting at the table together, the hostility was almost tangible.'[11]

Alva Rogers, too, sensed that Parsons was suffering. 'Jack had never boggled at any of Betty's previous amorous adventurings, but this time it seemed somehow different . . . although the three of them continued to maintain a surface show of unchanged amicability, it was obvious that Jack was feeling the pangs of a hitherto unfelt passion, jealousy. As events progressed, Jack found it increasingly difficult to keep his mind on anything but the torrid affair going on between Ron and Betty and the atmosphere around the house became supercharged with tension.'

Nevertheless, Parsons clearly remained convinced that Ron possessed exceptional powers. After Ron had left to report back to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Parsons wrote to his 'Most Beloved Father' to acquaint him with events: 'About three months ago I met Captain L. Ron Hubbard, a writer and explorer of whom I had known for some time . . . He is a gentleman; he has red hair, green eyes, is honest and intelligent, and we have become great friends. He moved in with me about two months ago, and although Betty and I are still friendly, she has transferred her sexual affection to Ron.

'Although he has no formal training in Magick, he has an extraordinary amount of experience and understanding in the field. From some of his experiences I deduced that he is in direct touch with some higher intelligence, possibly his Guardian Angel. He describes his Angel as a beautiful winged woman with red hair whom he calls the Empress and who has guided him through his life and saved him many times. He is the most Thelemic person I have ever met and is in complete accord with our own principles . . . I think I have made a great gain and as Betty and I are the best of friends, there is little loss. I cared for her rather deeply but I have no desire to control her emotions, and I can, I hope, control my own. I need a magical partner. I have many experiments in mind . . .'[12]

In early December 1945, Ron showed up again at South Orange Grove Avenue, still in uniform, having driven directly from the Officer Separation Centre in San Francisco. He parked his Packard and his trailer at the rear of the house and walked back into the complicated, enigmatic lives of Jack Parsons and Betty Northrup. To Parsons's secret distress, Betty and Ron immediately resumed their affair.

Alva Rogers and his girlfriend were perhaps the only two people in the house who really knew how much their friend was suffering. 'Our room was just across the hall from Jack's apartment,' Rogers recalled, 'and in the still, early hours of a bleak morning in December we were brought out of a sound sleep by some weird and disturbing noises as though someone was dying or at the very least was deathly ill.

'We went out into the hall to investigate the source of the noises and found that they came from Jack's partially open door. Perhaps we should have turned around and gone back to bed at this point, but we didn't. The noise, which by this time we could tell was a sort of chant, drew us inexorably to the door, which we pushed open a little further in order to better see what was going on.

'What we saw I'll never forget, although I find it hard to describe in any detail. The room, in which I had been before, was decorated in a manner typical of an occultist's lair, with all the symbols and appurtenances essential to the proper practice of black magic. It was dimly lit and smoky from a pungent incense; Jack was draped in a black robe and stood with his back to us, his arms outstretched, in the centre of a pentagram before some sort of altar affair on which several indistinguishable items stood.

'His voice, which was actually not very loud, rose and fell in a rhythmic chant of gibberish which was delivered with such passionate intensity that its meaning was frighteningly obvious. After this brief and uninvited glimpse into the blackest and most secret center of a tortured man's soul, we quietly withdrew and returned to our room, where we spent the balance of the night discussing in whispers what we had just witnessed.'[13]

Rogers was convinced that Parsons was trying to invoke a demon in order to despatch his rival, or harm him in some way. It clearly did not work, however, for Ron remained in the best of spirits. Despite what Alva Rogers and his girlfriend had seen on that unforgettable December night, the fragile three-cornered relationship continued. Parsons seemed determined to try and overcome what he considered to be an unworthy emotion. 'I have been suffered to pass through an ordeal of human love and jealousy,' he noted in his 'Magical Record', adding, 'I have found a staunch companion and comrade in Ron . . . Ron and I are to continue with our plans for the Order.'[14]

Their plans were unprecedented. Parsons wanted to attempt an experiment in black magic that would push back the frontiers of the occult world. With the assistance of his new friend, he intended to try and create a 'moonchild' - the magical child 'mightier than all the kings of the earth', whose birth had been prophesied in The Book of the Law more than forty years earlier.

