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Title Page
Title page

THE
DIVINE
RASCAL

The Story of the Man who "Turned On" the World with LSD and the People Who Erased Him
created by:
Jeanne Heaton &
Vanessa Hollingshead
Logline
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 LOGLINE:

: In 1959, a down-and-out British writer desperate for fame and fortune arrives in New York City. When he 'trips' on an unknown drug called LSD, his experience is so profound that he goes on a mission to 'turn on' the world with it - but when his mysterious and tragic past catches up with him, he becomes an easy target for the CIA, and the world 'turns' on him. 

Introduction
INTRODUCTION:

Based on his book, "The Man Who Turned on the World," THE DIVINE RASCAL is a dramatic and darkly funny TV series about my father, Michael Hollingshead; the man who gave Harvard professor, Dr. Timothy Leary, his very first hit of LSD and how, together, they launched the 1960s counterculture revolution.

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Michael hollingshead
Dr. Timothy
Leary

 IP: 
"The Man Who Turned On The World"
by Michael Hollingshead
Published 1973

®All Rights Reserved

Why Me?
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WHY ME?
"My dad did so much LSD, psilocybin, blue-blotter, purple haze - that we used to go on family trips together without ever leaving home. When I was five, he left a tray of acid-laced sugar cubes laying on the kitchen table, and I ate all of them. I don't have childhood memories - I have flashbacks."
 
But now, what if, in those flashbacks, your inept father was also an advocate for drug use? And what if he advocated for drug use in a way that changed the world for the better?
In fact, what if, without him, the entire social, cultural, and political uprising of the 1960s never would have happened?

The complex relationship my father had with LSD, the remarkable people he "turned on" with it, and the impact they had on an entire generation have never been dramatized in a television series before... until now."  

Vanessa Hollingshead, Comedian

& Michael Hollingshead's daughter

LSD blasts its way onto the 1950s postindustrial "Norman Rockwell" scene. It shatters America's materialistic and puritanical view and opens the mind.

 

"With m y LSD, I will create the world's first bloodless revolution." Michael Hollingshead

                                                                                

What is LSD?
WHAT IS LSD?
Who Is He
  WHO IS HE?

With a glass of scotch in one hand and 5000 hits of LSD in the other, no one is more mysterious and unfathomable than THE DIVINE RASCAL, Michael Hollingshead.

A genius, a Zelig, a trickster, a guru, a con-man, a writer, an artist, an alcoholic, a junky, a father, an ex-member of the British Air Force, and the man without whom Timothy Leary and the psychedelic revolution never would have happened - Michael is all of these things and more.

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Why Now?
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WHY NOW?  

"To fathom hell or soar angelic, take a pinch of psychedelic." 

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With psychedelic-therapy centers opening all over the world, LSD is back in the zeitgeist and hipper than ever before. Psychedelic retreat centers are booked full of people seeking enlightenment, transcendence, and healing.

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Today, psychiatrists are experimenting with LSD as an innovative treatment for depression, PTSD, addiction, Alzheimer's, alcoholism, cancer, and opioid abuse. What was once considered a dangerous drug in the '60s is now a cutting-edge and promising micro-dosing therapy.

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Dr. Timothy Leary

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Michael Hollingshead

Dr. Richard Alpert, Ram Dass

In fact, scientists have picked up researching psychedelics exactly where our main characters, Michael Hollingshead, Dr. Timothy Leary, and his assistant, Dr. Richard Alpert, left off 60 years ago - before the US government shut them down.

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Joaquin Phoenix

 as Leary

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Hollingshead

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Bill Skarsgård as Alpert

Against the backdrop of a nation fractured by the 1960s Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and the battle for equal rights, their world mirrors the divisions of hatred, racism, and the stripping of women’s rights in our world today. 

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With the right drug in the wrong decade, "The Divine Rascal" will not hesitate, however, to investigate the whole truth of LSD. The show is not a documentary, though. Instead it is a hard-hitting scripted television series that dramatizes the lives of these East Coast academics who dared to defy societal norms and change the world with a single drug and risked, including their children, to do it. 

