The Magician’s Daughter
“I’d like to do this whole thing all over again on a sunny day with some wine..”
Rosemary Sarah Woodruff Leary was one of the world’s great psychedelic pioneers. She worked throughout her life to educate people about the psychedelic experience, and was instrumental in helping to orchestrate the cultural revolution of the Sixties. This she did at the expense of her personal freedom, which was compromised for a significant portion of her life.
Rosemary was born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 26, 1935. She left a conservative Baptist environment for New York City as a teenager in the Fifties, where she began hanging out with jazz musicians and Beat writers. Here she did some modeling work, some television commercials, and she mingled with the Beats and emerging counter-culture. She also experimented for the first time with peyote and other hallucinogenic plants.
In 1965 Timothy Leary invited her to visit him at the Millbrook Estate in Dutchess County, New York, which members of the Mellon family had made available to Leary as a center for his psychedelic research. That visit began an association between Timothy and Rosemary that continued in various forms until Timothy’s death in 1996, although they had virtually no contact between 1972 and around 1992.
The couple married in 1967, and Rosemary participated in Timothy’s work to change LSD from an instrument of the intellectual elite to a catalyst for wide change in the American psyche. Because of the pervasive sexism, which often obscured women’s intellectual contributions during this time, women rebels were usually viewed as being simply muses to their male counterparts. Rosemary transcended this archaic role by becoming Timothy Leary’s partner in creating the setting which shaped LSD experimentation in its formative years. She participated in Timothy’s staged psychedelic celebartions, helped on his books, and starred in the feature film, “Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out”. She also became known for her remarkable and distinctive sense of style. She designed and made much of the clothing she and Timothy wore in the late 1960s, and her creations inspired the fashion of the era.
Because of their work with LSD, the Learys and their circle became targets for criminal prosecutions, and a series of arrests profoundly changed Timothy and Rosemary’s life. They were first arrested in Laredo, Texas, in 1965 for possession of a half-ounce marijuana. In 1966 local District Attorney G. Gordon Liddy raided the Millbrook Estate, arresting the Learys for alleged improprieties. They were arrested again for possession of two half-smoked marijuana cigarettes in Laguna Beach, California in 1968. Rosemary was sentenced to six months for the Laguna Beach arrest, but Timothy was sentenced to a total of twenty-eight years.
One of Rosemary’s great contributions to the psychedelic movement was her consistent refusal to cooperate with Federal Authorities. She received thirty days of solitary confinement for not testifying against her husband after Liddy busted Millbrook in 1966. During the 1970’s she also refused an offer of amnesty from the FBI in exchange for providing names of others who had committed illegal acts in the name of freedom of consciousness. This selfless show of bravery was to define the course of her life.
In 1970 Rosemary worked with the Weather Underground to help orchestrate Timothy’s escape from prison, and with forged passports, they fled the country. They sought refuge with Eldridge Cleaver at his Black Panther Embassy in Algeria, but Cleaver placed them under house arrest, so they fled to Switzerland.
The pressures on the exiles placed a strain on their marriage. They separated in 1971 and later divorced. Rosemary, a fugitive for her role in assisting Timothy’s escape, lived underground for 23 years in
Afghanistan, in Sicily, and in South and Central America, often traveling under a Gary Davis One World passport, which local immigration officials solemnly stamped with visas. After her secret return to the United States she lived in relative seclusion on Cape Cod, in San Francisco, and in Half Moon Bay, California, using the name Sarah Woodruff. She remained a fugitive many years longer than Timothy, and the charges against her were not cleared until 1994.
In the last years of her life, Rosemary concentrated on managing the trust that administered Timothy’s copyrights and archives. She also lectured to college students, for whom the psychedelic revolution was a historical event that had taken place before they were born. Her natural gifts as a raconteur made her lectures extremely popular. Rosemary was in the process of completing the final draft of her memoir The Magician’s Daughter at the time of her death.
I became close friends with Rosemary during the final years of her life, as she lived close to my home in the Santa Cruz mountains. The experience that I had with her while she was dying was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I got a phone call on the morning of February 7 from a friend who said that Rosemary–who had recently had a heart attack, and been in and out of the hospital for weeks–had fallen unconscious the night before, and it didn’t look like she was coming out of it this time.
If I wanted to say goodbye to Rosemary, my friend said, you’d better hurry over here fast. So I got in my car and headed over to her home in Aptos. When I got there Rosemary was lying on a hospital cot in the center of her living room. Her niece Katy was reading to her from a book. I took Katy’s place beside Rosemary. Her spirit barely seemed present.
Oxygen tubes ran out of her nose, her eyes were rolled back into her head, and she was having difficulty breathing. So I took her hand, rubbed her forehead, looked into her eyes, and began speaking to her. I told her how before I ever met her, as a teenager, I used to look at photos of her books, and how I had had this outrageous crush on her. I told her how much I loved her, and appreciated her friendship. Rosemary was an extremely good-hearted person.
