Editor’s note: With a resurgence of interest in psychedelics for medical and therapeutic use, and a shift in attitudes concerning the “War On [Some] Drugs,” Todd Brendan Fahey’s Wisdom’s Maw: The Acid Novel is now considered an underground classic. The book sheds light on the origins of the US government’s interest in LSD and its key role in the coming counterculture. It “factionalizes” events surrounding the CIA’s LSD experiments of the 1950s/60s, known as Project MK-Ultra, and their influence on the subsequent counterculture. It was released in October, 2013, via Amazon/Kindle.
It was a scary time in my life–when, deep in the bowels of my phone line began emergence of a sonar blip to which I could set my watch and which prompted my then-literary agent [William F. Stankey, whose representation I shared with Hunter S. Thompson] to laugh: “God damn, your phone is fucking lousy! They’ve got you bugged from here to gone!” [And according to persons I trust and who have intimate familiarity with such, yes, “they” did/had; and is why I fled Los Angeles in the middle of the night, back in 1991, and have been discrete with mine address thereafter.]
I had been, since 1989, researching the story of “Captain” Alfred M. Hubbard — the former OSS spook who turned Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary onto LSD for the first time. How a 24-year old could gain access to such a list of persons is still unknown to me. I’d served as aide to two U.S. military Generals, a U.S. Congressman and the Governor of Arizona … but that didn’t merit me any sort of inclusion into the Acid Club.
Here’s how it went: I was enrolled in the Master’s degree Program in Professional Writing at University of Southern California (USC), and one of my professors was a man named Paul Gillette. Paul had written Play Misty For Me, which became a Clint Eastwood film, and was a Pulitzer nominee for a later novel. He was a heavy drinker, as was I, and we enjoyed countless nights downstairs at Traditions — the bar at USC. (One night, Dr. Gillette and I watched Nolan Ryan’s seventh no-hitter, live, on the big screen at Traditions, and got drunker than I think I’ve ever been in my life; he winced, at my next class, near unto an apologia, and asked if I’d “made it home OK?”)
Paul Gillette had hosted a CBS television interview program for a couple of years in the 1970s, and among his guests was one Dr. Humphry Osmond — the man who turned Aldous Huxley on to mescaline, inspiring the legendary The Doors of Perception. Gillette knew I was an acid head, and he wanted to help; he also knew that my writing was … very different and apart from anything he’d seen prior.
I was given Dr. Humphry Osmond’s telephone number in Alabama. [Osmond passed from this sphere in 2004, and, when I phoned him, was still Director of Psychiatry at Bryce Hospital, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.] Osmond was told by one of his staff that there was a guy on the line wishing to speak of Al Hubbard. Dr. Osmond interrupted his schedule and proceeded to speak with me for the next two hours.
I continued to phone Osmond — this time, at his home — and each time, he would answer the phone with warm greetings. To-date, I have about six hours of audiotape of my conversations with Humphry Osmond, on the topic of Al Hubbard.
Dr. Osmond then — knowing that I was deeply and sincerely interested in both psychedelics and the life of Al Hubbard — gave to me a mind-bending array of phone numbers, addresses and contacts, of everyone he could think of who might have known Al Hubbard. I count myself as being one of the luckiest sonsofbitches on the planet.
Among those on Dr. Osmond’s phone list were none other than Timothy Leary; Myron Stolaroff [a former Ampex executive-turned-LSD pioneer]; Dr. Abram Hoffer, a Canadian psychiatrist with long and deep ties to “Captain” Al Hubbard, the so-called “Johnny Appleseed of LSD”; and, to my shock, none other than the wives of both the late Al Hubbard and Aldous Huxley, whom Hubbard had first turned on to LSD, in the sessions that became Huxley’s seminal tome Heaven and Hell, the follow-up to The Doors of Perception, which was inspired by mescaline and introduced to Huxley by, indeed, Dr. Humphry Osmond.
I was sitting on the Who’s Who of phone numbers for the entire late-1950s/very early-60s contingent of connoisseurs of this strange new drug, which was then being manufactured by Switzerland’s Sandoz Laboratories and disbursed world-wide via Al Hubbard’s mysterious network.
Only one person on Dr. Osmond’s list refused to talk with me in any meaningful detail: Beverly Hills psychiatrist Dr. Oscar Janiger — who is credited for “turning on” actors Jack Nicholson, Cary Grant, David Niven, Stanley Kubrick, novelist Anais Nin and countless others. Upon finally reaching Dr. Janiger at his private practice, and letting him know of the particulars of my interest in the good “Captain,” Janiger responded:
“Nothing of substance has been written of Al Hubbard; and probably nothing ever should” — after which, he hung up the phone.
