Marlene Wagman-Geller

"As far back as I can remember, it was always on my bucket list, even before the term bucket list was coined,
to be a writer. It was a natural progression to want to go from reading books to writing one."

For Remembrance

Jun 02, 2023 by Marlene Wagman-Geller



Dr. Timothy Leary pronounced the paradoxical catchphrase, “If you can remember the sixties you weren’t really there.” Leary was not only there, he was its vanguard, and beside him- his psychedelic pioneer and muse. She was his soulmate who left her Midwest hoping for adventure, which she received in spades-a result of her love affair with an amalgam of the king of Hearts and the Joker.

      Rosemary, (Ro,) Sarah Woodruff was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 26, 1935, to a middle-class conservative family. As a child she mythologized everything, longing for the ordinary to be replaced by the extra-ordinary. When placed in a baptismal pool at age seven, rather than the hoped for religious experience, all she received was a cold.  The only form of magic she experienced in childhood was as the daughter of an amateur magician. Her father picked pennies from her ears, dealt cards which appeared in her hair. She later wrote, “His hand had to be watched carefully; it created invisibility.”

She escaped when she dropped out of high school at seventeen and married an Air Force officer. She fled from the military base and husband after six months and migrated to New York City. A marriage to a jazz musician also dissolved and she supported herself with modeling. (To give a sense of her beauty, only Tina Louise- actress of Gilligan’s Island fame- beat her out for a bikini cover on Esquire Magazine.) She also experimented with peyote, a drug derived from cactus mainly found in Mexico, and finally had her religious experience meeting the Pied Piper of pharmaceuticals. 

          On May 1st Rosemary took a fateful trip to a sprawling mansion, Millbrook Estate in Duchess County, owned by the Mellon-fortune heirs, where the original nutty professor, Dr. Timothy Francis Leary, had retreated post dismissal from his university for trying to turn on all of Harvard to drugs. By the time Ro met Tim he had completed his startling metamorphosis from Ivy League academic to counter-culture evangelist. In Millbrook he was the high priest of hallucinogenic hedonism where guests eagerly enacted his mantra which became the rallying cry of a generation: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” The word was out that at Leary’s lair the panties dropped as fast as the acid, the god Krishna received a heavy dose of chants, and the Beatles were on the record player twenty-four-seven.

        When Timothy first saw the thirty- year-old Rosemary in his kitchen, he was immediately drawn by the magnet of her beauty. He recalled in his autobiography, Flashbacks, “A cloud of pheromones floating from her body awakened my off-duty pheromones. My knees wobbled.” On a subsequent visit, after taking LSD, Tim and Rosemary spent their first night together in the meditation room. The following morning they outlined a pair of interlocked triangles on the chimney, the Maha Yantra, the ancient Oriental symbol for sexual union. The doctor interpreted this as whatever sexual problems he had experienced in his former relationship would be resolved with Rosemary. While others may have been, (pardon the pun,) leery of involvement, Rosemary simply stated of the charmer cum laude, “I fell in love with him, and he with me.”

      Although Rosemary was familiar with the Leary myth of the infamous hippy guru who had become the spokesman for the turned-on flower people she soon uncovered his romantic history. His first wife Marianne had committed suicide on the eve of her husband’s thirty-fifth birthday; his second wife Mary departed before following suit. He was introduced to his third, Vogue cover-girl Nena von Schlebrugge, through Salvador Dali, who separated on their Himalayan honeymoon. She nevertheless retained a soft spot for her ex and Leary became godfather to her daughter Uma Thurman.

      Rosemary felt she had found the soulmate with whom she would have a baby, and in the future, a home with white-picket fence. She moved into Millbrook and tried to become the perfect mate to Tim and mother to his children, Susan and Jack.  Chemistry was not the problem but rather constant arrest. The first time was in Laredo, Texas, where Susan was hiding the family’s marijuana in her underpants. The next brush with the law was when Leary’s nemesis and future Watergate burglar, G. Gordon Liddy, in his job as Duchess County assistant district attorney, raided Millbrook. The third when they were busted for marijuana possession in Laguna, California.

      Although subpoenas, attorneys, and court dates do not rank high on the aphrodisiac ladder, Rosemary and Timothy decided to marry on November 11, 1967, on a mountaintop of the Joshua Tree Monument in a California National Park. The service was performed by Samu, a famous Plains Indian medicine man, who was so stoned on peyote he had trouble conducting the ceremony. Similarly, the groom was in the grip of mescaline, a drug known for its hallucinogenic properties, and could not stop retching. As the undertaking was not the bride’s dream nuptials, they had a do-over, retying the knot at their new home in Berkeley, this time by an East Indian fakir-though the same anti-ambience results. Hoping a third time would prove the proverbial charm, a final marriage was enacted at Millbrook. In a wedding photograph which appeared on the front page of the New York Post, Tim is seated with a garland of white flowers around his neck, barefoot, while the bride’s features are adorned with red-and-white-tribal markings.

