Jack Shafer: The Time and Life Acid Trip

Roundup: Talking About History

[Jack Shafer is Slate's editor at large.]

Alan Brinkley's comprehensive new biography of Time magazine co-founder Henry R. Luce, The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century, has but one flaw. Then again, this "shortcoming" has more to do with my obsessions than it does with any inadequacy on Brinkley's part. My idiosyncratic complaint: Brinkley doesn't spend near enough space on the proselytizing enthusiasm the mogul and his wife, Clare Boothe Luce, had for LSD and how that enthusiasm bled into Luce's Time and Life....

The Luces' role in spreading LSD wasn't lost on 1960s radical Abbie Hoffman, Siff writes. In his 1980 memoir, Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture, Hoffman writes, "I've always maintained that Henry Luce did much more to popularize acid than Timothy Leary. Years later I met Clare Booth Luce at the Republican convention in Miami. She did not disagree with this opinion."

Time magazine got to the LSD story before other magazines, writes Siff, and wrote about it more frequently. Its stories were longer on average than the pieces run by its competition and were largely sympathetic, as typified by the 1960 Time piece "The Psyche in 3-D," about celebrities taking LSD under the supervision of their doctors; or this Life editorial from 1966 urging regulation, not prohibition, of LSD; or, from 1968, an early debunking of the gone-blind-on-LSD urban myth. So intense was the Luces' interest in the topic that both reviewed the 1963 Life article "The Chemical Mind-Changers" prior to its publication, writes Siff. Not every column inch of LSD copy in Time was adulatory or "balanced." In "An Epidemic of Acid Heads" from 1966, Time blamed a wave of psychotic illnesses on the recreational use of LSD. (Siff allows that some of the sympathetic coverage may have been a result of reporters' over-reliance on past stories.)....

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