Church wields celebrity clout
By JOSEPH MALLIA
It is the year 3000 and the earth is enslaved by invading aliens, evil 9-foot-tall "Psychlos" with glowing amber eyes.
Now mankind's only hope is the heroic Johnny Goodboy Tyler - in an MGM film to be produced by actor John Travolta, based on a Church of Scientology novel titled "Battlefield Earth."
Thanks to Travolta's Hollywood clout, audiences worldwide may soon see this film, and get a dose of the philosophy of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
"Mankind ... is imprisoned not so much by aliens who dominate the planet, but by superstition, until the hero Johnny Goodboy Tyler...(becomes) the first to break free," Hubbard wrote.
Critics say this film, along with other Scientology media efforts, is a veiled attempt to gain converts and influence.
With books, sophisticated TV and print advertising campaigns, a 30,000-page Internet site, and its celebrity members' clout on TV sitcoms and major films, Scientology uses a range of modern media to gain influence, church critics say.
How much clout does the church have?
Apparently a great deal.
President Clinton may have sided with Scientology against the German government in hopes of having Travolta soften his portrayal of a Clinton lookalike during filming of the movie "Primary Colors," a recent report in George magazine said.
Since the church was founded in 1954, Hubbard encouraged his followers to enlist celebrities.
The policy, observers say, has paid off.
Since Travolta became a Scientologist in 1975, he has been joined by other acting heavyweights, including Tom Cruise, Cruise's wife Nicole Kidman, Travolta's wife Kelly Preston, and TV sitcom stars Kirstie Alley ("Cheers" and "Veronica's Closet") and Jenna Elfman ("Dharma & Greg"). All are outspoken church members.
"It was everything I had been looking for, answers to questions I had been asking forever. They finally got answered for me," Elfman said in an interview published in a January Sunday newspaper supplement that reached millions of readers.
And last week, Elfman, Preston and other Scientology celebrities were scheduled to appear in Boston and other cities to promote Hubbard's book "The Fundamentals of Thought."
Jazzman Chick Corea - a Chelsea native who reportedly hopes to open a nightclub in Massachusetts - leads the church's publicity battle against the German government, which is investigating Scientology for alleged fraud and anti-democratic acts.
And locally, musician Isaac Hayes hosted a reception at Roxbury Community College in Boston three years ago that helped local Scientologists bring their World Literacy Crusade learn-to-read program into the Randolph Public Schools and various inner city Boston youth agencies.
Other Scientology celebrities include actresses Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart on "The Simpsons"), Juliette Lewis ("Natural Born Killers"), Anne Archer ("Fatal Attraction)," and Elvis Presley's widow and daughter Priscilla and Lisa Marie.
The musician and congressman, Sonny Bono, who died in January, was a longtime Scientologist.
Others who took Scientology courses, or who were members - some briefly - according to published reports, include football legend John Brodie, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, author William Burroughs; singers Van Morrison, Al Jarreau and Leonard Cohen; actors Emilio Estevez, Rock Hudson, Demi Moore, Candice Bergen, Brad Pitt, Christopher Reeve, Jerry Seinfeld and Patrick Swayze; and O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark.
Also, the Observer newspaper of London recently linked actress Sharon Stone to Scientology.
Ex-Scientologists the church would like to forget include members of the suicidal Heaven's Gate cult, who were church members in the 1970s; and mass killer Charles Manson, who took church classes during a prison term that ended in 1967, before he and his cult followers massacred Sharon Tate and others.
Meanwhile, the church is conducting an 18-month advertising and publicity blitz, with 38 different TV ads aired to reach 70 percent of North American households. This campaign is intended to counteract negative publicity from Germany and from the death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson, a Dallas native who died during a church retreat in Florida, according to an August report in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
Scientology-linked groups including Narconon also advertise on local cable channels in the Boston area, said anti-cult activist Steve Hassan of Cambridge.
Critics say, however, that the church's celebrities never have to face the hardships faced by ordinary Scientologists, who often can't afford to pay the required tens of thousands of dollars for courses and instead must trade their full-time labor.
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