Aleister Crowley professed 'the great idea of magicians of all times' was to bring into being an Anti-Christ, a 'living being in form resembling man, and possessing those qualities of man which distinguish him from beasts, namely intellect and power of speech, but neither begotten in the manner of human generation, nor inhabited by a human soul'.[15] To find a mother for this new Messiah, Parsons envisaged invoking an elemental spirit of the 'whore of Babylon', the scarlet woman of St John's Revelation: 'I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication. And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots . . .'

On 4 January 1946, Jack Parsons began a series of elaborate mystic rituals, known as the 'Babalon Working', which he hoped would lead to the invocation of a scarlet woman whose destiny was to be mother to the moonchild. For the benefit of future magicians, he kept a detailed, day-by-day account in a manuscript be called the 'Book of Babalon'.

Magical rites began in the temple at South Orange Grove at nine o'clock that evening, with Prokofiev's Violin Concerto playing in the background. First Parsons prepared and consecrated various magical weapons, tablets and talismans, then he carried out eleven separate rituals, beginning with 'Invoking Pentagram of Air' and 'Invocation of Bornless One' and ending with 'License to Depart, Purification and Banishing'.

The nightly ritual of incantation and talisman-waving continued for eleven days, at first without much effect. Parsons noted that a strong windstorm blew up on the second and third days, but he had obviously been hoping for rather more startling results. 'Nothing seems to have happened,' he wrote in a letter to Crowley. 'The wind storm is very interesting, but that is not what I asked for.'[16]

On the seventh day, Parsons was woken at midnight by seven loud knocks and he discovered that a table lamp in the corner of his bedroom had been thrown violently to the floor and smashed. 'I have had little experience with phenomena of this sort,' he recorded. 'Magically speaking, it usually represents "breaks" in the operation, indicating imperfect technique. Actually, in any magical operation there should be no phenomena but the willed result.'

Not until 14 January was the frustrated magician able to report an encouragingly mysterious occurrence. 'The light system of the house failed at about 9 pm. Another magician [Hubbard] who had been staying at the house and studying with me, was carrying a candle across the kitchen when he was struck strongly on the right shoulder, and the candle knocked out of his hand. He called me, and we observed a brownish yellow light about seven feet high in the kitchen. I brandished a magical sword and it disappeared. His right arm was paralyzed for the rest of the night.'

Next morning, the magicians had more prosaic business to attend to. For some time, Ron, Betty and Jack had been discussing the prospect of going into business together, buying yachts on the East Coast and sailing them to California to sell at a profit. On 15 January the three of them signed their names to an agreement setting up a business partnership with the hopeful title of 'Allied Enterprises'. It was not exactly an equitable financial arrangement, since Parsons put up more than $20,000, Ron only managed to vouchsafe $1200 and Betty contributed nothing. Under the articles of co-partnership, it was vaguely stated that Allied Enterprises would indulge in activities of a 'varied and elastic nature', presumably with an eye to subsequent expansion into other fields.[17]

That evening, the new business partners resumed their magical activities and there was a further strange incident involving Ron who was by then occupying the role of 'scribe'. Parsons noted that the scribe had 'some sort of astral vision' and saw one of his old enemies standing behind him clad in a black robe with an 'evil, pasty face'; Ron promptly launched an attack and pinned the phantom figure to the door with four throwing knives. 'Later, in my room,' Parsons wrote, 'I heard the raps again and a buzzing, metallic voice crying, "Let me go free." I felt a great pressure and tension in the house that night.'

The tension continued for four days, until the evening of 18 January. The magician and his scribe had ventured out into the Mojave Desert on some unexplained mystical mission and, at sunset, the stress that Parsons had recently been experiencing drained away. He was suffused instead with a sense of well-being and turned to Ron and said simply: 'It is done.'

When the two men returned to South Orange Grove Avenue, they found the 'scarlet woman' waiting for them. Her name was Marjorie Cameron and in truth she was not very much different from many of the unconventional and free-spirited young women who had gravitated to the Bohemian lodging-house in Pasadena. But Parsons was convinced that she was his libidinous elemental spirit, not least because it transpired she was not only willing, but impatient, to participate in the magical and sexual escapades he had in mind. 'She is describable', he wrote in the 'Book of Babalon', 'as an air of fire type, with bronze red hair, fiery and subtle, determined and obstinate, sincere and perverse, with extraordinary personality, talent and intelligence.'

