The Story of the Man who "Turned-On" the World with LSD and the People who Erased Him
In 1959, when a British disillusioned writer comes to
New York City and divinely “trips” on LSD for the first time, he makes it his mission to “turn-on” the world with it, but when his traumatic past catches up with him, he becomes an easy target for the CIA and they turn on him.
"My Dad did so much LSD, psilocybin, blue-blotter, purple-haze, that we
used to go on family trips together without ever leaving home.
I don't have childhood memories, I have flashbacks.
In 1965, when I was five years old, my dad left an entire tray of
acid-laced sugar cubes out on the coffee table. I ate 9 of them.
The men my father "turned-on" with LSD and their personal relationships with each other have never been dramatized in a
TV series before . . . , until now."
Of all the figures in LSD history none are more mysterious, complex and unfathomable than The Divine Rascal, Michael Hollingshead. A fool, an acid guru, a trickster, a black magician, a genius, a junkie, an alcoholic, deeply spiritual, psychologically and emotionally disturbed, a narcissist, a catalyst for social change, a secret agent, a father, and the man without whom Timothy Leary would have never happened. The truth is Michael Hollingshead is all of these things and so much more.
The Divine Rascal begins in New York City at the dawn of the ‘60s...
Michael arrives via a passenger ship from England.
He meets his beautiful
future wife, Sophie
It takes a hard left into Harvard academia...
Michael gets 5000 hits of LSD and "turns-on"
Psychology professor Dr. Timothy Leary, who "turns-on"
Psychology professor, Dr. Richard Alpert.
The LSD scientific
trials officially begin.
Two years later they get sloppy, and
horney, and they all get fired.
And finally lands at the sprawling infamous Millbrook Mansion - a hippie commune in upstate
New York - where LSD becomes the promised
solution to an entire generation’s cultural ills.
Timothy Leary. . .
runs the LSD sessions. . .
with Michael Hollingshead, the greatest
"trip-guide" of all time.
Set against the turbulent backdrop of racism, sexism and Vietnam; Michael gives LSD to Harvard college kids and they trade their briefcases in for knapsacks. They give Harvard divinity students LSD and they become priests. Hopeless drunks and prisoners get it and they get sober and become upright citizens. Painters, poets, writers & musicians - most notably the world famous Beatles all try Michael's
LSD and they go from "I want to Hold Your Hand"
to "I am the Walrus."
Doc Ellis pitches a no-hitter on LSD
The Rolling Stones
The tripping scenes aren't like any tripping scenes you’ve ever seen before. Instead, they are deeply personal and evocative. Week to week, as a different character "turns-on" we will experience their trip through the lens of whatever it is they are going through; story wise. Their relationships to power, money, sex, drugs, their families and each other..., So that every episode we are entirely invested in whether that character has a spiritual awakening or a rude one.
But not everyone will have that priviledge.
When the FBI and the CIA’s, top-secret, MK-Ultra LSD
program infiltrates our story, the scenes become more granular and chilling. Russian spies, prisoners, prostitutes and children are given massive amounts of LSD to analyze it's potential for mind-control, mind-erasure, information gathering and psychological torture. These clandestine experiments lead to insanity and even death.
Michael will witness one of these atrocities.
Sydney Gottlieb - CIA's MK Ultra
The actual children tortured.
Captain Al Hubbard - CIA & FBI
Gordon Liddy - FBI
Vanessa’s acid-orphan, coming-of-age story appears as little snippets throughout to remind us of where her father has come from and what he's left behind.
Michael Hollingshead is
The Divine Rascal
Born to a violent and abusive alcoholic father in the north of England, Michael has an insatiable need to be adored. He wants nothing more than to be a good father to Vanessa and father the psychedelic revolution all at the same time. 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. Drugs, booze and women distract him for a while, till they don’t - and he sabotages everything. If you were to fall under his spell, and believe me you will, you risk losing your mind, your money or possibly both. But don’t get too close though because just below the surface seethes a rage so palpable; that since his father is disposable so is everyone else. The Divine Rascal’s greatest tragedy of all is that the liberation he so effortlessly guides thousands of others to find he never finds for himself again. He will spend the rest of his life chasing that first glorious trip-even if it means losing the one he loves the most, his sweet little girl, Vanessa.