Vanessa Hollingshead

Series Overview
Part One
 SERIES OVERVIEW:

Part One

The Divine Rascal begins in New York City at the dawn of the '60s.

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On a low-class passenger ship, the desperate and penniless British writer, Michael Hollingshead, arrives at the West Side Docks in Greenwich Village.

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He gets off the ship and heads for The White Horse Tavern, the literary stomping ground of the 1950s poetry gods of angst, known as The Beatniks.

When he walks in, he can't believe his eyes. Sitting at the bar, in various stages of drunken "cheer," are his literary heroes: Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Aldous Huxley...

 

Determined to join their inner circle, he conceals his working-class accent with a polished upper-class one and launches into his harrowing and almost comical escape from London - an escape that nearly cost him his life and, of course, involved a beautiful, very young, British 'bird.'

 

His spellbinding performance earns him a standing ovation and immediate acceptance into their hipper-than-thou rebellious scene.

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    Michael       Sophie

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Sophie Reisner

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Sophie & Vanessa

But then, when he meets the famous West Village femme-fatale jazz pianist, Sophie Reisner, she gets pregnant, they get married, and Vanessa is born.

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Aldous Huxley

With the torment of Vanessa's incessant crying, a pissed-off Sophie, and bills piling up, Michael suffers from a debilitating case of writer's block.

 

Drinking too much, he seeks guidance from the famous British writer, Aldous Huxley. “Hux,” who’s been using this unknown and very mysterious drug called LSD to cure his own writer's block, tells Michael to find a way to get ahold of some and take a lot of it.

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Michael makes a beeline to New York Hospital and persuades his doctor-friend to write him a prescription. Together, they come up with the lie that Michael has bone cancer and needs a significant amount of LSD for research purposes during his "bone marrow transplants."

 

Michael sends the bogus script to LSD's inventor, Dr. Albert Hofmann, and four weeks later...

The Inciing Incident
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THE INCITING INCIDENT:
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A package arrives. Michael opens it, and one gram of 5000 hits of pure LSD along with a bill for $285.00 falls out.

 

He throws the bill in the trash, grabs a bowl, a box of powdered sugar, adds some water, and mixes it all into a thick sugar paste.

As he spoons it into an empty mayonnaise jar, he licks the spoon many times. But with no knowledge of "dose" or "potency," he's completely unprepared for what happens next.

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I moved to the rooftop and all is CHAOS. Kaleidoscopic images surge powerfully in on me, and I am seized by a fear of going insane. My body is strange. Numb. Lifeless. Am I dying? I step to the rooftop's edge into some other land of unlikeliness, when a sudden bolt of lightning splits me through. The primordial ooze from a childhood, crushed by the tyranny of a monstrous and violent alcoholic father, grabs me by the throat and threatens to throw me off the edge. Then, on woven wings of stardust, a heavenly realm delivers me to a place where the "I" of "me" no longer exists. Born aloft, I am finally free. I am One with the Universe. One with the Creator. One with God. I am God." 

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A lifelong atheist, Michael's rooftop trip is so profound that he abandons his tired aim of writing the next great "American" novel and replaces it with a new one: to "turn on" the world with LSD. But how?

Part 2
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Part Two

Our story takes a hard left into Harvard academia...

In the psychology department, professor Dr. Timothy Leary and his assistant, Dr. Richard Alpert, are scientifically researching the effects of psilocybin mushrooms, a psychoactive hallucinogen, on grad students.

Dr. Leary

Dr. Alpert 

When out of the blue, Michael, armed with his mayo jar full of LSD, barges in and begs Leary to let him "turn him on." But Leary is leery of this unhinged stranger and wants nothing to do with him or his bizarre jar of "man-made" chemicals. 

