Peter Anderson: My Life
Loving Joanna Leary ‘With All My Heart’
As told to Mark Howell
Continuing with Part 2 of 3 parts of the biography of Peter Anderson, who came up with the slogans and policies that identified the Conch Republic as a “Sovereign State of Mind,” seeking only to bring more “humor, warmth and respect to a world in sore need of all three.”
One of the preeminent United States’ futurists working on the Prospectus was Barbara Marx Hubbard. She offered me lodging at her stone mansion in Rock Creek Park in the heart of Washington, D.C., where I typed the final draft in late March. I got to her house and she set me up with a suite of rooms and everything I needed.She hosted a dinner party the very day that I arrived, whose guests included Newt Gingrich and Bryan Duff, the head of public relations for NASA, plus a whole host of other characters (the dining table sat 30). The special guest Joanna Harcourt Smith aka Joanna Leary.
I was introduced to her in the library, an oak-paneled room with a huge, walk-in fireplace. Joanna had just succeeded in creating the sauce for her signature tarragon chicken. She was holding out a glass of scotch and was radiant, electrically beautiful. She captured my heart in an instant.
Joanna and I looked at each other and my world changed; I was never to be the same again. She leaned her unbelievable face into mine and said, “Are you rich?”
I replied, “I’m the richest man I know.” It took her days to realize that I had no money.
Joanna was café-society French. She grew up in Paris, Switzerland and on the Côte d’Azur. She was the black sheep of one of the wealthiest families in Europe. She had met Timothy Leary in Switzerland and had been kidnapped by the Nixon Administration along with Timothy and flown to the United States, where Timothy was immediately thrown into prison. Joanna was thrown into the middle of the death of the 1960s. She became “Joanna Leary.”
We sat together during and after dinner. From that day to this we have been family to each other, like one. I would recommend her new book, “Tripping the Bardo With Timothy Leary” (available on Amazon).
When I returned to Philadelphia, Joanna came with me. She had just lost one of the loves of her life in an air crash in St. Barts, on top of losing Timothy Leary as her husband, and her son to a predatory gay man. Leary, the guru of LSD, had just come out of prison and, drinking heavily and having impregnated her, left her crumpled on a sidewalk after she had spent three years getting him out of jail. Now, here she was, in Philadelphia, utterly enthralled with me, but a basket case, a drunken sociopath, hating herself and the world. I loved her with all my heart. It was all I could do.
My life was in shambles, the Prospectus a bust, my ex-wife claiming all my assets, and my dreams in tatters. So, we went to Tahiti and went on to spend the next 3½ years gallivanting around the world. My purpose was to serve her life with unrelenting love in the face of every evil she could produce.
Our marriage in Reno, Nevada — at the Heart-O-Reno Chapel (I can’t make this up) — which was witnessed by Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy happened to be the prosecutor in Westchester County, New York, who had busted Leary on drug charges at Millbrook. The one thing I discovered, meeting Tim and Gordon in Reno, was that if you were in a bar with Tim, he’d do anything to get you into a fight and then step back, while Gordon would do anything to avoid a fight and would have your back if any trouble started.
Ultimately, Joanna decided she did want to live and take care of her own life. So, she left me for rehab.
Having been a sailor all my life — a skill I learned on the Chesapeake Bay and never forgot — I signed on as crew on a boat sailing for Europe from St. Barts.
I sailed across the Atlantic on a 100-foot wooden schooner at 17 knots to Mykonos, one of the Greek islands in the Mediterranean. I had met a friend in St. Barts from Mykonos, Carlos Fix. His family owned most of the breweries in Greece. He introduced me to a lot of fascinating people and towards the very end of summer took me to a party high on a hill overlooking everything.
The party was held for the senior editors of Time, Inc. The magazine had just blown $60 million on an effort to displace TV Guide, which was owned by Walter Annenberg. The top people at Time and Sports Illustrated magazines were on Mykonos to brainstorm a future for print media and it was at that party that I had an idea for them that once again could change the world. I arranged for several people present to meet with me in New York City within a few weeks. When that meeting finally came, I was ready to propose to them the creation of a children’s magazine to be called Kids’ Time. It would be published and printed by Time, Inc. in several localities across the country, in the manner of USA Today, and given away free to every school child in America.
Its purpose would be to explain current events in terms that children could understand…to make the world a less frightening place. It would also articulate a vision for the future that was nest, sexy, exciting and dynamic…giving children a reason to obtain an education to participate in that future.
Time already had reportage in every field of human endeavor, from hard news to sports, in seven divisions. What I was proposing was a simple rewrite job of news that Time already had, rewritten into three age groups.
The year was 1983 and I had preliminary commitment letters from advertisers to subsidize this product, including companies such as John Deere, Revlon and Exxon. They recognized a crying need to persuade young readers that the U.S. had the best system of capitalism in the world.
Time Inc. would encourage communities throughout the country to produce a second section of Kids’ Time filled with participatory material developed by young people across the nation. This would diminish any charge that Time was trying to take over the minds of a generation. Little infrastructure would be needed, since the school districts and the kids themselves would provide the contents.
I also, through my contacts in the Reagan Administration, arranged for the President to declare Kids’ Time the greatest act of volunteerism in the history of American education.
Despite this encouragement, the months passed with no feedback or straight answers from Time.
Finally, in late February, the hostess of a dinner that I attended told me she had an uncle on the board of Time, Inc. She insisted on calling her uncle in Vermont to ask him why Time Inc. wasn’t jumping on this idea. He said, “Oh, yeah, we’ve discussed this. This is not our job. Time basically does not consider education its purview.”
My blood ran cold when I heard this. I realized the powers that be did not want an educated public. I remembered my first conversation with a senior editor in New York when he asked me what I thought was their most successful product. The answer was People Magazine. Time, Inc. was not interested in an educated population. They thought their future lay in a malleable population, riddled with fear and a fervor for the dark shadows. I should have known. It was time to move on.
It was 30 years ago that this latest idea of mine was shot down. Just imagine how different our country would be if Time, Inc. had followed up on it.
It was mid-March in 1984 and I was trying to decide where to move on to. Joanna (who I knew after three and a half years of traveling around the world, had great taste in places), said to me, “Peter, you really should move to Key West. It’s an island full of old houses falling apart and there are lots of building jobs. It’s 100 miles out to sea and it’s a really cool town. They celebrate sunset every night.” I was sold.
NEXT WEEK: The move to Key West