Greetings, a.nolen readers! Spencer Kansa contacted me today demanding that this post be removed and threatening me with legal action– I’ve pasted a copy of his email in the ‘comments’ section of this post. Guess I hit a nerve…
In May of this year a revised edition of Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron was released. This is a fascinating book because Marjorie Cameron was the wife, and probably the ‘handler’, of Jack Parsons. Parsons was Aleister Crowley’s chief L.A.- based acolyte; the L.A. Thelema lodge was the last to keep sending money to Crowley, according to biographer Lawrence Sutin. Jack Parsons had high-level military clearances and access to valuable jet-propulsion research: he was an intelligence prize.
Spencer Kansa’s book is the only biography of Marjorie Cameron I could find, though– on the surface– it’s unclear why Kansa should have any expertise on Cameron. Kansa’s research style is not professional, he’s sloppy about sourcing information. Kansa’s only qualifications appear to be extensive publishing contacts in the music industry (an industry with more than its fair share of Crowley promoters); and his interviews with “William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Bowles and Herbert Huncke”. (Readers will remember that Allen Ginsberg gave Politics of Heroin writer Alfred McCoy a box of
CIA TIME-Life notes on Vietnam’s heroin trade which became the basis for McCoy’s book, a book that protected CIA chief William Colby.)
Kansa’s ‘spookage’ doesn’t stop with Ginsberg.Wormwood Star is published by an outfit named ‘Mandrake Press’ in Oxford, which sounds like a homage to the ‘Mandrake Press’ Crowley set up with the mysterious British military figures Major Robert Thynne and Major J. C.S. Mac Allen.
Kansa’s connections are a two-edged sword for Crowley/Cameron fans: on the surface he should have no credibility as a biographer, but to my way of seeing the world, Kansa is likely to have an inside track because of his extraordinary access to ‘spooky’ characters. So if you’re willing to give Kansa’s information sources the benefit of the doubt, as I am, the next question is “Does Kansa write honestly?”
No, I don’t believe that Kansa writes honestly. Everything about this book is sympathetic to Crowley, Parsons, Cameron and Cameron’s promoter Kenneth Anger; everything about Wormwood Star preserves the cult of personality surrounding these people. Kansa doesn’t even try to incorporate Richard Spence’s research on Crowley’s intelligence connections, research that has been widely available for almost 15 years. Neither does Kansa examine Kenneth Anger’s ‘Congress for Cultural Freedom’ connections, even though the congress has been a known CIA front for over a decade. Kansa’s neglect is easily explained by his resume, particularly because of the people Kansa was given access to interview.
Having said that, Wormwood Star provides a startling array of facts which, when they are extracted from Kansa’s sugar-coating, suggest that Cameron was an intelligence operative in American service, and possibly in the service of the U.K. and Israel too. Jack Parsons’ trouble with security clearances and espionage investigations– trouble which eventually cost him his job– has its roots in actions taken by Cameron, his wife. Ultimately it was Cameron who organized the attempted release of sensitive jet propulsion information to the Israelis; it was Cameron’s weird trip to Switzerland which garnered spook attention; it was Cameron’s strange lefty friends and domineering personality which worried the FBI.
So who was Marjorie Cameron? She came from a small town in Iowa; she had a stable, if somewhat puritanical, family; and she was liked and respected by her classmates despite her ‘artistic’ nature. However, Marjorie was not well-adjusted and from as young as 14 years old she would sneak out at night for casual sexual encounters. Throughout her life Marjorie seemed unemotional about sex; something which would come in handy when WWII broke out and she became a spook for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The JCS consists of military leaders who the US president appoints to advise him; in Cameron’s case that president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who cooperated with William Stephenson’s ‘irregular’ spy network, the British Security Coordination (BSC) to get rid of his critics.
According to Kansa, Cameron was the only woman working in a team of cartographers for the JCS. She was also given a posting at St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital, where William Alanson White’s successor, Winfred Overholser, was now in charge. Overholser was a collaborator with the CIA’s MK ULTRA project, and prior to that he worked with mind-control drugs for Roosevelt’s OSS during WWII.