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Faced with the monumental challenge of how to get his LSD "to the masses" and completely broke, Michael has to prove that his LSD will "run rings around those measly mushrooms" Leary is researching. But Leary still refuses.

 

At his wits end, Michael threatens to kill himself. The threat pierces Leary's soul, given that his wife recently gassed herself to death in their garage. 

Touched by Michael's desperation, he finally gives in. Michael spoons one "lovin' spoonful" into Leary's mouth, then one into his own. What happens over the next fourteen earth-shattering hours bonds the two men for life.

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The next day, Leary gives Michael his car to go back to NYC, pick up Sophie and baby Vanessa, and move into his Cambridge attic with his two teenagers. The only condition is that he must bring that jar of LSD back with him.

Michael returns, and the Harvard LSD clinical trials officially begin. Leary christens him with the new name "The Divine Rascal," and he is now at the center of the most elite and radical academic scene of all time.

But after several months of promising research, they consume too much of their own supply and begin giving it to undergrads - a serious no-no. When rumors surface that they're also having sex with them, and then, when two students die, Harvard fires them all.

Part 3
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Part Three

Which brings us to Millbrook Mansion, a dilapidated 64-room baroque castle in upstate New York.

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Located on 2,500 acres of fresh farmland, the disgraced Harvard clan moves in. As chaotic as their psychedelic ambitions, the villa becomes a sprawling encampment of over forty psychedelic voyagers, some with kids, and, thanks to Michael, a plethora of exotic animals.

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A cross between a country club, a madhouse, a research center, a monastery, and a Fellini film set, Millbrook is where Michael hones his trip-guiding skills and becomes "the greatest trip-guide of all time." Artists, poets, scientists, and musicians come from all over the world just for him to guide their trips.

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William Burroughs

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Andy Warhol &

Edie Sedgwick

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Michael

Lennon & McCartney

McClure, Dylan & Ginsberg

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Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Michael's sessions evolve into elaborate theatrical art performances that he mounts in NYC using fake LSD—or is it? When he receives a rave review in The New York Times for one of these "Happenings" at The Village Vanguard, Leary's ego takes note.   

But Michael's meteoric rise to hippie fame doesn't satisfy him. There's still one thing missing: his five-year-old little girl, Vanessa.  

Using his new-found celebrity, he convinces now-estranged wife, Sophie, to let Vanessa come and live with him at the Mansion.

 

But one night, when he drunkenly leaves a tray of acid-laced sugar cubes on the table, Vanessa eats them all. They kick in, and she begins hallucinating thousands of fluorescent worms everywhere, pictures melting into the walls, and her own body parts disappearing in front of her. When Michael sees her and her dilated pupils, he realizes that she's the one who ate all the LSD.

Frantic, he rushes her to Leary and Alpert. Alpert, furious with Michael's negligence, gives her an "adult shot" of Thorazine in her tiny buttocks to sedate her. They don't know if she'll survive, but they do know that they can't take her to the hospital or they'll all go to jail. Alpert insists that Michael check her pulse every ten minutes. The death of his daughter at his own hands is too sobering a thought not to.   

When Sophie finds out, she whisks her back to a much "safer" place: their filthy, roach-infested tenement apartment in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

Sophie

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Several nights later, the county DA, Gordon Liddy, raids the place and arrests Leary and his 15-year-old son, Jackie. Fortunately, Alpert is away in India, becoming "Baba Ram Dass," and, oddly and mysteriously, Michael isn't there.

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Behind bars and facing ten years, Leary is suddenly let go. With his mad dash to bring down "the most dangerous man in America," DA Liddy forgot to read him his Miranda rights. 

A free man, Leary returns to the Mansion and is greeted by another "profoundly free" man, back from India, Richard Alpert. Alpert tells Leary to call him by his new name, Baba Ram Dass. Leary falls into his loving arms.

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Leary tells Ram Dass about the raid and how suspicious it was that Michael was MIA. It slowly dawns on them that Michael must be "the rat." They realize they must get rid of him, but with his alcoholism raging, it's going to be delicate.

