NEXT MONTH the rock ‘n’ roll world looks forward to the solo debut of one of its acknowledged geniuses--Brian Wilson. The creative force behind the Beach Boys will at last release an album of his own, an event made all the more important as it may mark the end of Wilson’s 20-year exile into drugs and mental illness. It is considered his first serious recording effort in two decades, and advance word is that the LP, titled simply “Brian Wilson,” picks up where his landmark 1967 single, “Good Vibrations,” left off. In short, Wilson’s return is already being called a triumph.
By many accounts, it should be psychologist Eugene Landy’s triumph as well. Landy has been at Wilson’s side during two very public rehabilitation efforts, and his name will appear on the album as executive producer and co-writer. But for Landy these days, the vibrations aren’t so good. In February, the Board of Medical Quality Assurance, state watchdog of the healing professions, charged him with ethical and licensing code violations that could result in the suspension or loss of his California psychologist’s license. Landy stands accused of sexual misconduct with a patient, misconduct and gross negligence in the use and administration of drugs, and gross negligence through his relationship with Wilson as therapist-cum-business-associate. Landy has denied the allegations, and there will be an administrative hearing on the charges this fall.
To his supporters, Eugene Landy is a miracle worker. When the BMQA charges were announced, Brian Wilson’s attorney, John Mason, acting as a spokesman for Wilson, told the press of his unflagging belief in the psychologist’s work. Months later, Mason remains Landy’s champion. “Brian is in better physical, financial and emotional condition than he’s probably been in in his entire life,” Mason says. “I just can’t look at it as Eugene taking advantage of Brian and influencing him. Eugene loves Brian, and Brian loves Eugene.
“Like in the ‘The Miracle Worker,’ ” he adds. “Helen Keller and the therapist. It’s just like that.”
But there are those who see Landy as a far different character from fiction, along the lines of Svengali or the power-mad Capt. Nemo of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
The BMQA charges outline Landy’s roles as executive producer, business manager, co-songwriter and business adviser to Brian Wilson. According to the state agency, Landy’s “participation . . . in the various dual, triple and quadruple relationships has caused severe emotional damage, psychological dependency and financial exploitation to his patient.”
The attorney general’s office, which filed the BMQA complaint, won’t comment on how the investigation originated. However, Steven Gaines, in his 1986 book “Heroes and Villains,” writes that a former nurse and girlfriend of Wilson’s brought Landy to the state’s attention in 1984. One source in the state’s investigation was a journal kept by songwriter Gary Usher, who worked with Landy and Wilson for 10 months on the solo album. In it, Usher describes Wilson as a virtual captive dominated by a man who frightened and intimidated him. It also paints a portrait of a man determined to fulfill his show-business ambitions through his connection to Wilson.
And there are the claims of a female patient, R.G., stated in a civil suit filed in November, 1986 (since settled out of court, according to Landy’s attorney), and again in the BMQA charges. In the course of treatment, she says, Landy forced her to have sex with him, assigned her to have sex with others, escorted her to an orgy and took cocaine and amyl nitrate with her. A statement filed by her current therapist in conjunction with the civil suit says she is acutely suicidal as a result of Landy’s actions and may be in need of “long-term hospitalization.”
Trying to draw a bead on the truth in the tale of Landy, Wilson and R.G. is a task made difficult by the principals’ reluctance to talk. Landy and Wilson declined repeated interview requests during two months of research for this article. After the story was written and about to go to press, their publicist finally offered to make them available. Each was asked to respond to the BMQA charges. In written statements, Landy denied the charges and Wilson wrote in support of Landy (see Page 12). Hinting that R.G.’s silence was imposed by her civil suit settlement, her attorney and therapist declined to allow her to be interviewed and refused to comment on the case.
Of those who were willing to talk--some on the record, many off--none denied that Landy saved Wilson’s life and resuscitated his career. But there are two sharply divided camps regarding the man, his methods and his motivations. Some see him as a flamboyant Hollywood shrink whose unorthodox methods are successful with otherwise hopeless patients. Others say his personal ambition has pushed him beyond the ethical bounds of psychology.