I seemed to have a strength, and an intuitive understanding of what to say and do at the time that is hard to explain. I began telling her that it was okay to surrender, it was okay to let go. Let she was deeply loved, and moving into more love.
Well, after doing this for a few minutes, looking into Rosemary’s eyes, I began to feel like I was tripping on LSD. With the exception of her eyes, everything else in the room dissolved into sparkling lights.
I found myself in a light-filled space, and there I was with Rosemary. Beautiful Rosemary. I found myself continuing to encourage her to let go, to surrender, that it was okay to die. I told her over and over how much I loved her.
I felt her presence around me, and we were together in this light-filled space for around fifteen or twenty minutes it seemed. Then, very suddenly, I snapped back into my body, into Rosemary’s living room. I was holding Rosemary’s hand, and around a dozen people surrounded us.
I kissed Rosemary on the forehead, got up and went over to sit on the couch. Rosemary died around ten minutes later.
Along with around a dozen other people, I stood around Rosemary’s body as her spirit ascended to the heavens, or into the bardos, or wherever one goes… Everyone was staring solemnly down at her empty body; everyone except for my friend Suzie Wouk and I who looked across at each other and smiled. Then we both looked up at the ceiling together.
Rosemary died on February 7, 2002. The cause of death was congestive heart failure. She was 66 years old.
This interview with Rosemary occurred on November 11, 2001 at her home in Aptos. Present at the interview was Sylvia Thyssen, editor of the MAPS Bulletin. Rosemary was remarkably well-read and extremely articulate. She was a very polite and considerate person, with a gentle soul and a sweet spirit. She was extremely pretty, and had an elegant sense of aesthetics. She also had a beautiful laugh, which I can still hear everytime I think of her.
(Thank you to David Phillips and Michael Horowitz for their help in crafting this introduction.)
David: What were you like as a child?
Rosemary: Imaginative. Solitary. I was an only child until I was twelve.
With the neighborhood children, I used to put on little events, and we would entertain. I was always directing them, orchestrating what they should do to utilize their talents.
When I was eight I was given a toy typewriter, and I immediately set out to do a neighborhood newsletter. It was very ambitious. Although it never came to fruition, I was very excited by the idea that I had this instrument that I allowed me to put words on paper, and pass them around in the neighborhood.
David: Where did you grow up?
Rosemary: St. Louis. The city had turned its back on the river a long while before I was born, and I thought that was a huge mistake, because it was the Western frontier at one time. St. Louis aspired to be more like Chicago than a river town, which it had been for most of its history. The Mississippi itself was so mysterious, and so huge. I loved the idea that there were perhaps French fur trappers in my family’s history. There were names like Maupin, which I was convinced was an anglosized version of something French.
As a child I mythologized everything. I wanted things to be grander than they were in my little neighborhood, in my little home.
When I was seven I had an experience that was replicated with my first LSD experience. It was a shining moment, and I think it was because I’d entered the age of consciousness. I suddenly realized that I was a part of everything, and everything became very golden and glowing. I was walking on a leafy street near my house, and everything was illuminated with gold. There was a sense of time stopping for a moment.
I always remembered that, and referred to it as a spiritual awakening. Although I had been dumped in a Babtismal pool in the Babtist church at the age of seven, I didn’t have a spiritual experience. I just caught a cold. (laughter) I wanted to have a real religious experience shortly after that.
David: Did something precipitate the experience, or did it just happen spontaneously?
Rosemary: It just happened spontaneously.
David: Do you just remember it happening that one time?
Rosemary: Yes, but it altered everything. It altered my perception of things.
David: Afterwards you mean?
David: You were still able to still see the connection between everything?
Rosemary: No, but I felt alive in a different way than I had up until that time. Or so my memory has it. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not. But it was such a brilliant moment that I never forgot it, and always longed for it again.
David: You married and left home at an early age. How did that come about?
Rosemary: When I was 17 marriage was the one avenue of escape. I’d been in love with the same boy since I was 13. He became an airforce pilot, and we married. I went off with him to the state of Washington, where he was on an airforce base. This was just as the Korean War was ending.
David: How did you wind up in New York City?
Rosemary: Oh, I fled my husband after six months. I ran back to St. Louis. I realized that without my parent’s approval, and their help, I wouldn’t be able to return to school, or do anything useful. A friend of friend suggested that I go to New York City. Also, I’d heard jazz on the radio from Birdland–which was a famous jazz club in New York City–late at night. At that age I was going off to East St. Louis to listen to jazz with my girlfriend in her daddy’s Cadillac. We’d sneak to East St. Louis, which was Sin Town. It was were all the bad things happened, except this great music. Then coming home I could hear Birdland on the radio. I used to think, God, New York must be wonderful. But all I knew of New York was what I’d seen of it in the movies.
I went to New York with the address of a friend. My parents moved to California at that time. I certainly didn’t want to go there (here). I felt the call of the city.
