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Cary Grant force-fed me LSD, nearly killing me, says Dyan Cannon

By Phungushead, Oct 8, 2011 | |
  1. Phungushead
    View attachment 22657 My first dinner-date at Cary Grant’s home in Beverly Hills turned out to be as surprising as it was romantic.

    On that balmy night in 1962, I was 25, an innocent young actress trying to work her way up in Hollywood.

    I still couldn’t believe that I was being wooed by a man who, though 33 years my senior, was the greatest matinee idol of the day.

    Our dates so far had been on neutral ground, — meals together in restaurants around Los Angeles.

    Now Cary put an arm around my shoulders as he gave me a tour of his beautiful, ranch-style house in the hills above the city.

    From the large patio, overlooking a panorama of twinkling lights that seemed to go on for ever, we watched the rose-tinged sun slide peacefully into the haze of the Pacific.

    View attachment 22658 In the living room, where logs burned softly in a cavernous fireplace, Cary sat at his grand piano and serenaded me with the song You’re The Top.

    Suddenly he stood up and told me to follow him into his bedroom. Before I could object, he flopped onto the bed, turned on the TV and motioned for me to lie alongside him.

    ‘Come on, I won’t bite,’ he said and at that moment his housekeeper Helen stepped into the room with a giant silver tray in her arms, laden with our dinner.

    ‘Just relax and stretch your legs out, dear,’ she instructed me, as if she was about to perform surgery and, with the TV show Dr Kildare burbling in the background, I began eating my way through the strangest date of my life.

    After everything had been cleared, Cary reached into his bedside drawer.

    ‘Have you ever had a Picnic bar?’ he asked. ‘A what bar?’

    ‘A Picnic bar. They’re what makes life worth living for every English schoolboy. They’re positively unbeatable.’

    As I watched him peel away the wrapper and savour the chocolate treat within, I could almost see in him Archibald Leach, the little boy who had endured a miserable childhood in England before coming to America to find stardom as Cary Grant.

    That moment was touching and sweet beyond words, and astonishingly opposite to the wild debauchery which people imagined took place in Hollywood. If only things could have stayed that way.

    View attachment 22659 We first met after Cary saw me in an episode of a TV show called Malibu Run, the Baywatch of its day, and invited me to his bungalow at Universal Studios to talk about a part in a movie he was producing.

    ‘Tell me about yourself,’ he said as he fixed me with his huge, cafe au lait eyes. We talked and talked and when I finally left his office, I was astonished to see that I had been in there for four hours.

    The movie part never transpired, but we began dating and when he invited me back to the studios to watch him filming That Touch Of Mink with Doris Day, and then drove me to the set in his silver Rolls-Royce, I felt like the queen sitting next to the king.

    As we became closer, Cary confided in me the story of his childhood in Bristol. When he was ten, he was told that his mother had gone away to the seaside for a rest. Soon afterwards, he was told that she was dead.

    In fact, his father Elias, an alcoholic womaniser, had had her committed to a lunatic asylum, so he could continue with his drinking and philandering unhindered, and she was still there when he finally confessed to the deception some 20 years later.

    By then, Cary was well on the way to becoming a Hollywood star and never forgave himself for not somehow realising the truth earlier. ‘I’d become wealthy and famous, living this very grand life, and all along my poor mother had been rotting away in this hell-hole,’ he told me.

    Her disappearance from his life when he was a little boy had a long-lasting psychological impact, and he believed that his three failed marriages had much to do with a subconscious fear that his wives would similarly abandon him.

    View attachment 22660 Of course, Hollywood gossip had put a different spin on Cary’s inability to commit to women, calling into question his sexuality. And, ironically, it was on the day after we first slept together that he introduced me to his old friend Noel Coward who was, of course, openly gay.

    Over lunch, when Cary had excused himself to go to the men’s room, Noel reached across the table, put his hand over mine, and said: ‘You know, my dear, I am wildly in love with that man.’

    ‘That makes two of us,’ I said laughing.