Regardless of what the state may finally decide in Landy’s case, one thing appears true: He’s a man who has succeeded in two fields in which outrageous personalities are forgiven a great deal.
IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS, Landy has maintained an uncharacteristically low profile. In a deposition taken by R.G.’s attorneys for her civil suit, he took the Fifth Amendment virtually throughout. In his response to R.G.’s charges, filed in January, he “adamantly” denies her complaint, calling the accusations “vicious” and “frivolous and malicious.” On the BMQA charges, his comment was: “These charges are untrue.” This reticence is a change from the psychologist who, in the ‘70s, had his own press kit--a pioneering move at the time--and who told Rolling Stone magazine in 1976 that he was basically a “hyperkinetic, perceptually disoriented, brain-damaged person. I’m also very bright, very intuitive, very sensitive, and I’m quite capable of reading what most people are thinking or doing.”
One person who will speak about Landy is his longtime colleague, Dr. Solon D. Samuels. The 81-year-old Samuels, a semiretired psychiatrist, describes his former protege as a “maverick in the field of psychology. He’s done things that no other psychologist has done in treating the psychotic and the drug addict.”
The gray-haired, goateed Samuels is sitting in a small, bare office in a blighted Hollywood neighborhood. The former director of Gateways Hospital in Echo Park, where Landy was an intern in the late ‘60s, Samuels now works part time in this Gateways satellite program, a halfway house for mentally disturbed ex-convicts. Landy has called Samuels his “most significant influence, both personally and professionally.” Samuels is also named in the BMQA accusations, although he faces no charges, as the psychiatrist who prescribed drugs for Brian Wilson, the actual application of which was allegedly controlled by Landy, in violation of the state Business and Professions Code.
Samuels says Landy feels that he’s innocent of the BMQA charges. “In his mind he wasn’t doing anything to harm (Brian Wilson), so that in his mind he wasn’t doing anything to be unethical.”
As for R.G.’s claims, Samuels brushes them aside as groundless: “Unfortunately, people in the limelight get attacked like that all the time.”
The story of how Eugene Landy arrived in the limelight, as told by Samuels, other co-workers and various biographical materials, is the story of a man torn early in life between the rigid demands of the professional world and the seductive excitement of show business.
Eugene E. Landy was born in Pittsburgh on Nov. 26, 1934, to physician Jules C. Landy and Frieda Mae Gordon Landy, a psychology professor at Duquesne University. Landy claims to have dropped out of sixth grade, handicapped by dyslexia. He later worked at odd jobs and eventually produced a radio show, ending up as a record promoter. Along the way, he discovered George Benson as a shoeshine boy and produced a single for Frankie Avalon.
Samuels says Landy veered from his show-business career because of his parents’ wishes. “They had always wanted him to become a professional,” Samuels says. He came to Los Angeles in the early ‘60s and attended Los Angeles City College, where he earned an A.A. in chemistry. In 1964, the 30-year-old Landy, married and the father of a 2-year-old son, entered medical school at the National University of Mexico, where, Samuels says, he had hoped to become a psychiatrist. “He picked up dysentery,” Samuels says. “He got so sick he nearly died. So he went into psychology.”
That same year Landy received a B.A. in psychology from Cal State Los Angeles. By 1968, he had earned a master’s and doctorate in psychology from the University of Oklahoma, collecting three diplomas within four years. “He showed a tremendous capacity for learning by absorbing knowledge through listening and seeing,” Samuels says.
With diplomas in hand, he headed back to California and the early gropings of the human potential movement. Landy did postdoctoral work in marathon group psychotherapy in Rancho Santa Fe with its founder, Dr. Frederick Stoller. Marathon therapy, in which a therapist takes control of a group of people for a day or more, contributed to the development of encounter groups and est in the ‘70s. Landy credits it with inspiring him to develop his own particular brand of treatment, which he calls “24-hour therapy.” Landy described it in a chapter of the 1981 “Handbook of Innovative Psychotherapies”: “The success of 24-hour therapy rests on the extent to which the therapeutic team can exert control over every aspect of the patient’s life.” The therapist, with a team of assistants, would “totally disrupt the privacy of their patient’s lives, gaining complete control over every aspect of their physical, personal, social and sexual environments.”