David: Then you got into modeling and television commercials once you were in New York?
Rosemary: I did, through someone that I met. People decided I should be a model, and they sent me to Ilene Ford, who wanted me to lose another fifteen pounds. She sent me to John Robert Powers, who was a famous modeling agency, but it was on the way out. I didn’t have the wit to understand that. (laughter)
So I signed up. I started trying to get my portfolio together, and was sent out to different photographers. In one instance I was sent out to become the first bikini girl in a copy of Esquire magazine. The shoot was scheduled for the Fall, and the photographer had told me that over the summer I shouldn’t gain any weight, and I shouldn’t have any strap-marks from sunbathing.
But when I went into his dressing room and put on the bikini, I realized that I had done both. (laughter) So I ended up not in Esquire. I think Tina Louise appeared instead, wearing the first bikini to come to these shores, and a very modest affair it was too. And I kind of ate my way out of print modeling.
David: How did you become interested in the jazz and beatnik culture?
Rosemary: Well, it wasn’t a question of interest. It was just inevitable. I mean, there it was.
David: You had a relationship with a jazz musician.
Rosemary: I married a second time. I married a jazz musician and left. Then I moved in with a composer of classical music, who was on the fringes of the beat scene. He knew Keroac and the Beat poets, like Philip Lamentia(?) and others. He was great friends with David Amram(?).
David: How did you get introduced to the culture?
Rosemary: Through reading. Keroac’s books were new to me. The Beat poets were new to me. It was all a revelation. It was all of interest, and we all lived on the Lower East Side at that time too. (laughter) So there were trips to different taverns and bars in the Village, where one would meet. It was a crowd. It was all Bohemia before it was Beat. It was the last Bohemians, who were still in the Village, and who still remembered Edna St. Vincent Malay. There were stories of famous drunkards and poets, and I soaked it all up. New York was like a movie set–a number of movie sets for me—and you could move between them. If you just moved a few blocks away, you’d move into to whole new melieu, and a whole new set of characters, people and friends. It was endlessly fascinating.
David: Was this when you had your first psychedelic experience?
Rosemary: Yes, it was with peyote. We sent away to Brown’s Nursery for the peyote. We ground the cacti up and mixed them with orange juice. It was the most disgusting concoction I’ve ever ever taken, but it was enough to make me realize that I wanted to try it again, but not in a Lower East Side apartment.
David: How old were you?
Rosemary: Oh, by this time I’m in my early twenties.
David: So, the first experience that you had with a psychedelic was basically just enough to make you realize that you wanted to do it again in a different setting?
Rosemary: Yes, a much different setting.
David: How did it effect your perspective of the world?
Rosemary: Well, I realized that it was a sacrament, and that it had to be used as a sacrament. I think I was greatly influenced by reading a lot about American Indian culture. My composer was writing a symphony that he’d been commissioned to do on either Thanksgiving or 4th of July, and he chose instead to write about Chief Crazy Horse.
So we were reading everything we could about American Indians, Chief Crazy Horse, and I read a lot about Sundance rituals, and the early use of peyote. Just taking the peyote, the way that I did, seemed lacking in seriousness, and I knew that I wanted to try it again. I knew that there was a germ of something there that I recognized. I didn’t quite know what it was, but I knew that I wanted to do it again.
David: When was the next time that you did it?
Rosemary: The second time I took a psychedelic was after my friends had been going to Millbrook, and I’d been hearing about Dr. Leary and Dr. Alpert. My best friend was in residence there every weekend, and she kept insisting that I had to try it.
David: These were friends that you had met through the beatnik scene, who were going to Millbrook?
Rosemary: Well, no. They were friends from just another time, another social setting.
Sylvia: What about cannabis? How did that effect you?
Rosemary: Oh well, cannabis, yes. I’d been smoking grass since I was 18 with my musician husband, but that was part of daily ritual. It wasn’t set aside as sacramental.
David: How did you meet Timothy?
Rosemary: I met Timothy, I believe, initially at Millbrook. I’m sort of uncertain about this. The same friends who introduced me to LSD introduced me to Tim. I went up to Millbrook for a weekend, and he had just returned from India. He was married, but separated from his wife. And he took me on a walk at Millbrook. Then we met later that year in the city, and he invited me to go back to Millbrook with him. But I was involved with someone, and didn’t go back until August of 1965. He was in the city, and I drove back with him.
David: How old were you?
David: What was Millbrook like?
Rosemary: It was a fantasy. It was a fantasy playland. It was almost anything anyone wanted it to be. It could be. There were 2400 acres, with woods, streams and lakes. The lakes froze so we could ice skate in the winter. There was a waterfall to bathe in, 64 rooms of a huge house to roam around in, and a great deal of freedom, for a brief while.
David: A great deal of freedom.
Rosemary: To roam the woods, play nature girl.