       The following year Tim received a phone call from another counter-culture couple, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, inviting them to Montreal for their “bed-in”. After Lennon had played a few songs on his guitar, while Rosemary kept beat by banging on Tommy Smother’s guitar, the Beatle crooned, “John and Yoko, Timmy Leary, Rosemary, Bobby Dylan, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, Hare Krishna. All we are saying is give peace a chance.” An iconic photograph of the event showed the two infamous couples in bed, Ted’s head resting on his wife’s shoulder. Leary asked Lennon for assistance in his candidacy for governor of California, known by its mantra ‘Luv for Guv.’ When he said his slogan was “Come Together, Join the Party” John took his guitar and improvised what would be the classic Come Together Right Now.

     It was post Bed-In that Rosemary most truly entered the rabbit hole of life with Leary. In 1970 a judge sentenced her to prison for six months for the Laguna marijuana bust while Timothy, who President Nixon had now branded “the most dangerous man in America,” was faced with a sentence of up to twenty-eight years. Characteristically, Leary compared himself to Christ harassed by Pilate and Herod. Before the bailiffs led Tim away he embraced his wife. Freed on bail, Rosemary described her incarcerated spouse as the hero chained to the rock.

     In a surreal collaboration of minds, which could only have occurred in that era,, Rosemary worked with the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love to spring Leary from the California Men’s Colony at San Luis Obispo. She later quipped that this should have qualified her for a “Stand by Your Man” award. Timothy shimmied along a telephone cable over the prison fence and was picked up by a Weatherman operative. Rosemary, the mid-western girl seemingly born for obscurity, was now am infamous fugitive of the law for violating her own parole and facilitating the prison break of a felon. However, the die was cast; she was a woman in love. Donning disguises, Tim shaved his head and dressed in foreign garb-conservative attire. Rosemary transformed her appearance from a dark-haired hippie chick to a blonde bouffant-do, push-up bra and heels. With forged passports, the couple fled overseas.

     The Leary’s destination was Algiers where they, along with Anita Hoffman, (wife of Abbie) became the house guests of exiled Eldridge Cleaver. The Black Panthers enjoyed diplomatic immunity and initially provided a safe house in their compound. Alas, there was a conflict between the two male visionaries. Leary’s penchant for smoking hashish smuggled to him by his old buddies in the Brotherhood alienated his host, especially as Algeria, an Islamic country, was not keen on drugs. Eldridge also began to harass his guests, who became his prisoners. It was time for the magician’s daughter to disappear once more.

       It was in Switzerland where Rosemary had an overdue epiphany: life with Leary was never going to lead to a home with white-picket fence. Leary had taken up with an international arms dealer, Michael Hauchard, who had agreed to protect him in exchange for thirty percent of the royalties from books the good doctor had agreed to pen. Irritated with the lack of progress, he had Leary arrested in the belief he would be less distracted in confinement. Thanks to his wife’s exertions, Leary was released after a month. 

It was finally clear that by Leary, she was not going to be a mother, that his delight in greeting camera crews superseded all other desires. With tears and angst, Rosemary negotiated their separation which she said was merely a necessary time-out. When she returned, it was to discover he had taken up with another woman who was wearing her clothes. She stormed she was no longer responsible for his debts-karmic or financial-and left to face life on the lam without the man who had molded her into the role of fugitive. Bereft at the loss of Rosemary, Tim turned to heroin. He was ultimately arrested in Kabul and incarcerated in Folsom. In the next cell, crazed groupie cult leader who had terrorized Los Angeles, Charles Manson told him, “I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a long time, man.”

          Mrs. Leary remained underground for twenty-three years, living in Afghanistan, Sicily, Central and South America. As a fugitive, Rosemary learned from a newspaper that a Los Angeles judge had dissolved their marriage, granting Mr. Leary a divorce petition he had filed without her knowledge. After secretly returning to the United States, she used the name Sarah Woodruff and worked a variety of jobs on Cape Cod, San Francisco, and California.  When a judge cleared her of her charges, she lectured at the University of California at Santa Cruz for a course on the era her flawed, tragic hero had defined. She reconciled with Timothy after fifteen years devoid of contact when his  deeply disturbed daughter, Susan, hung herself in custody after shooting her sleeping boyfriend at close range.

        Despite the tumultuous times, Rosemary seemed to have had no regrets. She reminisced, “I’d like to do this whole thing all over again on a sunny day with some wine.” Before her death at age sixty-six, Ms. Leary gave her fifth and final annual farewell party for Dr. Leary. She passed out seventy-five plastic bags with portions of his cremated remains, some which had been rocketed into space in fulfillment of his final wish. Mingled in the ashes was body glitter so his remains could sparkle when air-borne. The words of Ophelia to Hamlet could well serve as her own, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”