Lest patients “engage in the cover-up of inadequacies that the therapist regards as dysfunctional for their progress,” the first condition of treatment was control of the patients’ finances. Secondary was establishment of the therapist “as absolute authority.”
Having outsmarted patients at their own “interpersonal power games,” the goal of the therapist was to “teach them how to develop a strong sense of self-sufficiency and control over their lives.” With attainment of self-sufficiency comes termination of therapy but not necessarily termination of the therapist’s relationship with his patients. According to Landy, the therapist should evolve into the patients’ “friend and adviser.”
“What he was doing really was translating the hospital environment to the home environment,” Samuels says. “I think he got some remarkable results--with people who can afford it.”
Landy says he first applied these ideas during his brief stint in 1968 at Gateways Hospital. Gateways was one of the first institutions to experiment with treatment of teen-age drug abusers, Samuels says, keeping them in a residential setting and reorganizing their lives. “It wasn’t very successful,” he admits. Landy felt that the mistake was in having too little control over their nighttime activities. He started evening rap groups and made himself available at all hours to talk kids through their nocturnal anxiety attacks.
“By keeping them active and talking,” Samuels says, “he was able to keep a lot of them off drugs and learn the lingo of the streets.”
Landy’s curriculum vitae indicates that in the early ‘70s he began trying to penetrate the Hollywood milieu. He appeared on such talk shows as “AM America” and “AM Los Angeles” and was a consultant for various television shows, including CBS’ “Bob Newhart Show,” in which the comedian played a psychotherapist. Landy founded and became president of a Beverly Hills clinic, the Foundation for the Rechanneling of Emotions and Education, known as F.R.E.E. A growing reputation for success in treating drug and alcohol abusers attracted both affluent Westside parents seeking help for their troubled teen-agers and celebrity clients trying to clean up their acts. Alice Cooper, Rod Steiger and Richard Harris were among Landy’s clients; none cares to comment today on Landy or his experiences under Landy’s care.
Landy had achieved a high profile among L.A. psychologists when, in 1975, Marilyn Wilson sought him out to help her troubled husband, Brian. Alcohol, drugs--including LSD and cocaine--and emotional problems were threatening to end what had been one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most promising careers. The most brilliant Beach Boy was turning into a corpulent couch potato. He no longer appeared with the band onstage or in the studio. His weight had ballooned to more than 300 pounds, and he had refused to leave his house for nearly two years.
In tune with the gestalt of the times, Landy told Rolling Stone in 1976 that “I was hired by Marilyn (Wilson) on the condition that I can do my thing, whatever it is.” Landy mobilized a 24-hour-therapy team of seven members, including himself, Samuels, a physician, a nutritionist and assistants who monitored Wilson’s every move around the clock.
The results were swift and tangible and just in time for the Beach Boys’ 15th-anniversary year, 1976. The public relations firm of Rogers & Cowan engineered a major “Brian’s Back” campaign with a svelte new Wilson who could once again walk onstage and talk in public. Co-starring in the media event was Eugene Landy. But Wilson began to rebel--publicly--against the doctor’s control. In December, 1976, he complained to Oui magazine: “I feel like a prisoner, and I don’t know when it’s going to end.” He was only going along with the treatment, he said, because “he’d put the police on me if I took off . . . and he’d put me on the funny farm. . . . He’s always got that threat of putting me on the funny farm.”
By the time Wilson performed at the Beach Boys’ 15th-anniversary concert at the Forum on Dec. 31, 1976, he was no longer under Landy’s supervision. The Beach Boys’ manager, Steve Love, had fired Landy earlier that month, reportedly in a dispute over his fees. Author David Leaf, in his 1978 book “The Beach Boys,” quoted Brian’s mother, Audree, as saying that Landy had become “exceedingly greedy.” Leaf also interviewed Rick Nelson, then the road manager for the Beach Boys (and no relation to the late rock star of the same name), who supported rumors that Landy had overstepped his role as therapist and attempted to make artistic decisions for Wilson and the band.
