Monday, October 30, 2023

RIP Judy Balaban: Early LSD Experimenter and Chronicler, and Human Rights Champion

"Her father was head of Paramount, she was one of Grace Kelly’s bridesmaids, and she shared an LSD experience with Cary Grant," ran the obituary in the Hollywood Reporter for Judy Balaban, who died on October 19 at the age of 91.  

Balaban was Hollywood Royalty in more ways than one: a member of the prominent Balaban family, she dated Montgomery Clift for six months in the 1950s when she was 18, and was married to Kelly's agent Jay Kanter—who made his client Marlon Brando best man at their wedding—when she was the youngest of six bridesmaids at Kelly's wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Balaban later married actors Tony Franciosa and Don Quine.

A 2010 article Balaban co-wrote with author and documentary filmmaker Cari Beauchamp for Vanity Fair documents the experiences of a group of Hollywood heavyweights who took LSD therapeutically in the late 1950s, among them Cary Grant and Balaban herself. 

Setting the stage for the article, she and Beauchamp wrote that at the time, "Almost everyone smoked carton-loads of regular cigarettes, but a 'joint' was a body part or a lower-class dive. If people were 'doing lines,' you’d have guessed they were writing screenplay dialogue or song lyrics. And if you mentioned 'acid,' you’d mean citrus juice or a stomach problem. Nobody in Hollywood—or almost anywhere else in the United States—had ever heard of LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide. Timothy Leary wouldn’t even pop his first mushroom until 1960. So it was very out of character that against this background a group of more than 100 Hollywood-establishment types began ingesting little azure pills that resembled cake decorations as an adjunct to psychotherapy." 

Balaban relates in the article that she didn’t know much about LSD when she started taking it, but, she laughingly says, “I figured if it was good enough for Cary Grant, it was good enough for me!”