According to Merriam-Webster, an also-ran is a “a horse or dog that finishes out of the money in a race”. For our purposes however also-rans are those individuals we considered for the Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century list but ultimately declined to include. Here you can find parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of this series.
In part 8 (Part 1 of the Also-Rans), we included those who were great but not quite weird enough. Now in Part 2 we include those who undoubtedly embodied Teh Weird, but could never be mistaken for great despite their fame or their impact. Four names. Enjoy.
Francis E. Dec (1926-1996)
Francis Dec might top a list of the weirdest American weirdos, but his lack of greatness, in my opinion, keeps him from glory. He was a disbarred lawyer who lived as a recluse in New York City from the late 1960s till his death. He wrote volumes of bizarre, paranoid screeds and mailed them to media outlets the world over. His bete noir apparently was something called the “Worldwide Mad Deadly Communist Gangster Computer God.” He also wasn't very keen on blacks, Jews, communists, and Catholics.
Dec has become a cult figure among underground and alternative types, and is considered an outsider artist by some. His bizarre writings and conspiracy theories found their way into R. Crumb's Weirdo magazine in the early 1980s. His tapes have been sampled on television and radio. He has even inspired CDs and plays. But given the overall psychotic and negative nature of his work, Francis Dec shouldn't be considered great by any standard, let alone enough to make the list. It is the sheer intensity of the man's weirdness and the odd staying power of his rants however that warrants his mention on these pages at all.
Sidney Gottlieb (1918-1999).
Whenever you see a movie in which the CIA hatches secret plots which cause nasty things to happen to innocent people, you have Sidney Gottlieb to thank. Known as the “Black Sorcerer”, Gottlieb was a military psychologist and chemist who schemed to assassinate world leaders and performed experiments in mind control, which were somewhat, uh, less than ethical.
He joined the CIA in 1951 when the Cold War was just ramping up and soon began researching “behavioral engineering of humans”. Basically he administered LSD to unwitting subjects to see if mind-altering drugs can aid interrogations. He claimed he wanted to “crush the human psyche to the point that it would admit anything.” He would target prostitutes, prisoners, the mentally ill, and other vulnerable types who'd have a hard time in court if they ever decided to get theirs from the CIA.
Gottlieb was also the genius who in 1960 proposed assassinating Fidel Castro with a poisoned cigar, an exploding conch shell, a poison fountain pen, and a poisoned wetsuit.
Sidney Gottlieb's weirdness is only exacerbated by some of his seemingly normal habits. He loved folk dancing, yet he had a club foot. After his retirement in the early 1970s, heÂ worked in a leper colony in India, raised goats in Virginia, and tended to the dying at a hospice.
It is easy to dismiss Gottlieb as CIA super villain. There are those however who point out that during the Cold War the United States faced an enemy which fielded a murderer's row of assassins, rapists, war criminals, and mad scientists who made Sidney Gottlieb look like a choir boy. Some dirty deeds needed to be done by the United States. Others, not so much. Either way, Gottlieb's reputation is too unsavory in my opinion to put him on the list, despite having one of the weirdest careers of all time.
Harry Harlow (1905-1981)
Harry Harlow was a psychologist who first demonstrated how important mother love is to the cognitive development of infants. In the 1940s and 1950s he stood against B.F. Skinner and the Behavioralists by claiming that there's more to mother-baby relationships than just milk and that â€œcontact comfortâ€ from mom helps prevent baby from having social problems later in life. Sounds sweet and wonderful, doesn't it? Well, he did it all by torturing monkeys.
This guy was unbelievable. He would take infant monkeys away from their mothers and supply them with surrogate mothers made of wire or cloth. He would raise infant monkeys in isolation chambers for up to 24 months. These chambers he affectionately referred to as “pits of despair”.
Oh, yeah. Harlow wasn't really into using technical lingo to disguise some of the uglier aspects of his studies. Euphemisms are for wimps, apparently. If Harry Harlow wanted to torment a monkey's mother, he'd put her in a device called “the Iron Maiden”. If he wanted to force two monkeys to copulate, he'd put them on something he called “the rape rack”.
It is said that Harry Harlow was responsible for giving rise to the Animal Liberation Movement. It’s easy to see why.
I guess Harlow’s science was sound since he won a number of awards and was the president of the American Psychological Association from 1958-1959. And I have no idea how weird he was in his personal life. Maybe he had his own teddy bear shrine in his basement and sang odes to Cthulu while playing badminton all alone and naked in the rain. Then again, maybe not.
Either way, Harry Harlow was not going to make it onto my weirdo list. Why? Dude tortured monkeys. That’s why.
Anton Levay (1930-1997)
Ever heard of Mephistopheles? That's the Devil to you. Bald. Dark goatee. Eeeeevil stare. Yeah. Anton Levay certainly looked the part. He was a founder of the Church of Satan, so he'd better. He was a celebrity in West Coast circles for a time during the 1960s and 1970s after he wrote the Satanic Bible, which laid out the main principles and rituals of Satanism. Known as the “Black Pope”, it was his deep knowledge of the occult and literate defense of our carnal natures as well as his flair for anything demonic that gave him his fiendish charisma and his church staying power.
If you need more proof that Anton Levay was a weirdo, look to his sleeping companions: baby lions. He claimed he also slept with a young Marilyn Monroe, which curiously no one other than Levay seemed to be able to corroborate. A big part of Levay's weirdness was his pathological lack of scruples when it came to building the Anton Levay legend. Almost everything he ever said about himself was a lie.
2) Played oboe in the San Francisco Ballet orchestra? Well, was there ever even a…
3) Was San Francisco's City Organist until 1966? But San Francisco never had aâ€¦
4) Learned of the Dark Arts from his Transylvanian Gypsy grandmother? Do you actually expect me to buyâ€¦
5) Served as a technical advisor on the set of Rosemary's Baby? But his name is not printed on theâ€¦
6) Was a multimillionaire? Oh, yeah. Right!
So Levay weird? Yes. Levay great? Absolutely not. Quite the opposite, actually. Levay claimed to be an animal lover, yet he abused and neglected his pets. He claimed to be a loving family man, yet it is said he abused his wives and children. By the late 1970s it is said he was living off of handouts from his father and friends. And despite Levay's claims of a multitude of followers, the Church of Satan under his leadership never exceeded 300 members. Read more about the Anton Levay “legend” here. No way we sully the weirdos list with one such as this.
Next up, Part 10: The final weirdo post. Here we’ll provide a list of the living who may one day make it on this list. Also we'll discuss two final weirdos. One spanned both centuries but belongs more in the 19th and the 20th. The other was as great as he was weird but was too notorious to celebrate on the list. Hope you tune in.