The Story of the Man who "Turned-On" the World with LSD and the People who Erased Him.
Jeanne Heaton &
In 1959, when a British disillusioned writer, desperate to reinvent himself, comes to New York City and "trips" on LSD for the first time, he experiences a transformation so profound that he goes on a mission to "turn-on" the world with it, but when his traumatic past and his ties to British intelligence catch up with him, he becomes an easy target for the CIA, and the world "turns" on him.
Based on his book, "The Man Who Turned on the World," THE DIVINE RASCAL is a dramatic, darkly humorous, limited TV series about the true story of my father, Michael Hollingshead; the man who gave the infamous Harvard professor, Dr. Timothy Leary, his very first hit of LSD and how together they launch the most significant 1960s counterculture revolution of our time.
"The Man Who Turned On The World"
by Michael Hollingshead
"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 lying on the kitchen table, and I ate them all. 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 that advocacy for drug use 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 and the remarkable people he "turned-on" with it, and how he affected an entire generation has never been dramatized in a narrative television series before -- until now."
Vanessa Hollingshead, Comedian
& Michael Hollingshead's daughter
LSD blasts its way onto the postindustrial Norman Rockwell scene of the 1950s and lifts America out of its puritanical view of the world.
"LSD is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be."
Inventor of LSD, Dr. Albert Hofmann
WHO IS HE?
Of all the figures in LSD history, none are more mysterious and unfathomable than The Divine Rascal, Michael Hollingshead. A Zelig, a charlatan, a genius, an acid-guru, a conman, a fool, a criminal, a police informant, deeply spiritual, a black magician, a trickster, an alcoholic, a junky, a secret double agent, and a father —- the truth is, Michael is all these things and more.
"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. Doctors and scientists are currently using LSD to treat depression, PTSD, addiction, Alzheimer's, alcoholism, cancer, and end-of-life care.
In fact, scientists have picked up researching psychedelics today exactly where our main characters, Hollingshead, Leary, and Leary's assistant, Dr. Alpert, left off 60 years ago, before the US government shut them down.
Dr. Timothy Leary
Dr. Richard Alpert, Ram Dass
The Divine Rascal, however, is not a documentary. Instead, it is a dramatic and darkly funny limited series set in the '60s about the trials and tribulations of these pioneering Harvard academics and how their research with LSD set groundbreaking precedents for psychoanalysis.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Hollingshead
Bill Skarsgård as Alpert
Told as a linear narrative with flashy "tripping" sequences and revealing flashbacks, The Divine Rascal offers a fresh perspective on the origins of LSD and how it affects an entire generation, whether for better or worse.
Vanessa Hollingshead, 1965
LIMITED SERIES ARC
In 1959, Michael Hollingshead, a British writer with a mysterious past, is forced out of London. Penniless, he boards a low-class passenger ship for New York City.
The moment he arrives, he heads straight for the White Horse Tavern, where his literary idols —- Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, Huxley, Baldwin -— all hang out. To hide his crude Northey British accent, he feigns an upper-class Oxford one and easily worms his way into the hip American Beatnik scene -- everything he's dreamed of.
Sophie & Vanessa
But when he meets Sophie, a stunning and talented jazz pianist, she gets pregnant, and Vanessa is born.
Suffering with debilitating writer's block and unable to pay the rent or feed his new family, Michael turns to famous author Aldous Huxley for help. "Hux," who's been using LSD to aid with his own writing, tells Michael to find a way to get ahold of some and take a bunch of it.
Michael gets his doctor friend to forge a prescription, along with a letter that falsely states Michael needs it for a "bone marrow transplant." Michael sends the bogus script to LSD's inventor at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals and four weeks later...
THE INCITING INCIDENT:
A package arrives. Michael opens it and one gram of pure liquid LSD falls out. He mixes the entire bottle into a sugar base, spoons it into an empty mayonnaise jar, and licks the spoon. Having no clue about "dose" or "potency," Michael is completely unprepared for what happens next.
"I moved to the rooftop to observe, and all is CHAOS. My mind is in a whirling state of confusion. Kaleidoscopic images surge powerfully in on me. I am seized by a fear of going insane. My body is numb, strange, lifeless. Am I dying? Is this it? Is this the transition? Reluctant, I step forth into some other land of unlikeliness where the primordial ooze of unworthiness instilled in me by my violent alcoholic father is cracked open, and I am... I am... I am transformed. I am one with the universe, one with the genie in the bottle. One with King Arthur and Sir Lancelot riding five fiery chariots across the night sky. I am God."
