Author goes inside Scientology

The Gazette, Montreal/January 24, 2008

The telephone hasn't stopped ringing in days. "This is just crazy," says Ian Halperin. "They're all calling now."

Crazy is good when you are promoting a book. Even better when the callers are CBS, CNN and NBC. No surprise, though.

The callers are all in search of insights from Halperin on his incendiary Hollywood Undercover (Random House), for which the Montreal author/filmmaker posed as a gay actor to infiltrate the Church of Scientology, long rumoured to promise a "cure" for homosexuality. The book was just released on Tuesday.

With the recent release of Andrew Morton's unauthorized bio of Tom Cruise and his involvement with the church, Scientology is now on the front burner. Halperin reveals some info on Cruise's place in the church hierarchy but goes where even Morton would not dare to go.

No one will accuse Halperin, 43, of shying away from the high and mighty. His exposé on the fashion biz, Bad and Beautiful, ruffled feathers but also made it on the New York Times bestseller list five years back. He directed the doc The Cobain Case, and co-wrote (with fellow Montrealer Max Wallace) Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain, the bestselling follow-up to their book Who Killed Kurt Cobain?

It is Halperin's contention that Cobain couldn't have possibly killed himself - hence the titles of the books.

Halperin has made a career of locking horns with the well-lawyered, who can and do bite back. "That's okay, because I can be nasty and bite back myself," he cracks. "I knew Hollywood Undercover would be controversial, but the truth will prevail."

Halperin is in the fortunate position of being able to back up allegations with video he shot at the Hollywood church. "I videoed everything I did. That's why this is the first Youtube-compatible book on the market," he insists, pointing out that while readers peruse the book they can also find notations taking them to the actual footage on Youtube.

Halperin also asserts he is the first ever to shoot inside the church. "They let me in because I told them I had a rich family member who was going to invest between $10 and $100 million in Scientology if he was convinced the church was viable."

He told church officials that he was a member of the Israeli royal family. Had they checked, they would have learned there is no Israeli royal family.

"But I got what I was after. I am the first to have evidence on video that the church admits to curing people of homosexuality," says Halperin, who is in the midst of completing a documentary on the same subject, set for release this year. "Many stars associated with the church are scared to defect, because they are afraid of being outed."

Halperin claims John Travolta underwent the "auditing" process, a sort of personal counselling which can cost as much as $500,000. Like several others, Halperin, too, states the church sets up arranged marriages in an effort to cure gay members. "Two days after a male porn star had received $100,000 from the National Enquirer for an account of his supposed two-year affair with Travolta, he announced his engagement to Kelly Preston," Halperin alleges.

But Halperin concludes that the church has been less preoccupied with "sexual reparation" than with hard, cold cash. He interviews former Scientologist Michael Pattinson, who says he spent $500,000 over 18 years in search of a cure for his homosexuality. "Pattinson accuses the church of being fraudulent and has sued them," says Halperin.

"I pretty much found that everything about the church is about making as much money as possible, which doesn't really make them much different from most other religions. I have to be honest and admit I also met some nice people in the church. It's just that I have a huge problem with their discriminatory attitude toward gays."

Halperin also takes issue with Morton's claim that Tom Cruise is second in command at the church. "I discovered he's really the No. 1 man on the pole," says Halperin. "No matter what anyone says, he runs the place."

Halperin came from humble beginnings. A trained jazz saxophonist, he began as a busker outside some of this city's finest métro stations. (Nor has he forgotten those who wrote, favourably or otherwise, about his beginnings, by acknowledging them, this scribe included, in Hollywood Undercover. )

Among his books is also the wholly unauthorized Céline Dion: Behind the Fairytale.

He was the writer and composer of 27 Heaven, a satirical rock musical that played off-Broadway before heading on a cross-country tour of the U.S. last year. The play centres on a conversation in heaven between Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and the most recent arrival of the bunch, Kurt Cobain - all of whom passed away at 27 and hence this title.

Halperin now plans to concentrate on investigative projects in print and film. "I'm already doing undercover work on another project," says Halperin, who splits his time between Montreal, New York and L.A. "I'd love to say more about it, but I would blow my cover, which could lead to disastrous consequences."

Not that he hasn't been down that road before.

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