David: How often were going up to Millbrook at that point?
Rosemary: Oh, I was going up every weekend–from during the winter, until I moved there in August.
David: How did you and Timothy fall in love?
Rosemary: Well, he was lonely. He was brilliant, and I always aspired to genius in the men that I choose. He certainly presented himself as near-genius, as certainly charming and witty, and it simply happened. I fell in love with him, and he with me.
David: What year were you married?
Rosemary: We married three times in 67. The first at Joshua Tree. The second at our home in Berkeley by a Hindu. And the third time at Millbrook.
David: Before Timothy went to prison, what was the marriage with him like?
Rosemary: Well, everything led up to his going to prison. We got together in August of 65. By December of 65 we were arrested at the border in Luago, Texas. He was on trial, Millbrook was raided, I went to jail (laughter). Millbrook was raided again, several times. We went to Laguna Beach in 67, and were arrested. Tim was arrested several times in Montreal. We went to visit someone in the Bahamas, came back into Florida, and we were arrested. (laughter) So between arrests, trials and courtroom dramas–as well as the need to go on lecture tours to raise money to pay the lawyers–it was pretty frantic.
David: When was the first time you got arrested?
Rosemary: Well, Tim was arrested for leaving the country without declaring himself. He went to visit Marshall McCluan, and he was arrested for not declaring himself as a drug offender, I believe. We were doing these psychedelic celebrations in New York at the time, and there was a bit of concern as to whether he would get back in time to go on. We we not arrested; we were detained coming back from the Bahamas. They searched our luggage for hours in an FBI office to see if they could find anything. I had a mum, a flower, that Yoko Ono had given me Montreal. It had gone all squishy in the Bahama heat, and (laughter) they were convinced it was some exotic psychedelic. (laughter) So they too that off to the…
David: The lab and analyzed it.
Rosemary: Yes ,(laughter) yes, (laughter)
But, in between there were wonderful moments with Tim. Moments at Millbrook, back in the woods, or simply having dinner in front of the fireplace. Going to Morocco. Going to Montreal and doing the “bed-in” with John and Yoko.
David: Can you talk a little bit about the experiences that you had with some of the cultural innovators of the Sixties?
Rosemary: Well, it was a sense of being among one’s peers, as a change from running a refuge for lost souls (laughter) at Millbrook. Because we were saddled with enormous numbers of people all coming through seeking something, wanting something, needing, using, trashing.
David: It sounds like Santa Cruz.
Rosemary: Yes (laughter), well it was. At the Millbrook estate we’d been very academic. We were contained initially. We had weekend seminars, guests came, visitors came on weekends, and we did different disciplines. We did Gurdjieff one weekend, someone else another weekend. We were involved in teaching and guiding. A colony of artists lived with us. Then, at one point, we were preparing for the celebrations in New York.
But then we opened the place up to summer school, and we gave over part of the house to an ashram– Dr. Misher’s ashram–that had been exiled from their homeland. So they took over. Then Art Kleps moved in, with his boozy consciousness. So, suddenly, there were lists of injunctions and rules up on the wall. What had been cozy, and sometimes domestic, and sometimes stimulating, with interesting visitors coming to see us and talk to us, became just overwhelming. And we had to go on the road to raise money to support all of this.
David: What was it like when you re-visited Millbrook, after not seeing the estate for so many years?
Rosemary: Oh, I can’t do better than to show you. I have photographs from the time. I had gone back, a great number of years ago when I’d been in the area. I went to a side gate, which we never used, but it was the closest one where I could see the torrents of the house. It was Springtime, and the house was below me. The gate was on a rise, and it seemed to me that this sweet North-Eastern Spring just waffed up out of the woods, and I felt as though I were being greeted by all the sprites and fairies (laughter) that I know lived in those woods. It was so wonderful. It was almost like I felt welcomed back again at Millbrook.
This last time I went during the winter. All the trails had been manicured, and most of the trees were down. We went back into the woods where I had lived and camped out. And there was no more mystery left to the woods, because it’d been cleared for riders to go through. When I had gone through, and you went for a ride on a horse, you’d have to duck because of all the pine bows snapping in your face. And there was always the possibility of finding a lost cabin in the woods, a lost place. It was so full of magic. Perhaps it was just because it was winter, and the weather was a little bit dreary, that it seemed so different.
David: What do you think were some of the important messages to come out of the Sixties that are still relevant today?
Rosemary: I think that we gained a kind of moral compass that is in the national consciousness somehow. We tried to learn about the environment and about food. For many of us we were like babes lost in the woods. We had to teach ourselves everything. And, I think, those lessons we managed to pass on in some way. I think the consciousness…ness…ness…ness. That consciousness became apparent for the first time in this particular span of time, and alternative ways of doing things, and not doing things by route.