The Beach Boys weren’t the only Landy clients who had concerns about his takeover therapy and personality. One woman who sought Landy’s help in the late ‘70s for her drug-abusing son remembers him as “mesmerizing.” She describes his treatment approach as “visceral and direct”; he tried to scare the boy by describing what might happen to him if he were sent to jail. The woman said Landy struck her as highly unorthodox, as well. Landy wanted her and her husband to plant cocaine on their son, set him up for a police drug bust and then have him released to Landy’s custody. “Morally we just couldn’t do it,” the woman says.
In her civil suit, R.G. also testified to Landy’s unusual treatment. During the last of her nearly two years of counseling with various F.R.E.E. therapists, Landy phoned her and made appointments with her. It started with follow-up sex counseling and ended in sessions that she alleges included cocaine free-basing, sexual intercourse, masturbation and oral sex. Even told in the terse, numbered paragraphs of a legal document, R.G.’s story reads like a pornographic-movie script. Still, R.G. remained a patient of the F.R.E.E. clinic for months after these events occurred.
The woman who wanted Landy’s help with her son remembers the frame of mind that can lead to accepting unorthodox strategies for help. “There was a certain crazy logic to (what Landy suggested). We were at our wits’ end. That seems to be when he’s at his best, when the situation is most severe.” Although she remembers the episode with distaste, she also says, “He was a brief point of light in a bleak time.”
THE ESTIMATED 6 million Americans who seek psychotherapy each year can choose among more than 250 different schools of treatment, from the well-established traditions of psychoanalysis to such avant-garde practices as Rolfing and primal scream. By its very nature, the field of psychotherapy is one in which there must be freedom to develop new theories of treatment, and in the therapy boom of recent years, the number of approaches has continued to grow.
But with the unrestrained flow of ideas must come a bottom line that regulates the profession and protects the consumer. In California, that bottom line is supplied by the state licensing code that regulates the practice of psychology. The state Business and Professions Code prohibits psychologists from, among other practices, forming relationships with patients beyond their work as therapists. Known as “dual relationships,” these include business connections and sexual intimacy. The prohibitions against them are echoed in the oath of ethics of the American Psychological Assn.: “Psychologists make every effort to avoid dual relationships that could impair their professional judgment or increase the risk of exploitation (of a client’s trust and dependency).”
In recent years, government studies have found evidence of a shocking amount of sexual misconduct among psychotherapists. In a 1983 study by Jacqueline Bouhoutsos, clinical professor of psychology at UCLA and former chairwoman of the California State Psychological Assn. ethics committee, 60% to 70% of the therapists surveyed reported that at least one of their patients had claimed to have had sex with a previous therapist.
Despite the statistics, the Board of Medical Quality Assurance is limited in its ability to pursue complaints because of a lack of funds and understaffing. All too often, it’s up to patients to be “on their toes,” Bouhoutsos says, and to avoid dual relationships even if the therapist does not.
“Any relationship in addition to the therapeutic relationship presents the possibility for harm,” Bouhoutsos says. “(The therapeutic relationship) needs to be in an arena in which the patient can say anything they need to, want to. A patient’s welfare comes first with therapy. In business you naturally look after your own welfare, not the customer’s.”
Patients are considered especially vulnerable to a therapist’s will because of a process known as transference, a desirable step in many therapies. The patient, expected to open his heart and his mind to this stranger, the therapist, may also temporarily turn control of his or her life over to him. The therapist may gain a power or authority that only one’s parents may have previously held. The patient may come to worship the therapist, even develop feelings some have compared to love. At this point, the patient must continue on blind trust that he or she won’t be taken advantage of by the therapist.
