60 Minutes, broadcast on Werner Erhard

60 Minutes logo, with text: Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Harry Reasoner, Steve Kroft, Meredith Vieira

CBS/March 3, 1991

Produced by David Gelber

Introduction

WERNER ERHARD (lecture clip)

I didn't arrive at the opportunity to make the world work for everyone by figuring out how to do it!

WENDY DRUCKER

We were told to surrender to him as "source". I think that's idolatry.

DR. BOB LARZELERE

"I'm god."

ED BRADLEY

I beg your pardon?

DR. BOB LARZELERE

"I am god." He could, he did say sometimes in staff meetings.

DAWN DAMAS

And he beats his wife, and he beats his children, and rapes a daughter – and then he goes and tells people how to have marvelous relationships. I'm sorry, that's what I have against Werner Erhard.

60 MINUTES LOGO.

I'm Morley Safer. I'm Harry Reasoner. I'm Ed Bradley. I'm Steve Kroft. I'm Meredith Vieira. I'm Mike Wallace.

MIKE WALLACE

Those stories and Andy Rooney tonight on "60 Minutes." First a brief update on today's meeting in the Gulf. General Norman Schwarzkopf and his coalition colleagues sat down in a tent in Southern Iraq today, and laid down the terms for a cease-fire to his opposite members from the Iraqi military. Word from the meeting has it that faced with the facts in the field, the Iraqis agreed to all of the coalition's conditions. First of all a swift exchange of prisoners of war on both sides. And according to the Iraqi ambassador to the U.N., ten allied P.O.W.s, six of them American including an American woman, have already been released. Meantime four of our CBS News colleagues were freed by the Iraqis yesterday, and we'll hear from them in a minute.

60 MINUTES LOGO.

WERNER ERHARD – PRODUCED BY DAVID GELBER

ED BRADLEY

Since the 1970s some seven-hundred-thousand people have signed up for a self-improvement called "est", or as it's now called "The Forum." Est was the brainchild of a former used-car salesman named Jack Rosenberg. Back in the sixties, Rosenberg deserted his wife and four children in Philadelphia, changed his name to Werner Hans Erhard, and moved to California where he started another family, and, came up with the idea for est. In a nutshell, Erhard's message was this: If you are in a rut, the problem isn't your parents, your boss or the system, it's you. Take responsibility, Erhard said, and you can transform your life overnight. Who was the role model, the living example of what the est Training could do? Who else but Werner Erhard, a man some of his employees say, thought of himself, as god.

WERNER ERHARD (lecture clip)

I didn't arrive at the opportunity to make the world work for everyone by figuring out how to do it! Don't you get that nothing transformational occurs that way!

ED BRADLEY

Of course there were skeptics who wondered how a salesman with a checkered past and no formal education past high-school could transform people's lives. But thousands believed they did benefit from Erhard's message. One of them was emmy-winning actress, Valerie Harper.

VALERIE HARPER (Emmy acceptance speech)

Thank you for loving Rhoda. And personal, um, personal thanks, a very private ones, to someone who has profoundly influenced my life, uh Werner Erhard. Thank you, and good night.

ED BRADLEY

Erhard was so popular in Hollywood that someone once suggested a studio be renamed: "Werner Brothers." Erhard's empire grew to include a high-powered corporate consulting business that charges some of the biggest companies in America forty-thousand dollars a year, for each executive it trains.

WERNER ERHARD (clip lecturing to executives)

Organizations don't work because people don't know, that the job, in an organization, is ninety-nine bull-(bleeped).

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Within his own organization, Erhard attracted an inner circle of people who were devoted to him. Wendy Drucker was a top manager who worked closely with Erhard for nine years.

ED BRADLEY

Did it feel like a cult to you?

WENDY DRUCKER

I would never have believed that I, could be a person who would wind up in a cult. I thought that those were the people down at the airport, you know with the tambourines. And yet, certainly mind control was involved. And if that's what cults do, and they set up a leader to be bigger than anybody else, a god-like figure, I would say yes, that was true in the organization.

ED BRADLEY

Did he encourage you folks to think of him as something – more than an ordinary man?