 

Michael feels the noose tightening around his duplicitous neck, realizing that he can only play the law and his loyalty to Leary for so long.

Leary and Ram Dass tell Michael that he should go back to London and continue their psychedelic revolution there — a revolution that Michael alone will spearhead. To sweeten the deal, they promise him 200 copies of their LSD trip manual, 

The Psychedelic Experience.

 

But Michael knows they're done with him. Bitter and broken, he unleashes one final, alcohol-fueled rage. Not one flower in Leary's meticulously manicured garden is left unearthed.

 

As "the taxi" takes Michael away, Leary waves goodbye, sarcastically remarking to Ram Dass, "Well, that writes off any hope of a British psychedelic revolution for the next ten years, man." 

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But little do they know, Michael has over 10,000 hits of pure Czech LSD hidden in a bar of soap - enough to free himself from the clutches of the CIA, "turn on" London 10 times over, and still have a hell-of-a stash left for himself.

As the CIA takes him to the docks to board the Queen Mary back to London, they allow him one last phone call to Vanessa. During the heartbreaking goodbye, Vanessa tells him gangs have broken in and hurt her mom, and that she's all alone. As tears fill his eyes, he promises to find a way to bring her to London. Just then, he runs out of coins and the phone disconnects.

The Antagonists
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THE ANTAGONISTS

Grim scenes of the CIA's LSD "MK-Ultra Program," headed by "Poisoner in Chief," Sydney Gottlieb, are woven throughout the series.

In a clandestine CIA safehouse in the middle of the West Village, rogue CIA operatives are conducting sadistic experiments with huge amounts of LSD on society's most vulnerable and marginalized, including junkies, prostitutes, jazz musicians, struggling artists, and orphans.

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Sydney Gottlieb's goal, set against the Russian Cold War, is as nefarious as it is chilling: to erase these people's minds and turn them into trained government CIA agents who will kill Russian spies and won't remember doing it. These morally bankrupt experiments lead to madness, death, and eventually, Michael.

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Sydney Gottlieb - Head of CIA's 

MK-Ultra mind-control program

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Gordon Liddy, NY District Attorney 

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Captain Al Hubbard, "Cappy," CIA double-secret agent 

Does Michael become a CIA informant - a transformation that would force him to grapple with a secret identity and the horrific tasks the CIA assigns him?

 

Or does he become a double-secret agent who secretly works for the CIA but then launches his own covert operation against them to save their LSD revolution, his psychedelic family, and Vanessa? 

 

Or does he become just a washed-up, debauched alcoholic rat who turns everyone in to save his own skin and loses everything dear to him, including Vanessa?

The World
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THE WORLD:

Set against the turbulent 1960s backdrop of racism, sexism, and the Vietnam War...

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Uptight college kids take Michael's LSD, and they trade their briefcases in for knapsacks. Hopeless drunks take it and become recovered alcoholics. Hardened prisoners become productive, upright citizens, and indoctrinated Harvard divinity students become loving spiritual priests.

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Bill Wilson -- Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

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Allen Ginsberg

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Salvador Dali

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The Rolling Stones

When Michael "turns on" The Beatles, they go from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to

"I Am the Walrus."

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Week to Week
WEEK TO WEEK 

A visually arresting psychological drama, each episode delves into a specific character's trip with a kaleidoscopic, stand-alone set piece. Picture the mesmerizing trip sequences of Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" combined with the gritty, heart wrenching flashbacks of Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream."

The trips are not just hallucinations; they are brutal battles for the character's soul. Within their twisted minds, elaborate flashbacks drag them face-to-face with their deepest fears, regrets, and traumas. And they are forced to confront the very essence of who they are.

Week to week, we're on the edge of our seats, anxious to see who will find enlightenment and who will succumb to their innermost demons, lost, forever.