Actually, I’m still trying to assimilate what I might have learned in the Sixties. So much of what we learned we were in error about. The immediate trust of someone with long hair and beaded French vest
(laughter) didn’t last too long. I remember when it all changed though. There was so much expectancy, and so many high hopes, truly high hopes. And the sense of having the freedom to explore one’s own consciousness in the world around one.
But then 1969, at least for me, despite the previous arrests, it changed, with Altemont, with the move in Berkeley from peace symbols and to a raised fist. I think it changed, at least in California, with People’s Park, Altemont, all these symbols. The fact that the war ended, I think is a great triumph, and a great victory for consciousness. But whether there have been truly lasting results is still to be played out with this current war. And everything I learned, I learned from Bob Dylan anyway. (laughter)
David: Can you tell us about the experience that you had in Morocco with the pipers in Jajouka?
Rosemary: It was my first trip out of the country. Tim and I had been invited to join a very wealthy couple who were renting a castle in Tangier, and we had the good fortune to connect with Paul Bowles and Byron Gysin. Paul Bowles’ book Under the Sheltering Sky was responsible for a great amount of fear I had in Morroco (laughter), because they’re all about American tourists being bludgeoned, or left in the desert to die, really. But a lot about magic too, and these stories of magic he had learned from Homree. I have a photograph of him somewhere.
Anyway, Homree’s mother was from a village in the Reef mountains called Jajouka, which was, and still is, I hope, the home of the Master Musicians. These are a group of tribal musicians who would go and play at weddings all around the area, that is until transistor radios came in. But that was there historically. And they also celebrated a Rite of Spring, in which Pan played a great part, as did a goddess named I-eesha, and we fortunate enough to witness their celebration.
Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones went there and recorded it. But I swear Stravinski must have heard them too, because they play these rytas, these thin horns, and they will go from one horn to another, and it’s absolutely seamless in the sound. I’ve heard that in Stravinski’s “Rite of Spring”. It was an amazing experience. I danced with them, which I felt compelled to do.
David: On LSD.
Rosemary: Yes, (laughter) yes. Then I road a mule down the mountain the next morning, vowing that was the most amazing experience I’d ever had, and to this day it is. It remains so.
David: Could you talk a little about your escape to Algeria with Timothy, The Weather Underground, and your experiences in Algeria with Eldrige Cleaver?
Rosemary: Our escape is not unlike what’s happening today, in that it was a time of hijacking. So there were sky marshals at every airport, and on every plane. We’d been taken to the plane by members of Weather Underground, who watched to see if we got off safely. I had a wig on my head, and Tim had shaven his head, so we were in disguise. We weren’t supposed to be together. We were passing the metal detectors to the airplane, and if any at time we would have been captured, it would have been then, because they were certainly watching the airports.
But once we got on the plane, we just gave up on not being together at that point. We got some champagne from the stewardess and toasted one another. (laughter) Once again, we were leaping into the abyss, not knowing exactly what was at the bottom, or if we’d ever hit bottom. But he was out of prison, and we were together, and we were going off on another adventure.
David: To Algeria.
Rosemary: Yes, where we had assumed that notice was notice was going to be given that we were coming (laughter), but that wasn’t exactly the case. Eldridge Cleavor wasn’t particularly happy to see us. Actually, Tim went on to Algeria alone. I stayed in Paris, because by this time my nerves were totally frazzled. I had been working on these secret plans for his escape, raising the money, dealing with Susan and Jack Leary, a house full of people, the FBI agents outside the door. And I was on probation, so I had to visit my probation officer every week, and this was a huge leap for me. I was becoming a fugitive.
David: You were on probation for drug charges?
David: Then you had left the country while on probation for the drug charges?
David: How did you wind up in Algeria?
Rosemary: It was because of Weather Underground. Eldrige Cleavor haven been an embassy by the Algerian government. The Algerian government gave money to almost every group that was at odds with their government. There was the Brazilian people who were there, the one lone guy from Gona, one small contigent from the Canary Islands. It was a hotbed of intrigue (laughter) and CIA spooks. An amazing, amazing time there.
David: What was Eldrige like?
Rosemary: Well, he was in a difficult position. He was an escapee from the country, and he had this outpost. His fellow Panthers had hijacked planes and gone to Cuba, and ended up in Algeria. It’s a very difficult thing to set yourself against the government. We were fellow exiles, and the sadness of it, for me, was in the recognition of this racial divide, which I’d willed myself, I think, to be oblivious to, all those years. To suddenly be confronted with the suspicion, and the hostility that we were confronted with, was frightening, and guilt-provoking too in a way. But he was a fellow sufferer–he and Kathleen–in terms of our being exiled from the place where we were most comfortable. Here we were, in this totally foreign country, in a totally hostile environment, with nothing at all familiar to us. And being black in Africa didn’t guarantee him safe passage. He was an American.
David: How did you and Tim split up?
