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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, when a rejected, disillusioned, British writer, desperate for a new start, arrives in New York City and he 'trips' on LSD for the first time, his experience is so profound that he goes on a mission to 'turn on' the world with it, but when his mysterious and traumatic past catches up with him, he becomes an easy target for the CIA, and the world 'turns' on him.  

Introduction
INTRODUCTION:

Based on a true story and his book called,
"The Man Who Turned on the World,"
THE DIVINE RASCAL is a dramatic and darkly funny limited television series about Michael Hollingshead, the man who gave the infamous Harvard professor, Dr. Timothy Leary, his very first hit of
LSD and how, together, they launched the most significant 1960s counterculture evolution of our time - and this man is my father.

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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 an entire tray of acid-laced sugar cubes on the kitchen table and I ate nine 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 has 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 of the world and opens the curtains of the mind.

 

"With my 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 mimic, an artist, an alcoholic, a junky, a father, an ex-member of the British Air Force, a traitor, a loyalist, and the man without whom Timothy Leary and the entire psychedelic revolution never would have happened - Michael is all 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." 

Today, with psychedelic-therapy centers opening all over the world, LSD is back in the zeitgeist and hipper than ever before. In countries where LSD is legal, psychedelic retreat centers are full of people seeking enlightenment, transcendence, and healing.

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In the United States, where LSD is still not legal, psychiatrists are currently experimenting with LSD to treat depression, PTSD, addiction, Alzheimer’s, alcoholism, cancer, and opioid abuse. What was once considered a dangerous and counterculture drug in the '60s is now a cutting-edge, promising treatment.

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

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Dr. Timothy Leary

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Michael Hollingshead

Dr. Richard Alpert, Ram Dass

But “The Divine Rascal” is not a documentary. Instead, it is a deeply compelling and dramatic TV narrative that investigates LSD's "origin story" through the personal and public stories of these three pioneering academics.

 

With the right drug in the wrong decade, we watch as they sacrifice everything to revolutionize a world torn apart by the violent Vietnam War, the monumental civil rights movement, and the battle for women's equal rights - a world that actually mirrors the divisions of hatred, racism, and the taking away of women's rights today. 

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Joaquin Phoenix

 as Leary

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Hollingshead

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Bill Skarsgård as Alpert

However, the show will not hesitate to investigate the whole truth of LSD and how these naive men, with their romantic vision of peace, love, and understanding for all, tragically affects the ones they say they love the most: their kids.

Vanessa Hollingshead

Series Arc
Part One
 SERIES OVERVIEW:

Part One

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

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

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

As he walks in, he can't believe his eyes. Sitting at the bar are his heroes: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Aldous Huxley.

 

Determined to join their inner circle, he conceals his working-class accent with a polished Oxford one and launches into his harrowing tale of his terrifying escape from England - an escape that almost cost him his life.

 

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 when he meets the gorgeous femme fatale jazz pianist, Sophie Reisner, she gets pregnant, they have to get married, and Vanessa is born.

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Aldous Huxley

With the torment of Vanessa's incessant crying, he drinks too much, can't pay the rent, and suffers with a debilitating case writer's block. At his wit's end, he begs the famous writer, Aldous Huxley for help. “Hux,” who’s been using this unknown, mysterious drug called LSD to cure his own writer's block tells Michael to find a way to get some and take a bunch of it.

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Michael makes a beeline for New York Hospital to get his doctor-friend to write him a prescription for it, saying that he has bone cancer and needs a lot of LSD for "research purposes" during a long series of "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 pure LSD falls out. He grabs a bowl, a box of powdered sugar, some water, and mixes it all into a thick sugar paste. He spoons it into an empty mayonnaise jar and licks the spoon - many, many times. Having no clue about "dose" or "potency," he's completely unprepared for what happens next:

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I moved to the rooftop, and all is CHAOS. My mind is in a swirling state of confusion. Kaleidoscopic images surge powerfully in on me, and I am spiraling into madness. My body is numb. Cold. Lifeless. Am I dying? Is this it? I stumble to the rooftop's edge, where a sudden bolt of lightning splits through me and the memories of a childhood, crushed by the tyranny of a monstrous and violent, alcoholic father come rushing back with such vengeance, I am nearly thrown over. But then, a sudden rescue delivers me - on wings woven out of pure stardust - into a heavenly realm where there is no "me," no past, no future, no "I." The "I" of me no longer exists, and I am nothing but energy, born aloft, free. I am one with the universe. One with the Creator. One with God. I am God." 

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Galvanized, Michael 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...

