In the waning days of my biography binge, I chose to take a turn towards Hollywood, or at least the world of television actors. The first of these two biographies is that of Leah Remini, who offers up the added bonus of her three-decade escape from the suppressive Church of Scientology. While I am by no means an expert or even someone with great interest in Scientology, I have passing knowledge about this cult-like group from an earlier book on the subject penned by a family member of the current leader who spent many years being oppressed. Remini’s aptly titled biography explores her life as a troubled actress and member of the Church, both of which include run-ins with many within the Hollywood elite. Remini is honest and blunt, more than I would have expected before starting this piece, offering the reader a wonderful look into the cutthroat life of trying to pay one’s bills while acting, all overshadowed by this looming Scientology lifestyle that seems to take more than it could ever give any individual. By no means academic, Remini’s book is perfect for the reader looking to read a tell-all about a group that vilifies anyone on the outside or who wish to leave for their own personal reasons, with enough saucy language to keep things real.
Leah Remini grew up in a strict household in 1970s Brooklyn, a Jewish mother and Italian Catholic father her two guiding lights. As Remini discusses early on in her book, life was rough, especially when the shouting began at home. After her mother joined the Church of Scientology, Leah was left to wonder if she, too, could benefit from its structure and strict adherence to a set of beliefs. When Remini’s mother brought her into the fold, there was an early acceptance of the tenets of Scientology, akin to the shiny new toy that one receives. For a time, this seemed to be the best life, with a move down to Florida to join an upper echelon of the Church, though the regimented lifestyle had many struggles that did not sit well for a mouthy teenage girl. While balancing her classes and audits (integral parts of the Scientology world perception indoctrination), Remini sought to work and faced the reality of life in the workforce. After deciding to make her break in Hollywood, Remini tried to carve out a name for herself, though her rough exterior proved hard to market at times. A number of one-offs and guest appearances preceded some series work, only to see shows cancelled or never make it past a pilot. This angst was balanced with an ongoing requirement to work within the Church on indoctrination, at times punished for a lack of commitment to her religion. After scoring a lead role on a popular television series, Remini was on her way, both in television and within Scientology, permitted to liaise inside the Celebrity Church where she could encounter some of Hollywood’s most dedicated Scientologists, including Tom Cruise, whose oddity speaks volumes and plays a key role in an subtext throughout the book. Remini grew close to her celebrity Church members and recounts a long and drawn-out affair while in Italy for the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes wedding, which saw her vilified by many and showed her a new perspective on the lax nature that some high within the Church treated the fundamental rules. In the latter portion of the book, Remini discusses her epiphany and the fallout she had with the Church, which led to her being blackballed as she called out the contradictory nature of the entire process. It appeared that, using the aforementioned wedding as only one example, that Tom Cruise was being turned into some form of deity within the Church, whereby the senior members would fall over themselves to appease him. Remini found this most baffling, which might have fuelled her final decision to leave the Church. Thereafter, she was labelled as a cast-off and members of Scientology were to ostracise and berate her through the media at any opportunity. In and organisation that seeks to vilifying and bankrupt its members for the betterment of a crazed couch hopper, it is no wonder that Leah Remini felt the need to pen this book, if only to clear the air and disassociate herself with the horrors that befell her at the hands of Scientology. While it is surely the place for some, one dare not speak out, for it is then that the full force of vengeance emerges and the Church takes no prisoners. Wonderful reading and highly insightful that will surely appeal to a wonderful cross-section of readers. Perhaps one of the better ways to end this biography binge.
Remini is open and honest throughout, beginning her piece promising to bear all so that Scientology cannot begin its own smear campaign. I found many parallels within this book to that of another member with ties to the head of Scientology, which left me to believe that these were not fabricated stories or Church tenets. The insightfulness that Remini offers is supported further by her discussion of life outside of Scientology, leaving the reader to feel that this is less an attack on the Church, but an exploration of a life that was significantly shaped by a set of likely untenable rules and countless regulations, where any questioning or curiosity was met with a verbal riding crop. While Scientology seeks to create a form of inner peace and oneness, its precepts, as discussed through Remini’s lens, prove almost pyramidic, allowing those at the top to prosper while others attain levels only by handing over all sanity and dignity to others. Remini’s struggles to work within the world of Hollywood actors was also highly interesting and the success she garnered, as mentioned above, allowed her in to an inner circle of Hollywood elite of the Church. Remini’s raw style is to be applauded in this case, for it shows that she was a troublemaker throughout her ordeal, but never lost her true self. Surely that was the hope of this cult, as it has cost many people everything and given them nothing but heartache in return. I had little compassion for the Church before, so am by no means feeling as though I have had an epiphany and was taken in by the antics before. I knew of the Cruise factor and have always found him to be eccentric and completely off base. As their apparent deity, it now becomes apparent how much of a crackpot Scientology has become and will remain. It was worth reading to see another person’s view of the process and the struggles to leave of her own free will, as hard as it was for Remini.
Kudos, Madam Remini for this wonderful piece. I am excited to share my views and this book with others, which offers so much in this compact book. I hope others will have the strength to speak out or defend THEIR own views, rather that turn this into a witch hunt or a Hollywood smear campaign. If Katie Holmes and Nicole Kidman can survive, you will as well!