Robert Anston Heinlein was one of a select band of writers who transformed science fiction writing. When he joined the pulp magazine “Astounding Science Fiction”, the genre specialised in carelessly written, cheap entertainment.
Under a new editor, John W Campbell Jr, Heinlein joined a select band of writers who transformed the genre with well-written, scientifically plausible stories which dealt with contemporary themes and concerns.
His biography is included here for the (brief) sections which deal with his association with L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology who was at that time also making a precarious living writing for pulp magazines – Including “Astounding Science Fiction.”
Heinlein was a career US Navy officer. After an encounter with TB, he was sidelined, unwillingly spending the Second World engaged in research and engineering work as a civilian, when he began the stories which would transform pulp SF into a mature literary genre.
It’s a long, detailed, book about Heinlein, so I have extracted the story that it tells about the association between Heinlein, Hubbard and John Whiteside Parsons and present it below – from the perspective of a Scientology-watcher.
Heinlein, Hubbard and Parsons – A Strange Trinity
Helinlein and Hubbard first met circa 1940, when they both attended a Kriegspiel (a naval war game using wooden models) organised by a fellow writer. Heinlein had been impressed by the apparently realistic treatment of military command in Hubbard’s story “Final Blackout”, and,, for a time, they continued to meet as members of the ‘Manana Literary Society,’ an informal discussion group for idealistic science-fiction writers.
By 1942 Heinlein was working as a civilian mechanical engineer and administrator at the Naval Aircraft Factory in the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, where pressure suits for high-altitude pilots were being developed.
In 1944 Heinlein and Hubbard (now an officer in the US navy), met in Philadelphia during a unsuccessful brainstorming session that Heinlein had organised with fellow science-fiction writers. The aim was to originate new ideas to combat the Kamikaze threat that inflicting such terrible casualties on the US Navy.
While other attendees were very suspicious of the wild stories Hubbard told about himself (which included descriptions of the many and varied war wounds that he had not, in fact received) Heinlein took Hubbard seriously. Perhaps he projected on to Hubbard the fighting role that he so earnestly desired for himself.
Soon after this meeting, Heinlein was assigned a ‘crash priority’ project to develop ‘radomes’ – non-metallic enclosures that would serve not only to protect radar installations in aircraft, but also make them more aerodynamic. This was an extremely sensitive mission, at a time when RADAR was a top-secret force multiplier of the utmost importance. It is tragically ironic that Heinlein, who significantly advanced the war effort, should have envied and admired an incompetent ‘Naval Officer’ like Hubbard who, at his best, wasted resources and got in the way.
As the war approached its end, Heinlein and his wife went on tour of the USA. At a dinner in Pasadena they met the pioneering rocket scientist John Whiteside Parsons. Parsons had just sold his interest in the solid rocket boosters he had developed to provide military aircraft with a ‘jet assisted take off’ capability, and Heinlein hoped to interest in joining his campaign to send a rocket to the moon.
So, in 1945 the man who wanted to send a rocket to the moon years before the Apollo project, met the man who invented the technology which was developed into the solid-rocket boosters attached to the space shuttle, and most other contemporary space launch vehicles.
Heinlein and his wife next met Hubbard in Murrieta Hot Springs. After spending time in hospital for a (non-existent) stomach ulcer Hubbard had been assigned temporary duty in Southern California, and travelled to the spa to spend some time with the Heinleins. In typical Hubbard style, it was here that he probably embarked on an affair with Heinlein’s wife, Leslyn.
After the war, Heinlein and Leslyn set up home – and invited a number of fellow writers who were now being demobilised to stay with them, while they found their feet. Hubbard accepted this offer. Perhaps because Heinlein now spent more time with him Hubbard’s personal instability made itself apparent. Hubbard revealed a tendency to obsessively pursue unrealistic projects – then abandon them and become depressed – classic symptoms of bipolar disorder that he presented throughout his life.
Heinlein, ever sensitive to the fact that he had not fought in the war, put Hubbard’s behaviour down to the trauma and injuries he had supposedly suffered during his service (which were entirely fictional – Hubbard never saw combat). When a real Veteran, John Arwine, arrived for to stay with Heinlein they invented a worthwhile project which they also hoped would engage and stabilise Hubbard – a plan to organise all Scientists so that they would deal with the new threat posed to civilisation by atomic weapons.
This may be another of Heinlein’s ideas that Hubbard would, years later, exploit by creating a fraudulent organisation with similar aims called, “Allied Scientists of the World“, and writing worthless books like “All About Radiation”.
In December 1945, Heinlein’s writing career was taking off. He generously made another attempt to help Hubbard to adjust to civilian life.
Heinlein offered Hubbard a contract to rewrite his early (and unpublished) novel, “For Us, the Living” which he had created back in 1938. Hubbard signed a generous contract that would have given him 50% of the profits. Soon after, he left Hubbard’s home to move in with Jack Parsons, and nothing more was heard of the project. Hubbard had passed up a chance to have his name associated with that of man who would later become a science-fiction legend.
Heinlein had the last laugh (albeit posthumously). “For Us the Living: A Comedy of Customs“, was published in 2003 complete with a an introductory essay by Spider Robinson, after the only typescript was discovered abandoned in a garage. By this time Heinlein’s reputation was such that there was a market for unpublished early work that would reveal how he developed as writer.