WENDY DRUCKER

Absolutely. Absolutely. We were told to surrender to him as "source." I think that's idolatry.

ED BRADLEY

Did he ever say things like that to you, "I am the source." ?

DR. BOB LARZELERE

Oh yes, to the whole staff. At staff meetings, sure. "I am the source."

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Dr. Bob Larzelere was the head of Erhard's counseling staff for seven years during the 1970s.

DR. BOB LARZELERE

Now you could interpret that as "I am the source of est.", which he of course he was, he also made it clear that it was a little more than that from time to time.

ED BRADLEY

How so?

DR. BOB LARZELERE

"I am god."

ED BRADLEY

I beg your pardon?

DR. BOB LARZELERE

"I am god." He could, he had, he did say sometimes in staff meetings. I can't document this, and you know I took this, I said I would do this interview so long as this wasn't about punishing Werner and I'm not about punishing Werner – what I'm trying to point out is – my willingness, my absolute willingness to become his soldier, the person who would do whatever he asked for his approval, for his love. That's how desperate I was. And didn't really know it then.

ED BRADLEY

But you say he actually said: "I am god." ? He didn't say: "I'm like god.", or "I'm god-like." ?

DR. BOB LARZELERE

I would not sign a statement saying that he said exactly that – it was the implication: "I am source.", and you know, he mentioned, the message was: "I am god."

WENDY DRUCKER

This was not like, being an employee. This was like being, a servant, or a devotee.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Was Erhard worthy of devotion? After all, he freely admitted he'd once deserted his wife and children. But then, the story went, by practicing what he preached, he turned his life around. He reconciled with his first family after thirteen years, and brought them to San Francisco. In est publications, Erhard appeared to be a caring father for all of his children. One brochure featured a loving portrait of Erhard with his second wife, Ellen. One of the selling points for est and The Forum has been: If Erhard's could turn his own life around, then The Forum could turn yours around too.

LARRY KING (clip from Larry King Live)

What, is "The Forum" ?

WERNER ERHARD

It's a program of inquiry into the things that concern people on a very everyday basis. Like – breaking through the ordinary barriers that just go along with children and your relationship with your children at certain ages.

ED BRADLEY

And what about his relationship with his own children?

CELESTE ERHARD

I have been afraid, deeply afraid of my father my whole life. My whole life.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Celeste Erhard is Werner Erhard's oldest daughter from his second marriage.

CELESTE ERHARD (crying)

It's funny because – you almost feel stupid, that you're afraid of him, but – he's a terrifying man, he can be very terrifying.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Just how terrifying? Dawn Damas was the family's governess and is still a close friend. She says she saw Erhard assault his son St. John, or "sinjin" as he's called, when the boy was only twelve.

DAWN DAMAS

He started to ask St. John about school and started to notice St. John's grades, and got livid, and went over to Sinjin and started to slap him and hit him, and picked him up and threw him on the ground and started to kick him – in front of everybody and nobody moved, everyone was paralyzed. Um, and then said to St. John: "If you ever get grades like this again, I'll break both of your legs with a baseball bat."

ED BRADLEY

And no one said a word? No one made a move to stop him?

DAWN DAMAS

No. Which is um, hard for me to believe except that I was there and I didn't either.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Werner Erhard declined to talk to "60 Minutes", but he did speak to reporter John Hubner of the San Jose Mercury News, for an article in WEST, the paper's Sunday magazine. In the audio-taped interview, Erhard flatly denied he ever hit Sinjin.

WERNER ERHARD (audio-taped interview)

I hit Sinjin?

JOHN HUBNER

Not ever around in a family meeting?

WERNER ERHARD

Never, ever ever! It is not one … never. Never, ever struck one of my children, not any one of them, ever.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

But Erhard's daughter Adair says, she saw it.

ADAIR ERHARD

My dad took, he freaked out, he pushed him back on the chair, he fell over. At this point you know my brother was so petrified he actually peed in his pants. Um, you know he's down on the floor, he's kicking him, he's hitting him.

ED BRADLEY

Your father is kicking and hitting him?

