The Story of the Man who "Turned-On" the World with LSD and the People who Erased Him.
In 1959, when a poor, rebellious, British, writer - fed up with writing travel guides, comes to New York City to make it famous and fatefully "trips" on LSD for the first time, he goes on a mission to "turn-on" the world with it - but when his tragic Dickensian childhood, his alcoholism, and the neglect of his own daughter catch up with him, he becomes an easy target for the CIA and is mysteriously erased from history.
"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. I don't have childhood memories, I have flashbacks.
The men my father "turned-on" with LSD, their scientific, earth- shattering research with psychedelics, and their complex relationships with each other has never been dramatized in a TV series before - until now."
Michael Hollingshead's Daughter
Of all the figures in LSD history none are more complex and unfathomable than The Divine Rascal, Michael Hollingshead.
An artist, 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. Michael Hollingshead is all these things and more.
"The Divine Rascal" begins in New York City at the dawn of the ‘60s...
Michael arrives in NYC via a passenger ship from England.
He meets his beautiful
future wife, Sophie
and Vanessa is born.
...the story takes a hard left into Harvard academia...
Michael gets a hold of 5000 hits of LSD and "turns-on"
Harvard psychology professor, Dr. Timothy Leary, who "turns-on"
his assistant, psychology professor, Dr. Richard Alpert.
The LSD scientific clinical trials officially begin.
Two years later, they get sloppy and they all get fired.
...and 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.
runs the LSD sessions
Set against the turbulent backdrop of racism, sexism, and Vietnam - Michael gives LSD to Harvard college kids and they trade their briefcases for knapsacks. Divinity students "turn-on" and become priests. Hopeless drunks become recovered alcoholics. And prisoners become upright citizens. Painters, poets, writers and musicians - most notably the world famous Beatles - take 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 Divine Rascal" shows tripping in a way that's never been seen before. Week to week, as different characters "turn-on", we experience their trip through the lens of their storyline - raising the stakes with each episode with the question, "Will they have a spiritual awakening or a rude one?"
But not everyone has the privilege.
Vanessa’s acid-orphan storyline appears as little snippets throughout to remind us of where her father has come from and what he's left behind.
When the FBI and the CIA’s top-secret MK-Ultra LSD Program infiltrate the story, the scenes become more granular and chilling. Russian spies, prisoners, prostitutes, and children are given massive amounts of LSD to analyze its potential for mind-control, mind-erasure, information gathering, and psychological torture. These clandestine experiments lead to insanity and even death.
Sydney Gottlieb - CIA's MK Ultra
Children tortured on LSD
Captain Al Hubbard - CIA & FBI
Gordon Liddy - FBI
Michael Hollingshead is
The Divine Rascal
Born to a violent and abusive alcoholic father in the north of England, Michael had an insatiable need to be adored. As an adult, he wants nothing more than to father the dawn of the psychedelic revolution and Vanessa - 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 do 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 - 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 spends the rest of his life chasing his first glorious LSD rooftop trip - even if it means losing the one he loves the most, his sweet little girl, Vanessa.
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. He's the guy everyone wants to teach their class or take to bed. On his 35th birthday, his wife, due to his promiscuity, 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, he replies, with that megawatt smile, “Yeah man, but only 100,000 thanked me for it.”
Dr. Richard Alpert is
Baba Ram Dass
Leary’s right-hand man, until Michael shows up. A Harvard psychology professor, Alpert brings an unrequited romantic love for Leary and the money to pay for 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. On his pilgrimage to India, he transforms into the famous Guru Baba Ram Dass, and writes Be Here Now
which sells over 2 million copies.
This trio becomes known as the
Lords of the Revolution
with one goal: to save humanity with LSD.
Michael’s wife & Vanessa's mother
A jazz pianist, Sophie is a complicated woman who follows her internal compass. Initially, she supports Michael’s fledgling writing career. But, with his “acid-work”, relentless adultery, and lack of any childhood support, she stops caring for everyone and everything - except for grass, amphetamines, and Vanessa - in that order. Poverty stricken, she and little Vanessa are forced to move to the slums of Bed-Stuy where she endures assaults, the loss of her teeth, and eventually her mind. She always reminds Vanessa, “When I met your father, I hated all men, after I married him, I hated everybody.”
