Thursday, August 13, 2020

Fame, Fortune and Flying Saucers

Flying saucers and aliens... Some people feared these strange visitors from other planets, while others embraced them as saviors. Xenophobia is defined by Merriam-Webster as “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.” Fewer people are familiar with the term for its opposite, xenolatria. Xenolatry is veneration, love, or worship of the foreign. 

Armando Simón’s 1979 essay, “The Zeitgeist of the UFO Phenomenon.” Simón’s essay focuses on the portrayal of aliens in science fiction movies:
“Some films have presented the antithesis of the invasion theme. Innocent and peaceful aliens in this case were attacked by an unreasoning, bigoted, and warring human race... The aliens, therefore, served as a convenient point of view for the screenwriter's xenolatric flagellations of humanity.” 

That’s from UFO Phenomena and the Behavioral Scientist,  edited by Richard Haines, and
Simón defined xenolatric in a footnote: "This term, recently coined by Isaac Asimov (1976), means hatred for one's own culture combined with idolization of other cultures while remaining blind to any shortcomings in the latter.” Xenolatry is an important underlying premise behind the strain of UFO belief embraced by the Contactees. To them, mankind is a primitive warlike people - we are unworthy, and need to be saved by the wisdom from our benevolent big brothers from outer space. In the age of atomic fear, a lot of people were desperate for salvation from above, whatever the source. As with virtually anything, opportunists pounced to exploit these beliefs.

It seems incredible to us today that in the 1950s people could have been so gullible to fall for swindlers' claims about flying saucers, such as meeting the people who flew them, or having the secrets of their technology. What we have to appreciate is that at the time some kind of unidentified flying objects  were actually being seen by many people, and many more were hearing about them secondhand from supposedly trustworthy sources - coverage in the papers, radio and television news shows. UFOs were frequently a serious topic of discussion, in part because of the news generated by the investigation of flying saucers by the US Air Force. 

Due to the constant media publicity, many people accepted to some degree that flying saucers were real. The main questions were about: what are they, why are they here, and where did they come from? The first saucer generation had seen the impossible happen, the invention and detonation of the atomic bomb, the launches of rockets, and then satellites like Sputnik. However, most people’s understanding was limited to what they’d picked up from newspaper headlines and entertainment, and it seemed that all that “Buck Rogers stuff” was coming true. It was the dawn of the space age, and anything seemed possible.

Exploiting the Possibilities

Mankind’s speculation about life on other worlds did not begin in the 1940s with the flying saucer era. It preceded science fiction too and is probably as old as the development of language. With the flying saucers, it provided charlatans a golden opportunity to capitalize on the public’s interest, and they exploited it to package everything, from fringe religious teachings to confidence schemes.

Among those interested in the reports of flying saucers were the spiritualists and students of the occult. The spiritualists already claimed mental contact with other worlds and used saucers to make people believe that any wonders in the sky - past or present - were evidence of something from beyond our meager planet. In 1888, Helena Blavatsky used the idea of civilizations on other planets in The Secret Doctrine, but in a mystical or religious way, saying that they held knowledge and wisdom far superior to our primitive understanding. She co-founded the Theosophical Society, and Theosophy was a huge influence on fantasy and science fiction literature. The occult was also part of the foundation for folks like Meade Layne’s Borderland Sciences Research Associates (BSRA) beliefs about aliens visiting in spaceships - long before saucers.

BSRA director Riley Crabb wrote in a 1961 article that mysticism "is distasteful to many people who have been brought face to face with metaphysics by their interest in the Saucer phenomenon. This means that old material, the Ancient Wisdom, is going to have to be rewritten for them, dressed up in modern, Space Age, terminology, before they'll study it..." 
(“The Sky People,” Round Robin, vol. 17, no 1, Jan-Feb 1961, p 22). What Crabb described was well underway, and as we shall see, just what George Adamski had perfected back in the late 1940s. 

