Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Monday, December 18, 1978

Dressing up in gowns, cameos and tuxedos

[ed. - Robert Burton has always taken great pleasure in dressing his followers and, really, managing every aspect of their lives.]

[Former member's journal entry, December 18, 1978:]
"During the past week, a large quantity of used tuxedos have been brought to Renaissance where they are being sold at the "Royal Renaissance Formal Wear Shop" [the barn]. I was able to purchase an almost complete tuxedo set  [including shoes, but less bow tie and studs] for about forty dollars."

"xeeena" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 21, 2007:
Comrade – ”Sometimes I wonder how many people reading the blog have just flat-out said “no” to Robert Burton. And I wonder what his reaction to that was. Probably not a good reaction, but just curious.”

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Funny you should ask. I happen to have another story about that very topic. I believe it was in 1993. I had set up a sewing studio on my property where Nette and myself and a few others worked on theatre costumes and other projects, some for the Fellowship of Friends and some private. Robert started buying ballgowns at consignment shops and gifting them to his favorite women students. He asked Nette to help the women select their gowns and to make any needed alterations. We had a rack of gowns and women were coming over all the time trying them on. I guess Robert decided he really liked buying women’s clothing because he started giving them to all the women who were around. Pretty soon all the racks and hooks in the room were full of gowns. One day we got a call that Robert was going to come over to visit the octave. What was interesting was that it was arranged for about half a dozen women to be there at the same time so that he could be sufficiently thanked and adored while he was there. I really couldn’t bear his presence in my room. I just kept sewing at my sewing machine and barely acknowledged his presence. Shortly after this we got a phone call that Robert had purchased a lot more gowns and they were going to be brought over. I put my foot down and told Nette that there really wasn’t enough room for anymore. She agreed and called and talked to Robert about it. He suggested we move them into another student space and she told him that it should be moved onto Fellowship property. He sent a female student over (no not LT this time) who showed us all the places we could put more gowns. She wanted us to hang them from the ceiling! I told her thanks but no thanks. Robert had the gowns moved to the town hall cloak room and punished Nette (and me too I guess, though I felt I was treated pretty much as a nonentity in all this) by taking the octave away from her and putting someone else in charge. I was pretty much out of the school emotionally by this time and officially left not too long after this.

"brucelevy" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 22, 2007:

9 Nuthead

Which reminds me of the time the first mass tuxedos octave began. This was when Via Del Sol it was “the ranch”. RB bought out a tuxedo rental firm. They were all put up at “the barn” and all the salaried students were required to buy one. I remember everyone reluctantly jamming themselves into the room to find parts of tuxs to try on. It was theater of the absurd. Of course they were almost all the same passe styles, some fairly worn. I hated mine and rarely failed to find an excuse to not attend functions purely concocted so RB could stand there and look at the herd for sexual culling. We looked like penguins. That’s when RB started buying shirt studs to bribe students with, along with the cameos. It was the same time salaried students with glasses were directed to get contacts, whether they wanted them or not. I tried mine on once and said fuck it. There wasn’t any area of one’s life at the ranch (or raunch) that was one’s own.

"Ill Never Tell" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 23, 2007:

10 brucelevy:

Bruce, with the risk of revealing this poster's true identity, let me go so far as to say that I know how the ‘tuxedo octave’ was conducted. RB did not buy out a tuxedo rental firm. The retired (read: old and unwanted) formal wear from rental firm(s) was/were negotiated for on a consignment basis. Complete outfits were sold for $44, as I remember. What was not claimed/bought was returned to source. The rest, as you state it, was accurate and I agree ‘was theater of the absurd.’

"Was KathleenW" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 24, 2007:
I have a very small story.

Did anyone who was around during the Age of the Cameo learn that their cameo appraised at exactly 1/3 the price they paid for it?

I decided to sell mine after I left. After I had it appraised by a reputable jeweler, I spoke with others who had the same experience, and the numbers were the same — the appraised retail value was 1/3 what was paid (to the FoF) for it.

I clearly remember being approached about buying it. “Robert would like to know if you feel ready to have a cameo.”

Gosh, golly, I sure didn’t want to say that I’m not ready for something the teacher thinks I should have.

I had the first one for about a week, then the same inner circle person approached me and said that Robert felt a different one would be more appropriate for me. The second one was nearly twice the cost of the first one.

I don’t remember the exact details about this next part, but there was some convoluted transaction with the exchange. I didn’t just exchange the cameos and pay more money. I think I gave the first one back, paid the entire amount for the second cameo, then received the cost of the first cameo directly from the student it was sold to next.

A receipt was included with the second one that appeared to be from a jeweler in Europe. The receipt said that it was made in the 1700s in England. When I had it appraised they told me it was made in Italy (showed me a mark that indicated this), probably in the 1920′s.