...where Harvard psychology professor, Dr. Timothy Leary, and his assistant, Dr. Richard Alpert, are researching the effects of psychedelic, psilocybin mushrooms on Harvard grad students...

Dr. Leary

Dr. Alpert 

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

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But Michael is desperate to prove to him that his LSD "will run rings around those silly pathetic mushrooms." But Leary still refuses.

 

Pushed to the brink, Michael threatens to kill himself - a threat that pierces the heart of Leary's soul, being that his wife recently gassed herself to death in their garage.

 

A triumphant Michael finally spoons one "lovin' spoonful" of his LSD into Leary's mouth.

 

What happens over the next fourteen earth-shattering, "tripping" 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 teenage kids. But the only condition is that Michael must bring that entire mayo jar of LSD back with him.

When Michael returns, the Harvard LSD clinical research trials officially begin, and Leary christens him with the new name, "The Divine Rascal."

 

Michael is now at the center of Harvard's most elite academic scene. 

But after several months of promising research, the they begin consuming too much of their own supply and start giving it to undergraduates - a serious no-no. When rumors surface that they're also having sex with them, and then, when two of them 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 over 2,500 acres of breathtaking farmland, the disgraced Harvard clan moves in.

 

As chaotic and immense as their psychedelic ambitions, the villa becomes a sprawling encampment with over forty psychedelic voyagers, some with their 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 known as "the greatest trip-guide of all time."

Artists, poets, scientists, and musicians come from all over the world just to have him guide their trips.

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William Burroughs

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Andy Warhol &

Edie Sedgwick

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Michael at Millbrook - 1966

Lennon & McCartney

McClure, Dylan & Ginsberg

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Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Michael's notorious "trips" catapult him into the spotlight, making him a rising star in the NYC theatre scene and a force that Leary knows he's going to have to deal with. 

Yet, for Michael, it's not enough. For Michael, there's never enough. And one vital thing is still missing in his life: his five-year-old little girl, Vanessa.

So he convinces his now-estranged wife, Sophie, to let Vanessa come and live with him at the Mansion, "a real-life Alice in Wonderland for a little girl."  

But one night, during another exhilarating group "trip," Michael leaves the tray of acid-laced sugar cubes laying on the kitchen table, and Vanessa eats them all.

 

When the LSD kicks in, she runs wide-eyed through the acid-soaked rooms and sees all the "wild hippies" and "terrifying animals" as menacing aberrations who are trying to kill her. Madly running after her, Michael  finally pins her down and realizes that she's the one who ate the tray of LSD. 

He rushes her to Leary and Alpert who are furious at Michael's screw-up. Together, they make the excruciating decision to not take her to the hospital or they'll all go to jail. A desperate Alpert gives her a huge shot of Thorazine in her ass, knowing that it is touch-and-go if she will even survive. Alpert tells them that for the next 24 hours, they have must heck her breathing every 10 minutes. 

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

Sophie

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A few days later, the Millbrook County DA, Gordon Liddy, shows up and arrests Leary and his teenage son, Jackie.

 

Fortunately, Alpert is on a pilgrimage in India becoming "Ram Dass," and weirdly, no one touches Michael - a total mystery to everyone - well, everyone except the CIA and Michael himself.

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But with no evidence, Liddy has to let Leary go. When he returns to the Mansion, police are surrounding the place and strip-searching everyone who comes in and out.

When the mystical and weirdly robe-clad monk, Alpert, with the new name Baba Ram Dass, finally returns from India, Liddy demands that Michael flip on his psychedelic family or else. With the noose drawing tighter around Michael's neck, he tries to play both sides of the law.

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Leary and Alpert (Ram Dass) are convinced that Michael is the rat, and with his alcoholism spiraling out of control, they know that the only way to preserve their legacy and avoid jail is to convince him  to go back to London and establish a "second Millbrook" there.

 

But Michael knows they're on to him. Hitting bottom, he goes on one more alcohol, drug-fueled rage, making sure to destroy Leary's most prized possessions; his beautiful and meticulously manicured flower gardens.

 As the cab takes him away, Leary mocks Michael's tragic fall from grace with a sarcastic and angry quip to Alpert, "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 agents bring him to the docks to board a ship back to England, they allow him to make one last phone call to Vanessa. During their heartbreaking goodbye, she begs him not to leave her with her crazy mom. As tears fill his eyes, he runs out of coins, and the call is abruptly disconnected.

 

Which sets us up for an extraordinary Season Two, where the stakes keep rising as Michael continues to play both sides of the law while fathering the largest psychedelic movement in all of London - one that rivals Leary's East Coast New York Woodstock scene and Nick Sands' Orange Sunshine, Grateful Dead scene in San Francisco.