“The Disgraceful Flying Saucer Hoax” article by Bob Considine in Cosmopolitan magazine, Jan. 1951, noted that the US Air Force wasted a lot of time and money investigating phonies, but that flying saucer fakery was not actually a punishable offense:

“And nothing can be done about such frauds.  A man who pilfers a three-cent stamp from the Post Office Department can be fined and sent to a Federal prison... Yet the most callous and cynical saucer­hoaxers will continue to go scot free, with a cackle of delight, until a penal act is created to check such offenses.”

Except when there was some other associated fraud, hoaxing a saucer story was not a crime. That legal loophole gave opportunists a virtual license to steal. 

Contactees and Capitalists

The history of the Contactee era is complex and involves many interesting personalities, each with their own storylines. The 1957 book, Flying Saucer Pilgrimage, by Bryant and Helen Reeve provides a great look at the era and its figures from a believer’s point of view, and it shows just how intermingled the saucer culture was with New Age mysticism. Our examination is more centered on how the UFO culture, particularly the Contactee faction, was exploited by those seeking fame and fortune. We’ll introduce some of the players who were significant in capitalizing on flying saucer belief, actually turning it into a business. Sort of a Saucerian “Who’s Who” of personalities discussed in past and future STTF articles.

Kenneth Arnold
Kenneth Arnold’s 1947 sighting launched the flying saucer craze, and within weeks of it, he was lecturing on the topic. Early on, Arnold cagily refrained from committing to an explanation, but he did say he thought the saucers were under intelligent control and might be from another world. Arnold was the first witness to become a UFO lecturer, and he went on to publish a souvenir booklet and co-author a non-fiction book on his experiences.

Ray Palmer
Raymond A. Palmer was in the UFO business well before the whole saucer scene took off. He promoted the Charles Fort-derived notion of extraterrestrial spaceships visiting earth as reality in his science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. In 1947,  Palmer latched on to the premier saucer witness, Kenneth Arnold, featuring him in the 1948 debut of Fate magazine and co-writing The Coming of the Saucers in 1952. Palmer also published many UFO, New Age and Contactee books including: Other Tongues, Other Flesh by George Hunt Williamson, 1953, The Secret of the Saucers by Orfeo Angelucci, 1955, and Flying Saucer Pilgrimage by Bryant and Helen Reeve, 1957. A born huckster, Palmer began increasing the UFO content in his magazine Other Worlds, then in 1957 retitled it Flying Saucers.

Donald Keyhoe

Donald Keyhoe was a retired Marine major who had served in World War I and became a writer of both news articles and fiction, including adventure stories for pulp magazines. In 1949 the editor of True magazine sent Keyhoe the assignment of picking up a flying saucer story they’d gotten stuck on, hoping Keyhoe’s military contacts could help him penetrate the secrecy. The resulting article was a sensation almost as big as the original fever of 1947, and along with the resulting 1950 book, The Flying Saucers Are Real, proved that UFOs was a bankable topic. Keyhoe was focused on factual, documented cases from credible witnesses, but many others that followed were peddling sensational stories to cash in. 

Frank Scully and Silas Newton

In a way, it all began with a lecture. Silas Newton told a story for Denver college students, an implausible tale of a crashed flying saucer and the dead aliens inside being captured and hidden by the US government. Frank Scully promoted the crashed saucer story, and in a sense, it paved the way for the Contactees tales of meeting aliens. Behind the Flying Saucers introduced the basic meme of peaceful visitors from Venus, a world far more advanced than our own, but opposed by the barbaric US military, who Scully called “the Pentagonians.” The saucer story itself was the brainchild of oil swindler Silas Newton who evidently invented it as a backdrop to sell “doodlebugs,” oil detection devices that he said were based on the alien technology. The crashed saucer story became a best-selling book and enduring legend even though it was proven to be without factual basis. Frank Scully and Silas Newton were honored guests when flying saucer conventions began to be held, but that diminished when Newton and his partner Leo Gebauer were convicted of fraud in 1953. Newton set another precedent though, for a light penalty. He never served any prison time for the fraud. When it comes to saucers, crime pays. White collar crime, at least.