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?
Our story takes a hard left into Harvard academia...
Harvard psychology professor, Dr. Timothy Leary and his assistant, Dr. Richard Alpert, are researching the effects of psilocybin mushrooms on graduate students.
When out of the blue, and with only his jar full of LSD, Michael cons his way into Leary's office. He begs him to let him turn-him-on, but Leary is leery of this obviously unhinged man and wants nothing to do with him or his "man-made" chemicals.
Through a series of comic manipulations, that includes a dark threat of suicide, Leary is forced to give in. Michael scoops one "loving spoonful" from his jar and fourteen hours later, Leary’s experience is as transforming and galvanizing as Michael’s first trip was.
Leary gives the penniless Michael his car to go back to NYC, get Sophie and baby Vanessa, and move into his attic with his teenagers, Jack and Susan, but only if he brings that magic jar of LSD with him. Overjoyed, Michael believes he is going to be a member of Harvard's "academic elite." Leary bestows him with the new name "The Divine Rascal" and the LSD trials officially begin.
But after two years of promising research and consuming too much of their own supply, they get sloppy and start giving LSD to undergrads -- 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.
Which brings us to Millbrook Mansion, a dilapidated 64-room baroque castle in upstate New York.
Located on 2,500 acres of breathtaking farmland, the disgraced Harvard clan moves in. As chaotic and immense as their psychedelic ambitions, the villa quickly becomes a sprawling encampment of over forty psychedelic voyagers, some with kids, and thanks to Michael, a plethora of exotic animals.
"A cross between a country club, a madhouse, a research center, a monastery, and a Fellini movie set;" Millbrook is where Michael perfects his trip-guiding skills. Celebrities, poets, scientists, artists, and musicians travel from all over the world just to have him —- "the greatest trip-guide of all time," turn them on.
Andy Warhol &
Michael at Millbrook - 1966
Lennon & McCartney
McClure, Dylan & Ginsberg
Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Michael's mind-bending and theatrical "Happenings" put him at the forefront of the country's most elite art set, earning him a rave review in The New York Times but there's one thing missing: his five-year-old little girl, Vanessa.
So he convinces now-estranged wife, Sophie, to let Vanessa move into the Mansion with him. One night, when he drunkenly leaves a tray of acid-laced sugar cubes on the table, Vanessa eats them all. As the scene devolves into a dark, comedic, tripping calamity, Michael realizes Vanessa is high, and tripping her ass off. When he sees the tray of LSD is gone, he quickly rushes her to Alpert, who gives her a huge shot of Thorazine in her ass. It's touch and go if she will even survive. When Sophie finds out, she whisks her back to a "safer" place: their roach-infested apartment in the tenements of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
A few days later, the county DA raids Millbrook and arrests Leary and his son, Jack. Alpert, fortunately, is away in India "becoming Ram Dass," and weirdly, no one arrests Michael, which is a complete mystery to everyone -- well, everyone except the FBI, the CIA, and Michael himself.
But since the DA doesn't have any evidence on Leary, they let him go. When he returns to the Mansion, the police have set up roadblocks to strip-search anyone who comes in or out. Alpert returns from India as the transformed guru "Ram Dass," and the CIA puts even more pressure on Michael to come up with something on Leary, or else...
Leary and Alpert realize there's an informant amongst them and that the informant must be Michael. So to try and get rid of him, they tell him to go back to London and set up a "second Millbrook" there. After a huge argument, Michael packs his shit and grabs his passport. Once gone, Leary laughs, dismissing his once Divine Rascal as a forgotten man and tells Alpert, "Well, that writes off any hope of a British psychedelic revolution for the next ten years."
Little do they know -- Michael has over 10,000 hits of pure Czech LSD hidden in a bar of soap -- enough to turn-on all of London ten times over, get the feds of his back, and still have a hell of a stash left for himself.
Throughout the series, sinister scenes of the CIA's "MK-Ultra Program" conducting LSD experiments on unwitting, nonconsenting people to try and control, manipulate and erase their minds lead to insanity, death and ultimately Michael.
