Sunday, November 15, 2015

A review of Leah Remini's Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology

When I heard that actress Leah Remini had decided to leave Scientology, I was definitely intrigued.  Over the years, I've read a number of books about fringe religions, which I certainly consider Scientology to be.  Leah Remini is also my age and I have seen her in a number of television shows, though not her big hit, The King of Queens.  According to Remini's book, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, her sitcom, which aired for about nine years, was one of the most successful in television history.  She achieved this success while still a devout Scientologist.

I decided to read Leah Remini's book because I wanted to read her story and learn more about Scientology from the standpoint of a celebrity.  Remini was not a celebrity when she became a Scientologist.  She and her sister, Nicole, joined the church with their mother when they were young girls.  Remini's father was, from what she writes, an abusive and angry person, while her mother was more free spirited.  When her parents split up, Remini's mother sought a belief system that could help her make sense of the world.

Leah and Nicole joined the Sea Org when they were adolescents.  The Sea Org is an elite group of Scientologists who are basically supported by the church in exchange for their work.  They dropped out of school when Leah was in the eighth grade.  Both signed "billion year contracts", which meant they were expected to serve the church for a billion years.  The girls didn't last long in the Sea Org, though.  Leah got in trouble for messing around with boys.  Their mother saved the girls from being "RPF'd", which would have meant they would have been basically Sea Org slaves for a time.  But because they didn't submit to the punishment, it meant they were out of the Sea Org.  After that, it seemed that Leah devoted herself to becoming an actress.  Lo and behold, she was eventually successful, but not before she and her family lived in poverty for awhile.  There is a picture of Remini in a used Toyota Tercel that she bought.  It was later repossessed.

As she became more and more successful, the church began to place more demands on Leah Remini's time and money.  She began to notice a lot of shenanigans and outright toxic behavior among church members, especially Tom Cruise, who has pretty much become the de facto kingpin of Scientologists.  Though Leah enjoyed more prestige in the church, there were also more demands that she set a good example for other Scientologists.  Meanwhile, she was asked to donate as much as $1 million at a time.

Never one to hold her tongue, Leah began speaking out against Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, and David Miscavige, whose wife, Shelly, seemingly disappeared a few years ago.  This outspoken behavior got her into more trouble with church leaders, who sought to stifle Leah's outbursts until she finally decided to leave the church and tell her story.

Troublemaker was ghost written by Rebecca Paley, who does a pretty good job of making the book sound like it came straight from Leah Remini.  In fact, I kind of think Paley did too good of a job projecting Remini's voice.  I am not known for being a shy, demure type myself, but even I got tired of some of the profanity in this book.  I am not offended by the word "fuck", but when it gets overused, it becomes annoying.  I thought the crass, over the top, language used in this book, while certainly true to Remini's reputed coarse vocabulary, was a bit overdone.  I'm no stranger to obnoxiousness, but even I felt like Remini sometimes came across as obnoxious rather than funny.

I also got the sense that while Leah Remini is out of Scientology, she sort of misses some of it.  She admits that some of the techniques she learned were useful to her in her career.  It seemed to me that had the Scientologists not been so heavy handed and shifty in their treatment of her, she might have even stayed in the church.  At the same time, Remini writes of protecting her friend, Jennifer Lopez, from being recruited by the church.  It seems that Scientologists are on a never ending quest to find new celebrity members with big bank accounts.

Aside from Remini's revelations about Scientology, she also writes about working with the likes of Sharon Osbourne and Sara Gilbert on The Talk.  She was one of the original panel members when the show started in 2010.  After the first season, she was let go.  Then we saw her on Dancing With The Stars... or, at least some people did.  I didn't.

To be honest, I have read better celebrity memoirs.  Also, while Remini's stories about being a celebrity Scientologist are interesting, I have read better books about the church itself.  In fact, just a few months ago, I read Going Clear, which is a vastly superior book.  Those who really want to learn about the church should read that book over Leah Remini's Troublemaker.  From the standpoint of celebrity memoirs, I would say that Troublemaker is about average.  Leah is probably laughing all the way to the bank, though, and more power to her.


Leah Remini on 20/20.
  



2 comments:

  1. I moved to Clearwater Florida with my parents in 1974 after my father retired. I was 19 at the time. It wasn't long after that when the "church" of scientology purchased the Fort Harrison Hotel on Fort Harrison Ave. and moved their world headquarters into the building. When then Mayor Gabe Cezaras began looking into church activities, the harassment of the Mayor began. I don't know if there are any existing archives of the then daily morning newspaper The Clearwater Sun which has since gone out of business but I'm sure the St. Petersburg Times or maybe the Tampa Tribune archives should still be available. Check these out for some interesting reading / pictures. While the "church" was moving into the building, the newspapers were taking pictures of the armed guards patrolling the roof watching over the moving in process. Personally, I question the benevolence, charity and / or "community spirit" of ANY organization that claims to help humanity the way scientology does, that feels the need to use armed guards to defend it's property or people in the middle of a city the size of Clearwater, or any city for that matter, where an innocent bystander could be shot by these "defenders" of the faith. Most civic minded organizations or churches try to "put out the welcome mat" to try to attract new members. Not frighten the locals away with armed patrols. Some first impression, huh? There are a lot of things wrong with that "church" that have been made public. I just felt that this should be brought to light by someone who was there when it happened. Please see above mentioned references.

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    1. Thank you for a very interesting comment. I completely agree that the Church of Scientology is far from benevolent. I have read other accounts of how it enslaves and impoverishes its members.

      I will have to see what I can find... Clearwater natives must have been very dismayed to see their town invaded by a cult.

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