AFI Fest 2020 Review: My Psychedelic Love Story

(L-R): Timothy Leary and Joanna Harcourt-Smith in MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY. Photo Credit: Joanna Harcourt-Smith/Courtesy of SHOWTIME.

My Psychedelic Love Story is the subtitle to a memoir by Joanna Harcourt-Smith, who was romantically involved with Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychology professor who went on to become a notable and notorious, counterculture folk hero due to his advocacy of LSD and escape from prison. It is also the title of director Errol Morris’s latest documentary of which she is the subject. She contacted Morris because she’s not clear about what happened at the end of her relationship with Leary and wonders if she had been manipulated by the U.S. government.

Joanna grew up in Europe with an abusive, indifferent mother. At the age of 11-12, Joanna understood she had power over men, up to a point. She was sexually assaulted by the family chauffeur and her mother’s response was, “do you know how hard it is to find a good chauffeur?” She was a bit of a jet-setter: a TV star in Lebanon as a teenager, pals with fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, and when she was 18. her lover was Michel Hauchard, an arms dealer who got Leary, a fugitive hiding in Switzerland with his fourth wife Rosemary, to sign over his literary rights.

For some reason, Joanna wanted Keith Richards and the Stones to do a series of concerts to promote McGovern for U.S. President. Anita Pallenberg, Richards’s girlfriend, wanted her to meet Leary after Rosemary had left him. Joanna knew his name from the Moody Blues song (“Legend of a Mind”) but hadn’t read his work. The two connected quickly.

It has been suggested that Johanna was a Mata Hari, who led Leary to Afghanistan to get him arrested. While he was in Folsom Prison, she got involved with Dennis, unaware that he was a government informant. He suggested speaking to the FBI might be the only way Leary could get out of prison, which he did. They entered the witness protection program and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. After a fight one night, Leary was gone the next morning, leaving her unaware why he left. She is still perplexed by it and others matters, such as did the CIA use her to get at Leary.

Morris tells Joanna’s fascinating story, one that if it were fiction would be hard to believe, but has no answers for her or the viewer. My Psychedelic Love Story debuts November 29, 2020 on Showtime so it’s possible others might continue digging into the story, but it’s too late for Joanna to learn anymore as she died on 10/11/2020. One doesn’t need to be a fan of Leary or the ’60s counterculture to find My Psychedelic Love Story intriguing. Just a trust in Morris’s judgement on whose stories he chooses to share.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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