A lot of people leave Paul Thomas Anderson‘s movie “The Master” scratching their heads. It does feel as though some explanations are missing. And that feeling has translated into the movie not doing so well at the box office, while the main actors–Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams– have all been nominated for Oscars. Did Anderson leave something out, especially after showing the movie to Scientology enthusiast Tom Cruise? We just don’t know, for example, why the movie is called “The Master.”
But in the new exhaustive (and yet curiously incomplete) study of Scientology called “Going Clear” by Lawrence Wright, there’s finally at least some kind of actual tie in between the term “The Master” and Scientology–which is veiled as The Cause in “The Master.” Wright cites Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s chief associate Peggy Conway as the person who dubbed Hubbard “The Master.”
Wright writes that Hubbard, back in his early days in the 1950s, was pursuing actress Gloria Swanson to join Scientology. Wright says Conway, a South African who died in 1957, left behind papers describing her activities as chief “auditor” (the person who listens to ‘confessions’ of others). Conway wrote to Swanson in 1956 about being audited– or worn down psychologically– by Hubbard: “The Master did his Sunday best on me. He never went to bed–we talked the clock around–day after day, night after night– I was six thousand light years above Arcturus–what a genius is our Great Red Father!” (Arcturus is a bright star in the Milky Way that often turns up in sci-fi fiction.)
Wright and/or Anderson may have been trying to get more information about Conway back in 2008. (She died in 1957.) One of the very few references to her on the internet turns up on an Ex Scientology message board. http://www.forum.exscn.net/showthread.php?7149-Peggy-Conway. Someone logged in as “Anonymous Scientologist” writes: “Are there any oldtimers or researchers out there that have any information on Peggy Conway, a South African entertainer who became an auditor in the 1950s and was a “longtime friend” of Hubbard. She died in 1957 and Hubbard talked about her in the tape “Individuation”, using her death as an example of what can happen to a person who’s withholds are not cleaned up. He also wrote a poem, “Eulogy for a Friend” which has been published in the Ron the Poet/Lyricist mag. I would also like to find out if there are any pictures from the early days of Dianetics where she is included and identified. Thanks!””
Wright’s book is not the only big volume on Scientology coming out this winter. In three weeks we’ll have a memoir from Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Scientology head honcho and Tom Cruise bff David Miscavige. That book is still under wraps but should be explosive. Jenna left Scientology several years ago and has since been a vocal critic of the cult.