A few days later he wrote exultantly to Crowley: 'I have my elemental! She turned up one night after the conclusion of the Operation and has been with me since . . . She has red hair and slant green eyes as specified . . . She is an artist, strong minded and determined, with strong masculine characteristics and a fanatical independence.'

Crowley replied: 'I am particularly interested in what you have written to me about the elemental, because for some little time past I have been endeavouring to intervene personally in this matter on your behalf . . .'

Towards the end of February, Ron went on a trip to the East Coast, perhaps to investigate the yacht market on behalf of Allied Enterprises. On 28 February Parsons drove alone into the lonely reaches of the Mojave Desert to perform an invocation of the goddess Babalon. During this invocation, he said, the presence of the goddess came upon him and commanded him to write a mystical communication, couched in picturesque biblical terminology and beginning: 'Yea, it is I, Babalon. And this is my book . . .'

The seventy-seven clauses Parsons excitedly scribbled in his notebook became the centrepiece of the 'Book of Babalon'. He believed he was taking instructions for the impregnation of his scarlet woman, although it would not have been immediately obvious to nonbelievers: 'Now is the hour of birth at hand. Now shall my adept be crucified in the Basilisk abode. Thy tears, thy sweat, thy blood, thy semen, thy love, thy faith shall provide . . .'

Some of the message was also suspiciously contemporary: 'Thou fool, be thou also free of sentimentality. Am I thy village queen and thou a sophomore, that thou should have thy nose in my buttocks?'

Parsons returned to Pasadena in a state of considerable agitation which was greatly increased when his magical partner arrived back the next day and announced he had had a vision of a 'savage and beautiful woman riding naked on a great cat-like beast' and had an urgent message to deliver.

That night, in the temple at South Orange Grove, the two magicians made preparations to receive the message. Candles were lit, incense burned and a magical altar was laid with flowers and wine. Hubbard, the scribe, wore a white-hooded robe and carried a lamp; Parsons, the high priest, wore a black robe and carried a cup and dagger. An automatic tape recorder was set up and at Hubbard's suggestion Rachmaninoff's 'Isle of the Dead' was played as background music.

At eight o'clock, Hubbard began to intone his message from the astral world: 'These are the preparations. Green gold cloth, food for the Beast, upon a hidden platter, back of the altar. Disclose only when the doors are bolted. Transgression is death. Back of the main altar. Prepare instantly. Light the first flame at 10 pm, March 2, 1946. The year of Babalon is 4063 . . .'

After a few minutes, Parsons noticed that his scribe was pale and sweating profusely. Hubbard rested for a few moments, then continued: 'Make a box of blackness at ten o'clock. Smear the vessel which contains flame with thine own blood. Destroy at the altar a thing of value. Remain in perfect silence and heed the voice of our Lady. Speak not of this ritual or of her coming to any person . . .

'Display thyself to Our Lady; dedicate thy organs to Her, dedicate thy heart to Her, dedicate thy mind to Her, dedicate thy soul to Her, for She shall absorb thee, and thou shall become living flame before She incarnates . . .'

When Hubbard finished dictating, the scarlet woman, naked under a crimson robe, was brought into the temple. 'Oh circle of stars,' the high priest informed, 'whereof our Father is but the younger brother, marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space . . .'

Marjorie Cameron had been well rehearsed in the necessary response. 'But to love me is better than all things . . .' she chanted. 'Put on the wings and arouse the coiled splendour within you. Come unto me, to me! Sing the rapturous love songs unto me! Burn to me the perfume! Drink to me for I love you! I am the blue-lidded daughter of sunset, I am the naked brilliance of the voluptuous night sky . . .'

With passions mounting, the three black magicians intoned a chorus: 'Glory unto the Scarlet Woman, Babalon, the Mother of Abominations, that rideth upon the Beast, for She hath spilt their blood in every corner of the earth and lo! she hath mingled it in the cup of her whoredom . . .'