The Antagonists
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THE  ANTAGONISTS

The series weaves grim scenes from the CIA's LSD "MK-Ultra Program," run by the "Poisoner in Chief," Sydney Gottlieb.

In a clandestine CIA safehouse, in the middle of the West Village's jazz joints and speakeasys, rogue CIA operatives are conducting sadistic experiments with huge doses of LSD on society's most vulnerable and marginalized: junkies, prostitutes, black musicians, struggling artists, and orphaned children.

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Set against the Russian Cold War, Gottlieb's objective is as nefarious as it is chilling: to see if the drug can erase people's minds and turn them into trained government assassins that will kill Russian spies and never 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

Then, when President Nixon declares LSD the "greatest threat to America's youth," he orders Gottlieb to begin round-the-clock surveillance of Michael and Leary at Millbrook Mansion. Gottlieb enlists NY District Attorney Gordon Liddy and secret double-agent Captain Al Hubbard to do whatever they need to do to bring them and the entire Mansion down. 

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Gordon Liddy, NY District Attorney 

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Al Hubbard, double-secret CIA agent working "against Gottlieb and Liddy"

Which brings us to three scenarios:

 

Does Michael, after being subjected to the MK-Ultra program, become a CIA informant - a transformation that would force him to grapple with a secret identity and the horrific tasks assigned to him by the CIA?

 

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

 

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

The World
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THE WORLD:

Set against the 1960s turbulent 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

And 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 

Every episode showcases a specific character's trip as a mesmerizing stand-alone set-piece. Picture the hallucinatory visuals of Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," combined with the emotional intensity of Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream," and all set against the atmosphere and tone of "Mad Men." Each character's trip reveals key moments from their past, shedding light on why they do what they do, to get what they want, in the present. But these trips are not just kaleidoscopic or senseless spectacle, but they connect deeply with the audience's own fears, keeping them hooked, desperate to find out which characters will achieve the ultimate in self-realization and enlightenment, and which will fall prey to their innermost demons, possibly lost to us forever.

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Characters
MAIN CHARACTERS
Michael Hollingshead

MICHAEL HOLLINGSHEAD - THE DIVINE RASCAL

Born to a violent and abusive alcoholic father in the impoverished North of England, Michael harbors an insatiable need to be adored. Because of such a traumatic upbringing, he vows to be the father he never had while at the same time trying to father the psychedelic revolution. 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 profound need for love until they stop working and he sabotages everything. Beneath his magnetic surface seethes a raging belief: that since his father is disposable, so is everyone else. And be careful, because when you fall under his spell, you risk losing your mind, your money, or possibly both. But his greatest tragedy is that the liberation he so effortlessly guides others to find he never finds for himself again. He will spend the rest of his life chasing the that first euphoric roof-top trip to 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 academic Harvard psychology professor that everyone wants to teach their class or take to bed. But 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 psychedelic 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 said, "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, that is. A respected Harvard psychology professor, Dick brings an unrequited love for Leary along with the money they need to pay for their grand projects..., one of which ends up being Michael himself. Richard, who everyone calls Dick, 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. But with each ensuing trip, he becomes increasingly disheartened with how the trips don't last, no matter how much LSD he takes. His search for a lasting enlightenment will take him to India, where he transforms into the famous Guru, Baba Ram Dass.

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Before LSD

Before LSD

After LSD

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After LSD

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These three men become known as "The Lords of the Revolution," with storylines that are limitless.

 

Over the series, their initial dream is corrupted by their insatiable need for money, power, and prestige. As the stakes rise, along with their celebrity, it becomes impossible for them to admit, let alone even see that what they're doing is wrong. 

 

But one thing that is undeniable - the damage they inflict on their children 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. Initially she supports Michael’s fledgling writing career, but with his "acid-work," his inability to pay child support, and his continuous adultery, they split, and she and Vanessa move back to NYC. But when her love for Michael never dies, that hurt drives her to eventually stop caring for everyone and everything -- well, except for grass, amphetamines, and Vanessa, in that order. Broke, she and Vanessa end up living 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 Sophies care--a woman who has no idea how to be a mother. Overwhelmed by Vanessa's "terrible twos," Sophie makes a heart-wrenching decision to put Vanessa in a foster home that turns out to be extremely abusive. When Michael learns about the situation, he comes back and rescues her. Faced with the reality that he can't bring her back to Boston, he reluctantly gives her back to Sophie, but with strict conditions. But 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 that tray of sugar cubes out and she almost dies. Vanessa represents 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 little girl in the series "Fosse/Verdon" - Vanessa's acid-laced orphan storyline appears as snippets throughout to remind us where her father comes from and what he leaves behind.