ADAIR ERHARD

Mm, hm. You know, for a bad grade.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Sinjin, who is now twenty-three, didn't want to speak on camera, but he told us the beating did take place, and – that he wasn't the only family member to be a victim of Werner's abuse. His mother was too. Erhard didn't live with his family. But once a month or so he would summon his wife and children to come here to his San Francisco headquarters for a meeting attended by his inner circle. Erhard's daughter Adair recalls a time about thirteen years ago, when, at one of those meetings, he launched into a jealous rage toward his wife.

ADAIR ERHARD

He accused her of having an affair with this man, which was totally untrue. At one point someone picked up a statue and hit her over the head. Um, you know my dad constantly saying: "What aren't you saying, what aren't you saying?".

ED BRADLEY

And you saw your mom physically attacked, by your father and others?

ADAIR ERHARD

Mm, hmm. Yeah, he himself also got up and, while she was on the floor, and kicked her a number of times.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

The assault on Ellen Erhard, her daughters say, went on for two nights.

ED BRADLEY

Did you try to stop them?

CELESTE ERHARD

At one point, on the second night, I did stand up and say: "Please, you're killing her, you're killing her." I mean, my mother was blue, her face was blue, she had, like drool coming out of the side of her mouth. She was dying. She was, you know, suffocating. And all he said to me was: "Sit down, or you'll get more of the same." And that is a direct quote, I remember every word. And that's all he said. And I sat down.

ADAIR ERHARD

She was strangled literally. She turned blue, there was spit running out of the side of her mouth, um –

ED BRADLEY

Strangled, choked her?

ADAIR ERHARD

Mmm, hmm.

ED BRADLEY

Who?

ADAIR ERHARD

This consultant, was the man who was doing the actual choking.

ED BRADLEY

And he worked for your father?

ADAIR ERHARD

Yes.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Bob Larzelere is the one who choked Ellen Erhard.

DR. BOB LARZELERE

And finally he said: "Somebody's got to volunteer, to hurt Ellen, to punish her, and make her talk, and make her confess." And nobody did, until I thought, oh my god, this is an opportunity for me, finally, to get Werner's total approval. Now I can be a real soldier for him, now I can make him, proud of me, now I can get him to smile at me. Now I won't have to be afraid of him anymore. So I volunteered.

ED BRADLEY

Why did you choke her?

DR. BOB LARZELERE

To scare her into confessing. It's like, you know why do people torture other people, to get the truth.

ED BRADLEY

What did he say? Did he say: "Bob, you're going too far." ?

DR. BOB LARZELERE

No. No, he didn't. See he didn't stop. No. No, I was doing what he wanted me to do. He didn't try to stop. He didn't try to stop me I mean, at all.

ED BRADLEY

Today, what would you say to her?

DR. BOB LARZELERE

That it was a despicable thing to do. And it took me days to realize it. Afterward. When I began to let myself feel again. It was, my god, it was like a nightmare. That I could have, gone that far, with wanting to please, wanting to get approval from, wanting to get love from another human being, to do that.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

According to several witnesses, that ordeal didn't end Ellen's punishment. Her daughters say Erhard wouldn't allow her to live with them for two years. And that's not all.

ADAIR ERHARD

She had to come into our house. And, and, be like the maid, scrub the floors. And we had to watch this, and my dad made her do these things.

ED BRADLEY

She didn't live with you for two years?

ADAIR ERHARD

Well, you know, she didn't live with us for two years, but I saw her, like when she came in to clean the house, but we weren't allowed to speak with her.

ED BRADLEY

So she moves out of your house, per your father's instructions –

ADAIR ERHARD

Mm, hmm.

ED BRADLEY

But she comes back to clean?

ADAIR ERHARD

Mm, hmm. You know, he, whatever he said, that she should do, she had to do. And that was part of the instructions. Yeah, you have to be a maid for your house.

ED BRADLEY

And what would you do then?

ADAIR ERHARD

(Sigh). I don't even remember, I just – It's like I wanted to – say something so bad, or just do something about it, and there's, it's just so petrified all the time and there's just no way I could be okay with myself to, to tell anybody or to do anything about what was going on.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

At about the same time this was going on, Erhard was busy teaching thousands how to improve their relationships. As for his daughters' accusations of how he treated his wife back then, Erhard says, it never happened.

