Cary in the Sky with Diamonds
Before Timothy Leary and the Beatles, LSD was largely unknown and unregulated. But in the 1950s, as many as 100 Hollywood luminaries—Cary Grant and Esther Williams among them—began taking the drug as part of psychotherapy. With LSD research beginning a comeback, the authors recount how two Beverly Hills doctors promoted a new “wonder drug,” at $100 a session, profoundly altering the lives of their glamorous patients, Balaban included.
Our story is set in the years before Mad Men,when Eisenhower was in the White House and America had only 48 states. Our stage is Beverly Hills, still a small town in 1958, where movie stars and other entertainment-industry leaders led active but traditional, even somewhat constrained social lives.
There was a zone of privacy in that time and place we can’t begin to imagine today. Money, emotional traumas, and personal doubts were simply not discussed, even by the closest of friends. Appearances were accepted as reality, so people kept very busy making sure every aspect of their lives looked correct. That didn’t mean having the most lavish house, the heftiest jewels, or the largest private plane, as it came to in later decades. It did mean dressing, behaving, and speaking appropriately; appearing to be happily married, in love, or looking for love en route to marriage; not complaining about one’s career or annual income; and being enormously ambitious without evidencing any ambition whatsoever.
Social lives were just as circumspect. Dinners were small A-list gatherings at Chasen’s, Romanoff’s, Don the Beachcomber, or poolside barbecues at private homes. The most visible scandals arose when dancing partners who were married—but not to each other—indulged in excessive caresses or when someone (almost always a man) drank too much, though boozy belligerence and even outright drunkenness were rare to invisible.
Almost everyone smoked carton-loads of regular cigarettes, but a “joint” was a body part or a lower-class dive. If people were “doing lines,” you’d have guessed they were writing screenplay dialogue or song lyrics. And if you mentioned “acid,” you’d mean citrus juice or a stomach problem. Nobody in Hollywood—or almost anywhere else in the United States—had ever heard of LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide. Timothy Leary wouldn’t even pop his first mushroom until 1960. So it was very out of character that against this background a group of more than 100 Hollywood-establishment types began ingesting little azure pills that resembled cake decorations as an adjunct to psychotherapy.
“When I’d say I was in therapy with a doctor using LSD, people thought I was talking about World War II landing ships”—L.S.T.’s—remembers Judy Balaban, the daughter of longtime Paramount Pictures president Barney Balaban. She didn’t know much about LSD when she started taking it, in the late 50s, but, she laughingly says, “I figured if it was good enough for Cary Grant, it was good enough for me!”
If appearances were important to those behind the camera, they were crucial to stars of the big screen. And as far as the public of 1958 was concerned, Betsy Drake and Cary Grant had “perfected the ideal living pattern” after eight years of wedded bliss. According to the fan magazines, theirs had been a fairy-tale romance: Cary had seen Betsy on the London stage in 1947, and then, when they both serendipitously found themselves on the Queen Mary returning to the States, he begged a friend, the movie star Merle Oberon, to arrange an introduction. After an intense several days on shipboard, Betsy bolted into New York City, but Cary sought her out. Within months he had persuaded her to move to Los Angeles, where she signed with RKO and David O. Selznick and then burst to screen stardom opposite Grant in Every Girl Should Be Married. The Los Angeles Times proclaimed her “the freshest, most distinctive personality since [Jean] Arthur,” and Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper declared her to be “at the threshold of a brilliant career.”
Grant and Drake made headlines when they flew to Arizona to elope on Christmas Day 1949 with their pilot and Cary’s best man, Howard Hughes. Betsy made a few more films before she decided to put her marriage ahead of her career. Determined to be a successful wife, she sought ways to become indispensable to a man who already had a secretary and valet. She developed into a great cook and became his trusted sounding board. She studied hypnosis and, at Cary’s urging, helped both of them to stop smoking, but when he asked her to do the same for his drinking, she agreed to banish only hard liquor and not the wine and beer she enjoyed.
