L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction writer who launched Scientology, wrote an old Encinitas friend in April 1950 about his hopes for literary wealth.
“I’ve got my eye on the dollar sign,” Hubbard wrote Russell Hays, another pulp-fiction luminary. “With other books, magazine articles, lectures and maybe a rich patient or two I think I can clean up a few bucks.”
A few days later, “Dianetics” was published — and the controversial religion followed four years later.
On Thursday, Christie’s in New York will auction a batch of 26 letters from Hubbard to Hays (one sent from El Cajon). The trove of mostly typed material has an estimated value of $10,000 to $15,000.
Peter Klarnet, Christie’s senior specialist for Americana, Books & Manuscripts, said those figures are only an estimate.
“We based it on what we have seen other letters from Hubbard sell in the past,” he said. “However, nearly everything that has sold previously has never had this quality of content – most of what we have seen are routine business letters, notes of thanks, etc.”
Christie’s suspects the $10K-$15K estimate “will turn out to be quite conservative,” Klarnet told Times of San Diego.
But Scientology critic Tony Ortega has speculated: “We have a feeling a certain church is going to want to nab them.”
Lauren Wolf, a researcher for the 2013 expose of Scientology called “Going Clear” by Lawrence Wright, said she had access to photocopies of the letters through the University of Kansas’ Spencer Research Library.
She traced the letters to the Russell Hays Collection at the library, and eventually obtained a complete digital archive.
That helped Wright’s book, since the Church of Scientology typically redacts anything unflattering “or not following the church’s narrative” about Hubbard, she said.
Wolf said the Hays letters certainly include content most have never seen before.
Wright did not quote heavily from them, however, “as I believe there was a question of copyright (the church has copyrighted virtually everything written by LRH). And there is most definitely content the church would never publish,” Wolf said.
Scientology officials in Los Angeles did not respond to questions over any church interest in bidding for the Christie’s materials.
But Wolf didn’t think the church would attempt a posthumous “catch and kill.” (Hubbard died in 1986, Hays in 1989. Hubbard met Hays while on a 1934 vacation in Encinitas with his first wife, Polly.)
“KU has copies of the letters in the Hays collection,” she said, “so it’s unlikely [the church] would bid on the materials.”
Two letters are reproduced on the Christie’s website — with Hubbard remarks that would make #MeToo advocates cringe.
“I went to work and got me a flock of ambulant lunatics from a matrimonial bureau and began to work on them,” Hubbard writes in a July 1948 letter to Hays. “Six out of ten unfrigidized and went practically nympho and I had a hound’s time trying to undo the over-compensation and normalize it.”
Hubbard said “I seen my duty and I done it” but he denied any “illi[c]it relations either, you wicked man.”
Hubbard’s last long letter to Hays noted that Time magazine and The New York Times carried reports about “Dianetics.” He also noted formation of The Dianetics Foundation and a Hubbard Research Foundation.
The Hubbard group, the writer said, was for “little items like a euphoria drug I dreamed up, how the sex practices of the Ancient Zulus compare with Hollywood stenographic personnel, why inventors refuse to make money out of their inventions and a few other minor affairs.”
Klarnet said the letters were confirmed as genuine by comparing them to other known examples with Hubbard’s signature, “and we found enough similarities in the handwriting to conclude it was Hubbard.”
The batch of letters — 65 pages in all — won’t be sold separately.
“The papers are being offered as a single lot,” Klarnet said. “We believe the letters would lose their context if they were broken apart.”
Christie’s has never sold letters by Hubbard previously, he said, boasting that “this is perhaps the single-most important correspondence by Hubbard in private hands — it covers numerous important junctures in his multifaceted career.”
Thursday’s sale takes place at 20 Rockefeller Center starting at 2 p.m.
The winning bidder will fetch a Hubbard letter that ends: “I want a good home in some sunny clime, a nice yacht small enough to keep going without much expense, a pretty steno to take care of my typing, a good smart boy to look after the business affairs and thereafter a lot of peace in which to monkey around. If I can attain all this I shall be a happy man.”
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