Soundtrack

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.

DREAM SOUNDTRACK
Pilot Summary
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THE PILOT SUMMARY

"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 Carnaby Street by the psychedelic balls.  

 

Decked out in his flamboyant raccoon coat, pink sunglasses, and Tibetan beanie, he's in the middle of guiding over fifty followers on another one of his infamous and mind-bending LSD trips. 

 

Amidst the pulsating lights and Indian Hindu music, he raises a perfume bottle high above the crowd - a luminous beacon in the heart of the chaos. We zoom in just as a psychedelic strobe catches the iridescent letters emblazoned on its side: "LSD."

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Spraying his elixir all over the hot, barless, hippie chicks with their tongues wagging at his feet, he recites detailed tripping instructions from "his" manual, "The Psychedelic Experience." 

And then, as if summoned by cosmic forces, the era’s cultural luminaries materialize: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Roman Polanski — each yearning for their personal spritz of Michael’s artistic liberation.

As Michael steps back to revel 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 kaleidoscopic LSD sessions at his infamous Millbrook Mansion. 

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Reciting the same spiritual tripping instructions from the same manual, we spot amongst his disciples - Andy Warhol, Charlie Mingus, Maynard Ferguson, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg.

As Leary steps back to revel in his own 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, Wormwood Scrubs, 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 for The Whitehorse Tavern in Greenwich Village, the favored haunt of the Beatnik literary underground.

 

Lost in the unfamiliar West Village streets, he comes upon the Open Door jazz joint. He peeks inside and locks eyes with the gorgeous, femme fatale jazz pianist, Sophie Reisner. When suddenly, two mobster-types barge in behind him.

 

Through the pane glass, Michael can only watch as one of them almost strangles her husband to death, while the other puts a gun to the head of one of four black musicians and drags them outside, right over Michael's feet.

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

 

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

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

 

Leary is left to raise their two kids all on his own.

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ACT TWO:

 

As Michael continues with his search for The Whitehorse - his mind still reeling from what he saw in that jazz joint - we pan directly above to a top-floor brownstone, where those same mobsters are dragging those same four musicians to a clandestine CIA safehouse. Inside, it is revealed that these men are not just mobsters; they are CIA operatives conducting mind-erasure experiments with near-fatal doses of LSD on minorities, alcoholics, drug addicts, and prostitutes ... and these four men are next. 

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

 

But when he spots the most-famous British author, Aldous Huxley, and the one whose books were his lifeline during his confinement in a North England juvenile detention facility when he was just a kid, he’s overcome.

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These hopeless romantics easily welcome this British fish-out-of-water into their fold. But with no money, he's desperate for a place to stay. As the drinks flow, he masks his low-class accent with a posh upper-class one and launches into charming yet harrowing tales of his near-fatal escape from England. His performance earns him a standing ovation and even convinces a belligerent and intoxicated Kerouac and a high-on-heroin Burroughs to let him sleep on the floor of their tiny, grimy Lower East Side apartment.

Back in San Francisco, Leary - grieving his wife's suicide and seeking a fresh start - leaves that prestigious new job at Kaiser, uproots his kids and moves to Italy. 

 

While there, he struggles to finish his new book on his ground-breaking research with the mentally ill and can't stop sleeping with the gorgeous and stunning Italian hookers. His behavior leads to a mysterious illness with painful blisters and vivid hallucinations. His kids and new puppy hold vigil by his bedside, believing he is going to die.  

 

When a former colleague from Harvard's Psychology Department learns of Leary's dilemma, he invites him to come back to the States and present his hotshot research at a major psychology conference at Harvard. Desperate, Leary seizes the opportunity and moves his kids to Cambridge.

 

During the brilliant and magnetic presentation, he captivates the entire Harvard team, and they offer him a teaching position in the undergrad department. The young professor, Dr. Richard Alpert, is also so taken by Leary's alluring and "sexy" presentation that he volunteers to be his assistant.

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ACT THREE:

 

Back in NYC, Michael is hellbent on proving to his new literary friends that he is just as smart and talented as they are. But with no job, no money, and now an intense love affair with the married jazz pianist Sophie, he is crippled by a paralyzing case of writer's block. When his drinking then spirals out of control, he turns to the man whose words saved him when he was a kid, Aldous Huxley. "Hux" tells him about this unknown drug, called LSD, that cured his own writer's block, and that if Michael wants to be successful, he should find a way to get some and take a bunch of it. But Hux warns him to be extremely careful since very little research has been done with it. 

