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Urban Myths review: When Cary Grant Introduced Timothy Leary to LSD

“You know we are all unconsciously holding our anus. In one LSD dream, I shit all over the rug and shit all over the floor.”

Cary Grant, ladies and gentlemen, Cary Grant.

Undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men, the impossibly handsome Grant – my favourite actor and versatile star of such varied classics as Charade (1963), An Affair To Remember (1957) and Notorious (1946) – liked to partake in the use of the psychotropic drug, LSD. This is no urban myth – or fake news – this is a documented fact, straight from his mouth (and told to publications so elicit as Good Housekeeping magazine). Marvellous.

During one of his hallucinations he “imagined myself as a giant penis launching off from Earth like a spaceship.”

Haven’t we all?

Enter Timothy Leary. The two men corresponded through letters and his adoration of the silver screen actor led to experimentation with the drug. Leary, as you are no doubt aware, was a proponent of LSD use during the Sixties, urging everyone to  “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Sky Arts’ Urban Myths imagines a meeting between the actor and the doctor in 1958 whilst Grant was filming what became the progenitor of the James Bond movies, North By Northwest, one of the most gleefully entertaining, graphically striking movies ever made. It’s also Cary Grant’s biggest box office hit and happens to be my favourite film bar none.

Leary visits and questions the actor on his drug use, fascinated by the results Grant had cited, who claimed it had finally brought him inner peace after yoga, hypnotism, and mysticism had proved ineffective.

Almost immediately, this episode takes us in a very different direction than previous installments of the series of “true…ish” stories. Taking influence from its source, the episode itself is a trip and shifts focus from the “real” (which is, in fact, a piece of fiction) to the “unreality” of their shared hallucinations (which are grounded in Grant’s troubled history).

Grant (played by Ben Chaplin), whilst talking to Leary (Aidan Gillen), turns direct to camera and states: “I’m going to deny that this meeting ever took place.” He then proceeds to walk through the set of this production, which is placed on the set of the aforementioned Hitchcock film (are you keeping up?), and continues, “And who knows if it did. we’re both dead now.” With a glint in his eye, Chaplin’s Grant shines charismatically, “I know, someone as handsome as charming as me – dead? It’s a crying shame, isn’t it?”

What follows is a beyond-meta examination of the relationship between the two men and the legacy they would both leave behind. Grant explains to Leary he’s breaking the fourth wall to demonstrate the effect of LSD, which breaks the fourth wall “of your mind”.

If that wasn’t enough, we’re then told by Grant that he hadn’t actually started to take acid until the following year when filming the Blake Edwards’ comedy Operation Petticoat (“which thankfully sank without a trace,” he knowingly adds); adding that he took the drug over 100 times from then onwards and acknowledges that, in the future, Leary would credit Grant for introducing him to the drug.

It’s sublime, trippily transcendent and doesn’t let up.

What then follows is a trip back in time to Grant’s own disturbing childhood in working-class England (you might want to look that up, it’s quite lengthy) and a battle between the actor and future purveyor of the potion of revolution. Leary wants to give LSD to the whole of America whilst Grant believes it should be administered by a doctor – helping people come to terms with psychological issues.

With constant references to their futures, expressionistic set-pieces and that fabulous finale atop Mount Rushmore, When Cary Grant Introduced Timothy Leary To LSD is fascinating and amusing. The script from Ed Dyson and Roger Drew sparkles with humor throughout as does the direction from Geoffrey Sax. At barely a half hour, this is a scintillating watch.

Steve Pafford

Urban Myths 1×04 aired on Sky Arts on Feb 9, 2017. Subsequent episodes imagine/re-imagine situations involving David Bowie and Marc Bolan; backstage at Live Aid with Bob Geldof, Freddie Mercury, Elton John (a brilliantly surreal moment that sees the rude vile pig bitching to Bowie about Noel Edmonds); and, most controversially, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Marlon Brando, starring Joseph Fiennes as MJ

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