Betsy was beseeched for her advice on how to have a happy marriage, and newspapers and magazines praised the couple’s simple yet complete lives, at their homes in Palm Springs and Beverly Hills or on location. She was at his side in Cannes in 1954 while he made To Catch a Thief with Alfred Hitchcock, and then she went to Spain to join him on the set of The Pride and the Passion. But it was there she realized her husband was falling in love with his co-star Sophia Loren. When Loren came to America not long afterward to star with Grant in Houseboat, it was clear to Betsy that her marriage was over.
Behind the smiling pictures, Betsy was miserable. Though still in love with Grant, she tried to find the strength to leave him, but her shattered childhood had given her no psychic grounding to weather this rejection. She had been born in Paris in 1923 to wealthy parents—her grandfather had built Chicago’s Drake and Blackstone hotels—and the family was living the good life in France alongside the Hemingways and other American expatriates. But following the crash of 1929 the Drakes returned to Chicago, where Betsy was ensconced at the Drake with a nanny while her parents lived at the Blackstone and worked at writing a play. They soon divorced and Betsy’s mother suffered a nervous breakdown; Betsy spent the rest of her childhood being shuttled among relatives in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Connecticut.
Without realizing it, Betsy found solace in acting; when she answered the phone pretending to be someone else, the stutter that plagued her miraculously vanished. But it wasn’t until she appeared in a school play and the audience burst out in “this wonderful laughter” that she felt an approval she had never known before.
Dropping out of high school, she made the rounds of New York agents and auditions, modeling and understudying on Broadway until she was cast by Elia Kazan for a production of Deep Are the Roots, opposite Gordon Heath, opening in London. It was there that Cary had seen her, but taken as she was with him, she was also afraid. Betsy had had lovers before, but she resisted marriage, in large part because of what she had witnessed at home. Yet Cary was so persistent in his courting that she became convinced he was the anchor she had been seeking all her life. Twenty years her senior, he became “my lover, my husband, my everything.”
With hildhood, told Betsy that she was trying a new kind of therapy with a wonder drug that had the power to break through to the subconscious. She insisted that Betsy meet her therapist, but when they arrived at his Beverly Hills office, Betsy refused to get out of the car. So Sallie went inside and brought the doctor out. He talked to Betsy through the open car window:
“You are desperate, right?”
“Well, then why not give this a try?”
Hardly the most persuasive argument—or the most thorough intake interview—but Betsy saw the logic and agreed to come back the next morning. She was feeling somewhat more hopeful that night when she joined Cary, Clifford Odets, and Jascha Heifetz for dinner at Chasen’s. She told them, “Tomorrow I am going to take LSD.” But the men looked at her blankly and then went on with their conversation. “They didn’t know what I was talking about,” she says. “No one had heard of it.”
“I Had a Strange Feeling…”
Twenty years earlier, in 1938, a 32-year-old Swiss chemist named Albert Hofmann had synthesized the concoction while experimenting with fungus in search of a stimulant for the central nervous system. “I had a strange feeling that it would be worthwhile to carry out more profound studies,” Hofmann later said. After trying the drug himself, first by mistake and then intentionally, he added, “I became aware of the wonder of creation, the magnificence of nature.”
He labeled the chemical LSD-25, because it had been the 25th variation in his experiments. His employer, Sandoz laboratories (now a subsidiary of Novartis), began providing the substance to researchers in hopes of finding profitable applications. By the mid-1950s, the C.I.A., the U.S. Army, the Canadian government, and Britain’s M.I.6 had all jumped in, hoping LSD would serve as a truth serum or a new method of chemical warfare. Prisons and the military provided fertile and secret testing grounds. Other practitioners, varying widely in their legitimacy, experimented on derelicts, terminal cancer patients, residents of veterans’ hospitals, and college students. Within the psychiatric profession word spread that LSD held the potential to cure alcoholism, schizophrenia, shell shock (now known as post-traumatic stress disorder), and a wide range of other problems. Between 1950 and 1965, a reported 40,000 people worldwide would be tested or “treated” with LSD.
Sandoz was so loose with its requirements for obtaining the drug that when Oscar Janiger, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, wrote the company in the mid-1950s asking for a supply to give to consenting patients, on whose experiences he would then report, he was sent his own private stock of LSD. Artists told other artists, ministers told other ministers, and the good doctor was soon spending most of his time hosting experiments. Along with Dr. Sidney Cohen, Janiger expanded his efforts into a “creativity” study through U.C.L.A., where writers, painters, and musicians such as André Previn experimented with the drug.
