27 Feb 1997
Apostle of LSD
HUXLEY and Leary's praise of LSD in the fifties pales beside a
contemporary, best-selling account by a middle-aged woman, Thelma
Moss, who has died aged 78. It took her from a marginal career
in scriptwriting to prominence in a marginal branch of scientific
After graduating from Carnegie Tech, she was a founder member
of the Actors' Studio in New York and appeared on Broadway. Prone
to depression and scarcely assuaged by a happy marriage, she took
up scrip/writing, notably that elegant movie in which Alec Guinness
played Father Brown. Any such joy vanished when her husband died
from cancer two days after the birth of their daughter. She could
scarcely look at a child so closely associated with death, and
made two suicide attempts, recovery brought potboilers for the
movies and television: "slick fiction for which I was getting
very well paid" and complicated by a relationship with a
man "who was an amalgam of the men I had always found attractive;
which is to say he was intelligent, dynamic - and unobtainable".
Haunted by Huxley's LSD book while working on Father Brown, "I
determined to have the experience myself - sometime" - Doctors
were finally persuaded by her confession of sexual frigidity "although
I enjoyed the act of love immensely".
In the waking dream of a dozen sessions in Beverly Hills, murderous,
perverted cannibalistic, sadistic and masochistic tendencies emerged.
"In the wake of these dreadful discoveries I lost my fear
of dentists, the clicking in my neck and throat, arm tensions
and my dislike of clocks ticking in the bedroom. I also achieved
transcendent sexual fulfillment.'' This joy was described under
the pseudonym Constance Newland in My Self and I (1962), a best-selling
work which the British Museum kept in its pornography cupboard.
The chapter headings "The Return of the Full Bladder",
"The Bitten-off Nipple" and "The Scared Spermatozoon"
suggest Anita Loos's Lorelei, but she seriously relayed such Hieronymous
Bosch-like images as a purplish and poisonous pea-pod.
She made it implicit that: "I did enjoy and admire the male
body in reality. In psychic reality, I loathed and feared it".
After seeing her father naked, she was lumbered with a mutilation
complex: '"My teeth, my teeth. I have killer teeth! That's
why my teeth are so sensitive!" When I heard myself cry these
words, I sat up, shocked by my killer teeth and shocked by my
fantasised act of - castration.'" So Oedepially-loaded a
subconscious also saw "a tempting dish of kidneys au madeve"
- her favourite dish, despite the death of her sister from cancer
of that organ while a medical student (she could not remember
Dosed up, she now had to attack the image of her father and snatch
a kidney. "It was a healthy one. I took it for myself ..."
There and then, "for the first time in my life, I had achieved
sexual release ... Most of the next week I was in euphoria."
After which, the doctor said, "in the last fantasy, you went
inside your brother to get your breasts back. What happened to
For all these visions of rampant gorillas (and the mysterious,
real constipation which had ended with her husband's death), the
sessions brought fresh creative fire. "Before therapy I was
always groping - and futile groping it was - for the man who would
fill the void within me . . . I no longer want a man just like
the man who married dear old mom". Rejoicing in her children
rather than seeking impossible men, life had "new savor,
new meaning - and new mystery" - the panoply of West Coast
"A middle-aged woman; back at college, I felt a little absurd,
and more than a little bemused." To gain a doctorate in psychology
and an eventual professorship, she spent much of the sixties at
the Neuropsychiatric Institute of the University of California
at Los Angeles and as an intern at the Wadsworth Veterans' Hospital.
"Most of us come to psychology to learn about Mother but
all we learn about is rats,' she was told; her rats were the subject
of male ejaculatory behaviour, in which she became so expert that,
when giving a gesticulatory talk on the subject, the tutor said:
"there's no need to demonstrate - just tell us". This
take on reality brought preoccupation with bioenergy, parapsychology,
healing, levitation, ghosts, hypnosis and
HOWEVER sceptical her colleagues, she made several trips behind
the Iron Curtain, where Kirlian techniques were also used in space
research, in America likewise, she met Edgar Mitchell, the sixth
man to walk on the Moon: invited by Nasa to discuss metal fatigue,
she was forbidden to broach the transcendental matters which Mitchell's
experience had brought him and which his death soon curtailed.(Note
this is in error, Edgar Mitchell is alive at the time of this article!)
Her UCLA laboratory became popular. Among its visitors was Uri
Geller, who submitted himself to hundreds of photographs to see
whether forces leapt from his finger tips. "After many more
trials he produced three blobs in all. But what wonderful welcome
sights they were!" When he appeared on television, she put
an old watch on her set and, at the right moment, said "work!"
- and it did. Trumpery or otherwise, the laboratory was felt in
the world a large - with which it was duly closed, either from
academic in-fighting or pressure of space.
Adamant that "none of us none of us, is made completely of
matter" and the life's great value is in "our own awakening,"
she appears a turbocharged Doris Stokes, but took satisfaction
in the' 1976 Douglas Dean award from the UN for bringing the Soviets'
Kirlian photograph, to America.
Cured of those killer teeth she could even watch a film of a patient's
bad tooth being removed under acupuncture: no gas, just needles
between the toes and in the hoku points. Such an awakening also
brought a return to the movies, as adviser on The Exorcist, Poltergeist
and Ghost. None is a patch on Father Brown.
The film Father Brown is being shown on Channel Four at 1.50 pm
Thelma Moss; psychologist, born 1918, died February 1, 1997.
Moss . . . scriptwriter and
Actors' Studio co-founder
Excerpt from Mysteries of the mind
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