Michael rushes off to New York Hospital to convince his doctor-friend into writing a prescription. Together, they concoct the lie that Michael has bone cancer and needs a significant amount of LSD to research during a "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, at Cambridge, the radical Leary struggles to fit in with the strait-laced academic Harvard world of the 1950s, mirroring Michael's difficulties fitting in with the Beatniks.

 

Initially praised for his pioneering psychological methods, Leary's unconventional "one-on-one talk therapy" with his very young students and smoking way too much pot spark serious conflicts with Harvard's "Board of Overseers." 

Then, as he immerses himself in Eastern spirituality, yoga, mysticism, and meditation, he is invited to Mexico to study the spiritual benefits of psilocybin mushrooms with the indigenous Aztec people. But there's just one problem: Harvard won't approve, let alone pay for it.

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ACT FOUR:

In the shadows of the clandestine West Village CIA safehouse, our story takes an ominous turn, introducing Dr. Sydney Gottlieb, the mad mastermind and director of the CIA's MK-Ultra drug program. Against the backdrop of the Russian Cold War, Gottlieb draws gruesome inspiration from Josef Mengele's monstrous experiments on concentration camp prisoners during WWII.

 

He directs his CIA operatives to induct members from the New York City mob to take hostage and then administer deadly amounts of LSD and other unknown chemicals to the vulnerable and marginalized. Their main goal is to erase their minds and turn them into trained assassins who kill Russian agents and never remember doing it.

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ACT FIVE:

 

In the final act, Michael and Leary grapple with their persistent "mid-life crises," unknowingly yearning for what they don't even know yet, is a profound “spiritual awakening.” Their existential need leads to: Will Leary defy his Harvard’s superiors and pursue research on psychedelic mushrooms in Mexico? And will Dr. Hofmann fulfill Michael’s desperate request for LSD and send it to him? 

 

Cut to:

Sandoz Labs, in Switzerland, where Dr. Hofmann, reading Michael's prescription, flashes back to 1943, the day he accidentally discovered the potent and complex substance.

 

Flashback, 1943:

 

Hofmann synthesizes an extremely poisonous fungus that grows on rye seeds called lysergic acid, looking for a cure for migraines. When he accidentally ingests a small amount, the effects are so powerful that he does what any mad scientist would do: he deliberately doses himself with 250 micrograms — a dose that he believes could be lethal.

 

As the "poison" courses through his veins, he gets on his bicycle to ride home to see his wife, with what he believes, could be one last time. But as the LSD kicks in, his bicycle trip transcends a mere ride. His perception and reality warp into a kaleidoscopic, mind-bending spectacle — a twisting beauty that defies all comprehension. Amidst this beauty, he also confronts the entire dissolution of his ego, teetering on the edge of profound enlightenment and existential terror.  

 

Caught between the profound and the profane, the divine and the diabolical, death and re-birth, this very first LSD trip of all time is so life-changing that he pleads with his superiors to allow him to continue research with it. But they believe the drug is much too dangerous and shut him down.

Back to 1959, the present:

As the flashback fades, a deeply conflicted Hofmann holds Michael's letter, weighing his personal consequences with the scientific ones, if he were to send him the drug. 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 in Alpert's private plane, ready to takeoff to Mexico.

In New York City, Michael receives a package from Switzerland. He opens it and a small jar labeled "LSD Lot Number H-00047" and a bill for $285.00 falls out. Hofmann also wrote a personal note warning Michael of the drug's deadliness if overdosed and how important it is that he report back with the data of LSD's efficacy on his bone-marrow cancer.

Leary and Alpert land at Cuernavaca, Airport and are welcomed by the Aztec psilocybin healer and shaman, Crazy Juana. After indulging in several shots of tequila, the trio ascends into the mountains. In the midst of a time-honored tribal ritual, Crazy Juana places one psylocibin mushroom on each of their tongues and then two on her own.

Michael tosses Hofmann's letter and bill into the trash, unscrews the lid, and finds a shimmering, electric powder. He grabs a bowl, a box of powdered sugar, the jar of LSD, and a little water and mixes it into a thick paste. He then spoons it into an empty mayonnaise jar and licks the spoon many times. But having no clue about "dose" and "potency," he is completely unprepared for what happens next.

Michael makes his way to the roof, and the scene shifts between Leary and Alpert's first psilocybin trip by the campfire and Michael's first LSD trip. However, Michael's trip far surpasses the whimsical and almost silly nature of a typical psilocybin trip, climaxing in a gripping cliffhanger. Here, Michael dangerously perches on the edge of his roof, teetering between the profound verge of self-discovery and a divine realization, or plummeting to the depths of complete annihilation.

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