Aldous Huxley, the renowned author of Brave New World and The Doors of Perception, was one of the first in Los Angeles to take LSD and was soon joined by others including the writer Anaïs Nin. The screenwriter Charles Brackett discovered “infinitely more pleasure” from music on LSD than he ever had before, and the director Sidney Lumet tried it under the supervision of a former chief of psychiatry for the U.S. Navy. Lumet says his three sessions were “wonderful,” especially the one where he relived his birth and, after checking with his father, learned that the experience was factually accurate, not simply symbolic. Another early experimenter was Clare Boothe Luce, the playwright and former American ambassador to Italy, who in turn encouraged her husband, Time publisher Henry Luce, to try LSD. He was impressed and several very positive articles about the drug’s potential ran in his magazine in the late 50s and early 60s, praising Sandoz’s “spotless” laboratories, “meticulous” scientists, and LSD itself as “an invaluable weapon to psychiatrists.”
It was in the mid-1950s that Sallie Brophy’s therapist, Mortimer Hartman, began experimenting with LSD. A radiologist, he had undergone five years of Freudian analysis and was thrilled to find a drug that seemed to let the unconscious burst to the forefront, instantaneously dissolving the ego instead of slowly peeling it away layer by layer. Claiming LSD “intensifies emotion and memory a hundred times,” as Hartman told Look magazine in 1959, he became so enamored with the drug that he shifted away from radiology and joined forces with the psychiatrist Arthur Chandler to create the sedate yet pretentiously named Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills. Their next step was to secure a direct source of the drug from Sandoz for what they said would be a five-year study of LSD as a catalyst in the treatment of—as they affectionately named this new class of patients—“garden-variety neurotics.”
The tall and gangly Hartman opened his institute on Beverly Hills’ exclusive Lasky Drive. The rooms were furnished with sofas and decorated in what one patient remembers as “inexpensive and undistinguished browns and beiges,” with wood paneling halfway up the walls. Hartman and Chandler were partners, but Chandler, whom another patient describes as looking like “an unfunny Walter Matthau,” continued to work out of his house off Coldwater Canyon. In the words of a doctor who knew them both, Chandler served as a “drag” on the potentially “grandiose and messianic” Hartman, who was, after all, a doctor, but not a trained psychiatrist.
At most universities and hospitals, students and volunteers were paid for their willingness to test LSD, but Hartman and Chandler reversed the equation, and even though they saw only a few patients a day, the doctors were paid very well for their time. Aldous Huxley wrote to a friend that he found it “profoundly disturbing” to meet “two Beverly Hills psychiatrists … who specialize in LSD therapy at $100 a shot—really, I have seldom met people of lower sensitivity, more vulgar mind!”
Yet the two treatment rooms at the Psychiatric Institute were soon booked five days a week after patients such as Sallie Brophy began recommending the therapy to friends such as Betsy Drake. Shown into one of the small rooms and told to lie on the couch in the corner, Betsy was given a pair of blinders to wear to block out any distractions. Assured that the tiny blue dots in the little white paper cup came straight from the Sandoz laboratories, she was soon feeling a “horrible crushing,” and, in very real physical pain, she realized she was re-experiencing her own birth. The session lasted several hours and she was given a Seconal to “bring me down” slowly. Enthused by what she considered an incredible experience, Betsy went home and called her mother, with whom she hadn’t spoken in more than a decade. “I told her, ‘I love you,’ and after all that time, she just said, ‘Of course you do, darling,’ and hung up.”
The failure to reconnect in a meaningful way with her mother didn’t dampen Betsy’s optimism about the therapy. Fifty years later, sitting in her cozy London home with her bobbed hair now gray but her high cheekbones and radiant smile evidence of her long-ago stardom, she says her memories of her experiences under LSD are still crystal-clear, the revelations still vivid. The unconscious, she says, “is like a vast ocean. You don’t know where you are going to go. There is no past, present, and future—all time is now. The amazing thing about the drug is the things you see. The palm trees look different. Everything looks different, and it teaches you so much.”
