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Sharon Gans, who died in January at age 85, ran the ‘ultra-secret cult’ Odyssey Study Group
Two members of an ‘ultra-secret theatre cult’ in New York City claim they had to pay to work as unpaid housekeepers, cooks and assistants for founder Sharon Gans and her husband.
Stephanie Rosenberg and Marjorie Hochman filed a lawsuit against the Odyssey Study Group – which marketed itself as a theatrical study group but was in reality, an alleged cult – and estate managers for actress Gans, in Manhattan Supreme Court on Monday.
The two women, who defected in 2019 and 2016, say they paid $400 a month in membership dues beginning in 2005 for the privilege of serving as unpaid ‘personal assistants, cooks, housekeepers, drivers, and personal shoppers for Gans’ who lived in luxury with her husband at the Plaza hotel.
Rosenberg and Hochman say they witnessed physical and mental abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse, private adoptions, arranged marriages, and financial crimes during their time in Gans’ group.
Examples of the more serious allegations are not spelled out in the 21-page-lawsuit.
‘Through methods traditionally utilized by cults to groom, intimidate, weaken, gaslight, and exploit their victims, OSG coerced and tricked its members,’ the suit states.
‘The members of the cult made Defendants Sharon Gans and others very rich.’
The two women who filed the lawsuit and other members allegedly worked as many as 80 hours a week and paid for things like groceries out of their own pockets as part of their participation in the group.
Gans (left) and her husband Alex Horn reportedly fled San Francisco in the late 1970s after a similar group, Theatre of All Possibilities, was accused of child neglect and physical abuse
The group allegedly treated its members as slaves, using them for free labor and demanding monthly $400 dues that allowed Gans to buy an $8.5 million apartment in the Plaza Hotel
They’re asking to have their monthly $400 fees reimbursed along with payment for thousands of hours of unpaid labor.
Gans won an Obie Award for Best Actress in 1966 for her performance in Soon Jack November. She then starred in a 1972 film version of Slaughterhouse-Five. She died in January at age 85.
Gans and her husband Alex Horn fled San Francisco in the late 1970s after similar allegations about their first group, Theatre of All Possibilities, were published in the San Francisco Chronicle in December 1978.
Theatre of All Possibilities members told the Chronicle and San Francisco officials they paid thousands to learn the techniques of Russian philosophers George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky.
Members of that group said they were beaten if they didn’t sell enough dinner show tickets to people they were told to confront in the street.
They also alleged child neglect as children were left backstage while their parents rehearsed or performed ‘countless other chores.’
Members told authorities and the San Francisco Chronicle that they saw children being neglected backstage while their parents performed countless chores
Gans and her husband reportedly believed that the path to self-development involves labor and intentional suffering, according to the New York Post.
After the San Francisco debacle, Sharon and her husband set up shop in New York in the early 1980s and were eventually able to buy an $8.5 million apartment at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel with money collected from their subjects, according to the Post.
‘In my 30 years of working in this field, this is one of the most secretive groups I’ve encountered,’ said cult expert Rick Ross, a key witness in the recent trial of New York-based sex cult Nxivm, which ensnared a number of Hollywood actors and filmmakers under the spell of leader Keith Reniere.
Ross tried unsuccessfully to stage an intervention for an OGS member in the early 2000s.
‘After San Francisco, everything was hush-hush,’ he told the Post.
Monday’s lawsuit states Rosenberg and Hochman joined the group in 2005 ‘because they were informed by prior members and the leaders that OSG would help improve their lives economically, physically, and spiritually.’
The group masqueraded ‘as a study group or “esoteric school of inner development” providing unique opportunities for “self-improvement” and “self-development,’ according to the suit.
The suit names Minerva Taylor, Lorraine Imlay, Greg Koch, and Ken Salaz as the beneficiaries of Horn’s interest in the group. Taylor, Imlay and Michael Horn are named as fiduciaries of Gans’s estate.
All of them, except for Michael Horn, were leaders of the OSG cult, the lawsuit states.
‘Plaintiffs understood that once they left the group, they would be shunned, declared a malcontent, and cut off from the community of friends that had, as a direct and intentional result of Defendants’ efforts, become his or her entire world,’ the lawsuit alleges.
Rosenberg left the group on April 5, 2019, according to the lawsuit. Hochman escaped in or around May 2016.
Along with the $8.5 million Plaza apartment, Gans is said to have owned a Montana ranch and property in Mexico at one point.
In 2015, Gans’ son David Kulko left OGS and sued his siblings in an effort to dissolve the corporation that owned the Montana ranch, according to the New York Post.
After Kulko left the ‘cult’ in 2000, his family cut him out of the business and kicked him off the ranch that they used to ‘support, finance, and shelter the operations of the Odyssey Study Group.,’ according to Montana Supreme Court documents.