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Characters
MAIN CHARACTERS
Michael Hollingshead

MICHAEL HOLLINGSHEAD - THE DIVINE RASCAL

Michael emerges from a brutal childhood in the impoverished north of England, his memories forever stained by a violent, alcoholic father. Vowing to break the cycle, he dreams of becoming the kind, loving father he never had. However, the trauma from the beatings, the hatred, and his longing for his dad's approval combine to create one primal need: to be adored. A sinner and a saint, he’s the guy everyone can’t wait to get to the party and the one they can’t wait to leave. Women, drugs, and booze fill his need for love until they stop working and he sabotages everything. Beneath his magnetic surface seethes the raging belief that, since his father is disposable, so is everyone else. When you fall under his spell, you risk losing your mind, your money, or possibly both. But the greatest tragedy of all is that the liberation he guides others to effortlessly find he never finds for himself again. He spends the rest of his life chasing his first euphoric roof-top trip to complete oblivion. 

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Before LSD

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After LSD

Timothy Leary

DR TIMOTHY LEARY - THE HIGH PRIEST

The alpha-male antithesis to Michael's flamboyant peacock, Tim is the Harvard psychology professor that everyone wants to teach their class or take to bed. With his relentless womanizing and his promiscuity with men, his wife commits suicide, leaving him to raise their two kids on his own. Guilt-ridden, he throws himself even harder into his work with one overwhelming need: to scientifically prove that LSD can accomplish in twelve hours what it takes twelve years of psychotherapy to do. But with his need to be in the limelight and preaching to the youth of America to "turn on, tune in, and drop out," he goes from LSD’s "High Priest" to Nixon’s "Most Dangerous Man in America." When asked about how he feels about ruining an entire generation of 72 million people, he says, "Yeah man, but only a hundred thousand thanked me for it."

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Before LSD

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After LSD

Richard Alpert

DR. RICHARD ALPERT - BABA RAM DASS

Dr. Alpert is Leary’s right-hand man, until Michael shows up. A respected Harvard psychology professor, he brings an unrequited love for Leary along with a ton of money to pay for all of their projects, one of which is Michael himself. Richard desperately wants to fit in, but how, when you’re a gay man in the ‘60s. His desire to win Leary's romantic love at any cost becomes his undoing. The first time Dick trips, instead of seeing God, he has a full-blown panic attack, and the chains of conformity are not removed for him. His search for permanent enlightenment takes him to India, where he transforms into the famous Guru, Baba Ram Dass and writes the famous book "Be Here Now."

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Before LSD

Before LSD

After LSD

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After LSD

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These three unlikely heroes become known as

 "The Lords of the Revolution," with storylines that are limitless.

 

Each episode is an examination of whether they can maintain their idealistic dream of establishing the world's first loving and nonviolent bloodless revolution in the face of their baser and more insatiable needs for sex, power, alcohol, drugs, money, celebrity, and fame.

The most significant consequence of eventually compromising all of their morals is the damage they inflict on their kids, which is nothing short of criminal.

Vanessa 

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Jackie Leary

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Susie Leary

Sophie Hollingshead

SOPHIE HOLLINGSHEAD - WIFE & MOM

A great jazz pianist, Sophie is a complicated woman who follows her own compass. She initially supports Michael’s fledgling writing career, but his "acid-work," his inability to pay child support, and his continuous adultery make it impossible. They split, and she and Vanessa move back to NYC. When her love for Michael never dies, that hurt drives her to  stop caring for everyone and everything - well, except for grass, amphetamines, and Vanessa. And in that order. Broke, she and Vanessa end up in the slums of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, where she endures assaults, loses her teeth, and eventually, her mind. She reminds Vanessa on the daily: "When I met your father, I hated all men. After I married him, I hated everybody."