Once a week for several months, Drake returned to Hartman’s office for her sessions and her LSD, arriving at eight A.M. and staying until as late as seven at night. Like a dentist leaving a patient after administering novocaine, Hartman was in and out of the room, sometimes putting on music to enhance the atmosphere. Because it was mandated that patients not drive themselves home, friends such as Judy Balaban picked her up.
Judy was only 26, but she had been married for six years to Jay Kanter, agent to stars such as Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck, Marilyn Monroe, and Grace Kelly, who were also close friends. (Judy had served as a bridesmaid at Kelly’s royal wedding, in Monaco.) Judy and Jay had two young daughters, and friends assumed her family was as perfect as it looked, but she was troubled by the sense that her life had become perfunctory, and she felt unconnected to her children. This hidden dissatisfaction with outwardly happy lives was a common theme among Betsy and Judy’s circle of friends, which also included the actress Polly Bergen (recently seen on Desperate Housewives as Felicity Huffman’s mother), who was married to agent Freddie Fields, founder of the precursor to ICM; Linda Lawson, a rising ingenue who was dating and would eventually marry the agent and future producer John Foreman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid); and Marion Marshall, an actress who had recently divorced the director Stanley Donen and would go on to marry the actor Robert Wagner.
In some sense, all these women were living the lives they had been raised to think they wanted. John Foreman later summarized the classic conundrum of marriages in the 1950s: “The guy rides up on a white horse, sweeps the girl off her feet, and says, ‘Marry me and I’ll give you everything you want.’ Years pass and the wife comes to the painful conclusion that she is miserable. ‘Why are you unhappy?’ asks the husband. ‘What do you want?’ ‘I don’t know,’ the wife responds helplessly. ‘I thought you knew and were going to give it to me.’ ”
A few of these women had tried analysis, but none had ever been given prescriptions from their psychiatrists. Yet LSD was seen as a powerful tool to break through confusion and inhibition. As Bergen says, “I wanted to be the person, not the persona,” and what attracted her to LSD therapy was “this possibility of a magic wand” that would force her to open up. Marshall, who went to Hartman’s office once a week for about a year, is quick to point out that she never thought of the regimen as “taking a drug. It was therapy. It was what my doctor told me to do, so I did it.”
Their descriptions of their experiences on LSD can sound today like a rehash of New Age clichés, but at the time—before the Beatles and the Jefferson Airplane were literally singing the praises of psychedelic drugs, before every college student was reading Carlos Castaneda—their perceptions were fresh and revelatory. Like Sidney Lumet and Betsy Drake, Judy relived her birth and often felt during therapy as if she had left her body and “fused” with the universe. “You experienced this otherworld consciousness and became part of what I imagined was ‘the infinite mind of man.’ ”
Linda Lawson was unprepared when she took the little blue dots, put on her blinders, and was soon suffering “a burst of rage and sobbing.” She was once again a 13-year-old girl, reliving the death of her father, “who had never raised his voice and was always so loving” but had left her to live with a mother who she felt didn’t know how to love her. In grappling with her issues of abandonment, Linda grew so trusting of Hartman (she found him “sweet, if a bit skeletal”) that when he urged her to move in with John Foreman she did so. And when the doctor added Ritalin—a stimulant that can affect brain chemistry—to her regimen, she didn’t question him.
“My Wise Mahatma”
Cary Grant’s initial impetus for visiting Dr. Hartman was a concern about what his wife might be saying about him. Grant methodically cultivated his debonair image and had been a leading man for more than 25 years. It was an unparalleled achievement, all the more remarkable because he had accomplished it by creating his persona out of whole cloth. He was a poor and emotionally abused boy of 14 named Archie Leach when he left his Bristol, England, home several years after his mother had simply disappeared; it would be decades before he discovered she had been institutionalized, possibly by his father, who had another family on the side. Grant came to America as an acrobat, soon began acting on the stage, and was famously “discovered” in 1932 by Mae West, who gave him his first featured film role, in She Done Him Wrong. He had transformed himself with a new accent and educated himself about art, clothes, and etiquette, in the process becoming the proverbial man of the world whom every woman wants and every man wants to be. He had perfected his exterior beyond his wildest dreams, but the inside was something else again. His self-deprecating remark “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant—even I want to be Cary Grant” had more than a ring of truth to it.