    ‘Alas, there are so many who ardently hoped he’d come over to play on our team, but I think it’s safe to say he’s solidly set in his ways,’ replied Noel, giving me a reassuring wink.

    I needed no convincing about Cary’s heterosexuality but there were other, very fundamental, problems with our relationship. While I knew that I wanted to get married one day and have children, Cary was adamant that he’d never wed again.

    ‘I don’t know what it is but something happens to love when you formalise it,’ he told me. ‘It cuts off the oxygen.’

    I was equally unsettled by his enthusiasm for taking LSD, the mind-bending drug to which he had been introduced by his third wife, actress Betsy Drake.

    Cary claimed LSD offered a path to truth and enlightenment, and his tactics to persuade me to try it were rather underhand.

    On a trip to London in 1963, we had an unexpected visitor. Cary had apparently decided that the time was right for my first ‘cosmic exploration’ and I came into the sitting room of our rented house to find that his acid guru, Dr Mortimer Hartman, had been flown over from LA to guide me through it.

    ‘It’s like leaping off the high dive,’ Cary told me when I complained about being ambushed in this way. ‘If you take too much time to think about it, you’ll back out.’

    Sensing I wasn’t convinced, he leaned forward and took my hand. ‘Dear girl,’ he said. ‘If you had found the key to ultimate peace of mind, wouldn’t you do anything to share it with me?’

    Eventually I gave in, even though everything told me to run for my life, and Dr Hartman gave me a tiny blue pill to dissolve under my tongue.

    Seconds later, or maybe it was hours, I looked at Cary, who was turning into an old man in front of my eyes. His skin sagged, his eyelids drooped, his neck hung like tangled bedsheets.

    View attachment 22661 The walls had turned crimson and were breathing, in-out, in-out. Then came the dancing bears, who were scowling and singing nursery rhymes in German.

    ‘Make it stop,’ I screamed and Dr Hartman handed me another pill to knock me out. Eighteen hours later, I woke up feeling like I’d been run over by a truck.

    ‘How in the hell can giant bears singing in German bring you closer to God?’ I asked Cary, vowing that I would never repeat the experience.

    I had hoped that taking LSD would bring us closer together but as 1964 arrived and we entered the third year of our courtship, it was clear that Cary still had no intention of marrying me.

    That Christmas, we attended a party hosted by Alfred Hitchcock, joining in the laughter as James Stewart fell victim to one of the whoopee cushions with which Hitch liked to surprise his guests. But New Year’s Eve found us alone at Cary’s house, sitting by the fire and sipping cognac.

    ‘Almost midnight,’ he said. ‘I wonder what 1965 will bring.’

    ‘Maybe a resolution to our relationship,’ I said.

    ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do more than I can do,’ said Cary.

    ‘Neither can I,’ was my reply. It was five past midnight and I kissed him on the cheek and drove to my apartment to begin the New Year alone.

    We spoke on the phone a few times in the following weeks, but I held my ground. I was being clear about what I needed. Finally Cary came around to my apartment one night, not looking happy at all.

    ‘Damn it, Dyan,’ he said. ‘Do you want to get married?’ It was what I had waited so long to hear, but as the preparations for our marriage went ahead I noticed Cary making frequent criticisms of me.

    He took issue with what I wore. He was furious when I had my hair lightened, telling me that blondes were bubbleheads because peroxide is absorbed into the brain.

    His behaviour improved when I discovered that I was pregnant. He was delighted, and I told myself that everything would be even better once we were married and the baby was born.

    But after our wedding in Las Vegas that summer, his moods continued to shift, without warning or apparent cause.

    Over dinner one night, I asked if he felt something was missing.

    ‘You,’ he said.

    ‘Me?’ I replied. ‘Where did I go?’

    ‘Dyan, it’s not where you went. It’s where you haven’t gone.’

    View attachment 22662 I knew where this was heading: he was referring to LSD again. Sure enough, he suggested that we should both have a session with Dr Hartman the following day.

    When I pointed out that this could endanger our unborn baby’s life, he backed down, but relations between us remained chilly and polite even after our daughter Jennifer was born in February 1966.

