Star of Scientology recruitment film wants his money back
By Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin, Times Staff Writers
St Petersberg Times (Florida)
January 24, 2010
If you watched TV in the past three decades, you probably saw Larry Anderson. He appeared on more than 30 shows, including Charlie's Angels, Mork and Mindy, Desperate Housewives and Mad Men. He hosted three game shows and had bit parts in eight movies.
He got lots of parts but isn't well known. Except to Scientologists.
Anderson starred in the Church of Scientology's 1996 film Orientation, a 40-minute promotion central to church recruiting efforts. Translated into 15 languages, it has been shown at church facilities worldwide not only to potential recruits but also to parishioners and staffers, to get them more involved in Scientology.
At the film's dramatic climax, Anderson is a portrait of rectitude as the background music swells and the camera zooms in:
"If you leave this room after seeing this film and walk out and never mention Scientology again, you are perfectly free to do so. It would be stupid. But you can do it. You can also dive off a bridge or blow your brains out. That is your choice.
"But, if you don't walk out that way, if you continue with Scientology, we will be very happy with you. And you will be very happy with you."
Now, after 33 years as a Scientologist, the past 13 as the voice extolling the virtues of Scientology and the perils of walking away, Anderson is walking away. He says the church failed to deliver the spiritual gains it promised.
He also wants his money back, nearly $120,000 he says he prepaid for services never taken. A church policy says parishioners can get repayments, but if they do, they cannot come back.
Eleven months ago, Anderson met with Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis to discuss his request for repayment. Anderson, 58, put a tape recorder on the table between them.
The 90-minute tape affords a rare look at how the church dealt with a high-profile defector and his demand for his money.
Davis pressed Anderson for assurance he would not broadcast his decision to leave Scientology or join the ranks of its critics. Anderson refused, saying he was entitled to his money without conditions.
Anderson said the church was just holding it on account. "I want that money back."
In a written response to the St. Petersburg Times, Davis repeated what he told Anderson: The payments were charitable donations.
"The church is under no obligation to return any donations received," he said. "And any refund of donations lies within the sole discretion of the church."
It's "offensive and reprehensible," Davis wrote, that Anderson "apparently feels he must punctuate his departure with a public attack." Anderson himself is to blame for not getting back his money, Davis said. "None of Mr. Anderson's donations have been returned solely because he declined to follow the prescribed policy and procedures."
That's "unbelievable," Anderson said. The church calls prepayments for services "donations" because "it serves their purposes down the line, should you ask for a repayment."
He did follow procedure, he said. It was Davis who insisted they meet to discuss his accounts and request for repayment. Davis gave no further instructions, except to wait for a reply, Anderson said. "It's just evasive techniques to try to make it look like I'm the one who didn't follow procedure."
BAND ON THE RUN
Anderson's story begins June 24, 1976, at a Beverly Hills party said to have cost $75,000, serious money back then for a night of fun.
The night before, Paul McCartney's band Wings had played the Los Angeles Forum, the final concert of their U.S. tour. He and his wife, Linda, threw a "wrap party" at the rented estate of silent film star Harold Lloyd. The guest list was a who's who of music and film stars.
And there was entertainment. The lineup included a 24-year-old magician, Larry Anderson, whose agent got him on the playbill. He shared a dressing room with Chuck Norris and watched John Belushi do a hilarious impersonation of Joe Cocker.
Anderson bounded on stage and performed three illusions. He tore a newspaper into tiny pieces and, with a wave of the arms, restored it whole. He levitated a young woman on the tips of three swords. For his finale, he locked her in a wooden crate, climbed atop it and raised a curtain to conceal himself from the audience. He counted to three, dropped the curtain, and, behold: He and the woman had traded places, he inside the crate, she standing on top.
Milling about afterward, he struck up a conversation with a woman who asked him his professional goals. He liked magic, he told her, but he really wanted to be an actor. She gave him an address on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood. Go, she said, this place teaches aspiring actors the skills to be stars.
The address turned out to be the Church of Scientology's Celebrity Centre. Entertainers, artists and leaders in any field can study Scientology there and receive counseling called "auditing," in which emotional reactions are monitored on an electronic device called an "e-meter."
That first visit Anderson paid $30 for a communications course. He liked it, signed up for another course and soon became a Scientologist.
Three years later, in 1979, he got his break in Hollywood, playing fraternity president Harlan Ramsey in the NBC sitcom Brothers and Sisters. He was featured on the cover of Celebrity, the church magazine that focuses on notable Scientologists. Five nights a week he reported to church facilities in Hollywood for study sessions, he said, and other than extended breaks for acting jobs, he maintained his study pace "every bit of 10 years."
