Chucky Rising and birth of Synanon Foundation, Inc.

Chucky Rising and birth of Synanon Foundation, Inc.

by Paul Morantz
(C) 2009

Once Upon a Time there was born a King

He was born March 22, l913 in a small middle American town of Toledo, Ohio, marked and parted by the flowing Maumee River, the largest river feeding into the Great Lakes, and parked at the southwest extremity of Lake Erie.

The Maumee valley was first explored by the French in 1615, claimed by King Louis XIV of France in 1669, possessed by the British in 1763 following the French and Indian Wars and yielded to the U.S. in 1783. In 1795 the Indians, after years of fighting colonists, soldiers and fur trappers, relinquished rights to The Firelands to the US. as well. 1,700 troops defended the land against the British in the War of 1812. In 1835 Ohio and Michigan clashed over unclear boundaries each side setting up its militia to defend its contended borders. With President Jackson’s aid, a satisfactory division solved the dispute with a condition of Michigan joining the Union in 1836. Toledo was chartered as an Ohio city the following year. Some believed its name was suggested by Washington Irving, who in 1820 penned Rip Van Winkle and Legend of Sleepy Hollow, then living in Toledo, Spain and writing to his brother living at the town along the mouth of the Maumee.

Now at his birth the city had grown to a small middle class rural community in the process of transition to downtown industrialization. Its population hung around 200,000, its largest segment being German immigrants and their descendants.

It was one year after the sinking of the Titanic and one year before the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, pulling Europe into World War I. In the United States the 20th Century was still in its innocent teens, an era of blossoming science rapidly transforming society. Americans were bonding in pride, enthusiastic over their future and potential for prosperity, not joining the war for another four years. The Great Depression was sixteen years away and unforeseen.

He was given the name of his father and his father’s father–Charles Edwin Dederich–now the III–as if indeed he had been born royalty. Everything appeared in place for a proper childhood. The family was upper middle class with a conservative Roman Catholic background. Charles, II, of typical Toledo German heritage, was from a wealthy family while his mother, born Agnes Countz, half Irish and a quarter each French and German, was raised in a suitable convent and had taken her music education onto the concert stage. She had learned to live graciously, something Chuck, as the newborn was called, would seek to emulate some 60 years later.

But there were problems. Charles, II, despite his family pedigree was only a sporadic provider, drifting through a variety of insurance sales and promotion jobs, never truly succeeding. He liked play better than work, a conflict with the demands of a quick growing family, two more sons in four years. Rather than succumbing to responsibility Charles sought escape. As a result, while he and Agnes flirted with the town’s elite–the aristocracy– Charles II lack of achievement prevented total acceptance.

And then in l917 tragedy struck, one that would ripple through time for the next seven decades impacting many thousands of lives, including even my own although I was not to be born for still another 28 years. It was an accident familiar today but at that time a product of a then infantile industry.


The quest for the horseless carriage ironically grew out of the need to prevent pollution. A typical horse dropped 30 pounds of dung a day and by 1890 approximately 15,000 dead horses fell annually on the streets of New York alone.

In 1879 Germany’s Karl Benz constructed a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. Seizing on the idea, two brothers from Peoria, Illinois, Frank and Charles Duryea, produced a gasoline-powered vehicle in 1893. At the time the new invention didn’t yet seem capable of great carnage, its pioneer trip lasting only 200 feet and halted by a six-inch dirt mound.

Two years later, Frank Duryea won the Race of the Century in l895 covering a 54 mile course at an average speed of 5 mph. By the next year the Duryeas mass produced 13 «automobiles» –a French word–giving birth to a new industry. Ransom Olds established the Olds Motor Vehicle in 1897, its 1901 one cylinder Runabout reaching a top speed of 20 mph and David Buick, from Scotland, founded the Buick Motor Car Company in Detroit in 1902, his racer Louis Chevrolet, an European, later introducing his own line. In 1903, Henry Leland, with an improved motor, produced the first Cadillac.

But the big event had come on the morning of June 14, 1896 at 58 Bagley Street in Detroit when Henry Ford, a son of Irish immigrants who left his family’s farm in Dearborn, Michigan at age 16 for Detroit, smashed open with an ax the brick wall on his rented garage to let out his first gas-powered car, built too big to fit through the door. The “Quadricycle,” as it was called, also had a top speed of 20 mph and led to the formation of the Ford Motor Company in 1903, Dodge brothers, John and Horace, supplying engines.

That one could die as a result of these inventions was a concept not lost on the city of Detroit as it posted a speed limit of eight miles per hour around City Hall. But “cars” as we would ultimately call them considered speed as progress. In 1904 Ford produced the two-cylinder Model-A and in 1908 the four-cylinder Model-T whose engine could produce 20 horsepower. In 1913 Ford developed assembly-line techniques, with only one color option–black, bringing the price down for the Tin Lizzie by 1915 to $440.00, ending the status of a Rich man’s toys as described by President Woodrow Wilson. By 1914 10 percent of America’s urban households had them. Auto sales for the year 1920 would top two million.