Rosemary: I took very seriously his desire and mine to have a child. And he was arrested in Switzerland on the day that the doctor had told me I would be able to conceive, just plucked him from our little house. Then came another several months of having to raise money to free him from a Swiss prison, and to be on my own, to worry whether they were going to try and extradite me, whether they would try and separate us. And the realization that the two operations I’d undergone, and that the possibility of conceiving, were just lost in the illness that followed.
So, when he was released, I was left with the realization that I wasn’t going to be a mother, that his delight in signing autographs and greeting television crews, and doing interviews, took precedent over the real pain that I was suffering. This lead me to think that I had to get away for awhile, and sort through my feelings, and figure out what I was going to do with my life.
So, with great difficulty, and lot of tears and angst, I negotiated a separation from him, which I though was going to be for just a brief while. I just really needed to catch my breath. It had been a really difficult, difficult time. The closest we’d ever been was in Algeria. We had nine months of a real strong rapport and happiness together, and suddenly now we’re back in the limelight again, and television crews knocking at the door, and no peace and no quiet. And, at least for me, a real dilemma about over this childlessness.
So I went away with a friend that had come to visit, and came back to find that Tim had given away my clothes, met a young woman in the village, and brought her home. She was patting her belly, intimating that she was going to have his child. So I had to look at my marriage, and look at Tim in a new light.
David: And that was the point where you really decided to split up?
Rosemary: Well, oddly enough (laughter), the marriage never really ended. (laughter)
Rosemary: (laughter) Well, I don’t think so, no. (laughter)
David: There was never a divorce?
Rosemary: No, there was a divorce. He divorced me in 1977, but my involvement just never ceased. It never stopped. So much of my time after I left was spent in trying to figure out who he was, who I was, how did this all happen? Where were we going? Where had we been? And that’s when I started to write. It was a way of both exorcising the past, and trying to understand it. I got very caught up in origins of myth and consciousness, and saw him as this tragic hero. Because when I left, after we met again, he said that I would have the ability to change, but he couldn’t change. He was stuck in his persona. He was caught, trapped being Timothy Leary, and he’d never be able to escape from it.
David: How long where you a fugitive for?
Rosemary: Almost a quarter of a century. (laughter)
David: What years where those?
Rosemary: 1970 to 1994.
David: Where were you during this time?
Rosemary: Sicily, Afghanistan, Switzerland, Canada, and Columbia. Then I was at sea for four months, going to different islands.
David: Could you talk a little bit about what it was like to be a fugitive for so long, and how it felt when you finally regained your freedom?
Rosemary: Until I settled down in Cape Cod, it was being the star of my own movie. It was like being totally and justifiably paranoid about everything and everyone. If a man looked at me in a restaurant, perhaps it was because he was an agent from some government. If a person accidentally tried to take my photograph, or if they filming a sunset, I would duck out of the way. It was always always being totally self-conscious. And I was always totally prepared to leave, with a passport in my bag, bag on the bed, shoes lined up, clothes ready to jump into, and escape routes planned. I mean, all kind of futile stuff.
Sylvia: You spent all this time not being able to trust people. Did you at any point have anybody, any close friends, or any correspondence with people whom you could confide in? You said you started writing during that time. Where there other people that you could count on, or just did you feel really alone that way?
Rosemary: I was traveling with someone, my companion of almost ten years. But this isn’t for publication necessarily, it’s just to answer your question. He was an old Mill Brookian, and an adherent of Tim’s. He’d gotten out of going to war by being an LSD priest in the League for Spiritual Discovery, and his disappointment in Tim was so profound, that it was like the young apprentice magician taking on the old sorcerer. There was no one to whom I could speak about the grief I felt over our separation, and the dissolution of a marriage that I thought was eternal.
So, I was very alone in that respect. I could not talk to my companion about this. I could not talk to anyone about my past. So it was really like being a stateless person. I was a stateless, paperless refugee. Until I learned to live as a human being on Cape Cod, I was truly alone. Because, when I’d left in 1970, America was at war with itself. When I came back in 77 everything had changed, everything was quite different than it had been.
And for all those years that I’d been with Tim, we’d been apart from everyone else, or we’d been sort of looking down from this height, and suddenly I was at level playing field. I had to adjust to learning how to talk to people again without trailing all this notoriety behind me, and create a persona, which I successfully did.
David: What was it like to finally gain your freedom again?
Rosemary: So, in 1994, due to the help of a friend, and Tim’s connection to a lawyer, all of that was dismissed by an appeal to the District Attorney. I had made an appeal to the judge, saying that I had been misled by Mr. Leary, and my mother was frail and elderly, and it was all made to go away. I felt like a responsible adult again. I’d gone to great lengths to follow the law. I didn’t get a driver’s license until it was no longer true that I’d committed a felony in the past ten years.
I mean, I was an impeccable. I filed my income taxes. I even used my same Social Security number (laughter), so that I wouldn’t be committing a felony. But suddenly I could stand up and say who I had been, and who I was. It was confusing because I’d been using the name Sara for so many years, and there were all these people on the Cape who knew me as Sara. My employers knew me as Sara, and suddenly I’m going to be Rosemary again. It was very odd, but there was this secret little thrill about it too, that I could be myself.