Michael - before LSD
Dr. Timothy Leary is
LSD's High Priest
The alpha-male antithesis to Michael's flamboyant peacock, Tim goes from Harvard clinical psychologist to psychedelic Professor and is the guy everyone wants to teach their class or take to bed. On his 35th birthday, his wife, due to his unfaithfulness, commits suicide and he's left to raise their two children on his own. Guilt ridden, all he wants is to scientifically prove that LSD can accomplish in 12 hours what takes 12 years to do in psychotherapy. But with his relentless womanizing, his insatiable need to be in the limelight and irresponsibly preaching to the youth of America to rebel against the establishment; he goes from LSD’s “High Priest” to Nixon’s “Most Dangerous Man in America.” During his numerous prison stints, he writes more than 20 books; some even edited by Michael. On his deathbed, when asked how he feels about ruining an entire generation of 72 million people,
with that megawatt smile, he replies, “Yes, but only
100,000 thanked me for it.”
Tim - before LSD
Dr. Richard Alpert is
Guru Baba Ram Dass
Leary’s right-hand man, until Michael shows up. A Harvard psychology professor, Richard Alpert brings an unrequited romantic love for Leary and the money to pay for all of their projects – one being Michael, himself. Alpert desperately wants to fit in, but how, when you’re a gay man in the ‘60s. His competition with Michael to win Leary’s heart becomes his undoing. The first time Alpert trips, instead of seeing God, he has a full-blown panic attack and the chains of conformity are not removed for him. When he pilgrimages to India, he becomes the famous Guru, Baba Ram Dass and writes Be Here Now,
selling over 2 million copies.
Richard - before LSD
This enmeshed trio become known as the
Lords of the Revolution
with one goal: to save humanity with LSD.
Sophie Hollingshead is Michael’s wife
& Vanessa's mother
A jazz pianist, Sophie is a complicated woman who follows her own compass. Initially, she supports Michael’s fledgling writing career, but with his “acid-work”, his relentless adultery, and never sending her any money, she stops caring for everyone and everything – well, except for grass, amphetamines and Vanessa; in that order. When she and Vanessa move to the slums of Bed-Stuy, she endures assaults, loses
her teeth and eventually her mind. She tells Vanessa,
“When I met your father, I hated all men, after I married him,
I hated everybody.”
Sophie - before Michael
Vanessa Hollingshead is
Michael & Sophie's daughter
When Michael leaves her behind to turn-on the world, she’s left in Sophie’s care; a woman who prefers smoking pot and taking pills, than to mothering. Back and forth between abusive foster homes and mentally ill Sophie, Vanessa longs for the stability of her alcoholic father. She represents an entire generation of kids left out of the 1960's vacuous promise of peace, love and understanding. At 5, when she accidentily eats the LSD, she's forced to survive by any means possible. She grows up fast and turns her childhood into comedy.
Vanessa - after LSD
the brilliant comedy of
Limited Series Overview:
The pilot opens with a flash-forward, to 1966 London, where our Divine Rascal -
in his long raccoon coat and pink sunglasses - has the world by the psychedelic balls. At his flat he hosts yet another outrageous LSD mind-altering party. McCartney, Lennon, Burroughs, Jagger, Polanski; everyone who’s anyone is there. As Michael floats about spraying his atomizer full of LSD all over everyone, Scotland Yard busts in and arrests him.
Jaggar & Richards
Paul McCartney and Linda
Roman Polanski & Sharon Tate
36 hours later, on the cold cement prison floor, Michael detoxes a serious meth-amphetamine addiction and flashes back to 1959. Where our story begins. With his arrival in on the docks of New York City.
He heads for the West Village where the poetry Gods of Angst; Kerouac, Ginsberg & Burroughs all hang out. When he meets the beautiful, yet tragically flawed Sophie, she gets pregnant, they quickly marry and Vanessa is born. Full of joy, Michael vows to be the father he never had ... until she won’t stop crying.
Kerouac & Ginsberg
Michael & Sophie
Michael escapes her nightly tears by disappearing to the White Horse Tavern where he too can't stop crying on the famous shoulder of author Aldous Huxley about his debilitating writer's block. Huxley tells him LSD is responsible for transforming his own writing and that maybe he should try some. Michael quickly finagles a phony prescription - saying he needs it for a "bone-marrow transplant." He then sends it to LSD's inventor, Dr. Albert Hofmann. Three weeks later, 5000 hits of pure Lysergic Diethylamide 25 arrives in the mail - with a bill for $285.00.