Toledo was well into the act. Its Willys-Overland Company in 1915 became second only to Ford in automobile production. The Ohio Electric Company produced the first electric car in 1909.

By l909 automobile development had resulted in toys that were indeed quite dangerous. Race cars had reached speeds of 100 mph and spectators at tracks without sufficient fencing were sometimes killed by autos not so mechanically sound and drivers not as skilled as they are today. By 1917 street cars could do about 40 mph but were rarely driven beyond 20-25 mph. Chuck would later say, “Getting killed back then in an automobile was not an easy feat.”

But he was wrong. The roads were mainly dirt and many with pits and mud. Congress did not pass the Federal Road Act until l916 and not until 1919 would a young Army Major, Dwight D. Eisenhower, connect the needs for paving roads with national security. Steering and control were not as today, there were no mandatory seat belts, present safety equipment nor modern day driver training. In l917 9,630 died in auto accidents. In the first year the statistic was kept, 1921, 24.1 persons died for each 100 million miles totally driven. In l998, in contrast, while 41,471 died in traffic collisions there were far more people and vehicles, the fatality rate per 100 millions miles of auto travel being just 1.6.

Thus on October 6, l917, whatever the speed was, it turned out to be too fast for Charles, II, then working in real estate sales and driving his car in Sandinsky County. He made it back to the Jackson Hotel in Fremont where he died in a room from his injuries. At the time it was also assumed as a catalyst for the accident the fact the senior Dederich had been driving drunk with another woman.

It became another statistic concerning another issue, alcohol consumption. In 1918, perhaps one year too late for Chuck, Sr., his state, Ohio, the birthplace of both the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in 1874 and the Anti-Saloon League in l883, became the first state to enact a prohibition against alcohol law despite its many German-American Brewers. The nation followed suit that same year with the Eighteenth Amendment, making it illegal to manufacture or distribute alcohol.

But by then at the impossible age of four the status of family head had already fallen upon Chuck, III. It was a role, as expected, that bred insecurity in a child who by nature needed care, not the giving of it.

The accident left Agnes, then 30, in the plight of a widowed mother of three. As she was child-like and herself needing support, she took it from her oldest son, often waking him in the middle of the night from needed sleep for kitchen snacks and small talk. She had Chuck acting part husband, part brother and part best friend. Chuck loved her and the favoritism dearly. But the role also brought burdens–duties to help with his brothers, look after them, be the man of he house. He was called upon to bypass early childhood and take adult responsibilities. Chuck was feeling both uncomfortable and inadequate with the obligations, precipitating a possessiveness of his mother. He felt inside a failure at being the husband-like or a father-like figure at such an early age and some part of him simply gave up these duties. Agnes couldn’t see it that it was an impossible role for Chuck to at an age so young.

Chuck never knew real discipline. Corporal punishment was non-existent, something he would later blame for the plight of his youth. With her husband gone, Agnes spoiled Chuck greatly. Exulted in her eyes, he could do no wrong and to him neither could she. Their relationship, she told him, was special, he was special and would, of course, do special things. He liked hearing it, particularly at night when they shared their private time together. Agnes raised him showering him with much love–what Chuck far into the future would refer to as a mother’s unconditional love–what he would then call an obstacle to healthy growth.

Acting the little adult, Chuck at times got the attention of others impressed by his assumption of duties. Family and friends all had great expectations for him and let him know it, several commenting he might make a good priest.

The boy, of course, needed and searched for a male role model, wadding through tales of family history–particularly stories of men–he loved to listen to for hours, although not all his ancestors made appropriate archetypes. On his mother’s side, his great grandfather, born in Alsace-Lorraine, became a town drunk in a small Ohio village. But his son was another story. At age 15, he ran off to the Civil War where he won the Congressional Medal of Honor, getting his leg shot off on the way to a prestigious career as the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic.

His other grandfather had been quite wealthy and a drinker, too, without the medals or glory to ascend above it. He nightly joined fellow revelers at the Toledo Club, tossing their glasses in the Old Bavarian style into the fireplace. After his grandfather’s wife died in childbirth, his next wife turned him from his old family and succeeded in getting him to cut his daughter-in-law Agnes out of his will. It was hardly an act of fatherly love, something Chuck experienced little of and as a consequence would have difficulty giving.

Agnes received a life insurance payment of $50,000 for Charles, II death, a rather nice sum back then leading Chuck to speculate his father had premonitions of his own death. Her brother helped invest it but still the loss of the expected inheritance forced her return to the concert stage and to commence teaching music. Chuck admired his mother’s career but hated the separation it caused.

