Master of the Mysteries

Manly Palmer Hall and New Age Hollywood

Jul. 7, 2016
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Los Angeles looked like the Promised Land a century ago. The sleepy city surrounded by orange groves was growing rapidly and was a mecca for mystics, practitioners of alternative medicine as well as filmmakers. Hollywood was born then, and outside-the-mainstream ideas thrived under the shadow of the Hollywood hills. One connecting point between the movie industry and the mystical, Manly Palmer Hall, was one of America’s best-known lecturers and authors before the end of World War II and lingered on through his death in 1990 as an influence on the New Age movement.

Hall’s extensive life and work is sketched out in the expanded edition of Louis Sahagun’s Master of the Mysteries: New Revelation on the Life of Manly Palmer Hall (published by Process Media). Hall had a matinee idol’s face and the penetrating gaze of a sinister character from a 1930s horror movie. Although he never attended university, he read voraciously on religion, history, philosophy and the occult, producing a prolific stream of books, pamphlets and articles proposing alternatives to the scientific materialism of the 20th century as well as the dogma of Western Christianity.

Hall never became a movie star, but was the subject of gossip columns and knew many prominent actors, some of them his followers. One of Hall’s screenplays produced, the occult murder mystery When Were You Born? (1938) starring Anna May Wong. It bombed, Hall complained that the final product was compromised but the mystic writer continued to pump out screenplays and ideas. Hall conceived a story for a Boris Karloff film, Witches Sabbath, and another for Bela Lugosi, The Emperor of Atlantis. Neither one was produced. According to Sahagun, Hall may have influenced an episode or two of “Star Trek.”

Master of the Mysteries is a patchy affair and often reads as if the author, a Los Angeles journalist, copied and pasted bits of his own news reporting. But for anyone interested in golden age Hollywood and alternative metaphysics, Master of the Mysteries provides a fascinating look into a little understood facet of the movie industry. Shirley MacLaine was not the first star to profess strange things.

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