Dr. Albert Hofmann
Michael crumples the bill, heads for the kitchen and dilutes it all into a sugar paste. He scoops it into a mayonnaise jar, licks his first lovin' spoonful and heads for his rooftop - where his entire life is about to change forever.
During that first trip, the sense of worthlessness instilled in him by his cruel alcoholic father is instantaneously replaced with a knowledge of God so profound; Michael realizes the entire world must have it ... and there is only one man who can help; Harvard psychedelic researcher and professor, Dr. Timothy Leary.
In episode three, Michael bursts into Leary's office with his jar full of LSD, but Leary wants nothing to do with him. Never taking no for an answer, Michael threatens to commit suicide. Leary, now really leery, is forced to try it. 45 minutes later, Leary too is so overcome with its transcendent omnipotence that he insists Michael move in with him. Michael has just thrown his LSD hand-grenade right into the middle of Leary's relatively strait-laced academic career. With Vanessa and Sophie in tow, Michael squeezes them all into Leary's teeny attic. B ut soon Sophie wants out of this "acid-laced, Anne Frank, shit-hole!" Michael is forced to choose; Leary or his own family. As Michael takes them to the Boston station to put them back on the train to New York City, Vanessa screams, "Daddy!"
Vanessa & Sophie (before LSD)
Jackie & Susan, Leary's kids
Now deep in Leary’s Harvard inner sanctum, Michael turns-on the rest of Leary's research team. But as they recklessly consume more and more of their own stash and when Richard Alpert surreptitiously gives LSD to a male undergrad he has the hots for, the Harvard Board fires them all.
In episode six, the now "homeless" Leary, Alpert and Michael relocate their
acid-work to the 64-room decaying Millbrook Mansion. With 2300 acres of fresh air and lots of extravagant animals - some also on LSD - Michael thinks Millbrook is a great place to raise a child, so he convinces Sophie to let Vanessa come and stay for a while. Every morning, Vanessa wakes up and runs into her Daddy's room just to make sure he's still there. When she accidentally eats the acid-laced sugar cubes though, their time together is short-lived. Furious with Michael's irresponsibility, Sophie shows up, demands Michael give her some pot and amphetamines and then whisks Vanessa straight back to NYC.
Depressed without his little girl, Michael now buries himself into discovering more extraordinary ways to guide the LSD sessions. Working with the talented visual artists and audio engineers living there, he cultivates their talents to bring a visual / audio experience to all of the trips. These sessions become quite famous, that famous artists travel from all over the world just to have Michael guide their trips. They morph into the now known theatrical Happenings of the 60s and Michael is finally recognized by the elite art-set... and receives an outstanding review in the New York Times for their Village Vanguard performances.
In episode 8, as Michael's childhood demons resurface, his drinking gets out of control. Collectively, we hold our breath as Michael takes deep dives into new projects, only to abandon them just as Leary is about to throw him out. Michael burns every bridge, except for one: Captain Al Hubbard of the C.I.A.
Throughout the series, the CIA's MK-Ultra program keeps tabs on the Millbrook trio and their revolution. Leary's growing power over the American youth to "Turn-on, Tune-in and Drop-out" becomes a growing threat to the US government and the nation's moral fiber. The only way to bring them down is to seduce, who they believe is the weakest link; Michael. Does the Divine Rascal become a double-agent and rat on his psychedelic family? Does the man who turns on the world become the man who turns on the world?
CIA MK-Ultra Headquarters
In the 11th hour of the 11th episode, Immigration gets an anonymous tip that Michael's passport has expired. They show up, cuff him and deport him back to England. But just before he boards the ship, Leary and Alpert race to the pier
to give him 200 copies of The Psychedelic Manual with the deluded hopes that Michael might continue what they started in London. Leary’s contempt for Michael is palpable, but his genuine love for him forces his kindness. Once
out of sight though, Leary dismisses Michael as a forgotten man and tells Alpert, "Well, that writes off the British Psychedelic Revolution for the next ten years." They have no idea Michael has 10,000 hits of pure Czech LSD hidden in a bar of soap; enough to turn-on London 10 times over and still have a hell-of-a stash left for himself.
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, through his daughter, (and later, in season 3, her stand-up comedy) we survive its collateral damage. Over three seasons, we will solve the mystery of who Michael Hollingshead is and why the tripping subculture was so swiftly stamped out.