Both the American Psychological Assn. and the state Business and Professions Code assume that, if a therapist enters into a dual relationship with a client, the therapist will hold the upper hand. “It’s a matter of ‘I understand how you think and function, and therefore you must do what I say,’ ” says psychologist Ivan Mensch, UCLA professor emeritus and a veteran of the APA ethics committee. But even if the patient insists that he or she entered into the dual relationship willingly, Mensch says, such a relationship is “still grounds for revoking a license.”
BY 1983, Brian Wilson had once again become a rock ‘n’ roll fixer-upper. By all accounts, after his 1976 separation from Landy, Wilson had slid back into his self-destructive ways. Conventional therapy was tried but with little success. By 1981, Brian was divorced and unable to look after his own affairs. Carl Wilson, his brother and co-band member, and Beach Boys’ attorney John Branca were forced to take trusteeship of his estate.
When Tom Hulett became the band’s manager two years later, he saw an “abuse tragedy” waiting to happen. Wilson weighed about 300 pounds and his tentatively functional personality of the “Brian’s Back” campaign had disintegrated. When he could be coaxed onstage, according to Hulett, he might sit with the microphones turned off, making obscene gestures at the audience. “It was hurtin’ the whole picture,” Hulett says.
Hulett made an appointment with Landy. “I was expecting to meet a doctor,” Hulett recalls with a faint smile. “I walk in and here’s this guy with probably orange sunglasses on, a yellow coat. I was taken aback.” Hulett wasn’t sure what 24-hour therapy was or “why you did it,” but he rehired Landy with Carl Wilson’s blessing.
Landy and his team once again moved in with Wilson and took control of every phase of his life. It wasn’t easy. “Brian was nasty, a terrible person,” attorney John Mason says. “Landy was forcing (Wilson) to get better, and he didn’t want to get better. He didn’t want to get out of bed, lose weight, stop smoking, give up drugs. So they had a hell of a fight.”
Just as before, the results were swift and visible. Wilson lost an impressive amount of weight and began doing press interviews again, with Landy by his side. He had abandoned drugs, and he had a reignited enthusiasm for writing songs and recording.
Also reignited were questions about Landy’s tactics. To some, 24-hour therapy seemed like 24-hour tyranny. Once Wilson was back on his feet, Landy was no longer in his company day and night, but he kept in contact with him by phone and through his assistants, who were Wilson’s constant companions. Landy’s relationship with Wilson remained close, some might say claustrophobic, and this created paranoia in the studio. According to Gary Usher’s journal and people who worked on the solo album but asked to remain anonymous, one of Landy’s assistants was always standing by, taking notes on Wilson’s every move and conversation. In a rare moment, Usher found himself alone with Wilson, who confided that he felt like a prisoner. He said he woke up screaming because he felt so alone.
By then, Landy held the title of executive producer on the album, and he was in on all creative decisions, suggesting lyrics and generally throwing his weight around. Collaborators remember instances in which Wilson’s finished songs were rewritten at Landy’s insistence to include his lyrics. Russ Titelman, the Grammy-winning producer who will share production credit on “Brian Wilson,” calls Landy’s efforts “third-rate greeting card romantic drivel,” and says he finessed keeping them out of songs as much as he could. “It was always an anti-creative atmosphere when he was involved,” Titelman says of Landy. “A lot of shouting and irrational and argumentative behavior.”
In a 1984 piece on Landy and Wilson in California magazine, the writer asked Landy if he contributed to Wilson’s songs. “Why not?” Landy said. “I influence all his thinking.” Besides, “all the Beach Boys contribute, and I’m practically a member of the band.”
Usher and his agent were told that Landy would get 25% of copyright on all Wilson’s songs, whether he contributed to them or not. Tom Hulett remembers the copyright deal as an arrangement to pay Landy for his effort to save Wilson’s life, an arrangement that assumed that Wilson could be made productive again. “It was,” he says, “sort of like, ‘Gee, there’s nothing coming in now, if you can go make this person well to go create some income. . . .’ ” Hulett defends Landy, saying: “There’s a bigger story here. It’s a man’s life being saved. Brian’s a functioning human being, back in the business.”
