I had to admit, when I heard about Michael Fairman's explosive exit from Scientology (see our story about it here), my first reaction was, "Michael who?"
His face certainly was familiar, but I wasn't sure where I'd seen it before...
"Penske File! That's what people yell at me," Fairman told me this morning in a phone call. "Most people recognize me for two shows I did on Firefly and one show on Seinfeld. If you mention 'Penske File,' people recognize me."
Fairman is also a regular on The Young and the Restless, and plays the husband to Jeanne Cooper, who has been on the show for more than 30 years.
But Fairman also had another distinction: for several years, he was the face of Scientology.
"For about three years they played an infomercial having to do with Dianetics," Fairman says. The ad encouraged people to call in for a copy of the L. Ron Hubbard book and some other materials. "According to Jeff Hawkins, who was head of marketing at that time, thousands of these kits were sold through that infomercial," he says.
In his stunning announcement that he was leaving Scientology and then the subsequent posting of his "Suppressive Person Declare" -- Scientology's excommunication document, which is rarely seen by the person being kicked out -- Fairman detailed his long loyalty to Scientology, and the many films, videos and events he participated in. He also wrote about how he impoverished himself to stay in the group, and how committed both he and his wife Joy were to advancing in the religion.
In 2009, he gave in to serious doubts about Scientology and began researching the negative press that has surrounded it in recent years. "I was really starting to question things," he says. He resented a high-pressure push by Scientology leader David Miscavige to get members to buy even more, at high prices. "It was a really hard sell, and it turned me and my wife off. I stopped going to events," he says. "Then, when Paul Haggis's letter came up in 2009, that's when I really started to look at things. It brought me to Marty Rathbun's blog, quite fearfully, because Marty had been painted as the most evil of evil."
Rathbun had been one of the highest-ranking members of Scientology until he left in 2004. He now lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, and he encourages Scientologists to leave the organization by convincing them that Scientology's leader, David Miscavige, is the source of the church's troubles, and that L. Ron Hubbard's original writings still have merit.
"Not long after that, I wanted to meet Marty," Fairman says. In November, he did just that. "That's when I crossed the Rubicon," he says, laughing. "I found him to be an incredible man. I had a wonderful time down there. I still believe in the validity of the technology. It's worked for people, and it's worked for me."
In January, as he writes on Rathbun's blog, Fairman was confronted by Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis about his interaction with Rathbun. Davis had with him Fairman's "Suppressive Person Declare," but he didn't let him see its contents. Fairman was able to obtain it later on.
"It really pissed me off. I was very, very angry," he says. "Most of it is a bunch of bullshit. And what truth is in it was taken from my PC folders." Like other Scientologists, Fairman went through "auditing," a kind of confessional counseling, and what he revealed about himself was jotted down by an auditor in a folder. Critics have long contended that Scientology keeps these folders -- which are supposed to be confidential, as in a Catholic confessional -- so that the material can be used against members if they dare defect.
Another effect of leaving or being tossed from Scientology is known as "disconnection." And Fairman says he experienced it right away. He had longtime friends in Scientology, people he had been close to for 25 or 30 years. "I lost all of my quote-unquote friends. One was my manager. They all just vanished," he says. "But I heard from a lot of people at Marty's blog. They're the only friends I have left."
As for family, Fairman says his son was never in Scientology. But his wife Joy is not so lucky. "My wife's mother and sister are no longer speaking to her. Can you imagine that? That's what they've done up and down the line for years and years," he says. "All this disconnection crap is true."
I wondered what his leaving might mean for his career.
"There is a Scientologist working on the show," he says of The Young and the Restless. "She told me, 'You have an enemy at work.' So I went to the producers. They laughed at the whole thing," he says.
"It has occurred to me that they might do something to defame my character. But look, I'm 77. I don't give a fuck," he says. "I'm a good enough actor that I think that's not going to be any concern. I mean, I don't think Tom Cruise would hire me, but I kind of dislike him for what he has allowed to go on."