In 1986, he got a regular role on another TV series, playing Lucille Ball's son-in-law in Life with Lucy. He was on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for eight minutes long enough to catch the eye of TV producer Ralph Edwards, who was watching from home. He hired Anderson to host Truth or Consequences.
Anderson also auditioned for parts in Scientology films. Casting directors from the church's Golden Era Productions film studios east of Los Angeles held auditions at the Celebrity Centre. They chose finalists and sent clips for final selection to David Miscavige, Scientology's leader.
Anderson said the church cast him in about 10 training films. His first starring role was in an auditing tutorial, E-meter drills, No. 5: How to set up a session.
In 1995, the church sent out a casting call, through customary Hollywood channels, for the lead role in Orientation.
Anderson auditioned against dozens of actors, many of them non-Scientologists. Several church executives also read for the part. When cast, Anderson negotiated his pay: $750 for a full day of shooting, lesser amounts for part-day shoots. Over two years of filming and production, he said the role paid him about $35,000.
The film exudes a message of pride, promise and opportunity. It's a mix of testimonials and an Anderson-narrated introduction to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard his philosophies, writings and lectures and to auditing, which a church official in the film says can raise a person's IQ.
Miscavige sent Anderson a note congratulating him on his "brilliant" performance in which "you WERE the part ...
"There isn't another person on Earth who could have performed it as you did. I know you did justice to what LRH envisioned. As a result, millions have you to thank for putting them on the path that leads up!"
Orientation premiered in 1996, Anderson's 20th year in Scientology.
"I believed every word, and I had to believe it" to be convincing, he says now. "But the operative word is 'believe.' For me, this was faith."
That's because Anderson's own counseling experiences had not gone well. "I had a lot of what you would call disappointing auditing," he said.
After 20 years and hundreds of hours of courses and auditing sessions, Anderson was dissatisfied with his lack of progress up Scientology's Bridge to Total Freedom. Hubbard's grade chart outlines the sequential steps one must take to advance through the Bridge's "Operating Thetan" levels to total spiritual awareness.
Church supervisors helped Anderson past his discouragement. He said he told himself: "Well, the level that is going to crack your case is always the next one you are going to do.
"For me it was like, 'Wait until you get to the OT levels.' This carrot was always dangled." He said he had faith that "a panoply of wonders" was ahead, in the higher spiritual levels.
To be believable pitching spiritual rewards he had not experienced, Anderson says now, he drew on faith alone. "It was a little bit weird without having a personal, subjective reality that I know the words I'm saying are true.
"But everybody who watches me is going to believe that I do know what I'm saying is true. So, therefore, to some degree, I'm a charlatan."
PAID IN ADVANCE
As was his custom for administrative matters, Hubbard wrote a "policy letter" to set down Scientology's rules for "Refunds and Repayments."
"A refund is a return of money after service," it says. A parishioner dissatisfied with a service has 90 days to apply for a refund.
A repayment is different. For someone who prepays, it is "a return of money without the service being taken." There is no time limit to seek a repayment.
The policy was among many the Internal Revenue Service reviewed before it granted the church tax exempt status in 1993. The church told the IRS its policy was "exceedingly fair" and said a dissatisfied parishioner "simply has to make a proper request for his donations back, agree to forgo further services and his donations will be returned."
The policy pays off for Scientology as well, the church told the IRS. It allows "parishioners who are very happy with Scientology to carry on without the unhappy few in their midst."
For each of the eight years after the IRS granted Scientology tax-exempt status, Anderson put thousands of dollars into church accounts, prepaying for services he anticipated taking. Anderson claimed annual tax deductions for money spent on services, as the IRS allows Scientologists to do. Church members are not allowed to deduct money spent on tangible items, including books, e-meters and DVDs.
He put more than $100,000 on account at the Celebrity Centre and the Advanced Org, or church, in Hollywood, where he did all his auditing and course work. He spent about one-third of that money.
He said he put an additional $36,947 into an account at the church's international spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, paying in advance for services he would take there after working his way up the Bridge to OT VI and OT VII. He never tapped into any of that. He came to church facilities in Clearwater only once to perform, not to take services.
Anderson also put $11,440 on account at the church's cruise ship, the Freewinds, he said, expecting he eventually would ascend to OT VIII, the highest spiritual level. That training is available only aboard the ship.
It was a heady time for Anderson. After Orientation was released, he made the cover of Celebrity again, with the headline "Interview with Actor and Class IV Auditor Larry Anderson."
Spending the money was a "great feeling," he said recently. He viewed it as contributing to his salvation while helping advance the church's broader mission. Acknowledging a bit of an ego boost, he recalled, "You go around saying, 'I got to pay for my Bridge today.' And everybody is patting you on the back."
In his 33 years in Scientology, Anderson estimates he spent nearly $150,000 on services, apart from the $119,711 that he says remains unused in his accounts.