Children tortured with LSD
CIA MK-Ultra Headquarters
When President Nixon declares that "LSD is the greatest threat to America's youth and the nation's moral fiber," he orders Sydney Gottlieb, the CIA's "Poisoner in Chief" to conduct round-the-clock surveillance of Millbrook Mansion.
Sydney Gottlieb - Head of the CIA's LSD mind-control program.
Captain Al Hubbard of the CIA
Gordon Liddy of the FBI
Does Michael become a secret double-agent working for the CIA? Does he rat on his psychedelic family and lose everything dear to him, including Vanessa? Does the man who "turns-on" the world become the man who "turns" on the world, to save his own skin?
Set against the 1960s turbulent backdrop of racism, sexism, and the Vietnam war...
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.
Bill Wilson -- Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
The Rolling Stones
And when Michael turns-on The Beatles, they go from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "I Am the Walrus."
WEEK TO WEEK
Week to week we will watch a different character embark on a unique and transformative "trip.” Each trip is a compelling, standalone, set piece that delves into their psyches to offer us a distorted and internal reflection of their “truth” and move the story forward. Themes of money, power, sex, drugs, abuse, booze, their kids expose the character's personal struggles. The "tripping" scenes are also a powerful vehicle that showcase poignant flashbacks from their past to shed light on their motivations and actions in the present. Think of the surreal and captivating tripping sequences in Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream" and Gilliam’s "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."
MICHAEL HOLLINGSHEAD, THE DIVINE RASCAL
Born to a violent and abusive alcoholic father in poverty-stricken North England, Michael has an insatiable 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. He wants to father the psychedelic revolution and his daughter at the same time. Alcohol, women, and drugs distract him for a while till they don't, and he sabotages everything. Beneath the surface seethes a rage so palpable: that since his father is disposable so is everyone else. If you fall under his spell, and believe me you will, you risk losing your mind, your money, or possibly both. But Michael's greatest tragedy of all is that the liberation he so effortlessly guides others to find he never finds for himself again. He spends the rest of his life chasing that first roof-top "trip" to oblivion, even if it means losing the one he says he loves the most, Vanessa.
DR TIMOTHY LEARY, THE HIGH PRIEST
The alpha-male antithesis to Michael's flamboyant peacock, Tim is Harvard's leading psychology professor, that everyone wants to teach their class or take to bed. Because of his promiscuity, with men and women, his wife commits suicide, leaving him to raise their two children on his own. Guilt-ridden, he throws himself into his work with one need: to scientifically prove that LSD can accomplish in 12 hours what it takes 12 years of psychotherapy to do. But with his relentless womanizing, his insatiable 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 100,000 thanked me for it."
DR. RICHARD ALPERT, BABA RAM DASS
'Dick' is Leary’s right-hand man -- until Michael shows up, that is. A Harvard psychology professor as well, Dick brings an unrequited romantic love for Leary, along with the money to pay for all their projects, one of which is Michael himself. Dick desperately wants to fit in, but how, when you’re a gay man in the ‘60s. His competition to win Leary’s love at any cost becomes his undoing. The first time he 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 lasting enlightenment and freedom takes him to India, where he transforms into the famous Guru, Baba Ram Dass.
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 with his "acid-work," his inability to pay child support, and his continuous adultery, 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, in that order. Broke, they end up living in the slums of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, where she endures assaults, loses her teeth, and, when she puts Vanessa in foster care, loses her mind. She daily reminds Vanessa: "When I met your father, I hated all men; after I married him, I hated everybody."
VANESSA HOLLINGSHEAD, DAUGHTER
When Michael sets off to "turn-on" the world, he leaves Vanessa in Sophie’s care, a woman who has no idea how to be a mom. So when Sophie gives Vanessa away to an abusive foster home, Michael comes back, rescues her, and returns her to Sophie? Sophie still has no clue and shuffles her back and forth between the neighbors. All Vanessa longs for is the "stability" of her dad; the man who, in her mind, is her savior. When she does get to go to Millbrook and finally be with him, he screws up and leaves the tray of acid out. Vanessa eats them all and almost dies. Vanessa represents an entire generation of kids left out of the 1960s vacuous promise of peace, love, and understanding.
the comedy of
Similar to Nicole Fosse, daughter of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon and creator of "Fosse/Verdon," Vanessa's acid-laced orphan storyline appears in snippets 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 its collateral damage. Over the course of the series, we will solve the mystery of who Michael Hollingshead was and why the tripping subculture was so swiftly stamped out.