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Before Michael

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After Michael

Vanessa Hollingshead

VANESSA HOLLINGSHEAD - DAUGHTER 

When Michael leaves Sophie to "turn on" the world, he leaves Vanessa in Sophie's care - a woman who has no clue how to be a mother. Overwhelmed by Vanessa's terrible twos, she makes the heartbreaking decision to put Vanessa in a foster home that winds up being extremely abusive. When Michael learns about the situation, he comes back and rescues her. But when he won't sacrifice his standing at Harvard and bring her back with him, he gives her to Sophie, but with strict conditions. All Vanessa wants is to be with her father, but how when he's too busy fathering the dawn of the psychedelic revolution. When Vanessa does finally get to be with him, he sabotages everything by leaving the acid-laced sugar cubes out, and she almost dies. Vanessa is the representation of an entire generation of kids left out of the 1960s vacuous promise of peace, love, and understanding.

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After LSD

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V

Today

the comedy of 

anessa

HOLLINGSHEAD

Millbrook
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Similar to Nicole Fosse; Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon's daughter in the series "Fosse/Verdon," Vanessa's acid-laced orphan storyline appears as snippets throughout to remind us of where her father comes from and what he's left behind.

THE DIVINE RASCAL

reveals, with a matchless degree of intimacy, both the conflicts within and between the brilliant minds of The Lords of the Revolution and how we survive their collateral damage. Over the course of the series, we will solve the mystery of who Michael Hollingshead really was and why the tripping subculture was so swiftly stamped out.

Soundtrack
DREAM SOUNDTRACK
Pilot Summary
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THE PILOT OUTLINE:

"Welcome Back My Friends, to the Show that Never Ends"

The TEASER bursts open with a kaleidoscopic flash-forward to 1966 "Swinging London" where our Divine Rascal, Michael Hollingshead, at his "World Psychedelic Center," has all of Piccadilly Circus by the psychedelic balls. 

 

Draped in his flamboyant raccoon coat, pink sunglasses, and Tibetan beanie, he's in the middle of guiding over fifty of his followers on another infamous and mind-expanding LSD journey.

 

Amidst the flashing strobes and Indian Hindu music, he raises a perfume bottle high above the crowd, a radiant beacon in the middle of the chaos. When suddenly, a bolt of lightning strikes from inside and reveals three letters on its side: "LSD."

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As he sprays it over the hot, barless, hippie chicks, including Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Roman Polanski, all clamoring for a taste of Michael's artistic liberation, the scene unfolds.

But just then, as Michael steps back to bask in his psychedelic brilliance, Scotland Yard busts in and arrests him.

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At the same time, in 1966 upstate New York, Dr. Timothy Leary is in the middle of guiding one of his own spectacular kaleidoscopic LSD sessions at the infamous Millbrook Mansion. 

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Among his disciples are Andy Warhol, Charlie Mingus, Maynard Ferguson, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg.

As Leary steps back to bask in his psychedelic brilliance, 22 FBI agents bust in and arrest him.

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Now they're both in jail.

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ACT ONE:

On the cold London prison floor, Michael detoxes a serious drug addiction and FLASHES BACK to 1959 New York City, where our story begins, with his arrival on a low-class passenger ship on the West Side docks.

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With just a duffle bag slung over his shoulder, he deboards the ship and makes his way to Greenwich Village, to The Whitehorse Tavern; the favored haunt of the Beatnik literary underground.

 

Lost in the unfamiliar streets, he passes the Open Door jazz joint. The music calls to him, he peeks inside and locks eyes with the gorgeous, femme fatale jazz pianist, Sophie Reisner. All of sudden, two mobsters barge in behind him.

Through the pane glass, Michael watches one of them almost strangling the bartender to death, while the other puts a gun to one of the black musicians' heads. They drag the black men out, right over Michael's feet.

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Simultaneously, from his prison cell in upstate New York, Leary FLASHES BACK to 1959 in San Francisco, to the Kaiser Psychological Research Program, where his story begins.

 

Celebrating his 35th birthday, as he blows out the candles, his boss steps forward with a tremendous announcement: Leary will now be the new director of Kaiser's drug research. 

