Live From Golgotha!

Watch a few Scientology documentaries on youtube and a lot of strange things pop in the suggested videos column. Also, there are treasures – albeit in this case an incomplete one: Harlan Ellison tells the late Robin Williams about being a high school kid who went to New York City and hung out with all the famous mid-century science fiction writers; the Most Contentious Man Alive was there at the Hydra Club when a religion was born:

Lester del Rey… a well-known writer…subsequently became del Rey Books….Lester, in his childhood, had been a stump minister…he had been a revivalist, he was a child evangelist. So, [L.] Ron [Hubbard] was complaining that he was breaking his ass writing and…he was never gonna get [financially ahead]…they were gonna find him slumped over the typewriter one day because there’s no annuity, there’s no insurance, and you can’t keep it up [writing] forever….these guys [writers] knew they had to do something and [Hubbard] said there’s gotta be a better way to make money, so Lester says, “start a religion!” [Laughter] That’s the way to do it, start a religion. And [Hubbard] said, “yeah, not a bad – now what kinda religion?” Well, one guy contributed Reich’s orgone box, another one came up with engrams, which were forgotten-lost memories or whatever it was and sure enough, [Hubbard] went and…cobbled up Dianetics and he wrote this book – has all of that stuff in it…

There the clip ends; I would very much like to hear the rest of their conversation.

Ellison was there, knows all the dirt, drops several names: del Rey, Hubbard, Algis Budrys, Harry Harrison, more, but doesn’t say exactly who contributed the specifics to LRH’s scheme beyond the initial idea. (Incidentally, it’s worth listening just to hear someone overwhelm Robin Williams with verbiage; I’m not sure Williams could have kept pace with Ellison even in his most cocaine-fueled Mork days.) Ellison tells a tangential but interesting anecdote about L. Sprague DeCamp who “looks like somebody out of a Louis Auchincloss novel” but was apparently spergy in the android Data extreme, uncomprehending of how humor worked. And on the Star Trek note, while listening I kept thinking of that DS9 episode (maybe its best) “Far Beyond The Stars,” in which the regular characters are reconstituted as midcentury science fiction writers – Chief O’Brien is an Asimov clone, Dax as a thinly veiled DC Fontana, etc – and trying to insert into my mental scene versions of young Ellison (no, not Wesley Crusher) and middle-aged LRH (guest starring Jeffrey Jones); but it just doesn’t work and it’s not fair to Sisko.

The other thing I’m reminded of with regard to del Rey’s at least half-sarcastic suggestion to LRH is the late Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, in which the central superconspiracy theory or, if you like, Unified Field conspiracy theory is also invented by agnostic nerds (with help of a computer) as a joke and is of course then taken seriously by the desperately credulous to predictably ugly and tragic results.