The scribe remained at the altar declaiming and describing what was supposed to be happening on an astral plane while the high priest excitedly inserted his 'wand' into the scarlet woman and they began copulating furiously.

At midnight the unholy troika retired to bed, exhausted. Next morning one of the lodgers in the house disturbed Parsons while he was meditating in the temple - he flew out in a rage and put a curse on the man, who, he said, was very soon taken ill. After this incident, Parsons confessed that he succumbed to a black mood. His temper cannot have improved when he discovered that the roof of the guest-house had caught fire and been partially destroyed the previous night while he was otherwise occupied. He darkly deduced that the fire had started at the very moment, during the night's black festivities, when he had smashed an image of Pan.

'That evening,' Parsons wrote, 'the scribe and I resumed our work.' This time a white sheet smeared with menstrual blood was laid out on the floor of the temple and a red star, cut from the high priest's robe, was symbolically burned on the altar. As Parsons performed the 'Invocation of the Wand' on the naked body of the scarlet woman, the scribe droned: 'Embrace her, cover her with kisses. Think upon the lewd lascivious things thou couldst do. All is good to Babalon. All . . . The lust is hers, the passion yours. Consider thou the Beast raping.'

On the third and final day, the rituals began four hours before dawn and ended with a long poem titled 'The Birth of Babalon' extolling 'holy whoredom':

Her mouth is red and her breasts are fair and her loins are full of fire, 
And her lust is strong as a man is strong in the heat of her desire,And her whoredom is holy as virtue is foul beneath the holy sky, 
And her kisses will wanton the world away in passion that shall not die. 
Ye shall laugh and love and follow her dance when the wrath of God is gone, 
And dream no more of hell and hate in the birth of Babalon.[18]

In the 'Book of Babalon', Parsons was completely convinced that the magic had worked and that his scarlet woman would be delivered of a moonchild in nine months. 'Babalon,' he wrote confidently, 'is incarnate upon the earth today awaiting the proper hour of her manifestations.'[19]

But in his 'Magical Record' he was less assured: 'For the last three days I have performed an operation of birth, using the air tablet, the cup and a female figure, properly invoked by the wand, then sealed up in the altar. Last night I performed an operation of symbolic birth and delivery. Now I can do no more than pray and wait.'[20]

On 6 March, Parsons sat down to compose a letter to his Satanic Master in England, apprising him of the momentous events that had recently taken place. 'I can hardly tell you or decide how much to write,' he began. 'I am under command of extreme secrecy. I have had the most important, devastating experience of my life . . . I believe it was the result of the IXth degree working [the class of sexual magic designed to produce a higher being] with the girl who answered my elemental summons. I have been in direct touch with One who is most Holy and Beautiful as mentioned in The Book of the Law. I cannot write the name at present. First instructions were received direct through Ron, the seer. I have followed them to the letter. There was a desire for incarnation. I do not yet know the vehicle, but it will come to me bringing a secret sign. I am to act as instructor guardian for nine months; then it will be loosed on the world. That is all I can say now . . .'[21]

Crowley, who was by then in his seventies, chronically addicted to heroin and facing death, was irritated by his disciple's secrecy. On 19 April he despatched a terse reply: 'You have got me completely puzzled by your remarks about the elemental . . . I thought I had a most morbid imagination, as good as any man's, but it seems I have not. I cannot form the slightest idea of what you can possibly mean.' On the same day he wrote to Karl Germer, head of the OTO in the United States: 'Apparently Parsons or Hubbard or somebody is producing a Moonchild. I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these louts.'

While Parsons fretted over Crowley's letter, his faithful scribe was facing more earthly, and much more familiar, problems. Having contributed his meagre savings to Allied Enterprises, Hubbard was badly in need of money. He had written virtually nothing since leaving the Navy and his wife was rapidly losing patience with his repeated excuses as to why he was unable to send any money home to support her and the children.

Polly recognized by this time that there was little chance of saving her marriage. Towards the end of the war, she and Ron had briefly discussed moving to California when he was discharged from the Navy, but Polly refused to uproot the children. She had a nightmare vision of trying to raise a family while trailing forlornly after her husband, backwards and forwards from one coast to the other.[22]Nibs and Katie were happily settled in Bremerton, enjoyed school, and had friends and family all around. Polly had left The Hilltop and moved in with Ron's parents to be closer to the facilities of Bremerton; it was an arrangement she found perfectly satisfactory. Both Harry Hubbard, who had retired from the Navy and found a job as manager of Kitsap County Fair, and his wife enjoyed having their grandchildren around.