JOHN MASON sits behind his large, dark wooden desk in his penthouse office with a panoramic view of Santa Monica Bay. The walls of his outer chambers are lined with gold and platinum records from a client list that includes Kenny Rogers and Elton John. Despite his busy schedule--he will be married in two days, with Eugene Landy performing the ceremony--he wants to set the record straight. The BMQA charges, he insists, are a “total miscarriage of justice.”
Landy’s multiple roles in Wilson’s life shouldn’t be considered a violation of the ethics code, in Mason’s opinion, as long as they benefit the patient. “We feel--the group of people closest to Brian, including myself and Tom Hulett and John Branca and a number of the Beach Boys--we feel the relationship with dual capacity has not only saved Brian’s life, it has resulted in Brian’s resurgence as a creative force in the music business.”
Mason says that when he was hired three years ago to represent Wilson, he revoked Landy’s automatic copyright privileges. Landy now receives only a percentage equal to what he contributes to a song. His name will appear on five of the upcoming album’s 11 cuts. Mason says: “That’s minimal for a guy who’s with Brian a lot, every day, and with him in that process.” Not that Mason considers him a songwriter as a result. “I haven’t ever seen him write a song,” he says.
And as for those who claim Landy is holding Wilson prisoner, “I’ve talked to Brian many times about the treatment program and how he feels,” Mason says. “He doesn’t see it as permanent. He’s not even in the treatment program, for that matter. But he doesn’t see the dependency on psychological assistance as being permanent. He does see a psychiatrist, Dr. Sol Samuels.”
Mason explains that he has helped wean Wilson from Landy’s program. Their official termination of treatment was in January. “To the best of my knowledge,” Mason says, “Landy doesn’t provide any treatment. That’s not to say Landy doesn’t give him advice, because they are in fact partners in several projects. You have a business guy and a creative guy. Gene is in fact Brian’s best friend. I don’t consider that treatment.”
Sol Samuels corroborates Mason’s claim that the therapy has ended, but he puts the termination date at sometime in February and says it took place at the request of the state attorney general’s office. Deputy Atty. Gen. Calvin W. Torrance, who drafted the complaint against Landy, says he’s not aware of any such request, nor had the attorney general’s office been advised that Landy had severed his therapeutic relationship with Wilson.
In fact, Samuels maintains that Landy’s role in Wilson’s recovery has been minimal from the start. “The actual supervision of the therapy I’ve been doing right along,” Samuels says, “giving the medication and the occasional psychotherapy as he needs it. What Gene has been doing is hiring the people to be with him, and so forth, much as a parent would do if asked to get some help in the house.”
Samuels says the note-taking assistants remain just to regulate Wilson’s medication. “He still has an oral drive. He would still overeat and overdose if you let him. He has total freedom in every other way.”
“Every client I have has an assistant,” Mason says. They’re taking notes on Wilson’s conversations, he says, because he has trouble remembering them.
A number of those who worked on the “Brian Wilson” album in its last few months find it hard to believe that the therapy has ended. They say they have witnessed no change in the Landy / Wilson relationship. As offended by Landy’s antics on the album as Russ Titelman professes to be, he grants that the therapist has worked a miracle. “But if he were an honorable man,” Titelman adds, “he would want Brian to go on and blossom and not need him anymore. It doesn’t look like he’s going to do that.”
If Landy loses his license to practice psychology in California, no one expects he will end his relationships with Wilson as collaborator, business partner and executive producer. In fact, Landy is right on target with his own published goals of 24-hour therapy. He has followed through on the final phase of the program, the one that states: “Therapist becomes (patient’s) friend and adviser.”
And on target with the tenets of Hollywood success, Landy could someday be immortalized in a movie--the “Miracle Worker” version of the Landy / Wilson saga. Landy and Mason are developing the project; the working title is “In My Room.” A major star has even expressed interest in the project, a star who, like Wilson, has had his struggles with drugs and alcohol. “Richard Dreyfuss,” Mason says, dropping his voice. Dreyfuss wants to play Wilson. Mason thinks he should play Landy.
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.