At the time he began treatment with Dr. Hartman he was 55 and separated from Betsy, his third wife. His first marriage, to the actress Virginia Cherrill, had lasted only a year, and his marriage to the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton ended after three years. (He was the only one of her eventual seven husbands not to take money from her.) Cary remained friends with Betsy, sometimes even staying with her for weekends, but Betsy was busy trying to reclaim her own life. He may not have been aware of how devastated she was by their breakup, but he did know there was a very real void in his own life.
Leery of doctors, in part because he believed Barbara Hutton’s hypochondria had led to unnecessary operations and pain, Cary was not ready to be impressed with Hartman. Yet he quickly became intrigued, started calling the doctor “my wise Mahatma,” and began what would be some 100 therapy sessions over several years.
There is no question that, at least for a period of time, LSD truly transformed Cary Grant. “When I first started under LSD, I found myself turning and turning on the couch,” he later told a friendly reporter. “I said to the doctor, ‘Why am I turning around on this sofa?’ and he said ‘Don’t you know why?’ and I said I didn’t have the vaguest idea, but I wondered when it was going to stop. ‘When you stop it,’ he answered. Well, it was like a revelation to me, taking complete responsibility for one’s own actions. I thought ‘I’m unscrewing myself.’ That’s why people use the phrase, ‘all screwed up.’ ”
Few of the participants mentioned their drug therapy to friends who weren’t also in therapy. They did, however, talk with one another; as Judy Balaban says, “What I had with Cary and Betsy was a kind of soul-baringness that the culture didn’t start to deal with until years later. We continued to have that even when our lives went off in different directions.” When the actor Patrick O’Neal asked Judy about LSD during a dinner party at Oscar Levant’s house, she started to explain, but Oscar interrupted with his own pithy summation: “Patrick, you don’t get it. Judy was taking LSD for exactly the opposite reason you and I take stuff. She is trying to find out about things. You and I are trying to obliterate them.”
Yet that was a conversation among a small group of close friends. Beyond scientific journals and mentions in Time magazine, there was still little information about LSD available to the public. Then, much to his friends’ surprise, Cary Grant began talking about his therapy in public, lamenting, “Oh those wasted years, why didn’t I do this sooner?”
This kind of sharing, as we might now call it, was very out of character for a man to whom his carefully cultivated image was so important that he had maintained more than 20 scrapbooks of the international coverage he had received. When he started taking LSD he stopped saving articles, even though there were dozens of interesting new ones he could have cut and pasted into those blank pages.
“The Curious Story Behind the New Cary Grant” headlined the September 1, 1959, issue of Look magazine, and inside was a glowing account of how, because of LSD therapy, “at last, I am close to happiness.” He later explained that “I wanted to rid myself of all my hypocrisies. I wanted to work through the events of my childhood, my relationship with my parents and my former wives. I did not want to spend years in analysis.” More articles followed, and LSD even received a variation of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval when that magazine declared in its September 1960 issue that it was one of the secrets of Grant’s “second youth.” The magazine went on to praise him for “courageously permitting himself to be one of the subjects of a psychiatric experiment with a drug that eventually may become an important tool in psychotherapy.”
Many reading those articles had to be intrigued, but MGM’s great aqua diva, Esther Williams, was one of the few who could pick up the phone, call Cary, and have him invite her over to discuss it. Williams had captivated audiences with her dazzling smile, her synchronized swimming, and her perfect athletic body in films such as Million Dollar Mermaid and Dangerous When Wet, but now she was in her late 30s and had just been through a wrenching divorce, only to discover that her now ex-husband had spent all her earnings and left her with a huge debt to the I.R.S. As she put it in her autobiography, “At that point, I really didn’t know who I was. Was I that glamorous femme fatale?… Was I just another broken-down divorcée whose husband left her with all the bills and three kids?”
Now here was Cary Grant saying, “I know that, all my life, I’ve been going around in a fog. You’re just a bunch of molecules until you know who you are.” In a fog. That was exactly how Esther was feeling, and she was desperate to break through it. Cary warned her, “It takes a lot of courage to take this drug,” because “it’s a tremendous jolt to your mind, to your ego.” After Williams assured him she had “to find some answers, fast,” Grant agreed to introduce her to Dr. Hartman.
