The Bare-Faced Messiah Interviews

Interview with Nieson Himmel, Los Angeles, 14 August 1986


Nieson Himmel was a young journalist with a keen interest in science fiction. That was how he had met the chemist Jack Parsons after the Second World War, and it was through Parsons that he met L. Ron Hubbard. He actually shared a room with Hubbard in Parsons' rambling mansion in Pasadena, where Hubbard and Parsons practiced bizarre sex magick and vied for the love of Sara Northrup (who later eloped with Hubbard and became his second wife). It was an exotic environment, to say the least. He remembered it vividly in the following interview, carried out by Russell Miller in the course of research for the unauthorised biography of L. Ron Hubbard, Bare-Faced Messiah.

[Jack] Parsons was a superb chemist. He had this big old house up in Pasadena, among some huge old mansions. It was built by some rich people at the turn of the century. The coach houses were still back there. The Parsons family started Parsons Engineering and was very wealthy. His speciality was explosives. He was a follower of Aleister Crowley. He used to have meetings at there. I knew him through science fiction, we had meetings of the science fiction society out there. They used to have these meetings come down the stairs in black robes. There were two pyramid sort of things where they held their services. He converted the place into apartments, about 19 of them. He put an ad in the paper, "Apartments for rent." (This was at the end of the war when no one could find a place to live.) "Must not believe in God."

There was an Englishman living in the coach house who was one of the original Crowley followers. Parsons made no secret that he was a follower. There were woodcuts in Crowley books and Parsons had some of the originals. There were two crowds out there - science fiction and Crowley.

I roomed with Hubbard. He was straight out of the Navy. He had a uniform with lieutenant's bars. He used to fill us all with these goddamn stories of his. Because I was a newspaperman I was a lot more sceptical. His military career was pretty Goddamn hard to find because wherever you said, that is where he had been. He claimed he was in England, in the "Royal Museum", going down this hall, and three scientists came walking out of an office, spotted him, grabbed him and took him into office and started measuring his skull, saying this was a perfect example of whatever it was and then pushing him out without a word. I said, "gee, that's a hell of a great story, except I think I read that in George Bernard Shaw." Another time he told a story of being in the Aleutians in command of a destroyer and came near some ice foes and a polar bear jumped onto the ship chasing everyone around. It's another good story that Cory Ford wrote in his book about the Aleutians. I was not one of his favourite people - I didn't believe what he said and I wouldn't lend him any money.

He wanted to go out to the Institute of Mental Science. I took him out and waited for him about an hour, hour and half.

He told me, along with several other people, that he was going to start a religion because he wanted to make some money.

Parsons was living with beautiful girl called Betty Northrup who I understand came from a rich family. She was beautiful, just lovely. This girl did not get married. Hubbard came in, he was irresistable to women, swept girls off their feet. There were other girls living there with guys and he went through them one by one. Finally he fastened on to Betty. Parsons was desperately in love, but could not countenance marriage because of his beliefs. The atmosphere became very tense. You would sit at the table and the hostility between Hubband and Parsons was tangible. Eventually he just plain ran off with Betty. Betty was not her name, Sara was her name. Everyone knew her as Betty, beautiful, sweet as nice as could be. She had dropped out of school to be with Parsons.

I heard stories about Parsons chasing him. When they ran off it was the last time I saw Hubbard and Betty.

There was a bunch of people there, 18-20 in the big house and 5-6 in the coach house. When he broke it up into apartments, I think there were about 19 of them. The atmosphere because so tense... Lou Goldstone, an artist, was living there and he was my entree to the place.

Parsons was experimenting one night with a chemical [nitroglycerine] and literally blew himself up. Chemists since then have told me that no one who knows much about chemicals would mess with it. I can only think that Parsons committed suicide.

He [Hubbard] was a fascinating story teller. Everyone believed him. But I had read a lot and recognised a lot of stories. I'd try to trip him up and say, "if you said once you were in such a theatre you'd have had to have..." He did not care much for me at all. He'd laugh it off. He was a real conman. He was very sharp and quick.

The polar bear story is an old, old story in folklore. It goes way back to the old explorers [e.g. Nelson].

He talked interminably about his war experiences. I'd say, "you couldn't have been in both of those battles." He said he was on the staff of so many great admirals, I think one was Halsey. I called a friend of mine who was on the admiral's staff and he said, "Shit, I've never heard of him!"

I think Lou Goldstone introduced Hubbard to the house. Although I think Parsons was an early science fiction fan.

Lou said he stumbled into a couple of meetings. I presume it was a black mass. People talked about it quite openly.

He had circulated among science fiction fans. He may have been in New York. I think he had come straight out of the Navy. I can't stand phoneys and he was so obviously a phoney. But he was not a dummy. He could charm the shit out of anybody and had tremendous personality. But completely worthless.

Science fiction fans in those days were nerds. Lots of strange people found refuge in science fiction. I would get into big arguments with Lou about Dianetics - "do you really believe this shit?" I never understood why people followed him all the way.

Betty was beautiful - the most gorgeous, intelligent, sweet, wonderful person. I was so much in love with her, but I knew she was a woman I could never have. Hubbard was making out with her right in front of Parsons, living off his largesse. How could he do it? He'd already had affairs with other girls in the house. Betty was a raving beauty.

Jack was one of the early people at JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory). I think one of the things he was doing was working on something called flare [actually jet] assisted take-off, equivalent to after-burner. The house was being converted into apartments when I left. People ate together at a big table in the kitchen.

Alva Rogers was my first roomer, then Ron.


Last updated 10 Jan 1997