That night, Leary's "picture-perfect" wife, Marianne, throws him a dazzling "Mad-Men"-esque surprise party. But the veneer of 1950's bliss shatters when she catches him screwing her best friend in their son's bedroom, and without her. Destroyed, she goes to the garage, starts the car, and gasses herself to death. 

Leary is now left to raise their two children all by himself.

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ACT TWO:

 

Shaking off what he just saw at that jazz joint, Michael continues searching for The Whitehorse.

 

We pan to a brownstone above, where those same mobsters are dragging those same musicians inside. These goons are not just mobsters; the CIA has recruited them to conduct horrifying mind experiments with unknown drugs on the "marginalized and dispensable." 

 

Trapped and terrified, the men gape at glass vials filled with mysterious serums. The "agents" strap them down into dentist’s chairs and inject them with large doses of LSD and heroin.

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Michael finally finds The Whitehorse, goes inside, and can't believe his eyes. Sitting at the bar are the most renowned literary Beatniks of the time and his heroes: Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs...  

But when he spots the most famous one of all, British author Aldous Huxley, and the man whose books literally saved his life when he was confined to a North England juvenile detention home in England from 14 until he enters the Royal Airforce, he's overcome.

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As the drinks flow, these hopeless romantics can't help but welcome this British fish-out-of-water into their fold. Michael quickly conceals his lower-class accent with a posh upper-class one and launches into the harrowing yet comical tale of his near-fatal escape from England. With a standing ovation, he convinces the intoxicated Kerouac and high-on-heroin Burroughs to let him sleep on the floor of their grimy Lower East Side apartment.

Meanwhile, back in San Francisco and grieving his wife's suicide, Leary is desperate for a fresh start. He leaves the prestigious new job at Kaiser, uproots his kids, and moves to Italy. 

 

While there, he struggles to finish a book on his groundbreaking research on the mentally ill. But when he can't stop sleeping with the gorgeous Italian hookers, he contracts a "mysterious" illness and almost dies.

When a friend from Harvard's Psychology Department hears about Leary's dilemma, he urges him to return to the States to present his cutting-edge, hot-shot psychological research at Harvard's annual psychology conference. Penniless, Leary manages to survive his illness, uproots his kids again, and heads for Cambridge.

At the conference, Leary delivers a mesmerizing presentation. It earns him a faculty position with Harvard undergrads and captures the attention of the young and sexy professor, Dr. Richard Alpert.

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ACT THREE:

 

Back in NYC, Michael is hellbent on proving to his new Beatnik literary friends that he is just as talented a writer as they are. But with no job, no money, and falling in love with that "married" femme fatale jazz pianist Sophie he locked eyes with, he's plagued with a debilitating case of writer's block. 

As his drinking spirals out of control, he seeks help from Aldous Huxley, the famous writer whose words saved him when he was a teenager. "Hux" tells him to find a way to get a hold of this extremely unknown drug called LSD that cured his own writer's block. Hux warns him, however, to be careful, since very little research has been done with it on humans.

 

Michael races to New York Hospital to convince his doctor-friend to write him a prescription for it. Together, they come up with the lie that Michael has bone cancer and needs a lot of LSD for research purposes during an "extensive series of bone marrow transplants."

 

On a wing and a prayer, Michael sends the bogus script to LSD's inventor, Dr. Albert Hofmann, at Sandoz Labs in Switzerland.

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Meanwhile, in Cambridge, the radical Leary struggles to fit in with the strait-laced academic world of Harvard, mirroring Michael's challenges with fitting in with the Beatniks.

Initially praised for his unconventional "one-on-one talk therapy" with his undergrads, Leary starts smoking way too much pot while immersing himself in eastern spirituality, meditation, yoga, and mysticism.    

When he receives an invitation to go to Mexico and study the psychological effects of psilocybin mushrooms on the Aztec Indians for thousands of years, it sparks a serious conflict with Harvard's "Board of Overseers," and they refuse to approve it, let alone pay for it.