 George Adamski

George Adamski used flying saucers as the bait to get people to accept the mystic teachings he’d been peddling since the 1930s with his "Royal Order of Tibet." In 1952 he recycled his old material, saying it was knowledge passed to him from the angelic people, our Space Brothers from other planets. Adamski topped Newton and Scully’s story of a magnetic saucer from Venus by adding a living, talkative occupant, a friendly brother from space. “Orthon” was borrowed from Klaatu, of the 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, a modern Messiah figure. It was a means for Adamski to spread his “ministry,” but the desire for fame and fortune may have been part of it too. Adamski’s rise as a UFO lecturer and author is chronicled in A Critical Appraisal Of George Adamski The Man Who Spoke To The Space Brothers by Marc Hallet, 2016. The financial success of Adamski is discussed, and Hallet says that things really took off with the publication of the 1953 book, Flying Saucers Have Landed, which became a bestseller. Adamski capitalized on his fame in a number of ways. At his many lectures, he sold his books and pamphlets, and at his Palomar Gardens home, sold copies of his saucer photos and charged tourists to look through his telescope. Hallet also notes that “He also simply accepted gifts, sent in by admirers from all corners of the world.” It was a good business model, and Adamski soon had many imitators and competitors. 

Gray Barker

Gray Barker launched The Saucerian in September 1953, a magazine, devoted to flying saucers and associated mysteries. His 1956 book, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, helped establish the legend of the Men in Black, and stir up saucer paranoia. Barker wrote the column, “Chasing the Flying Saucers” for Ray Palmer’s Flying Saucers magazine, which helped boost his profile, and he went on to become a book publisher himself. Under his imprint, Saucerian Books, Barker published over 80 books and booklets by Contactees and New Age authors between 1959 and 1984. In The Saucerian and Saucer News, he also sold his own self-made flying saucer films and other merchandise, as well as brokering books and products by others.

Truman Bethurum

Truman Bethurum was the second most popular Contactee behind Adamski, and he developed a significant following of his own within the saucer world. Bethurum captivated crowds with his tales of riding in a spaceship piloted by Aura Rhanes, the beautiful female saucer captain from planet Clarion. In 1954, Bethurum’s book, Aboard A Flying Saucer was released, and he sold it along with other pamphlets at lectures and conventions. In 1955 Aura Rhanes (in astral form) advised Bethurum to solicit contributions to purchase land and build the “Sanctuary of Thought,” a commune of peace and brotherly love. Its continued operation was funded by further contributions, the sale of Bethurum’s literature - and the fees from private spiritual readings.

Orfeo Angelucci
Orfeo Angelucci is mentioned here chiefly because of his popularity in the early days, and for his role in the inaugural 1953 Los Angeles saucer convention. In The Secret of the Saucers, Orefo Angelucci described a visionary experience where an otherworldly entity spoke to him and shared revelations, ones that sound familiar to other occult saucer narratives:

“We know your mind is filled with questions. One question in particular troubles you and it concerns the entity the world knows as Jesus Christ. May we set your mind at rest. In allegorical language Christ is indeed the Son of God. The star that burned over Bethlehem is a cosmic fact. It announced the birth on your planet of an entity not of Earth’s evolution. He is Lord of the Flame — an infinite entity of the sun. Out of compassion for mankind’s suffering He became flesh and blood and entered the hell of ignorance, woe and evil. As the Sun Spirit who sacrificed Himself for the children of woe he has become a part of the oversoul of mankind and the world spirit. In this He differs from all other world teachers.”

Angelucci went on to become a popular lecturer, the author of two books and a series of pamphlets, and he seemed to be the most sincere of the Contactees, more of a religious visionary than a performer. 

Daniel Fry

Daniel W. Fry was yet another Contactee and went on to form his own spiritually-focused UFO organization, Understanding, Inc., which had local study groups or “Units” that formed a network. Speakers approved by Fry could tour the Understanding lecture circuit from group to group, and usually be fed, housed, and paid by the membership along the way. Fry’s lecture circuit provided a ready customer base to saucer lecturers, and for the more predatory types, easy marks to be tapped for dollars. 