"dick moron" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 24, 2007:

#235 Was Kathleen W.[above]

Ah, the cameo era. RB, the patron saint of shopping. Why not a cameo for every lady? Such a thrill to shop for someone else, with their money. This happened so much. Any student who happened to have a little money they were not using, and let RB know about it, can probably contribute a little story about how they were assisted in gradually blowing it on on pricey fashion accessories, fine leatherbound books encrusted with semi-precious stones, ostrich skin Hermes bags, shoes, belts, whips etc.. And, RB would select everything for them. I will never forget observing him slowly coerce a very adult professionally successful student into buying an expensive briefcase that the student did not like or want. Guess who won?

Does anyone remember the details of the time (during the cameo/tuxedo set era) that a member of the entourage neglected to declare some expensive jewelry purchased in Europe and RB and party were submitted to all kinds of searches by U.S. Customs. You can imagine the places they would look for hidden jewelry.

"waskathleenw" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 27, 2007:
I have a question related to a story I told awhile back about the era of the cameo. I related that my cameo was appraised at 1/3 of what I paid, and I learned that other students also paid three times the appraised value.

I didn’t include this next part because for me it’s hearsay.

I was told that Robert Burton had an”arrangement” with at least one European jeweler. The arrangement was that the jeweler would write up false receipts for the cameos, and when Robert resold them for three times the value, the profit would be shared with the jeweler(s).

This took place in 1984, and I can’t remember who it was that told me this, but I do remember that it was someone I respected — someone who was already out of the Fellowship of Friends but knew something about the situation.

Has anyone else heard something like this?

"xeeena" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 27, 2007:
I have a little cameo story from around 1979 or 80. We went on a group tour to Europe with Robert who was in his cameo period. He had found one in London he liked so he had a female yes person take us (me and my husband) to the jeweler to look at it. I was hoping to find an excuse not to buy it because we really didn’t have the money for it. This cameo was a real monster– it was about the size of a saucer. We left without it and went back to the hotel in a taxi. The student who took us was fuming the whole way back. Maybe she had a cut in the deal but at the time it appeared that she felt she had gone out of her way to show us the cameo and we were quite rude not to buy it. Robert behaved much better. When he asked me about it I told him it was too big for me to wear and he agreed and said he would find someone else to buy it. It was never again suggested that I look at another cameo, much to my relief.

"Wouldnt You Like To Know" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 27, 2007:
waskathleenw ~2(6)#223 [above]:

I cannot comment on the validity, or lack thereof, of the false pretenses in the cameo dealings. (It would not surprise me in the slightest, though, as many of the possessions of, and through, the Fellowship of Friends were/are bought and paid for over and over again by various individuals and centers to satisfy the insatiable greed of you-know-who. Usually the price paid is determined by what the buyer could afford more than the value of the item.) However:

Antique and jewelry dealers are notorious for their shady dealings and what you suggest is a frequent strategy. Robert Earl Burton is expert at many of the tricks and does not hesitate to use them whenever and wherever possible. Not having a conscience makes almost anything a possibility.

Also, Robert Earl Burton has made many errors in his dealings, both personal and on behalf of the Fellowship of Friends. Some at very high dollar consequences; like forgeries in the fine arts realm.

Appraisals: You are probably aware that most retailers strive for this type of structure: Retail: $100 has a wholesale of $50 and a cost of $25. So, selling at wholesale is a 100% markup and a 50% profit margin. Selling at retail is 300% markup and a 75% profit margin. This is generally used in antiques, jewelry and art.
Lesser profit margins are accepted but the above is a rule-of-thumb. Bigger profit margins than the above are not unheard of. When it comes to appraisals, what is the appraisal for?: retail, wholesale, cost, insurance purposes, lending purposes, replacement value, etc. If something is irreplaceable and/or one-of-a-kind, just think what that does to the appraised value. Cameos are that sort of thing, or at least people would like to think so, so shady dealings can happen easily.

Caveat Emptor: Let the buyer beware.

"waskathleenw" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 27, 2007:
228, Wouldn’t You Like to Know [above],

Thank you for the insights into that world. What you say fits with other things I observed back then — not just my personal jewelry situation.

I remember a set of Wedgwood tea service that was shipped to the Hawaii center along with an invoice. We weren’t asked if we wanted it — we were told it was coming and how much money to send. I’m pretty sure that when the center closed it went to another center who paid for it again. The Rent-A-Wedgwood octave.

227, xeena [above],

When he asked me about it I told him it was too big for me to wear and he agreed and said he would find someone else to buy it.

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Interesting choice of words. Not “perhaps there is someone else who would enjoy having it,” but that he would find someone else to buy it.

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