The others were surprisingly easy to reach and to enlist in the, what would become a 5-page High Times magazine centerfold, titled: “The Original Captain Trips” [November 1991]; and, even later, the novel that has moved me and plagued me for lo these many years.
Reaching Laura Huxley was a matter of logistics. Despite her fairly advanced age, she led a demanding speaking and salon-type schedule. I phoned her maybe three times over a period of two weeks, at the Hollywood Hills home that she and Aldous had shared before his death of tongue cancer in 1963, and could never seem to find an apt time to sit down together.
One day it worked out, and I found myself scaling Mulholland Drive, and then up an even steeper incline, to the top of a certain roost and so close to the famed “Hollywood” mountainside sign, I could almost reach out and taste it. An old money community, and Mrs. Huxley’s house was probably the oldest (looking) place on the street.
I parked my orange Ford Fiesta rag-top convertible on the street, so as not to obstruct the driveway, and walked up to a three-storey structure, the base of which had not been mowed for at least two months; a 40-year old coat of white paint flaking off like psoriasis onto the unkempt lawn, and up the driveway to a garage literally full of bats, hanging from the rafters and doing their near-sundown twitch.
I was glad that I hadn’t arrived with a headful of acid, or it would have been a quick trip.Mrs. Huxley took quite awhile in arriving, and so I moseyed around the driveway area and amongst the tall tree-line, trying to envision the place back “in the day,” with the usual suspects meandering through the modest mansion, LSD and related psychedelics still being legal — and without paranoia or [knowing] scrutiny.
Madame Archera-Huxley, skin translucent and in dark shawl and hat, pulled up of her own accord and, exiting the driver’s door of possibly a high-class Buick, was none too fond of spotting me on her front lawn (I wanted to gaze at the home and suck up its vibes; I stayed in the front yard). Of an “if I must,” I was brought inside and was motioned to a cushioned chair at the end of a fine coffee table; having asked, “May I record this conversation, which will ensure accuracy of transcription?” — noting agreements with Leary, Dr. Humphry Osmond, Dr. Abram Hoffer and a man to whom I spoke on the recommendation of Mrs. Al Hubbard — the grand dame adjusted her shawl and came forth of an, “I prefer you didn’t; notes must suffice.”Such is as friendly as it got, for this writer, in the Huxley residence. There was offered nothing in the way of new information, and only confirmation of the “carbogen tank and Hubbard inhaling its contents in the bathroom”-story: “he came out very rejuvenated and spoke of a vision he had seen of the Virgin Mary,” is her remembrance, coated in amusement and bemusement; she knew well her husband’s appreciation of the man, but the interactions she shared, and in the company of her husband, was always more social than clinical or clandestine. Al Hubbard held different relationships with different persons of varying levels of trust and assistance, and Laura Huxley met Hubbard only a handful of times, mostly on social occasions.
The evening lasted possibly an hour, as she would answer the phone several times; while she did, I took in the high vaulted ceiling of the estate; two storeys and, from its appearance outdoors, possibly with functional attic. The home bore a tasteful placing of carpets, old wood, white paint of new ministration come inside. There was no tour and none anticipated; knowing I was three minutes from being back in my car, she took me out to the balcony and motioned to the H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D sign, and I breathed a vapor that is generated only in the foothills of Los Angeles…
• • • • • • •
The published article, “The Original Captain Trips,” gained attention of Hunter S. Thompson’s publicist, William Stankey, who would represent Fahey for nearly five years and to no avail. Nearly every major publisher in New York had read the manuscript of Wisdom’s Maw by end-1995 and all deemed it “subversive, untouchable and potentially libelous,” as major characters — names changed but still living — spanned, among others: Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary and Sidney Gottlieb (director of the CIA’s Project MK-Ultra, the LSD and mind control experiments upon which this novel is based).
Wisdom’s Maw: The Acid Novel, nearly two decades hence and having been published independently via Far Gone Books in 1996, was reviewed to 5-star acclaim within The Village Voice, High Times and a host of underground magazines, ‘zines and campus newspapers.
The novel’s “back cover blurb” was penned by Ernest J. Gaines (The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman; A Lesson Before Dying), recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, Pulitzer Prize nominee and winner of the John Dos Passos Award.