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ACT FOUR:

In the shadows of the safehouse in that brownstone in the Village, Dr. Sydney Gottlieb, the ominous mastermind behind the CIA's MK-Ultra mind control drug program, sits down with NYC mobster Vito Genovese of the "Greenwich Village Crew," as screams of terror are heard coming from down the hall.

 

Gottlieb takes Vito to the source of the screams to show his agents injecting bound hostages with massive amounts of crazy drugs, mainly LSD and heroin. While the hostages beg for freedom, the ruthless Gottlieb forms an alliance with Vito, promising him and the mob as much heroin as they want. In return, Vito promises the CIA as many victims as they want.

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ACT FIVE:

 

Michael and Leary's need for a spiritual upheaval in the final act reaches an existential crescendo. Will Leary defy his Harvard bosses and risk his career to pursue radical research with psychedelic mushrooms in Mexico? And will the father of LSD, Dr. Hofmann, send Michael all that LSD? 

 

Cut to: Sandoz Labs, Switzerland.

 

Dr. Hofmann reads Michael's prescription and letter and flashes back to 1943.

 

Flashback:

 

While researching a cure for migraines, and at the end of his rope, Hofmann synthesizes a poisonous and deadly fungus that grows on rye seeds. When he accidentally ingests a small amount of it, the effects are so powerful that he does what any mad scientist would do: he deliberately doses himself with 250 micrograms of it - a dose he knows could kill him.   

 

As the "poison" courses through his veins, he rides his bicycle home for one final goodbye to his wife. But as the LSD kicks in, something magical happens. His "bicycle trip" suddenly becomes an extraordinary journey that transcends all reality. Mind-bending images of immense beauty defy all understanding and decimate his ego. The "I" of who he believes he has always been dissolves into a free floating entity, bound by nothing but a pure white light, and connected to all existence. Has he discovered "the soul?"    

 

Two days later and still teetering on the edge of terror and enlightenment, he shares his findings with the board at Sandoz. As he struggles to put his incredible discovery into words, he begs them to continue his research with it. But with the way he is talking, they become extremely concerned and shut it all down.

Back to 1959, the present:

We return to Hofmann holding Michael's letter, weighing the consequences if he were to fill the prescription. He types a letter.

Dr. Albert Hoffman

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Dr. Albert Hoffman

Tag - A back-and-forth montage:

 

At Boston Airport, Leary and his assistant, Dr. Alpert, sit on the tarmac in Alpert's private plane, ready for takeoff.

In New York, at his West Village apartment, Michael receives a package. He opens it and finds a small jar labeled "LSD Lot Number H-00047" along with a bill for $285.00. There's also a letter warning Michael of the drug's deadliness if overdosed, adding that he must report back to Hofmann with the results of LSD's efficacy on his cancer treatments.

Leary and Alpert land in Mexico and are greeted by the Aztec psilocybin healer and shaman, Crazy Juana. After several shots of tequila, they hike into the mountains. During a tribal fire ceremony, Crazy Juana places one psylocibin mushroom on each of their tongues and two on her own.

Michael tosses Hofmann's letter and the bill into the trash, opens the jar, and finds a gorgeous, shimmering electric powder. He grabs a box of powdered sugar, some water, the entire jar of LSD, and mixes it all into a thick paste. As he spoons it into an empty mayonnaise jar, he licks the spoon, many many times. Having no clue about "dose" or "potency," he heads for his roof.

Shifting between Leary and Alpert's first psilocybin trip in the stunning mountains of Mexico and Michael's first LSD trip in the loud, claustrophobic city of New York, we get a glimpse into the differences between what a whole-body, "funny" trip on mushrooms is like versus the mind-bending, death-of-the-ego, cerebral trip on LSD is like.

The pilot ends with Michael dangling off the edge of the roof, suspended between salvation and the terror of the abyss below.

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