At some point, the JCS realized that Cameron could be useful entrapping men with “pro-German” sympathies in Washington D.C.; it’s unclear if any of her missions produced useful intelligence. I’ll remind readers that the BSC was busy organizing ‘dirty tricks’ like honey-traps in D.C. at the same time, one such honey-trap was author Roald Dahl .
After prostituting herself for the JCS, Cameron was given a job with Hollywood filmmakers creating war propaganda films in cooperation with the “Hollywood Navy”. If you want to know more about war-film propaganda and what would become the CIA’s MK ULTRA project, see my post on Carl Hovland and race riots.
According to Kansa, while making movies Cameron made friends with “strong union people who began to educate Marjorie about the military and the wider political ramifications of what was going on during the war”. I’ll remind readers that Roald Dahl got his introduction to the Roosevelts through Hollywood director Gabriel Pascal; Tinseltown in the 1940s seems to have well-established, and very elite, espionage connections. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising given William Stephenson’s investments in the movie business.
Not all of Cameron’s movie work was glamorous: she was given the job of washing GI uniforms that had been stripped from dead soldiers so that they could be used as costumes. At this time Cameron heard her brother had been injured in combat and she went AWOL to visit him, for which she was court martialed.
One might think that an AWOL/court martial would end Cameron’s association with the military. Quite the contrary, it opened up a new vista in her life. Suddenly, her father and brother both got jobs in California with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a highly sensitive military contractor, and Cameron was given an honorable discharge. Kansa states that Cameron never understood why she was given this discharge after the court martial.
I believe I do understand, readers, because not long after moving with her family to California, she shacked up with the JPL’s founder Jack Parsons. Parsons was a Thelema devotee and, according to Parsons, he had been corresponding with Crowley about a ‘magickal’ working with a new friend named L. Ron Hubbard. This working would invoke a special ‘sex-magick’ partner for Parsons. (Parsons’ first marriage was ‘untraditional’ and headed for divorce.) Perhaps Crowley made a phone call to colleagues in Washington after hearing about Parsons new Naval Intelligence friend?
Cameron says she was introduced to Jack Parsons by a friend from the Navy. Either way, Cameron, the Roosevelt honey-trap spook, appeared in the life of her dad’s new boss as miraculously as her dad’s new job appeared at JPL. Could a paramour with a dishonorable discharge have caused problems for Parsons’ high-level security clearances? I suspect so: an honorable discharge paved the way for Cameron’s placement.
Parsons met L. Ron Hubbard, a Naval Intelligence veteran a few months before Cameron came into Parsons’ life. As I’ve stated before, Parsons befriended Hubbard and took Hubbard into his magickal workings.Who was L. Ron Hubbard?
In the 1930s, prior to an obscure career for the Office of Naval Intelligence, L. Ron Hubbard was a student at George Washington University, where the Church of Scientology tells us his mentors were Dr. Fred August Moss and my old buddy, William Alanson White. White’s political beliefs inspired the Sullivanian cult. According to information provided by Hubbard’s critic Caroline Letkeman, here’s a 1952 transcript of Hubbard explaining his relationship to White in the 1930s, when White was still superintendent of St. Elizabeth’s hospital (where Cameron had been posted in the early 1940s).
Parsons introduced Hubbard to Crowley via a letter, but Crowley seems to have taken an immediate dislike to Hubbard. (Competition?) Crowley’s disapproval didn’t stop Parsons from going into business with L. Ron. In retrospect Parsons and Hubbard’s company, Allied Enterprises, seems to have been a way for Hubbard to fleece Parsons, who’d grown rich on military contracts.
L. Ron Hubbard would go on to found what is now called Scientology, an organization with uneasy links to US intelligence. (I suspect, readers, that Scientology is the psy-op ‘that got away’.)
According to Kansa, Cameron didn’t take Parsons’ ‘magick’ seriously until after his death, however, she did take on an important communication role between Parsons and Crowley. In 1947 it was Cameron who left for Paris on a GI Bill scholarship, with the dual mission of contacting Crowley on behalf of Parsons to explain his involvement with L. Ron Hubbard. (Crowley died before she could see him.) During this trip Cameron thought she was being spied on by NYT correspondent Arthur Krock: “Cameron began to wonder if the Pulitzer Prize winning bureau chief was tailing her for the government, suspicious of why the wife of an important rocket scientist was journeying alone to Europe.”
