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January 18, 1998|IRENE LACHER

The memories were sweet and so was the air. In the sun-washed Hollywood Hills home where Aldous Huxley died many moons ago, a light fragrance permeated the living room of his widow and soul mate Laura Archera Huxley.

"Must be marijuana," chirped Dorris Halsey, Aldous Huxley's erstwhile literary agent.

Just kidding.

Huxley plucked sprigs of fresh rosemary from her garden, so we all had a Huxley herb if not the Huxley herb for show-and-tell. Laura Huxley has better things to do these days, anyway. She's been disseminating her visionary ideas on early childhood through her 20-year-old organization Our Ultimate Investment, which sponsors conferences and "caressing rooms" to meld infants with older people.

Huxley is remarkably youthful herself. A slim and spry 86, she sits on the living room floor, her back straight as a dancer's. Credit decades of yoga.

Oh, yes. And standing on her head.

"People my age have a great deal of difficulty with circulation," she says in a voice tinged with her native Italy, "so you have to turn yourself upside-down."

Doubtless there are other advantages.

"Well, yes. There are all kinds of reasons to turn upside-down. Sometimes it's to get a different view."

Consider Huxley's winding path to her passion for children's well-being. A onetime concert pianist and psychotherapist, she never bore her own children. She and Aldous had been too swept up in the life of the mind to think much about kids during their marriage, which lasted from 1956 until his death in 1963.

Aldous Huxley, a brilliant English novelist and author of the eternal "Brave New World," had been living in California since 1937 to work as a screenwriter in that "adult toy palace." Yep, Hollywood.

During Aldous' last years, she visited an orphanage in Tijuana where she was struck by a lonely sea of infants.

"There were 80 babies in cribs, just left there in a big, big room, totally alone because there were only about five or six nuns. The nuns would go from one place to another trying to do everything for these children. Imagine trying to feed and change the diapers of 80 children three times a day? What counts for the child is touch. For a baby, touching is food."

Shortly thereafter, Laura Huxley had her first psychedelic experience under Aldous' guidance.

"At the time, it was legal. It was research. It was very, very serious work. Nothing like what happened after '65 or so. There is, for instance, a lecture of Aldous' on visionary experience, and he talks about the many, many ways that you can attain visionary experience. And LSD in that lecture of one hour is given about three or four minutes. It's just one of the things that in this age one can do to achieve the same state that has been achieved in past cultures and all over the world."

For Laura, the experience was profound, and she bemoans the fact that recreational drug use prompted the government to ban psychedelics.

"It prevented the research. [People who do drugs] think they are going to the carnival, but many, many people, including myself, had guidance for life from just one or two sessions. This thing that happened in Tijuana in this orphanage came back to me with such a power that it gave much direction to my life."

They had met in 1947 during an earlier marriage--his, to first wife, Maria--and an earlier career--hers, cinematography. They were both living in California, and John Huston had recommended Aldous as the writer of a film she wanted to make about the Palio races in Siena, Italy.

"I was very impatient at the time and I wrote him and three days later he had not answered yet. I said, 'What's the matter with this man? Why doesn't he answer my letter? You know when you're young you want things to happen right away.

"He didn't have a telephone. There was only the post office that had a telephone. So I telephoned the post office and they said, 'Well, yes, Mr. Huxley lives here but this is only for emergencies.' I said, 'But this is an emergency.'

"So they got him to run to the telephone. He asked me to go up and I met Maria, his wife, and we passed the day together and they were absolutely delighted because they loved Siena. They loved Italy. We even chose the music for the entertainment. And then they said, 'Well, do you have any money?' I said, 'No, why?' "

Aldous married Laura after Maria's death. But after Aldous passed away, Laura never remarried

"I don't think I could have had any other husband at all, because he was so undemanding, and was delighted to have a woman that was creative."

Still, there's plenty left to do. Like many of her neighbors, she still would like to direct, "one of my unfinished careers." Now Huxley is off to Australia for her annual trip. She gives lectures there, such as last year's "Growing Old Is Not a Pleasure."

What is it? "Growing old is an art. It's like the art of living, but a little bit more difficult."


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