Gabriel Green

Gabriel Green was an active participant in the Contactee convention scene, claimed to have had his own contact experiences, and founded the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America in 1957. Green presided over the AFSCA, published their magazine, sponsored lectures, and hosted their successful series of UFO conventions. Green capitalized on his status as a saucer celebrity by announcing his candidacy for President of the United States with Daniel Fry as VP, running on a platform based on the teachings of peace and wisdom from space. His 1960 presidential bid was backed by the support of his UFO convention lecturers, and supposedly, the people of Alpha Centauri. Green ultimately withdrew and endorsed John Kennedy, but later entered the race for United States Senator for California in 1962, where he lost in the primary with a relatively impressive 170,000 votes.  

George Van Tassel

George Van Tassel began hosting the annual Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention at Giant Rock, California, in 1954, providing a stage for anyone who claimed to be in contact with flying saucer occupants.  It was a  showcase for Contactees, who had a spiritual saucer approach, regarding aliens as angelic “Space Brothers,” and Van Tassel’s host organization was “The Ministry of Universal Wisdom.” Lecturers for his first convention included George Hunt Williamson, Orfeo Angelucci, Truman Bethurum, Dan Fry, author Frank Scully and Van Tassel himself. Admission was free, but there was a bustling marketplace with books and saucer-related merchandise for sale. Shortly thereafter, Van Tassel said he received plans from the aliens to build the Integratron, a building to house a machine that he claimed would “recharge energy into living cell structure, to bring about longer life with youthful energy." Van Tassel began soliciting financial donations to finance it., and the building was completed in 1959. However, the rejuvenation device never was finished, despite of the thousands of dollars collected for its construction. Nevertheless, Van Tassel’s conventions energized the Contactee scene in the 1950s, and he inspired many others to host flying saucer gatherings in other locations.  

Long John Nebel and “The Party Line”
Another person instrumental in giving Contactees a voice was Long John Nebel who hosted the legendary WOR radio talk show, “Long John’s Party Line,” which launched in 1954. The format featured Nebel and a group of panelists interviewing an offbeat guest. The Daily News from New York, in their Aug. 2, 1957 edition described the show:

“Long John's ‘Party Line’ is something unique in radio, one of the most interesting and novel post-midnight items ever heard in New York and in the 25 other states reached by WOR... Airing Mondays through Saturdays, midnight to 5:30 A. M. Nebel and his guests discussed “unconventional subjects as flying saucers, haunted houses, reincarnation, astrology, numerology, witchcraft, stage and black magic to hypnotism, the stock market, advertising practices, medicine, travel, archeology, bullfighting, modern art and music...”

The show featured some serious UFO proponents such as Donald Keyhoe, but they were far outnumbered by the fantastic fringe from “The Way Out World.” Nebel himself was not a believer, but he knew what was good for business.
Howard Menger

Howard Menger struck fame by appearing on the Oct. 29, 1956, Long John Nebel show, which led to national TV exposure on the Steve Allen Show. Menger’s tale was familiar, he’d met people from a spaceship, gone for a ride and taken pictures. The story was so familiar, he became known as “the East Coast Adamski.” Menger became a flying saucer entrepreneur, with an impressive list of products. His record of piano music, Authentic Music From Another Planet, 1957 was followed by his bride-to-be Connie Weber’s My Saturnian Lover, 1958, and together they held the” East Coast Interplanetary Space Convention" at his New Jersey farm in 1958, and unlike the Van Tassel gatherings they charged admission, $2.00. Gray Barker announced the publication of Menger’s book there, and From Outer Space to You came out in 1959. Gray Barker marketed these products through his Saucerian magazine, and also sold copies of Menger’s flying saucer pictures and movies.