By late 2008, Anderson was frustrated with more than his auditing.
He brought five recruits to the church but all of them left, weary of pushy supervisors. Some told Anderson they were urged to join the church staff, and others were pressed to work fewer hours at their secular jobs to leave more time for Scientology study.
Anderson also objected to church leaders urging parishioners to repurchase the updated 18-volume set of Hubbard's basic teachings, for $3,000. The church blamed stenographer and editing errors that had to be cleaned up.
"These books were published 20 years before LRH died. How is it we're just discovering that stenographers made mistakes or rearranged pages?"
Through the years, Anderson said, he bought re-released books multiple times. "Each time they said, 'We got it perfect now.' "
He was among thousands of Scientologists gathered in Los Angeles to hear Miscavige's filmed announcement that the re-edited basic volumes were being released. "I looked around and everybody's in a standing ovation, getting their checkbooks out. I thought, 'Oh, my God, we are sheeple.' Not me. I'm out."
Davis, the church spokesman, rejects Anderson's reaction as "absurd." Hubbard himself launched the re-edit in 1984, two years before he died, Davis said. As part of the project, the church recovered and restored several lectures Hubbard gave in the 1950s that existed only on deteriorated tapes. Translated now into 15 languages, Hubbard's 18 volumes, plus 280 lectures, are available to more people than ever, Davis said. The materials also are available at no charge in church reading rooms.
Anderson told a high-level church executive his concerns about the costs of the re-released books and his frustration with his years "grinding and grinding" in auditing sessions. He also asked about anti-Scientology material he read on the Internet.
The church responded with one-on-one meetings, question-and-answer sessions and free auditing, he said. At times, he sat in church conference rooms, "tears running down my face," confronting what he would lose by leaving the church.
"That's 30 years of my life. It's such a stable part of my life.
My social activities, my spiritual growth, my involvement in the community and the betterment activities that the church would be involved in, the camaraderie, the parties the church integrates itself into all aspects of your life."
By the end of 2008, he was ready to give it all up.
On Feb. 3, 2009, Anderson was at the historic production lot on Melrose Avenue, known now as Raleigh Studios, preparing to audition for an episode of ABC's Castle. He bumped into old friend Jason Beghe, who was auditioning for a role on the same show. Beghe, a Scientologist from 1994 to 2007, had become an outspoken church critic.
Anderson told Beghe he was leaving the church. Beghe hugged him, Anderson said.
About two weeks later, the two met in Burbank at the home of Marc Headley, a former member of Scientology's work force, the Sea Org. Headley, another vehement critic, sued the church in 2009, alleging that he was paid unfair wages and that working conditions at the church's 500-acre campus east of Los Angeles violated labor laws. The church denied the allegations, and the case has not been resolved.
At Headley's home, the three speculated on the potential impact of the star of Orientation leaving Scientology. In a "spur-of-the-moment thing," Anderson recalled, Beghe phoned Davis.
"Tommy, I'm sitting here with Larry Anderson.
Larry has decided to leave the church and wants all his money he has on account."
Davis requested a meeting, Anderson said, and named the place: the Amarano Hotel in Burbank. Davis brought his colleague, Jessica Feshbach.
Anderson brought a tape recorder. He said he no longer trusted church leaders.
It was Feb. 27, 2009. Anderson spoke first, saying he wanted to leave the church, "amicably as can be done. I'm not looking to make waves. But I've been in the church 33 years. It's not delivering what I expected it to do and be for me.
"I've decided I no longer want to be a Scientologist. And since I put a lot of money on account, I want that money back. And I'll go my merry way."
They discussed the church's policy; Anderson said he understood he would be expelled once the church returned his money.
"We're under no obligation to do that (return money)," Davis said. "If you gave donations to any other church and went back and said, 'I went to confession, confession didn't work for me and I'm not happy so I want all my donations back,' they would laugh at you."
Anderson countered: "There is a set payment for each service. I put that money on account. Those services were not received. They were not donations to the church."
Davis said he wasn't trying to make the session contentious. "What we are faced with right now is a scenario whereby you are asking for your money back, and you want to leave the church. That's frankly a relatively simple request and one that is fulfilled when it is asked. It happens, albeit rarely, but it does happen."
Good, Anderson said, "we're on the same page."
But Davis said he was troubled that Anderson's "opening salvo" came in the phone call from Beghe, whom Davis had described as "somebody who has made it currently his life's work to not only attack my religion and my church but attack me personally."
Davis said Beghe had called him with "what was essentially an extortionist type of communication," demanding concessions from the church, and also saying, "Larry wants his money."
Davis added: "So when you have somebody like that as your ambassador and he specifically chooses to call me to communicate it, it reeks of a different agenda.
