Hollywood sideshow: inside the Scientology museum

Big names praise Scientology at its official museum - just don't quote them

The Age, Australia/November 3, 2009

Along with Kabbalah, Botox and egg white omelettes, Hollywood is synonymous with Scientology.

Think poster boys John Travolta and Tom Cruise, or leading celebrity devotees like Lisa Marie Presley.

So it's not surprising that along with a large Scientology Church and a Scientology "testing centre" - as well as plenty of sidewalk recruiters - Tinseltown is also home to a museum dedicated to the organisation's founder.

The L Ron Hubbard museum, or "Life Exhibition" as it is called, is housed in a grand and gilded historic landmark building on Hollywood Boulevard constructed in 1923. The building was acquired and refurbished by the Scientologists in 1988.

Visitors are greeted by a large bust of L Ron Hubbard and a panel inscribed with testimonials from various famous names, including Australians Nicole Kidman and singer Kate Ceberano.

Museum manager Lissa Uvizl, who will take me on a personal guided tour of the museum, looks slightly worried when she sees me taking notes from the panel.

"Please don't quote them," she says. "They didn't authorise their quotes for outside the museum."

I follow her behind a closed door into the exhibition rooms.

The first exhibit includes a photo of Hubbard as a young boy scout along with his 21 merit badges.

"Boy scouts played a very big part in his life," says Uvizl of Hubbard, who was born on March 13, 1911 in Nebraska and grew up in Helena, Montana, the son of a US naval officer.

Hubbard later studied engineering, becoming a licensed glider pilot known as "Flash Hubbard".

In his twenties he discovered a gift of the gab and began writing, directing his literary skills to romance, adventure and science fiction.

According to an audio visual presentation of his life that Uvizl activates with remote control, Hubbard became the "undisputed legend of American pulp fiction", and had a stint writing screenplays for Columbia Pictures.

So prolific a writer was Hubbard that, according to a certificate in the museum, in 2006 he was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the author with the most published works (1,089).

The museum contains a large collection of these books, printed in magazine-style books with racy covers.

(Uvizl denies my request to take a photo of the impressive collection, saying, "we can provide you with any pictures you need - I've tried to take them and believe me, the light is terrible".)

The museum represents Hubbard's other sci-fi exploits, including his book Battlefield Earth and the 2000 box office flop of the same name staring John Travolta.

In 1937, the presentation informs me, Hubbard isolated "the dynamic principle of existence", which he described in a book, Excalibur. He followed in his father's footsteps to become a naval officer during WWII, which brought him to Australia, among other locations in the Atlantic and Pacific.

While being treated in a military hospital for injuries suffered in combat, Hubbard discovered he could help patients recover by "eliminating mental blocks".

He authored the bible of Scientology, Dianetics, on May 9, 1950, and the controversial religion was born.

The museum contains a number of auditoriums, including one with a mysterious stage behind a curtain.

Uvizl quickly pulls the curtain shut as I pass.

"It's being renovated," she says.

But I sneak a quick peek, and see something resembling a volcano.

I'm then ushered through to a room containing a range of weird looking electronic devices which Uvizl informs me are "electropsychometers", or e-meters.

Each consists of a box with dials and gauges and two metal cylinders connected to it by wires. It's used to "measure the energy of thought" during "spiritual counselling," Uvizl says.

During this process, punters delve back into their early, pre-birth and past lives.

My tour over, I decline Uvizl's offer to view a video outlining the principles of Scientology and pass by racks selling row upon row of Hubbard's book Dianetics.

Before I leave I ask if Uvizl can address a few questions about Hubbard's religion.

Do scientologists really believe in alien intervention in human events?

"Completely asinine," she says.

However, the religion teaches that we are "Thetans" who have "existed before as humans" and are "immortal spiritual beings". She adds there are "sacred scriptures" that can only be seen by people in advanced stages of Scientology study.

And what about L Ron Hubbard's widely alleged claim that "the best way to make money is to make up a religion"?

A misattribution, Uvizl insists.

Hubbard never uttered it, rather it was a quote by his contemporary George Orwell, she says.

In a strip that also houses Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and Madam Tussaud's Waxworks, the Hubbard museum is another interesting sideshow, even if it's a little heavy on the hard sell and raises more questions than it answers.

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