Esther, who has lived for years in Beverly Hills with her longtime husband, Ed Bell, still has a swimming pool and still remembers her experience with LSD vividly. She eagerly took her little blue pills and was thrilled to discover that “with my eyes closed, I felt my tension and resistance ease away as the hallucinogen swept through me. Then, without warning, I went right to the place where the pain lay in my psyche.” She returned to the day when she was 8 years old and her beloved 16-year-old brother, Stanton, died. The family had moved from Kansas to Los Angeles, convinced Stanton was destined for stardom, and his death devastated each family member in different ways. Under LSD, Esther saw “my father’s face as a ceramic plate. Almost instantly, it splintered into a million tiny pieces, like a windshield when a rock goes through it.” Then she saw her mother’s face on that terrible day, and “all the emotion had drained out of her, and her soft, kindly features had hardened.”
During the session Esther realized—“observing it from a distance as if I were acting in or watching a movie”—that ever since the day her brother had died her life had been consumed by the necessity to replace him in every sense of the word, and “suddenly this little girl was in a race against time to be an adult.”
Exhausted but calm, Esther left the doctor’s office and returned to her Mandeville Canyon home, where her parents, still emotionally broken by Stanton’s death, were waiting to have dinner with her. She “understood them that night in a profound way, and while I sympathized, I was also sickened by their weakness and their resignation. I saw that they both simply had given up, which, no matter what life had in store for me, was something I could never and would never do.”
But the evening wasn’t over for Esther. After she had said good night to her parents, she went to her bedroom, undressed, and washed. When she looked in the mirror, “I was startled by a split image: One half of my face, the right half, was me; the other half was the face of a sixteen-year-old boy. The left side of my upper body was flat and muscular.… I reached up with my boy’s large, clumsy hand to touch my right breast and felt my penis stirring. It was a hermaphroditic phantasm.” Esther has no recollection of how long she stood there, but there was no question that now “I understood perfectly: when Stanton had died, I had taken him into my life so completely that he became a part of me.”
“Well, Let’s Just End This”
For Esther Williams, Cary Grant, Betsy Drake, and many others, the experience of taking LSD had a profound effect on them. Over and over in interviews, former patients recounted how it changed their perception of the universe and of their place in it. Most agreed with Sidney Lumet, who says LSD provided “remarkable revelations” he continues to consider very useful to this day. Yet, in many cases, their experiences were not all positive, sometimes because of unexpected reactions to the drug, sometimes because of odd, even irresponsible actions by the therapists, who were in uncharted waters, way beyond normal medical protocols.
Marion Marshall had a frightening session where she was convinced a huge black-widow spider was going to attack her. She pulled off her mask to talk to Hartman, and when she told him what was happening, he said, “Well, let’s just end this.” But Marion insisted, “No, I am going to go back and face it.” She put her blinders back on, and “it turned into the best session I ever had. I faced my fears, whatever they were. It was like the death experience that people describe; all of a sudden everything was white and wonderful.”
She had won her revelation in spite of Hartman, who was even less helpful during what turned out to be Judy Balaban’s last experience with LSD. “It started out like all my sessions,” she recalls. “I went into the fusion [with the universe] state and got all the way out there, no longer connected to my body. But suddenly I hit the dysphoric side rather than the euphoric side I’d always gone to, and I was scared for the first time in eight months. I wanted to return to my body, but couldn’t. I was so disconnected I couldn’t even make my mouth work. Usually when you were fused, you could speak if you needed to. Not this time. After a couple of minutes of silence that felt like a year, Hartman said, ‘I don’t know where you are, kid …you’re on your own!’
“You’re on your own! Now I was really terrified! I’m stuck in this abstract universe, disconnected from my body, and no one knows how I can get back to myself! He gave me a shiny yellow pill—Compazine, I think—but it took several more hours for me to reconnect my body and my mind. I didn’t blame Hartman for putting me there, but I did blame him for abandoning me verbally. For months afterward, usually at night, I would return to that fused state and be afraid I couldn’t get back into myself. Finally, another doctor taught me how to breathe properly when an incident began, and then I was able to stop it before it took hold of me. I never had even a hint of another one again.”