David: What was it like being reunited with Tim, after so many years, before he died?
Rosemary: Initially it was very romantic that, after twenty odd years, we’re at a place of my choosing, which was going to be the Asian Art Museum. And I’m seeing him after all this time, and we have a romantic dinner, with lots of wine, and we’re very happy to be together. Then I realize how frail he is. He hadn’t been diagnosed as yet with cancer, but he’s emaciated and little bit fumbling. He spoke of his loss of short-term memory, and there was some recognition that there was still a connection between us–a mental connection, in terms of humor, and of knowing one another very very well.
That still existed, but on an another plane there was still, for me, the discomfort. There was a certain discomfort to being with him too, because, once again, I was under his judgement, and I’d been free of that for so many years. I’d been liberated from that, and suddenly I’m with someone who can tell me things that perhaps I don’t want to hear, or behave in ways that I find objectionable. And then, the thing that had caught initially, early in our relationship, was a certain pity for him, a certain feeling of his loneliness and his apartness. And, of course, then came the recognition of his illness.
Once again he was asking me to sacrifice myself, to give up my job, and move to Los Angeles, and (laughter), and there was some resistance
(laughter) on my part to all that. Once I’d visited him in Los Angeles, and saw the chaos of the house, and saw how Mill Brookian it was–in terms of people popping in, no privacy, and the endless interviews that he was giving–I certainly didn’t want to be a part of that. But I wanted to have this connection with him once again. It was very healing to be with him.
David: What do you think happens to consciousness after the death of the body?
Rosemary: Transformation. More than that I can’t say, because I haven’t died yet. I want to believe in the continuation. I want to believe in that. I’d love to believe in reincarnation, but I keep coming up against the Holocaust, and it makes it very difficult for me.
David: How so?
Rosemary: Karmically. In terms of karmic retribution. Millions of people. It’s just very difficult for me to accept that, although I want to. I want to believe that we go on, I want to believe that I had conversations with Tim, and that Nina Graboi did come through a medium and visit us the other night. (laughter)
David: Have you had felt like you’ve really had contact with someone after they’ve died?
Rosemary: The only example I have is perhaps a story that I’ve already told you. I was thinking about my book, and what I wanted to do with it. Then, in the middle of the night, I had, what I thought was a brilliant idea, in how to describe myself in the book. Because people had complained that I write like a psychedelic travelouge, but I don’t really. I’m not very descriptive about myself. I said (deep inhale), well, I’ll use Tim’s writings about me in my book, as a sidebar or something. And the next morning I thought, that was Tim. (laughter) That’s absolutely Tim coming in. (laughter)
David: Right, of course, he would say that.
Rosemary: Yes (laughter), yes (laughter). Use his writings in my book (laughter), of course.
David: Do you actually think that was really Tim?
Rosemary: Oh, I don’t know. I do know that while he was dying I felt him. I felt this inexplicable joyessness that thrilled me, that thrills me even to remember it. I spoke to Ram Dass about it, and he’d suggested that he had felt similar things with dying people. But this was so thrilling, I couldn’t imagine that everyone in the room wasn’t experiencing it.
David: You mean when he was actually dying?
Rosemary: Yes, when he was dying. And it just made me so joyous, and it was (starts to cry)… I can’t say anything about it except that it was thrilling. It thrilled my entire body. It flooded my mind. It lifted my soul. It just was unbelievable.
David: What is your perspective on God?
Rosemary: God knows. (laughter)
David: What’s your spiritual perspective on life? Do feel any type of connection with any religious systems?
Rosemary: Oh, I long to. I long to. I wish I had Jesus as my own special friend. I wish that I had one of the Indian gurus as my own special guide. I really wish I could make a connection like that, but it’s just not meant to be. I was brought up as a Baptist when I was very young, and I think that made it difficult for me to be religious. I tried to be a Catholic when I was 12 and hormonal. (laughter) I sought myself in Guirdjief and Araj (?Arage?) and the other mystics when I was in early twenties.
David: What sort of system do you use for understanding the spiritual aspects of your psychedelic experiences?
Rosemary: I shake them bones. (laughter) No, I’m kidding. When we would trip at Millbrook I would always get into a list of injunctions. I felt that I could be Moses and recreate things, or Mohamad and rewrite, when I was tripping on very high doses of acid. I was trying to recreate a world in which divine things make sense. I would always be drawn to this.
But I remember a trip at Millbrook where we were looking at the stars. We were lying in woods looking up at the stars, and it was so frightening. It was so immense. The sky was so immense. The stars were so distant. And I remember Tim’s line from the Psychedelic Prayers, what was it? Divine indifference? I was reminded of story that I had read, a very early story by Cocteau I think it was, in which this world is simply the mote in the eye of a larger being.