"I would go so far as to wonder," Davis said, "that if, in fact, the agenda is that once you receive your money, you have some other intention or some intention to take your grievances public."
Anderson: "Why concern ourselves with things that are all speculation?"
Minutes later, Feshbach said, "If you're connected to people who are dedicated to the destruction of the Church of Scientology International, which Marc Headley is, and Jason Beghe is
we just need you to be straight with us so we understand exactly where you're coming from so we can inform you" of their tactics. "That's where we're coming from."
Anderson: "I'll tell you where I'm coming from. I'm a guy who's dissatisfied with Scientology, and I want my money back."
"Of course," Feshbach said.
Anderson: "Aside from that or beyond that, my life is my life. And who I associate with is my choice."
Minutes later, Davis zeroed in on Anderson's prominence within Scientology, what he called "the main crux of the conversation."
"You're the guy who is Orientation. You're the one who's saying 'we' in it." He added: "You have to realize that communicating that, stating you are no longer a Scientologist, to either other Scientologists or to the public at large, has the potential of creating quite an effect."
It would be "very upsetting," Davis said, "to people who are your friends." He added: "I think that there has to be some due consideration made to the church and to those Scientologists by you in how you go about this."
"Such as?" Anderson asked. "How I go about this?"
"I don't think that's too much to ask," Davis said.
"How do I go about it?"
"Well, you mentioned wanting to get your money and disappear," Davis said. "Certainly keeping it to yourself and not talking about it would certainly be appropriate and us working out some agreements on that basis."
Anderson: "Why? Why am I supposed to clam up about how I feel about life? Excuse me: I should disappear and not talk to anybody? Did you just say that?"
Davis: "You just said you wanted to get your money and disappear
Anderson: "You will not see me around the church anymore."
Davis: "I understand that, Larry."
Anderson: "But don't talk to anybody? I mean, that's what you just said."
Davis: "I didn't say, 'Don't talk to anybody.' "
Anderson: "This is not an extortion. Or is it?"
Anderson: "So what does that mean? You're looking for me to just get my money and disappear and don't talk to anybody. That's bulls---. There's a First Amendment in this country."
As they talked, Davis kept saying he was concerned Anderson was providing no assurance he wouldn't stir up trouble for the church.
He told Anderson: "There is no effort on your part to say, 'Look, I just want my money back. I have no intention to attack. I won't be doing a YouTube video. I won't be feeding data to Jason and Marc to speak on my behalf. I have no intention to do media.' You are not saying any of those things."
Feshbach told Anderson: "We're willing to give you your money back, to a degree. But we also don't have to give you your money back, and I think you've forgotten that. So we're just trying to work through some of these issues so we can help you get what you want and get what we want."
Anderson said the church couldn't condition the release of money on who he chooses as friends or what he says in public. "You're just worried that I'm somebody's puppet, and I understand that because that's your job.
"But there is no way for me to tell you what my actions are going to be beyond when I walk out the front door, and I know I'm going to get in my car and I'm going to drive to the gym."
As the meeting was ending, Davis hinted at resolution. "Obviously there's a few things just to work out in terms of drawing up the paperwork and putting together all the pieces ... to bring this to a close."
Anderson left thinking the church would get back to him after comparing its records with documents he gave Davis copies of his own spreadsheets for 1994 through 2000 that detail amounts he put in various accounts and amounts debited when he took services.
But 11 months later, he says he has heard nothing.
Anderson's "donations" have not been returned, church attorney Anthony Michael Glassman said, because he has not followed clearly spelled-out procedures. Glassman said Anderson is trying to "sidestep and avoid" church policy by talking to the media.
Anderson said he followed the procedure he was given. "Because of my high profile, Tommy mandated that I meet with him to go through the ramifications of what I am doing and review various references pertaining to repayment. He also instructed me to bring summaries of my church accounts.
"I did precisely what was asked of me and was given no further actions to carry out.
That was 11 months ago. It's convenient for them to now assert that I refused to follow 'standard church procedure' when, in fact, Tommy decreed that I proceed otherwise."
It's misleading for the church to call money placed on account a "donation," he said, because his prepayments were for specific services.
"Should you ever commit the sin of requesting a refund of unused monies, the church now asserts that your money was donated, without reservations, to be used for important humanitarian programs. It's a blatant corruption of the word 'donation.' "
He acknowledges he has not sent the church so much as a followup e-mail. He said he drafted demand letters but hasn't mailed them.
In their February meeting, Davis told Anderson, "It's going to cost us a couple million dollars" to re-do the church films he was in.
In April, the church's film studio, Golden Era Productions, sent out casting notices announcing auditions for a series of in-house education and training films.
Among the roles: an on-screen narrator with a "leading man look."
Joe Childs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at email@example.com
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