From 1959 to 1961, John Newland directed and narrated the TV show One Step Beyond, which explored the “world of the unknown.”
In this rather amazing episode, Newland travels to Mexico to eat magic mushrooms. This show aired less than a year after Timothy Leary had traveled to Cuernavaca and had his first experiences with psilocybin, making Newland, along with Leary, one of the handful of high profile pioneers of psychedelia and one of the first public figures to praise psilocybin’s mind expanding properties.
That this open-minded episode of One Step Beyond ever entered the homes of unsuspecting Americans is certainly some kind of landmark in the history of psychedelia.
Journalist and book author John Kenneth Muir interviewed John Newland in 1999 (shortly before Newland took a step into the beyond) and discussed the infamous mushroom eating episode of One Step Beyond .
MUIR: Okay, you know I’ve got to question you about the episode called “The Sacred Mushroom.” This remains one of the most notorious episodes in network TV history, because you are seen on camera literally sampling mushrooms with hallucinogenic properties in a California laboratory. In your own words from the beginning of the show, “the story featured no actors, no script.” Basically, it was a travelogue to Mexico to experiment with these mushrooms. What was going on with that story?
NEWLAND: That was our most popular episode. It was a spooky trip. We landed in a tiny airstrip in Mexico near a mission. From there, it was a donkey trip of four days to reach the village [Oaxaca]. It was a dangerous journey, but we got phenomenal footage.
MUIR: That portion of the episode involved Dr. Barbara Brown (a neuro-pharmacologist), David Grey (A Hawaiin spiritual leader), Dr. Jeffrey Smith (a philosophy professor from Stanford) and Dr. Andrija Puharch sampling a mushroom called “X,” given to them by a local with doctor called a brujo. The peyote was supposed to enhance psychic abilities, and it was pretty damn unusual to see people getting high on TV in 1961, wasn’t it?
NEWLAND: Alcoa told us that the show was so bizarre, that we don’t dare put it on the air.
MUIR: So how did you salvage the episode?
NEWLAND: Well, Puharich asked me to take the mushroom, and I was game, so we took a camera crew and drove to Palo Alto and Puharich’s laboratory. Once there, I had three cameras rolling the whole time, and I told the cameramen to just keep shooting until we ran out of film. We decided to shoot and shoot and shoot and see what happened.
MUIR: Did you feel anything strange when you sampled the mushroom?
NEWLAND: I felt light-headed…and a sense of well being…the stuff was distilled. It was very powerful, but not poisonous, so I didn’t have any trepidations.
MUIR: Were there after-effects?”
NEWLAND: I had flashbacks and hallucinatory moments for about a month.
MUIR: But nothing psychic or paranormal happened?
NEWLAND: No. Not a grain.
MUIR: I guess I should ask you then, have you ever had a psychic or paranormal experience?
NEWLAND: I’ve not had a single experience. I’d like to have one, and if I were offered one, I’d certainly jump at it instantly.
MUIR: Going back to “The Sacred Mushroom,” your involvement with Puharich in the lab saved the show for broadcast.
NEWLAND: Alcoa saw it and considered my testimony “proof enough,” to air the show. As I said, it became our most popular episode.”
Here is the “The Sacred Mushroom” episode in its entirety. Sadly, Newland’s enthusiasm for ‘shrooms are not shared by the FDA.