But while Polly was content to live with her in-laws, she still needed money to feed and clothe herself and the children and, not unreasonably, she expected her husband to provide it. Ron's problem in this regard was not just that he was broke (nothing unusual), but that he had reached the limit of his credit with the residents of 1003 South Orange Grove Avenue, having borrowed from everyone who was prepared to lend.

In February, the Veterans Administration had awarded him a pension of $11.50 a month for a ten per cent disability caused by his ulcer. Ron did not consider this miserable amount to be nearly sufficient and on 18 March, two weeks after completing his duties as a black magic scribe, he lodged an appeal, producing a dramatic new disability which he had somehow neglected to mention on his original claim form. 'I have lost between sixty and eighty per cent of my vision,' he claimed in a letter typed on his distinctive initialled notepaper, 'and as my profession is that of writer, my present inability to read or use my eyes seriously affects my income. I cannot work either long hours or under the slightest adverse conditions. My income at the present time, due entirely to service connected injuries, is zero. Would you please advise me as to the steps I should take to gain further pension?'[23]

After his years in the Navy, Ron was well aware of the speed with which the wheels of bureaucracy moved and his need for money was urgent. His solution was to persuade Parsons that the time had come to activate Allied Enterprises. Towards the end of April, Ron and Sara [she was only called Betty at South Orange Grove] left for Florida with $10,000 drawn from the Allied Enterprises account at the Pasadena First Trust and Savings Bank. Parsons approved the withdrawal so that the partnership could purchase its first yacht in the east; it was agreed that Ron and Sara would then either sail it back to California for re-sale, or transport it overland, whichever proved to be cheaper.

It seemed a perfectly simple and sensible business arrangement, although Parsons presumably did not know that on 1 April Ron had written to the Chief of Naval Personnel requesting permission to leave the United States to visit South America and China.[24] However, not many weeks passed before Parsons began to worry, for he heard not a word from either Ron or Sara. He realized, with mounting frustration, that they had gone off with $10,000 of his money and he had little idea of where they might be. He confessed his concern to Louis Culling, another member of the OTO lodge, and swore he was going to get his money back and dissolve the partnership.

The next day Ron telephoned from Florida, reversing the charges. Culling was at South Orange Grove when the call came through and he was amazed to find that Parsons was completely dominated by Hubbard. After what had been said the previous day, Culling expected Parsons to be cool towards his wayward partner at the very least. But Parsons made no mention of his disquiet, did not complain about being kept in the dark and said nothing about dissolving the partnership. He was soon laughing happily into the telephone as if he had not a care in the world and the conversation ended with Parsons saying, 'I hope we shall always be partners, Ron.'

Greatly disturbed, Culling took it upon himself to make some inquiries and on 12 May he wrote to Karl Germer: 'As you may know by this time, Brother John signed a partnership agreement with this Ron and Betty whereby all money earned by the three for life is equally divided between the three. As far as I can ascertain, Brother John has put in all of his money . . . Meanwhile, Ron and Betty have bought a boat for themselves in Miami for about $10,000 and are living the life of Riley, while Brother John is living at rock bottom, and I mean rock bottom. It appears that originally they never secretly intended to bring this boat around to the California coast to sell at a profit, as they told Jack, but rather to have a good time on it on the east coast . . .'[25]

Germer naturally informed Crowley, who replied by cable on 22 May: 'Suspect Ron playing confidence trick. Jack evidently weak fool. Obvious victim prowling swindlers.' In a letter seven days later, Crowley wrote, 'It seems to me on the information of our brethren in California that Parsons has got an illumination in which he has lost all his personal independence. From our brother's account he has given away both his girl and his money. Apparently it is the ordinary confidence trick.'[26]

While Crowley and fellow members of the OTO were already in agreement that Brother Parsons had been conned, Brother Parsons was painfully arriving at a similar conclusion and at the beginning of June he packed a case and caught a train East, determined to track down the errant lovers and get his money back.

