May/June 1998 | Volume 49, Issue 3
The most overrated of them all sprang from academia in the early 1960s, with the idea that hallucinogenic drugs could turn anyone into a better person—a mystic, a philosopher, or even a god on a temporary basis. A handful of professors continually repeated such promises, but the most unexpected claim came from someone who was already a god, of sorts. In 1960, years before entertainers promoted drug use as a form of rebellion, Gary Grant gleefully told Good Housekeeping that LSD had turned him into a good husband. He only wished he’d used it sooner, so it said, next to an ad for chocolate chips. In that early hour of LSD, when refutations were still wobbly by comparison, Grant’s claim received terrific publicity (untempered by his statement in the same interview that he could hypnotize his teeth). The initial vogue in hallucinogens must have been steeply overrated as a selfhelp movement, considering that what it ushered in was a plague of selfdestruction. And two more divorces for Gary Grant.
The Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. Madame Walker was a black washerwoman. Starting her business in 1905 with $1.50, she was a millionaire within eight years—a fairly decent return on investment—but more important to her and to history, she masterminded an organization that eventually succeeded in drawing more than six thousand former field hands and domestics into the business world. Though she could neither read nor write, Madame Walker developed an international sales system, through which she taught her African-American representatives the practices essential to any business, including accounting, inventory, banking, taxation, and, of course, selling. The company’s products were hair supplies, but Madame Walker’s own product was independence, and many of her employees eventually used their experience to start other types of small businesses throughout America and the Caribbean. As a businessperson, Madame Walker ought to be recognized as a genius. As a self-help movement, her company was the essence of an American effort, handing out a big piece of the place to all comers.