at the age of 55, Cary Grant took his first dose of LSD-25, the then-legal mind-expanding medication being investigated by researchers with agendas ranging from warfare to the treatment of alcoholism to academic studies on creativity. Grant wanted to address psychological issues in his own life, and he found his experience with LSD-assisted psychotherapy – an estimated 100 trips over four years – to be invaluable. He became an “apostle of LSD,” sharing his experiences through press interviews and personal recommendations.
Cary Grant was in a heap of trouble, and not the kind in which his friend, Alfred Hitchcock, had conjured in the films they made together. Grant’s third marriage, begun in 1949 and falling apart by the mid-’50s, confounded him. He was “in a fog,” as he put it, about how this failure yet again came to pass. He wanted to be a successful and happy husband, but he couldn’t help himself: He had sabotaged yet another relationship with a woman.
Not only was he in conflict with his then-wife, actress Betsy Drake, he was also in conflict with his public persona. The world knew him as the ultimate in smooth, debonair leading men, pursued by glamorous women on movie screens everywhere, often ending his films with the leading lady in his arms. But in real life – the one that he began as Archibald Leach of Bristol, England – he couldn’t keep a marriage together for more than a couple years.
f it had to end at all, Grant wished his relationship with Drake would have come to a more civil farewell. But once again the marriage was filled with enmity and recrimination as the curtain fell, just as in his other experiences of wedded life. He’d done so much to keep this one healthy: Betsy was devoted to self-improvement, and he had been willing to follow her along a variety of paths to enlightenment. Together they had tried transcendental meditation and yoga. They even followed a Native American shaman to the deserts of the Coachella Valley for a ritual that included taking peyote.
But nothing had worked – nothing until Betsy came home one day in 1958 to tell her husband she’d tried LSD-25 (which would later come to be known by the slang term “acid”). To Grant’s eyes, as he recounted in his private journals, Betsy appeared truly happy, and she encouraged him to try the LSD-assisted psychotherapy she’d begun with Dr. Mortimer Hartman at the Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills.
A quick look at Grant’s personal history might help to explain the lifelong troubles that had brought him to this crossroads. Born in 1904 as Archibald Leach to working-class parents in the British port town of Bristol, and destined to rise to international renown as an actor of sophistication and suave elegance, his early years were anything but. At 11, he was abandoned by his mother, who disappeared from the family home one day while Archie was at school. To make matters worse, his father abandoned him to the care of the boy’s emotionally distant grandparents while he established a new family that excluded his first-born son.
The mystery of his mother’s abrupt disappearance from the home would remain unsolved for another 31 years, but its effects scarred him deeply. He was initially told that his mother had “gone on holiday” to the seashore; not until he was well-established as Cary Grant, Hollywood celebrity, did he learn that his father had sequestered his mother in an asylum, where she stayed until the adult Grant rescued her
Grant carried a deep-seated insecurity based on his childhood trauma with him well into middle age, despite portraying dozens of characters who oozed charm and sex appeal, inspiring uncounted daydreams of “love forever after” among his large female following. Grant married a total of five times, and all until the last one were relatively brief, emotionally charged failures of trust and communication.