Buck Nelson

Buck Nelson achieved some celebrity status from his story about meeting Venusians and their giant 385-pound dog, “Big Bo,” which he chronicled in the 1956 booklet, My Trip to Mars, the Moon, and Venus.  It was sold at his appearances at Giant Rock and lectures nationwide, but he had another product, physical evidence from his space adventures, packets of fur from Big Bo. In 1958 Nelson began hosting his own annual “Spacecraft Conventions” at his ranch in Mountain View, Missouri. Besides the typical book stalls for lecturers’ wares, Nelson had his own saucer souvenir booth which sold toys, postcards, ball-point pens, pennants, balloons, liniment for sore backs and so much more. Nelson also operated a concession stand offering such refreshments as hotdogs burgers and soda. By Nelson’s final convention in 1966, attendance was down to 150 people, down from the phenomenal turnout of 1958 with about 2000 customers.

 Wayne Aho

Major Wayne S. Aho described himself as the director of “Washington Saucer Intelligence,” which becomes a bit less impressive-sounding when you know it was based in Oklahoma, not Washington, DC, that it was a civilian organization, that the Major was retired from the Army, and that he mostly the director of his own lecture tours. The press and public sometimes confused the Contactee Aho with the far more conservative UFO proponent Major Donald Keyhoe. Aho was a pervasive lecturer in the late 50s, but seemed to begin phasing out the Washington Saucer Intelligence facade about the time he became “Director of Public Education” for Otis T. Carr’s OTC Enterprises, Inc. Aho created the New Age Foundation in the early 1960s, a UFO-based organization that was overtly religious, and held spiritual gatherings at Mt. Rainier.

Reinhold O. Schmidt 

Reinhold O. Schmidt was an agricultural broker, a seemingly ordinary man drawn into an extraordinary adventure. He saw a silver spaceship and its crew near Kearney, Nebraska, and after his credibility was challenged was briefly confined to a mental hospital for observation. Afterwards, Schmidt went on to have a series of ever more amazing contacts - and lecture tours. The space people showed Schmidt where to mine for gold and precious miraculous minerals, but when Schmidt began luring large investments out of gullible widows, he eventually wound up in trouble - court and then prison. 

Otis T. Carr 

Otis T. Carr was considered an inventor, not a Contactee, but he shared in their values - and their spotlight on the lecture stages. Carr’s plan was to build a saucer-shaped spaceship operated on cosmic free energy principles, and to do so, he formed OTC Enterprises, Inc, and set about his goal of collecting $20,000,000 to finance it. His story has some elements in common with that of Reinhold O. Schmidt, including arrest, conviction, and some of the supporting cast. Like with Schmidt, we’ll be giving the Carr story a feature-length STTF treatment in the future, part of our “Flying Saucer Swindlers” series.

The End of the Beginning

By the early 1960s, the saucer prophets’ act had worn thin, and their day was done. Donald Keyhoe and other serious flying saucer proponents considered the Contactees a distracting circus sideshow that damaged the credibility of the UFO topic. They wished the clown show would go away, and to some extent, it happened. George Adamski died in 1965, and the Contactee scene seemed to be drying up as well. Gabriel Green’s Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America was finished around 1969, and Dan Fry’s Understanding Inc. were fading, but so was the more serious NICAP. That left APRO and MUFON to carry on, leaving the Contactee folks without a major organization to champion their cause. The conventions at Giant Rock continued on a smaller scale but ended with the death of George Van Tassel in 1978. 

However, the Contactee movement wasn’t finished, it just fell out of fashion. In the 1970s the stories of the Pascagoula Abduction and the Travis Walton incident helped revive interest in alien encounters, and the message of the Space Brothers was rekindled somewhat by the 1978 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the 1980s without a strict Donald Keyhoe to keep the Contactees away, the spirit of the Space Brothers made a stealthy comeback by infiltrating mainstream ufology. As UFO organizations struggled to survive, they relaxed their standards to embrace devotees of fringe beliefs of all sorts. This side of ufology is not necessarily about money, but it’s show business, and as the saying goes, the show must go on.

In the weeks and months to come, STTF will take a closer look at some of these figures, including their careers as lecturers, convention promoters, and sometimes, criminals.

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