Cameron did not use the GI Bill money to study art, but instead “seemingly on a whim” went to Switzerland, land of spooks. Her time in Bern was not pleasant, as she saw secret service agents around every corner. Guilty conscience? When Cameron got home, she found her husband under investigation by the House Un-American Activities Commission, ostensibly because of his Communist friends back in the 1930s. (The ghost of James Angleton walks again.) Parsons was eventually cleared, got his security clearances back, and took a new job with Hughes Aircraft Company. But all was not well…
Cameron’s and Parsons’ marriage was ‘untraditional’ like Parsons’ first one; but now Parsons began to get jealous– he often didn’t know where Cameron was or who she was with. Cameron decided to travel to an artists’ commune in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, which Kansa says was favored by US veterans of WWII. (I suspect that a large contingent of these “veterans” were OSSers– what other veterans didn’t have to work after the war?!) Cameron was bitter over the HUAC investigation into her husband; she had been vocal in her criticism of American hypocrisy since WWII, but now she began to make noises about emigrating to places where there was less injustice… like Mexico, or Israel.
Back home, Parsons fretted that his new boss, Hughes, was also spying on him. Parsons nervously began looking for a job in Israel, Cameron’s chosen land. Herbert T. Rosenfeld seems to have strung Parsons along with this: first asking for a proposal for a Chemical factory which went nowhere for Parsons, then asking the American to knock out a rough-draft for a jet propulsion development program. Cameron, now back in the US, did the leg-work putting together this second proposal; it was Cameron who gave the typist classified documents to prepare for the Israelis in late 1950. The typist alerted the FBI, who investigated Parsons again. This is what one FBI agent had to say about Parsons and Cameron:
Subject [Jack Parsons] seems very much in love with his wife but she is not at all affectionate and does not seem to return his affection. She is the dominating personality of the two and controls the activities and thinking of subject to a very considerable degree. It is the opinion if subject were to have been in any way willfully involved in any activities of an international espionage nature, it would probably have to be at the instigation of his wife.
The fallout from the Israeli job search (which never came through) made it impossible for Parsons to get a job Stateside and for a while he pumped gas to support himself and his wife. Needless to say, he’d come a long way from the jet-setting playboy.
While Cameron was pushing her husband to emigrate to the Holy Land, things were developing at the CIA. In 1951, a few months after Parson’s Israeli FUBAR was discovered, the CIA created ‘the Israeli desk’ for James Angleton, which meant Angleton, a counterintelligence man, got first access to Shin Bet’s information on the Soviets– this would be an important tool for dealing with the CIA’s Soviet Division, which Angleton suspected had been captured by the Russians. I think it’s interesting that in the months following Cameron’s/Parsons’ near-leak, one of the nation’s top rocket scientists was shut down and our ally Israel’s hopes were dashed.
Why might US allies have been treated so harshly? In Richard Bennett’s 2013 book Espionage: Spies and Secrets, Bennett writes this about Angleton:
Angleton began his career in espionage in the wartime OSS. During his time in Italy both before and after the end of the war, Angleton developed a deep relationship with the leaders of the Jewish underground, who later became senior officers in Israel’s secret service, the Mossad. Because of these ties, he entered the CIA with the clear understanding that he would head the Israeli desk.
I had heard that Angleton got into bed with the Mafia in Italy, but I had no idea that Mossad had roots in the post-war Italian mess– and a bloody mess it was, with communist partisans taking revenge on anyone they didn’t like while the Americans looked on. How does Richard Bennett know this about the Israeli desk? It’s hard to say because he doesn’t source that particular information, but Bennett’s work is ‘respected’ enough to be referenced in the CIA’s “The Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf“, so we can speculate.
Things never got better for Jack Parsons: by 1952 the case against him was dropped due to lack of evidence, but the struggle had ruined his career and his security clearances were never restored. He eked out a living making explosives for Hollywood movies. Cameron never gave up her dream of living in Israel, and convinced Parsons to move to Mexico before taking another crack at the Middle East. Before any of this could come to pass, Parsons died in a freak accident at his home laboratory. When Cameron heard of his death, she exclaimed: “Who will take care of me now? I don’t know how to make a living.”
