by David King Dunaway
Brilliant literary journalism and such novels as Point Counter Point and Brave New World had established Aldous Huxley among Britain’s intelligentsia. In 1937, however, his pacifism brought him rejection in an England on the brink of war. To preach his cause, Huxley came to America and in time to Hollywood, where the film industry was eager to ally itself with a certified member of the literary elite. Here he remained for 26 years—a curious, shambling, 6’4″ figure, nearly blind.
This book is a diligent, at times even laborious, almost day-by-day account of those Hollywood years. Huxley’s devoted wife, Maria, conducts discreet lesbian affairs; friends drop by (Anita Loos, Christopher Isherwood, Chaplin, Garbo, Stravinsky); Huxley’s eyesight worsens, recovers, fails again; he writes more novels (including After Many a Summer Dies the Swan); Maria dies of cancer; Huxley remarries. And there are the continuing explorations of parapsychology, mysticism, the Indian religions. Huxley sought out the medium Eileen Garrett (who impressed Cecil B. De Mille by telling him, in his mother’s voice, to cut two scenes from one of his films); he dabbled in L. Ron Hubbard’s pseudoreligion, Dianetics, and he came, in 1953, to psychedelic drugs, mainly mescaline and LSD.
This book, it must be said, conveys a looniness of which Dunaway, who teaches biography at the University of New Mexico, at times seems unaware. Many of Huxley’s film projects seem appropriate—adaptations of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, the screenplay for A Woman’s Vengeance (based on his story The Gioconda Smile). But what is one to make of a 1957 assignment to write a feature-length treatment of Don Quixote for the cartoon character Mr. Magoo? Huxley did not know, nor had anyone the courage to tell him, that Magoo was as blind as he, and that the humor was to spring from this handicap. Another writer, Dun Roman, reports: “Huxley showed up bright and early the first morning…groped apologetically about for the first few minutes, stumbling against the furniture and into the walls…all the while bubbling over with enthusiasm about what fun we would have rewriting Don Quixote for little Mr. What’s-his-name, McGrew? McGoogle?”
Huxley died of cancer at 69 in 1963. On his deathbed, second wife Laura Archera, an amateur psychotherapist, held his hands. One hopes her whispered words, the last he heard, describe truly the moment for which this gentle man had so long prepared himself: “Light and free you let go, darling; forward and up. You are going toward the light.” (Harper & Row, $24.95)