In Miami, Parsons discovered to his astonishment that Allied Enterprises had already purchased three boats - two auxiliary schooners, the Harpoon and the Blue Water II, and a yacht, the Diane. It seemed that Ron had raised mortgages totalling more than $12,000 to buy the schooners.

Parsons traced the Harpoon to Howard Bond's Yacht Harbor on the County Causeway, but there was no sign of either Ron or Sara. The Blue Water was found at the American Ship Building Company docks on the Miami river; again, there was no one on board.

One evening a few days later, Parsons received a telephone call from the harbour. The Harpoon, he was told, had set sail at five o'clock that afternoon, with Ron and Sara on board apparently intent on making an escape. In his Miami hotel room, Parsons donned his magic robes and traced a circle on the floor with his magic wand. At eight o'clock, he stepped into the ring and performed the 'Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram', the preliminary to all magic, followed by a full invocation of Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars, whose help he sought to restrain his fleeing partners. In a letter to Crowley describing his actions, he was able to report a highly satisfactory result: 'At the same time, so far as I can check, his ship was struck by a sudden squall off the coast, which ripped off his sails and forced him back to port, where I took the boat in custody.'[27]

On 1 July, the magician sought redress through more conventional means: he filed suit in the Circuit Court for Dade County, accusing Ron and Sara of breaking the terms of their partnership, dissipating the assets and attempting to abscond.[28] A receiver was appointed to wind up the affairs of Allied Enterprises and a restraining order was placed on the defendants, preventing them from leaving Miami or disposing of any of the partnership's assets.

'Here I am in Miami pursuing the children of my folly,' Parsons wrote gloomily to Crowley on 5 July. 'I have them well tied up. They cannot move without going to jail. However, most of the money has already been dissipated. I will be lucky to salvage $3000 to $5000.'

On 11 July, the three partners signed an agreement, drawn up by Parsons' lawyer, dissolving the partnership. Ron and Sara handed over the Blue Water and the Diane and agreed to pay half Parsons' legal costs. For his part, Parsons allowed Ron and Sara to keep the Harpoon in return for a $2900 promissory note which covered his financial interest in the schooner. Jack Parsons returned to Pasadena satisfied that he had made the best deal he could under the circumstances and not too distressed at the loss of his former lover and his former best friend. He never saw either of them again.

In Miami, Ron and Sara were returned to their accustomed state of penury after their brief fling at the expense of Allied Enterprises. Their most immediate and pressing problem was how to maintain payments on the $4600 mortgage still outstanding on the Harpoon. Ron, who had never allowed money matters to worry him over-much, clung to the belief that he would eventually be able to wheedle a larger pension from the Veterans Administration. On 4 July, Independence Day, he had spent part of the holiday composing yet another stirring appeal against his pension award and introducing a further hitherto unmentioned disability, this time a 'chronic and incapacitating bone infection'.

On the claim form, he painted a harrowing picture of a veteran gamely struggling against disabilities which he rated at one hundred per cent. His original duodenal ulcer had mysteriously multiplied; his 'ulcers', he pointed out, had caused him to abandon his old profession of 'ship-master and explorer' and severely hampered his work as a writer. 'I can do nothing involving nervous strain without becoming dangerously ill.' As for his failing eyesight, he now found it difficult to read for more than three or four minutes without suffering from headaches, making it virtually impossible for him to do any research. His problems had begun, he noted, after 'prolonged exposure to tropical sunlight in the Pacific'. Furthermore, he was lame as the result of a bone infection in his right hip, contracted at Princeton University because of 'the sudden transition from the tropics to the slush and icy cold of Princeton'. He was unable to walk without suffering severely.

'My earning power, due to injuries, all service connected,' he concluded, 'has dropped to nothing. I earned one thousand dollars a month prior to the war as a writer. I cannot now earn money as a writer and attempts to find other employment have failed because of my physical condition.'

To support his case, Hubbard persuaded Sara to write to the Veterans Administration as an old friend to provide independent corroboration of his rapidly deteriorating health. She put her parents address in Pasadena on the top of the letter.

'I have known Lafayette Ronald Hubbard for many years,' she began, inauspiciously and untruthfully, 'and wish to testify as to the condition of his health as I have observed it since his separation from the Navy.