    This should have been the happiest time of my life but on the day that I returned from the hospital with Jennifer, I was furious and terribly upset to discover that Cary had given away Bangs, my beloved Yorkshire terrier. She had been with me for ten years, but he insisted that she might somehow have hurt Jennifer.

    Friends tried to explain this away as the protectiveness of a late-life father, but being with Cary was increasingly like tip-toeing through a minefield.

    I never knew what was going to set him off next and when he wasn’t at work he trailed me around the house, listing my shortcomings.

    I didn’t place a coaster under my water glass. I parked my car in the driveway crooked. I shouldn’t be so friendly to the postman because he might get the wrong idea, or to the maid because it was good to keep a distance.

    On and on it went and no matter how much I tried to change, it never seemed to be enough.

    I even agreed to his suggestion that we should get the nanny to take Jennifer to the park each Saturday, leaving us alone to take LSD together. I hoped that I might emerge from these supposedly ego-shattering, soul-freeing sessions as a shiny new wife who could effortlessly meld as one with her husband, but this succession of acid trips only killed my appetite, disrupted my sleep and made me both nervous and drowsy.

    When my parents became concerned about how thin I was looking and came to the house one day for a showdown with Cary, he was low-key and friendly but after they had gone, we didn’t speak to each other for two days.

    Finally, on the third day, he found me crying in the bath-tub and looked at me with undisguised irritation.

    ‘Why are you crying?’ he asked.

    ‘You’re not giving our marriage a chance,’ I sobbed. ‘It’s almost like you want me to leave.’

    ‘Maybe that’s all I’m good at — making people leave me,’ he said as he left the house, slamming the door.

    He didn’t come home that evening and the next morning his agent arrived and told me that Cary wanted a divorce. Later that day Cary came home and said that this had just been a ploy to get through to me.

    He was still obsessed with the idea that LSD would make me whole as a person and the spectre of prising Jennifer loose from Cary if we divorced was more terrifying than anything I could think of, including an acid trip.

    I agreed to try it again and this time the experience was more terrifying than it had ever been before. At one point I felt as if I was being sucked into a dark tunnel. ‘Get me out of here!’ I screamed at Cary. ‘I can’t breathe. I’m going to die.’

    ‘Then you’ll be reborn!’ he replied, kneeling beside me. His eyes seemed like two gleaming pools of mercury. ‘You’ll be reborn and you’ll be new.’

    Only when I started screaming did he finally relent and give me a Valium to neutralise the effects of the LSD.

    ‘Never again,’ I told him when I had finally recovered. ‘My psyche won’t take another battering like that.’

    ‘If it won’t, it won’t,’ he said curtly and walked away.

    We retreated back into the lethally polite cold war of our marriage but a turning-point came when some friends persuaded me to visit a spiritual healer named Lily Cowell.

    ‘I don’t know what to do,’ I told her haltingly. ‘He wants me to change, so I’ve been trying to change.’ And then I told her everything. When I had finished she gave me a gentle nod. ‘That doesn’t sound like love,’ she said.

    Several months later, a judge granted me a divorce on the grounds of Cary’s emotional cruelty. Each of his lawyers’ criticisms of me as a wife and mother opened a new and frightful wound and the minute the divorce was over, it felt as if a black hole had taken up residence in my spirit.

    Eventually I suffered a breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where doctors told me the LSD had contributed to my fragile state of mind, and that I was lucky to be alive.

    The truth is that Cary never loved the woman I was; he loved the ‘enlightened’ woman he hoped LSD would help me become. And if I needed any reminder of that, I had only to look back to the night we met in a restaurant in the months leading up to our divorce.

    ‘You keep asking me to change. I get that,’ I told him. ‘But Cary, right here, right now, do you love me just the way I am?’

    I held my breath and gazed at him. His face was blank. Nothing.

    ‘Thank you for being honest with me, Cary,’ I said. ‘Now I have to go.’

    It was the last time I would ever be alone with him.

    Last updated at 3:10 AM on 8th October 2011

    By Dyan Cannon


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