WERNER ERHARD (audio-taped interview)

Essentially nonsense. Ellen was never a maid. Ellen was my wife, and I always treated her like my wife.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Ellen Erhard divorced her husband two years ago. As part of the divorce settlement, she's agreed not to talk publicly about their marriage.

ED BRADLEY

Does your mother know that you're talking to us?

ADAIR ERHARD

Yeah, um. Before we left tonight I talked to her, and she's just, you know, she said: "I can't thank you enough for doing this. For saying these things that need to be said." And I know that she wishes she could do the same.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Deborah Rosenberg is one of Erhard's daughters, from his first marriage. She's never spoken publicly about her father before, but she told us that her father sexually abused her.

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

I don't have a problem saying that it happened. I don't like describing, it. Um, but I don't have a problem admitting that he molested me.

ED BRADLEY

How old were you?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

I was sixteen.

ED BRADLEY

Has your father ever sexually abused any of your siblings?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

Yes. And it runs from, I don't know, maybe you want to call it pornography all the way to rape.

ED BRADLEY

Rape?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

Yes.

ED BRADLEY

What happened?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

Um, I wasn't there. But I believe my sister when she says that my father raped her.

ED BRADLEY

She told you what happened?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

Yes.

ED BRADLEY

And what did she say happened?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

She says that they were on a trip together, and um, they had come back after dinner and he had a very large suite and um, they were reading a magazine together and – you know I'd rather not go specifically into, you know the details, but, um, he forcibly had sexual intercourse with her.

ED BRADLEY

This is incest, you're –

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

Yes, I know that.

ED BRADLEY, VOICE-OVER

Deborah says her sister about eleven years ago while she was in her early twenties. In his taped interview, Erhard brought up the rape issue, and said it never happened.

WERNER ERHARD (audio-taped interview, Ed Bradley playing section of audio-tape in front of Deborah Rosenberg)

Just plain not true. Just plain not true. And anybody who would say something it has got to be sick. Uh.

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

Um, that sounds like a typical response. Um. What he did say when I confronted him about it was that there had been sexual intercourse, and that it had been a nurturing experience for my sister.

ED BRADLEY

He admitted it?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

He admitted that there was sexual intercourse, and that it was a nurturing experience. He said that "I did not rape her."

ED BRADLEY

You're very clear on this?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

Yes.

ED BRADLEY

So he's saying that she consented?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

Yes.

ED BRADLEY

Have you talked with her about this?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

Oh, yeah. Extensively.

ED BRADLEY

And –

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

It was not a nurturing experience for her. And she's had to have a lot of therapy about that.

ED BRADLEY

She didn't consent?

DEBORAH ROSENBERG

No she didn't.

ED BRADLEY

They said some pretty terrible things about their father.

DAWN DAMAS

They said some true things about their father that are terrible.

ED BRADLEY

What do you have against this man?

DAWN DAMAS

There's something about the fact that he is still out there doing all this and people still believe in him. This man still gets people sitting in an audience looking up at him, believing, that what he says is just so wonderful.

WERNER ERHARD (clip, lecturing to audience)

I can see for myself, that the world can work for everyone.

DAWN DAMAS

And this man does relationships on seminars, and he beats his wife and beats his children and rapes a daughter, and then he goes and tells people how to have marvelous relationships.

ED BRADLEY

Why are you going against him now, in such a public forum?

CELESTE ERHARD

I kept thinking – that he would be a father, I kept thinking that when he got older, he'd want children, and he'd want his daughters. I just, I, I really thought that. You know that maybe he'd get wiser with age and he'd regret what he'd done, but um, he didn't.

ED BRADLEY

This week, Erhard's lawyers sent us affidavits from Erhard's sister and brother and from a few of his close associates disputing some of the stories we heard from his children and denying that Erhard ever abused his wife. And we also heard from Erhard. He sent us a statement, which said simply: "There is only one appropriate response to these allegations, to heal and restore my family. And that is what I will do. To respond to the accusations at this time, would only further publicly exploit my family, and there has already been enough of that." He has also presumably had enough of his seventy-million dollar a year business. A few weeks ago he sold it to a group of his employees.

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