The Oscar-winning scenarist had a problem: A TV script was overdue, but he was suffering from writer’s block. It was an obvious case for Dr. Eugene Landy, 43, the Beverly Hills star shrink. Landy promptly imprisoned the writer in a phoneless, windowless room for 2½ days, opening the door only to shove in sustenance or to allow the patient to relieve himself. The script got written.
A clinical and social psychologist, Landy eschews such classical Freudian props as the couch or even an office. Instead, he applies round-the-clock therapy, as in the famous case of Brian Wilson, the creative genius of the Beach Boys, who had withdrawn into overfed self-exile in his Bel Air bedroom. For 13 months, 24 hours a day, either Landy or one of 14 assistants was with Wilson, directing his every action, from eating (they padlocked his refrigerator) to composing. “He was a master gamesman who had contrived for years to stay in bed,” diagnosed Landy. The fee: $90 an hour. (Landy’s rates have since gone up to $2.50 a minute.) The Beach Boys eventually discharged Landy—prematurely, he claims—because they needed Brian in the recording studio. In any case, Landy sourly says the LP in question, The Beach Boys Love You, was a flop. But even Landy’s detractors concede that his methods helped make Wilson functional again.
He has applied variations of the saturation/servitude therapy to Alice Cooper, Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch and Rod Steiger. Richard Harris was so exultant he even dragged the doc onto TV talk shows to proclaim, “He literally saved my marriage.” Numerous other names prefer the traditional shrink-patient anonymity.
The reason so many celebs go into treatment is not just because they can afford it or that it’s trendy. The real explanation, says Landy, is that “everybody caters to stars, and they are isolated from reality. They lose some of their ability to function as normal people do. They’re always on, so my treatment is always on too.” His supporting cast depends upon the severity of his case load but sometimes reaches 30. “I feel,” he says, with accustomed modesty, “like a conductor—the Zubin Mehta of psychotherapy.”
Landy does hear a different drummer than some of his colleagues. “What some analysts call perverse,” he says, “I’ll call normal. Homosexuality, for example. It is not an illness. There are no perversities. Extremes, yes. Adults who rape and kill a 2-year-old child, for instance. But adults who reach out for and give love to each other in one form or another are not perverse,” he believes. “Compare that to the chick who kisses her horse and calls it ‘my darling’—and people accept that as normal!”
With drug abusers, however, Landy is more traditional. “A patient who comes to me with a drug problem,” he explains, “must sign a commitment that if I find anything at all in his system after treatment begins, I am to turn him over to the police.” Landy has not had to take that step yet, he reports; his patients are so “completely tied up they’ll do everything I say.”
The only child of a Pittsburgh physician and his psychodramatist wife, Landy was born with dyslexia, an abnormality of perception that causes things to appear backward. He could not read until he was 13, still cannot spell, and sometimes reverses numbers. (He notes that Nelson Rockefeller, Patton and Einstein, and a disproportionate number of actors and performers have been dyslectic.) Landy dropped out of school after sixth grade but later took entrance exams and earned a B.S. in chemistry at Los Angeles City College, studied psychology at the University of Mexico and took his doctorate at the University of Oklahoma. He married a fellow student and fathered a son, now 16. While in training he worked as an A&R (artist and repertoire) man at Coral, Decca and RCA records, was a production assistant on Liberace’s old TV show, and wrote for Teen Screen and True Confessions. “California,” he says, “always felt right to me from the moment I got here.”
After helping instruct Peace Corps, VISTA and Office of Economic Opportunity psychologists in group methods, Landy began working in 1968 as a drug abuse therapist at Gateways Hospital in L.A. Now, in addition to treating the superrich, he also operates a clinic for lower-income patients.
Therapy occupies 60 hours of his week, not counting phone calls from his patients or staffers (some isolation cases ring him up 20 times a day). Still, he manages time to ski, fly and motorcycle, as well as read—from Melville to Vonnegut—and attend Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts. Divorced three years ago, he squires actress Alexandra Morgan, a onetime group therapy patient at his clinic.
Seven years ago Landy wrote a book called The Underground Dictionary. He is currently at work on a novel whose main character, Supershrink, resembles himself. Landy’s only problem—not quite yet at the treatable stage—is that he has writer’s block.