Polly Bergen had been going to Dr. Chandler’s house once a week for several months, but when the little blue pills didn’t seem to work anymore, he gave her injections of Ritalin. “Because I don’t seem to have available veins elsewhere, he shot it into my hand, and when it didn’t go into my veins, I watched as my hand started to swell with fluid. All the while he kept talking on and on about his own experiences. I had to tell him it wasn’t working, and he took the needle out, but that’s when I realized I was being treated by someone who was high, stoned, completely gone.”
Having lost all confidence in Chandler, Polly stopped seeing him, but periodically she “started disappearing into this dreamlike state, not actually leaving my body, but reliving these experiences: being born, being a child in a crib.” The flashbacks scared her, and they didn’t stop until she and her husband sat down with another psychiatrist, who explained the drug and its effects, something Chandler had never done.
Linda Lawson kept trying to see the positive side of her treatments until, during one of her sessions, she heard the tinkling of glass. She lifted her blinders to see where the noise was coming from and saw Chandler “playing with these pieces of glass, making a mosaic. He was stoned and just somewhere else entirely.” That did it for Linda, but occasionally she would visit him “just to sit up and talk,” concluding that “he was probably a very good therapist before he started getting so stoned himself.”
“Too Much of a Good Thing”
Betsy Drake credits LSD therapy with “giving me the courage to leave my husband” and, for the first time, to truly speak her mind. “After an LSD session, one morning in bed while we were both having breakfast, Cary asked me a question and I said, ‘Go fuck yourself.’ He jumped out of bed, buttoning the top of his pajamas, his bare bottom showing, and slammed the bathroom door. That was the true beginning of the end.”
She and Cary were divorced in 1962 after 13 years of marriage—his longest—but they remained friendly for the rest of his life. The therapy had intensified her interest in the mental-health field; she began volunteering, then studying, at U.C.LA.’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and other Los Angeles hospitals. In the early 70s she published a novel and enrolled at Harvard, earning a master’s of education in psychology, specializing in psychodrama therapy, where patients act out problems instead of discussing them.
Cary continued to sing the praises of LSD, and his belief in it was evidenced by the fact he left Dr. Hartman $10,000 in his will. But when the actress Dyan Cannon divorced Grant in 1968, after less than three years of marriage, LSD was used against him. In seeking custody of their daughter, Jennifer, Cannon’s lawyers claimed that he was “an unfit father” because of his use of the drug and his resulting “instability.” However, when the respected psychiatrist Judd Marmor testified that Grant had told him LSD had deepened the actor’s “sense of compassion for people, deepened his understanding of himself, and helped cure his shyness and anxiety in dealing with other people,” Grant was given two months a year with his daughter and the right to overnight visits.
Grant’s defensive posture regarding LSD during his last divorce reflected the dramatic shift in public opinion. Beginning in 1962, the Food and Drug Administration began demanding to see the records of doctors such as Hartman and Chandler and appeared at their offices to confiscate their LSD supply. The doors of the Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills closed suddenly that same year. Linda Lawson remembers being deep into her drug-induced state when Hartman informed her, without giving any reason, that he was leaving California and this would be her last session with him. The proliferation of LSD as a street drug and reports of suicides and other tragic consequences of LSD abuse led to national legislation criminalizing its possession in 1968. There wasn’t much resistance from its earliest adherents. Clare Boothe Luce was said to have cautioned, “We wouldn’t want everyone doing too much of a good thing.”
Nevertheless, one of the common threads among the interviews we conducted with past patients was that, no matter how they felt about their personal experience with LSD, they resented that Timothy Leary’s much-publicized campaign to “turn on, tune in, drop out” had sparked a backlash against a drug they still believe to be a potentially beneficial telescope into the subconscious. Their time might have finally come, for today, after 50 years of its being demonized, LSD is beginning to make a comeback in the laboratory. No breakthroughs are expected soon, but researchers from around the world gathered in California this past April to compare notes, and scientists at Harvard and the University of California at San Francisco have received permission from the F.D.A. to experiment with LSD once again.