The apparent insensitivity of that remark might be excused on grounds of something like shock; but her next move shows what a cold fish Cameron really was. Parsons’ mother committed suicide immediately on hearing of her son’s death (they were unusually dependent on each other), and when Cameron found out, her first concern was to remove three lbs of pot she’d stashed at her mother-in-law’s house to avoid it being confiscated by police. Don’t worry, Cameron got the pot out.
Right after Parsons’ funeral Cameron left for Mexico where she had a rendezvous with a mysterious British couple, Nancie and Bill Patterson, who were representatives of another U.K.-based cult called the ‘White Eagle Lodge’. ‘White Eagle Lodge’ had been founded by a spiritualist duo, a medium and her husband much like ‘Hellish Nell’s’ team, which cashed in on channeling the ghost of famous spiritualist Arthur Conan Doyle. The Pattersons helped Cameron conduct one of Crowley’s ‘blood rituals’ and after two months Cameron returned to the USA, a fervent believer in Thelema and amongst the first Americans to experience UFO phenomenon, says Kansa.
Embracing Thelema did little to curb Cameron’s drug addiction or alleviate her money worries. In the face of shrinking options, she professed that she really was the incarnate spirit of Babylon that her late husband and Crowley had dreamed about. She began trying to beget a “moonchild” through liaisons between herself, her small band of white witch-followers and willing black musician “wands”. Cameron was desperately trying to prove her place as a high priestess of Thelema and drum up a living in the process; Crowley’s heir Karl Germer would have none of it. (I’m reminded of Peter Wright’s observation that the intelligence business is a great user of people.) Cameron sunk into penury.
Instead of letting Cameron in on the Thelema business proper, Cameron was made an initiate of the Silver Star, which was a way of putting her under Crowley’s faithful Cefalù desciple Jane Wolfe’s control– the idea being to keep Cameron’s madness from sinking the Thelema ship. It sort of worked, but Cameron continued to court the media with stunts like sending her ‘witches’ over to service Bob Hope sexually (which they did, according to Kansa). For my international readers, Bob Hope was an American entertainer famous for his ‘USO Shows’, or entertaining active-duty soldiers.
Out of money and out of friends, in 1953 Cameron drifted into the orbit of a Hollywood ‘maker’, eccentric and homosexual named Samson de Brier, whose home was like a dingy, art nouveau museum, stuffed with wannabe starlets of both sexes. One of these starlets was Kenneth Anger, who would later reinvent Crowley’s system of control for the 1960s audience, using Cameron as the face of his endeavour.
During the early 1950s, at the beginning of the CIA’s ‘Congress For Cultural Freedom’, Anger was busy making a name for himself in Europe by plying CIA-funded artists such as Jean Cocteau with homoerotic films. But by 1953, Anger was back in the States, flush with his dead mama’s money, flush with a ‘belief’ in Thelema, and looking for a muse like Cameron. Anger would cast Cameron and her witches in the campy film he made with de Brier, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, a sort of culturally confused homage to Crowley. Anger would spent the following years promoting Cameron as the new face of Thelema throughout the US and Europe, which didn’t sit well with what remained of Crowley’s European followers like Karl Germer.
Anger’s Thelema take-over bid included high-profile media escapades using his contacts in the film scene, art world and especially the commercial music industry– the industry from which Spencer Kansa draws his connections.
Cameron’s, and Thelema’s, usefulness to the Western 1960s cultural revolutions deserve their own post, as does Cameron’s relation to the founding of Scientology and then her struggle against it. (Scientology is far more profitable than Thelema ever was.) I’ll conclude this summary of Kansa’s book by pointing out that Scientology’s stronghold is in Hollywood and that the BBC takes special interest in Scientology. Thelema’s most modern incarnation first prospered through the British music industry, and is still promoted by high-profile musicians today. Any comment, Langley, MI6?
P.S. Long-time readers may notice several shocking similaries between Marjorie Cameron’s life and that of William Donovan’s secretary and T.V. chef Julia Child. I encourage interested readers to check out my double-review of Julia’s autobiography and The Haunted Wood.