Acid wasn’t a new thing to George Leisey like it was to the hippies. After all, his mother and her friends had been taking it many years earlier, and in fact, so had George himself. In 1959 he was only thirteen years old, but his mother’s psychiatrist friends “wanted to find out for their research what LSD would do if they gave it to an obnoxious little kid.”(91) Adelle Davis took her young son down to Oscar Janiger’s office and acted as his guide the first time he took LSD. Leisey recalls being told there were five kids all together who were subjects in Dr. Janiger’s experiments. Janiger, Sidney Cohen, Bob Davidson and David Snow “had kind of a private network…”(92) through which they obtained children fo their research. Leisey doesn’t quite remember the names of the other kids…. There was one girl named Joyce, on whom he’d had a crush: she caused no small surprise one day when George discovered her tripping in his own house on her seventeenth birthday. Mother Adelle acted as Joyce’s LSD guide, too. In fact, Leisey’s mom had talked Joyce’s mother into letting her be a subject in the experiments, apparently acting on behalf of the “private network….” Years later Leisey knew the daughter of Art Linkletter who committed suicide while using LSD. He says he had at least five childhood friends who committed suicide, and he knows several of those deaths were probably caused by drugs.
Leisey readily admits, “Adelle Davis would have ended up in the slammer real fast, if she had given her son and other kids LSD these days.”(93) But even in the fifties, before LSD had a bad reputation or any reputation at all, giving an experimental mind altering drug to children was a morally questionable business. The psychiatrists with whom Davis was friendly knew that. But Leisey is far from bitter toward his mother.(94) To this day he would probably approve of clinical LSD research, and he tends to credit the view that a widespread drug culture in the sixties torpedoed chances for more work similar to what his mother’s friends had done.
In 1986 Oscar Janiger organized an art exhibit in his home in Santa Monica to begin rehabilitating his favorite outlawed drug’s public image.(95) A year later he founded the Albert Hoffman Foundation in Los Angeles, hoping a groundswell of opinion would encourage legalization of the kind of projects run in the late fifties.(96) On one hand George Leisey wishes Janiger success.(97) However a recent phone call to the Hoffman Foundation revealed that in the eleven years since it was founded donations never brought in the resources to permanently house historical archives from Janiger’s research or open a planned public museum, despite front page press coverage when the Foundation was first announced.(98) On the other hand Leisey obviously finds it difficult to locate himself on any scale of attitudes about LSD. His early experience, like his mother’s, was constructed around a concept of a carefully controlled trip with clinical psychiatric attention to every detail of “set and setting.”(99) But when he implies that the sixties drug culture damaged chances for careful attempts to expand human consciousness, Leisey has to separate himself from his own behavior. The stories of wandering naked in the desert, etc., are straight out of Keseyan legends in the true “prank ‘em” style.(100)
Individual statements and behavior which appear to be logically inconsistent or hypocritical with several decades’ hindsight are usually evidence that real events and real lives are much more complicated than historians can record. When George Leisey was asked how his mother could have taken drugs and then blamed others for taking them, how she could have turned such a glib “anti-commie” phrase despite her personal awareness of McCarhtyism’s injustices, he found it awkward to explain. But he insisted that Adelle Davis was, if nothing else, entirely genuine in her stated opinions at the time she offered them.(101) People do change their minds during their lives, futures are hard to predict. Leisey knew certain very intelligent people who kept personal supplies of LSD for the day when each would lie on his or her death bed. His mother was one such person, but in the event her drug of choice had far fewer implications for the next world. The final stages of bone cancer apparently involve a degree of pain which just sucks one’s attention back to the present, away from all the higher contemplations. Adelle Davis spent her own final weeks, days, hours and minutes… in the softest fog that increasing doses of morphine could provide.(102)
91. April 16, 1998 phone interview.
92. April 30, 1998 phone interview.
94. When I mentioned Leisey’s claim that his mother made him the subject of LSD experiments to Professor Lane Fenrich, he immediately cautioned me against believing a bitter son’s charges about what his mother did to him. But in fact George’s Leisey and Adelle Davis, whatever their relationship had been in the fifties, were quite close later. Davis died in her son’s arms in 1974, after he had cared for her personally during many months of severe physical degeneration from bone cancer and the chemotherapy and radiation treatment for that disease. There is no trace of bitterness in his memories of her.
95. Goldstein, Alan, “Psychiatrist Holds Art Exhibit to Encourage New Study of LSD”, Los Angeles Times. June 30, 1986, page 1.
96. Klein, Dianne, “50 Years Later, New Acid Test for LSD”, Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1988, page 1. Fleming, Anne Taylor, “A Mecca For Psychedelic Pilgrims”, New York Times, August 10, 1988.
97. April 16, 1998 interview with Leisey.
98. I actually called the number listed in the September, 1988 article in the LA Times first, and got a recording which gave an address in Laguna Beach to which I could send my request to be added to their mailing list, and referred me to another number belonging to “John” in Los Angeles. When I reached John he was very anxious to find out if I was or knew a potential financial donor, but he had no interest in answering any other questions, including what his last name might be. As I talked with him for about five minutes, I was aware that he was either using a speaker phone or located in a high-echo space of some sort. Then came the clear sound of a “john” flushing, and I realized the Albert Hoffman Foundation is hurting if “John” is its only contact with the public.
99. “Set and setting” was the phrase which defined the methodology of Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and the Harvard and Millbrook commune crowd. They had learned it from Captain Al Hubbard. See Lee and Shlain or Stevens.
100. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters advocated the exact opposite address to LSD use from Leary. They insisted that the more uncontrolled and unpredictable the experience could be made, the better. Lee and Shlain, Stevens.
101. Phone interview with George Leisey, April 30, 1998.
(NEXT: IMPLICATIONS OF SECRECY)