"When I first read the book, I was Googling it and fact-checking to make sure that it actually happened because it almost reads like fiction."
The Most Dangerous Man in America (Twelve, 2018), written by Texas authors Steven L. Davis and Bill Minutaglio, is heading to TV screens near you. Allan Mandelbaum of Hollywood-based Star Thrower Entertainment, the same folks who produced Steven Spielberg's 2017 blockbuster The Post, is an executive producer. "What really excited us about this one was that it wasn't just about Timothy Leary, like, doing a bunch of acid," said Mandelbaum.
Woody Harrelson is set to star. Luke Davies is writing the screenplay.
According to Dan Singer, writing for the Dallas Morning News, no deal has been struck with a media platform yet, but the producers — whose past work also includes the 2017 film Ingrid Goes West starring Aubrey Plaza, as well as Wind River, released the same year with Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen — envision the series landing on an online streaming service or premium cable network upon its release.
The book on which the series will be based is a look at Timothy Leary, the fired Harvard psychologist who became a star of '60s counterculture and a passionate promoter of the psychedelic substances that fueled it.
Concentrating on the early '70s, Davis and Minutaglio offer a kind of travelogue that follows Leary's time on the run from the authorities with “present-tense immediacy.” It's set against a backdrop of historical change; the vibrations left over from the Summer of Love are waning, giving way to the harsher social climate of the 1970s. President Nixon labels Leary with the epithet immortalized in the title of the book: "the most dangerous man in America."
"Very few people, I think, are familiar with this specific episode in Timothy Leary's life," said Mandelbaum, the producer. He certainly wasn't. "When I first read the book," he said, "I was Googling it and fact-checking to make sure that it actually happened because it almost reads like fiction."
When it came out at the beginning of 2018, The Most Dangerous Man in America was a surprise departure from the Texas-themed works of nonfiction for which both its authors are known. Their first book together, Dallas 1963, came out in 2013 and covered the political atmosphere in Dallas leading up to the Kennedy assassination.
Beyond their book work, both writers have been active in Texas's broader literary scene for decades. Davis is the former president of the Texas Institute of Letters and longtime curator at the Wittliff Collections, the premiere collection of Southwestern cultural works at Texas State University. And Minutaglio, a longtime Texas newspaper and magazine writer, spent almost twenty years at the Dallas Morning News. He retired from teaching journalism at the University of Texas last year.
About the book: On the moonlit evening of September 12, 1970, an ex-Harvard professor with a genius I.Q. studies a twelve-foot high fence topped with barbed wire. A few months earlier, Dr. Timothy Leary, the High Priest of LSD, had been running a gleeful campaign for California governor against Ronald Reagan. Now, Leary is six months into a ten-year prison sentence for the crime of possessing two marijuana cigarettes.
Aided by the radical Weather Underground, Leary's escape from prison is the counterculture's union of "dope and dynamite," aimed at sparking a revolution and overthrowing the government. Inside the Oval Office, President Richard Nixon drinks his way through sleepless nights as he expands the war in Vietnam and plots to unleash the United States government against his ever-expanding list of domestic enemies. Antiwar demonstrators are massing by the tens of thousands; homemade bombs are exploding everywhere; Black Panther leaders are threatening to burn down the White House; and all the while Nixon obsesses over tracking down Timothy Leary, whom he has branded "the most dangerous man in America."
Based on freshly uncovered primary sources and new firsthand interviews, The Most Dangerous Man in America is an American thriller that takes readers along for the gonzo ride of a lifetime. Spanning twenty-eight months, President Nixon's careening, global manhunt for Dr. Timothy Leary winds its way among homegrown radicals, European aristocrats, a Black Panther outpost in Algeria, an international arms dealer, hash-smuggling hippies from the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and secret agents on four continents, culminating in one of the trippiest journeys through the American counterculture.