David: Can you tell us about your book The Magician’s Daughter?
Rosemary: Thirty years in the making, and soon to be a major motion picture. (laughter) As I said earlier, I started it as doing therapy. I have a great deal of difficulty going back to it, to completing the missing chapters. I get bogged down in memory, in emotions that I really didn’t expect to feel again, and I don’t get any closer to completion. I keep cannibalizing it for little bits and pieces. But a friend (Sherri
Paris) just suggested a new way of doing it. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to fill in the missing pieces, and rather just make a collage of it all, just put it together with clippings and memorabilia, and little vignettes of the stories that I’ve already written. She said to me, you’re not linear. (laughter)
So, what started out as therapy, then became a chore, written in some wonderful places I must say. And I had a stern task master. My companion used to make me write, lacking that I really did not want to. I haven’t any real new ideas or insights. I like to fill in the missing pieces. I’d still like to complete the parts about Millbrook that I haven’t written, but then I look at the chapter I wrote on Algeria, and there’s so much that I didn’t write about, that could have been written about. The oil men in the desert, Western guys with cloaks and cowboy boots out there scouting oil, and just on and on and on. The images were so rich.
The same with Afghanistan, or Columbia for that matter. I asked my companion, because I was going to attempt to write about the journey from Columbia to Ft. Lauderdale, that took almost six months, and I hadn’t remembered all the places that we’d been to. But he had a memory for them, and he wrote them all down, all these hop-scotching across the Caribbean. And I found it was interesting, even to me. (laughter)
I’m sorry David, I’m going to have to be more succinct about the book. The book will be ready for publication within the next year. (laughter) I didn’t mean to digress that way and go off on a tangent.
Sylvia: One thing that I’ve kind of heard allusions to throughout this conversation has been books or readings–like reading about the peyote cults, then Gurdjieff, then Paul Bowles, and then you’ve been writing for all this time. Are there books that just float to the top, and persist as important texts, that you would point to as enduring inspiration for you, or that you would maybe suggest as reading? I’m an avid reader so I love to ask people about the books that they read.
Rosemary: You know, I wouldn’t dare make any suggestions, because reading is such an ongoing thing for me. It’s still discovery. It’s all discovery. But there have been books that have really informed me, I think, that have made me shake my life.
I realized speaking to Laura Huxley, that one of the most important books early on for me was a Huxley book called The Genius and the Goddess, and the story it contained. So she was kind enough to send it to me, I was very glad to have that back again.
I read so much, and still continue to read so much, but a lot of it nonsensical. But I set myself to read straight through the Tenth Street Library in New York City. I started with fiction, and read from A-Z, and then I started on biographies. (laughter)
David: How many books is that? Are you serious?
Rosemary: Oh, I didn’t read every single book, but, but I got down to Thomas Wolfe. (laughter)
David: I would believe that you went through every book.
Rosemary: No, but quite a number of them. So, but that was a question of educating myself. A lot of my friends were teachers at NYU, so I read what they were interested in reading. If they were teaching Blake, I was reading Blake. If they were teaching Wittgienstien, I was reading Wittgienstien. So all of that was important to me.
Sylvia: This is something that I ask people every time I do an interview. You might find this painful too, but I find it painful to witness young people, at younger and younger ages, trying psychedelics. It seems like the attitudes toward psychedelics have just shifted so much through the years, and I was just wondering if you had any thoughts as to what to think about. Not what to think about that, but if you were talking to a 12 or 13 year old right now, and being just conversational with them about drugs, what kinds of things would you maybe bring up to them? Is that something that you could speak to?
Rosemary: I don’t think I could address that age successfully, but I have been speaking to university students, for example. And the advice I give them is stay out of the hands of the California laws. (laughter) I feel obliged to respond in that way when I’m speaking, and I’d feel remised if I didn’t. But then it’s awkward to be talking about the glory of the Sixties, and the casual use of drugs. I do feel that what, or whom, one puts into one’s own body is one’s own business, and not the government’s. But I’m almost alone in that, except for other like-minded people, and it’s not something that one can say to a young person. I’d rather give your question more thought. 12 and 13 year olds. It’s a very difficult question.
But I did say to the students that, for me, it was a spiritual experience. It was a religious experience, and they don’t get that. There’s no way that they can get that at this time, because the drug experience has been so polluted by the paranoia and fear surrounding it. There’s no way to make a reasoned attempt at it, and certainly I wouldn’t want people that young experimenting, but they’re going to. I mean, I wouldn’t want then having sex either, given my druthers, but that’s simply this society’s mores. I think that age is a time of exploration, and rites of passage, and in any sane society we would try to follow Huxley’s ideas about using the Moksha medicine in his novel Island. But we can’t. So, at this point, I don’t know what to say to them.
David: Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to add?
Rosemary: No. I’d like to do this whole thing all over again, (laughter) on a sunny day with some wine.