In reading about Universal’s decision to nix P.T. Anderson’s The Master, a movie obviously inspired by the founding of Scientology, we found ourselves heartily agreeing with several of The A.V. Club‘s commenters: Perhaps what the world needs isn’t a flick about L. Ron Hubbard’s quasi-religious scam, but a Hollywood-style biopic about the even more fascinating (and still alive) Werner Erhard, the man behind EST.
You probably already know the rough outlines of Erhard’s remarkable tale: Used car salesman turns into spiritual guru, then sells his whole system for a fortune beyond belief. In delving into the man’s heyday, we were struck by his obvious genius for playing the media. Take, for example, this 1975 piece from Cosmo, which takes the concept of subjective journalism to new lows:
The very next day, back in my reporter role, I fly up to San Francisco to meet Werner Erhard. Like my est fellow travelers, I’ve moved from the position of believing he’s a charlatan to believing he’s set himself up to be a Godhead. I didn’t know then that I was following the usual route, and that the next step is to thinking he’s really God, then Robert Redford, then Daddy. Several weeks later I realized he was no longer any of those things to me and I was free to really dig him. Because, in fact, he is the most intriguing human being I’ve ever known, and when somebody in est said to me, “You’ll talk about him forever,” she was probably right.
The article also notes that the salaries for EST’s 160 employees ranged between $7,200 and $30,000. Erhard himself, of course, did a fair bit better.
More on his brief auto racing career here.