Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cary Grant on LSD: the Acid Test in Hollywood

Hollywood leading man Cary Grant took LSD about 100 times beginning at age 55.
 “I was noting the growing intensity of light in the room…as I shut my eyes, visions appeared to me.  I seemed to be in a world of healthy, chubby little babies’ legs and diapers, and smeared blood, a sort of general menstrual activity taking place.  It did not repel me as such thoughts used to.”

Is this the acid-fueled ranting from the drug-crazed 1960s?  No.  It’s the tape-recorded stream-of-consciousness narrative of an LSD therapy session with Hollywood legend Cary Grant.  In fact, it was the 58-year-old Grant’s 72nd acid trip.  The year was 1962 and LSD was legal.  When Cary Grant and about 100 other Hollywood figures began taking LSD--lysergic acid diethylamide--virtually nobody in the United States had even heard of it.  The LSD was taken in a psychiatrist’s office and was a pseudo-clinical long-term “experiment” of sorts.

Grant learned about LSD therapy from wife Betsy Drake

Grant had heard about the LSD therapy from his wife, actress Betsy Drake.  It had been quite helpful to her, so he wanted to give it a try.  Thus at the age of 55 and separated from Betsy, his third wife, Cary Grant began LSD therapy with Dr. Mortimer Hartman.  Grant wrote in his autobiography, "...after three unsucessful marriages, either something was wrong with me or, obviously, with the whole sociological and moralistic concepts of our civilization."  He saw the LSD therapy as a way to understanding what had been going wrong in his life.  Grant's biographers Charles Higham and Roy Moseley write that he "went into LSD treatments to overcome his constant self-doubts, his characteristic actor's feeling of unworthiness, of being less than a man, the pain of human relationships and the tormenting memories of his childhood."

Cary Grant and wife Betsy Grant in Every Girl Should Be Married (1952).

Cary Grant born Archibald Alexander Leach in Bristol, England

You see, Cary Grant was not "Cary Grant"--he was born Archibald Alexander Leach, the son of a textile worker in provincial Bristol, England.   When he was nine, Leach returned home from school one day to discover that his mother had "disappeared;" it was decades later that he learned that she had been institutionalized by his alcoholic father, who had a second family on the side.  His father had her placed in the Country Home for Mental Defectives, despite the fact that she was not mentally ill.  Grant did not locate her until he was 31-years-old.

Sex-symbol Mae West "discovered" Cary Grant in 1933 and had him co-star with her in She Done Him Wrong.

A poor, emotionally abused boy, he left home at 14 to join an acrobatic troupe and escape his day-to-day existence.  From the age of 14 to 23, he worked as an acrobat, juggler, stilt walker and mime in various vaudeville troupes.  Emmigrating to New York from Bristol, Leach became a well-paid Broadway actor when he pulled up stakes and headed for the Hollywood hills, where he was put under contract to Paramount.  He was "discovered" by Mae West, who saw him walking around the Paramount lot one day.  She cast him opposite her in She Done Him Wrong (1933); the film was a smash hit and was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Picture.

Without ever coming to grips with his childhood, he reinvented himself completely.  Cultivating a debonair image over the years in Hollywood, he transformed himself with a new accent and educated himself about art, music, clothing, etiquette--thus becoming the jet-setting man of the world who was the desire of every woman and the envy of every man.  Every man, that is, including himself.  He often said, "Everyone wants to be Cary Grant--I want to be Cary Grant."

Interview with Cary Grant in National Police Gazette article of December 1967.
He had begun to seek help before beginning LSD therapy.  A severely addicted cigarette smoker, Grant had been smoking three packs a day and was tortured with insomnia.  Betsy introduced him to hypnotism as a cure.  She hypnotized him and he quit his cigarette habit and was able to sleep peacefully every night.  Betsy also used hypnosis to rid Grant of his desire for hard liquor--but refused to give up the beer and wine that she loved and did not cure him of his desire for that.  Grant became able to hypnotize himself and did so at times, including a visit to the dentist.

"When I first began experimentation," Grant explained, "the drug seemed to loosen deep fears, as sleep does a nightmare.  I had horrifying experiences as participant and spectator, but, with each session, became happier, both while experiencing the drug and in periods between...I feel better and feel certain there is curative power in the drug itself."