'Before the war, he was an extremely energetic person in excellent health and spirits . . . Since his return in December last year he is entirely changed. He cannot read because of his eyes, which give him much pain. He is rather lame and cannot take his accustomed hikes . . . He has tried to work at three different jobs and each he has had to leave because of an increase in his stomach condition. He seems to need an enormous amount of rest . . .

'I do not know what he is going to do for income when his own meagre savings are exhausted, because I see no chance of his condition improving to a point where he can regain his old standards. He is becoming steadily worse, his health impaired again by economic worries . . .'[29]

In fact, a short-term solution to his economic worries was immediately and obviously at hand: the Harpoon. Faced with the impossibility of repaying the mortgage, Ron decided to sell the boat in the hope of clearing his most pressing debts. Solvent again, temporarily at least, he asked Sara to marry him. She accepted unhesitatingly. At the beginning of August the lovers left Florida and caught a train for Washington DC. On 10 August 1946, twenty-one-year-old Sara Northrup and L. Ron Hubbard were married in a simple ceremony at Chestertown, Maryland.

By a curious coincidence, Chestertown was only thirty miles from Elkton, where L. Ron Hubbard had married Polly Grubb in 1933. Sara knew nothing of Polly and had no idea that her new husband had been previously married. Still less did she know he had never been divorced.

Similarly, Polly, in Bremerton, had yet to learn her husband was a bigamist.

Back at South Orange Grove in Pasadena, Parsons sold the old mansion for development and moved into the coach-house with his scarlet woman, Marjorie Cameron, whom he subsequently married. It was to be a tragically brief alliance. On the afternoon of Friday 20 June 1952, Parsons was working alone in the garage of the coachhouse, which he had converted into a laboratory. At eight minutes past five there was an enormous explosion. The heavy stable doors were blasted from their hinges, the walls blew out and a huge hole was torn in the floor timbers. When the dust had cleared, a partially dismembered body could be seen still bleeding in the rubble.

Further horror was to follow. Police traced Parsons's mother, Mrs Ruth Virginia Parsons, to the home of a crippled woman friend in West Glenarm Street. Informed of the accident and her son's death, Mrs Parsons returned to the room where her friend was sitting in an armchair. She sat down in another chair out of reach, unscrewed a bottle of sleeping tablets and, watched by her helpless and appalled friend, rapidly swallowed the entire contents. Unable to move from her chair, the terrified cripple watched her friend slowly die.[30]

The inquest found that the explosion had been caused by Parsons accidentally dropping a phial of nitro-glycerine. But because of his known interest in the occult, there were inevitably rumours of suicide or even murder; none of his friends could believe that a man so experienced in handling explosives would have dropped nitro-glycerine accidentally.

Whatever the truth, no black magician could have wished for a blacker departure from the world.

1. L. R. Hubbard Claim 7017422, Veterans' Administration Archives

2.  Alva Rogers, Darkhouse, 1962 
3. John Symonds, The Great Beast, 1971 
4. Letter from L. Sprague de Camp to Symonds, 5 August 1952

5.Interview with Nieson Himmel, Los Angeles, 14 August 1986

6. Letter to author from Jack Williamson, 1 November 1986 
7. Rogers, op. cit.

8. Rogers, ibid.

9. Interview with Himmel. 
10. Kenneth Grant, The Magical Revival, 1972 
11. Interview with Himmel.

12. Symonds, op. cit.

13. Rogers, op. cit. 
14. Parsons file, O.T.O. archives, New York 
15. Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law

16. Grant, op. cit.

17. Parsons v. Hubbard & Northrup, Case No. 101634, Circuit Court, Dade County, Florida.

18. Book of Babalon, O.T.O archives, New York 
19. ibid. 
20. John Parsons, 'Magical Record', O.T.O. archives, New York 
21. Symonds, op. cit.

22. Letter to author from Mrs Catherine Gillespie, November 1986 
23. Hubbard file, VA archives

23. L. R. Hubbard navy record 
25. O.T.O archives, New York 
26. ibid.

27. Grant, op. cit. 
28. Parsons v. Hubbard & Northrup

29. Hubbard file, VA archives. 
30. Pasadena Star News, 21 Jun

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