Parson’s had inherited a rambling house, and allowed people who interested him to stay there rent-free. This bohemian company now included Hubbard. The Story of Parson’s life, and this association is related in detail in the books “Strange Angel” and “Love and Rockets.”
Hubbard seemed to have disappeared from Heinlein’s life. Ever dutiful, Heinlein forwarded Hubbard’s Navy pension cheque to Parson’s address, and wrote to Hubbard with his new telephone number and to ask where he should send Hubbard’s mail. There was no reply.
In 1946 Heinlein met Parsons, and was introduced to Marjorie Cameron – the woman who participated, with Parsons and Hubbard, in the strange ‘Magickal’ rituals that Parsons was now consumed with. She didn’t like Heinlein, pronouncing him “Too Hollywood”.
For his part, when Heinlein learned of “Allied Enterprises” (a company financed by Parsons with the stated purpose of buying small private vessels on the East Coast of the USA, and transporting them to California where they could be sold at a profit) he was seriously concerned. In a letter to John Arwine written in 1946 Heinlein wrote:
I don’t understand Ron’s current activities. I am considerably disturbed by them – not angry but disturbed on his own account. I don’t think he is doing himself any good. As near as I can tell, at a distance he seems to be off on some sort of Big Operation tear, instead of straightening himself out and getting re-established in his profession.
The fact that he wrote to Arwine, that Hubbard being off an a “Big Operation tear” (and capitalised “Big Operation”) suggests that Heinlein thought Hubbard was under the influence of the manic phase of his bipolar disorder, and no good would come of the project.
As usual Heinlein was too charitable. The company was a pretext for Hubbard to separate Parsons from his money. Hubbard bought three ships (supposedly for the business) then absconded in one of them. He took with him not only the remainder of Parson’s money, but also his girlfriend Betty Northrup. Parson’s subsequently recovered two vessels (a yacht and a three-masted schooner) after legal action which also dissolved the partnership.
Hubbard came out of the dissolution of the company the owner of a three-masted schooner (which he sold) despite never having contributed any funds. Parsons never recovered from either the betrayal or the financial blow. They never met again.
While Parsons was suing Hubbard, Heinlein took in one of Hubbard’s discarded girlfriends, Vida Jameson, the daughter of Malcolm Jameson, a deceased Naval officer who had been a science-fiction. writer.
She has been a WAAC during the war. When she was demobilised, Hubbard wrote to her and offered her a job as the bookkeeper and business manager of “Madcap Enterprises” an umbrella company that managed Parson’s various business enterprises. Unfortunately for Jameson, Parsons talent as a rocket scientist was not not matched by his business acumen. Before “Allied Enterprises” Parsons, Hubbard and Northrup had created four or five companies with Parsons money, which had all collapsed in chaos, leaving Jameson to deal with the fallout.
After Hubbard absconded with Northrup (and Parson’s money) Jameson was destitute. Heinlein and his wife took her in to their Hollywood home, and she lived wit them until 1947. During this time she published her first story (The Thirteenth Trunk). This appeared in the “Post” alongside one of Heinlein’s, and the rights for radio broadcast were bought by ABC radio. This achievement, and the contacts she had made during her association with the Heinleins helped her to establish a career as a literary agent – which included selling a story by Jack Parsons.
Shortly afterwards, Hubbard wrote to Heinlein. This letter was an clumsy attempt to mend their relationship which had broken down when Hubbard had caused trouble with Leslyn’s sister by proposing a mysterious “China venture” to her young nephews – a typical Hubbard fantasy whose content they found inappropriate. Heinlein wrote back:
No, it was enticing a boy, a son of another veteran, to whom I had been left in locis parentis. When my sister-in-law called me – China – knives – guns etc – your goose was cooked with me.
As a wounded veteran I am still obligated towards you and will help if I find you down. and out, but I no longer trust you. You may show this letter to anyone you wish.
I think a lot of those ribbons on your chest, even if Polly doesn’t. You’re an authentic war hero, even though a phony gentleman. I’ll give you money to get you out of a jam, but I don’t want you in my home.
Years later, in 1987, a book by investigative journalist Russell Miller, called “Bare Faced Messiah” was published in the UK. It used newly discovered sources to demolish Hubbard’s account of his war record. Despite the claims made by the Church of Scientology to this day, Hubbard’s Naval career was farcical.
Russell revealed that Hubbard had been removed from command of a small submarine hunter for incompetence, and that he had neither seen combat nor been wounded. His service medals were routine. The medal ribbons that Heinlein so admired may well have been fraudulent, as they would not support Hubbard’s claims.
Heinlein felt it to be his duty to fight for his country in the Second World War. He could not do so, for health reasons. Instead he did valuable war work that advanced the military technology of the time. Despite his physical infirmities, he did honourable service. Hubbard mercilessly exploited Heinlein’s respect for military veterans, and his sensitivity about his own civilian status blinded him to the fact Hubbard was a fraud.
According to his wife, Heinlein never read “Bare Faced Messiah” before he died, and so was never disillusioned. Judge for yourself whether this was a good or bad thing.