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It was during the filming of Houseboat (1958) that Cary Grant began his psychedelic therapy sessions.  In his first session under the influence of LSD, "I found myself turning and turning on the couch," he later told a reporter.  Grant asked the doctor why he was "turning around" on the couch.  "Don't you know why?" asked the doctor.  Asking when he was going to stop, the doctor said simply, "When you stop it."  That was like a breath of fresh air for the movie star--"taking complete responsibility for one's own actions."  Then he thought that he was "unscrewing" himself, in response to his being "all screwed up." 

"At first I found it unbelievably painful....I didn't want to go back....I would run the gamut of emotions from deep pain with tears running down my face to light-headed, almost drunken laughter...I went through rebirth.  The experience was like being born for the first time; I imagined all the blood and urine, and I emerged with the flush of birth." 

Cary Grant taking LSD.
 For the uninitiated, the first LSD "trip" is quite unusual.  Slowly things change around you.  Light is refracted differently and brings about distortions or transformation of objects and people.  The hallucinations begin as what seems like rhythmic breathing, but it is the walls or ceiling that are "breathing."  This transforms into patterns that are similar to puzzle pieces, but these "pieces" breath and move and shift in patterns all around you.  The more you look at one pattern, the more you will be "pulled in"--you will feel as if you are stuck in one place and becoming one with the breathing, shifting pattern.

Gazing at your reflection in the mirror, you will see pulsating flesh on your face.  Move your hand or arm and your will see "trails," as if you are moving in slow motion and seeing every movement but it is not slow motion.  Light and shadows on your face transform it into something unrecognizable--either humorous or frightening.  Everything is distorted.  Everything is different.  It is like going somewhere new and different: thus it is a "trip."

LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary.  It was Cary Grant who "turned-on" Leary to the benefits of LSD.

Timothy Leary meets Cary Grant

Cary Grant was involved with LSD for five years before Dr. Timothy Leary became the chief cheerleader for the substance.  Leary met Grant through a mutual friend, Virginia Dennison, a student teacher in the Ramakrisna Vedanta group, which included Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood.  Dennison had taught Grant yoga.  When they met, Grant invited Leary and his girlfriend to his office.

"The joke of all this is that...Cary Grant got me into psychedelic experiences," admits Leary.  It is generally assumed that the opposite was true.  "I had been very much against the use of drugs before that; I had written books on the subject, because I felt that doctors shooting patients up and giving them pills was making them into an assembly-line cure....Cary changed my views.  He converted me."
Bottle of LSD-25 from the 1950s.

Cary Grant explains what he got out of his LSD experiences: "The action of the chemical releases the subconscious so that it becomes quite apparent to yourself.  So that you can see what transpires in the depth of your mind--and what goes on there you wouldn't believe...and learn which misconceptions, guilts and fears, with their resultant repressions, inhibitions and insecurities, have formed the pattern for your past behavior....The shock of each revelation brings with it an anguish of sadness for what was not known before in the wasted years of ignorance and, at the same time, an ecstacy of joy at being freed from the shackles of such ignorance."

"...I learned to accept the responsibility for my own actions, and to blame myself and no one else for circumstances of my own creating.  I learned that no one else was keeping me unhappy but me..."

Copyright (C) Eric Brothers 2011.  All rights reserved.  No republication allowed.


Grant, Cary.  "Cary Grant's Thoughts on LSD."  From the Cary Grant Website, Chapter 14.
Whalen, John.  "The Trip." LA Weekly News. July 1, 1998.
Schwarz, Benjamin. "Becoming Cary Grant." The Atlantic.  January/February 2007.
Beauchamp, Cari and Balaban, Judy.  "Cary in the Sky with Diamonds."  Vanity Fair.  August 2010.
Lyle, Jae.  "To the Sexiest Sixty-Year-Old in the World we say...Happy Birthday Cary."  Photoplay.  February 1964.
"Hollywood: Old Cary Grant Fine." Time magazine.  July 27, 1962.
Higham, Charles and Moseley, Roy.  Extract from Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart.

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