When Michael leaves her behind to “turn-on” the world, Vanessa is left in Sophie’s care; a woman who prefers smoking pot and taking pills than being a mom. Back and forth between abusive foster homes and mentally ill Sophie, Vanessa longs for the stability of her alcoholic father. Vanessa represents an entire generation of kids left out of the 1960s vacuous promise of peace, love and understanding. At 5, when she accidentally eats the LSD, she's forced to survive by any means. She grows up fast and turns her childhood into comedy.
the brilliant comedy of
Limited Series Overview
The show 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 World Psychedelic Center, 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 & 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. This is where our story begins - with his arrival on the docks of New York City.
Michael heads for the West Village where the poetry Gods of Angst; Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs hang out. 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
He 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 that LSD is the thing responsible for transforming his own writing and that maybe he should take some. Michael finagles a phony prescription - saying he needs it for a "bone-marrow transplant" and sends it to LSD's inventor Dr. Albert Hofmann. Three weeks later, 5000 hits of pure Lysergic Diethylamide-25 arrive in the mail, with a bill for $285.00.
Michael throws the bill in the trash and heads for the kitchen - where he dilutes the entire bottle into a sugar paste. As he scoops it into a mayonnaise jar, he licks his first lovin' spoonful and heads for the roof - where his entire life is about to change forever.
During that first trip, his sense of worthlessness, instilled in him by his cruel alcoholic father is instantaneously replaced with a knowledge of God so profound; he realizes the entire world must have it. And there is only one man who can help; Harvard psychedelic researcher and professor, Dr. Timothy Leary.
Michael bursts into Leary's office with his mayo-jar, but Leary wants nothing to do with him or his "man-made" chemicals. Never taking "no" for an answer, Michael threatens to kill himself. Leary, now really leery, is forced to finally take it. 45 minutes later, Leary is so overcome by its transcendent omnipotence, he insists Michael move in with him and his two kids. Michael has just thrown his LSD hand-grenade right into the middle of Leary's relatively strait-laced Harvard academic career. So with Vanessa and Sophie in tow, Michael squeezes them into Leary's teeny attic. But soon Sophie wants out of this "acid-laced Anne Frank shit-hole!" Michael is forced to choose - Leary? Or his own family? He makes his decision and puts 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 over the next two years, they join in on their own research with the grad students - a huge 'no-no'. As they consume more and more of their own stash, Alpert gets caught giving LSD to a male undergrad he has the hots for, and Harvard fires them all.
The now "homeless" Leary, Alpert and Michael relocate their "acid-work" to the sixty-four room decaying Millbrook Mansion. With 2300 acres of fresh air and lots of extravagant animals, Michael thinks Millbrook is a great place to raise a child. He convinces Sophie to let Vanessa come and stay. Every morning, Vanessa wakes up and runs to her Dad's room just to make sure he's still there. But when she accidentally eats the acid-laced sugar cubes, their time together is short-lived. Furious with Michael's irresponsibility, Sophie shows up and demands Michael give her pot and amphetamines. And she whisks Vanessa back to NYC.
Depressed without his little girl, Michael buries himself into discovering more extraordinary ways to guide his LSD sessions. By cultivating the talents of the visual artists and audio engineers living there, Michael masterminds an audio/visual acid experience so spectacular that famous artists come from all over the world to have him guide their trips. These sessions are so astonishing, they re-create them at the Village Vanguard as part of the budding avant-garde "Happenings" art scene in NYC. Michael is finally recognized by the elite art-set and even receives an outstanding review in the New York Times for these performances.
But as Michael's drinking gets out of control and his childhood demons resurface, he sabotages everything. We collectively 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 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 by ratting out his psychedelic family? Does the man who "turns-on" the world become the man who turned on the world?
CIA MK-Ultra Headquarters
At the 11th hour, immigration receives 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 Leary's "Psychedelic Manual" with the deluded hope that Michael might continue their mission in London. Leary’s contempt for Michael is palpable. Once out of sight, 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 that Michael has 10,000 hits of pure Czech LSD hidden in a bar of soap; enough to turn-on London 10 times over and 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, we survive its collateral damage. Over the course of the show we will solve the mystery of who Michael Hollingshead was and why the tripping subculture was so swiftly stamped out.