It was at age eight that the second family tragedy occurred. Medicine had not yet approached mastering influenza, a disease at the time more apt to kill then the existing automobiles. The flu epidemic that year wiped out 2.5 million lives, including Chuck’s youngest brother. When it happened Chuck was at an age where children are generally egocentric often mistakenly believing they have control over events. For Chuck this tendency was exacerbated by his parental function to his brothers. As a result he felt extreme guilt and failure in his role as surrogate father. He wanted out of that guise and commenced distancing himself from his remaining brother William in order to prevent another similar occurrence.

To Agnes Chuck was still the man of the house and as such Chuck made an early entry into the labor force at age 10, peddling Saturday Evening Posts on a local corner.

But tragedy for Chuck alone came again, as if revisiting every four years, striking him at the age of 12, further cementing the future that would occur.

Agnes remarried.


Archie Gardner, 45, could have been perceived as the answer to the family prayers. He was the town’s most eligible bachelor for the timeless reason of wealth. A construction engineer, the Gardner family built the first fire proof building in Toledo in l893 and the Gardner Building which stood six stories. At first, in fact, Gardner impressed Chuck with his big touring car and sedan. Then he became rigid ruling the family.

Worse, Chuck decided Archie had stolen his girl.

He had never had to share his mother’s love before. He hadn’t felt jealous of his younger brother Bill as he always knew he was No. 1. Now it seemed he was replaced. His feelings of inadequacy gave way to those of failure and he suffered withdrawals from the loss of all the unconditional love. Six weeks after the wedding Archie and Chuck engaged in what Chuck would later say was a “total war.”

Chuck reacted, thinking Archie was sick, suspecting him still a pitiful virgin when he married his mother. He despised everything about him, demonstrating by rebellion. Archie was righteous, religious and rigorous, a conservative and Republican. So Chuck became a Democrat, a socialist, an atheist and a rebel rouser.

Chuck had liked the arts. He hung out with theater-lovers, all adoring Noel Coward. Sometimes he and his friends would gather and listen to classical music. Once he and a friend made a movie in Toledo, a chase film, but it was horrible. But now rather than emulate Archie, Chuck turned to imitation of the real father he had really never known. A teenager, he drank and partied, roaring over the countryside with fellow travelers, never bored, raising as much hell as he possibly could. To replace his lost monopoly of his mother he chased women. The times invited it. Prohibition may have made making drinking illegal but it also made it excessively popular, ushering in the Jazz age in the 1920’s. Americans were responding to and fondly engaging in a new morality. It was a period of drink, dance and pleasure, fueled by a soaring stock market. The nation’s total realized income would rise to 74.3 billion in 1923 and on to 89 billion by 1929. The Black Bottom, the Charleston and Speakeasies were in.

But Chuck’s actions at times made him feel guilty, particularly as he nursed long hangovers. He was in conflict with his early religious training, the taboos against premarital sex, becoming at times solemn, remembering those who commented on his intelligence, his seemingly extraordinary capabilities and sometimes saintly mannerisms, wondering if he was wasting it all. But by nightfall he would drown his concerns.

Chuck operated well on liquor, discovering eating vast quantities of food, something he learned to enjoy from his mother, offset alcohol’s effects allowing him to keep his senses, even if gorging was steadily putting weight on him; an “eating drunk,” he would later reminisce. Agnes and Chuck’s special moments continued. From eighteen and even through his short college career, Agnes would wait for him sometimes to come home, sleeping or reading in Chuck’s bed, not Archie’s, scrambling eggs on Chuck’s return and talking with him into the morning early hours. She never was angered, her love seemingly without diminution, even when her son reappeared, as Chuck would later describe it, quite looped.

Nor did drinking diminish his ability to ponder the world passing by. At night, in town, despite the induced haze, he inspected and recorded his surroundings, what he liked and what he disliked. He saw bigotry, hotels where the only black (they were called Negroes then) that could register was a proven servant, clubs that would not allow Jews. This was Archie’s world. A man whom he despised and wanted more than anything to surpass. He knew all he saw would change someday; he daydreamed about transforming it and how he would do it.

He dabbled a bit in attending Communist meetings as nothing else could be further from Archie’s ideals. A lot of young people at that time were giving it a look. By 1919 the Communist movement was sweeping through Europe even though it had no success in overthrowing any government. Chuck was exposed to new ideas. The Communists pursued putting political power in the proletariat, independent of any nationalities or separate governments and sought to abolish the concept of private property by converting it all to the common benefit of all. At meetings, Chuck also learned of proposals of the State replacing the family unit and of an educational system politically dominated.


Then seemingly over night, without real warning, the good times ended thrusting society into panic and upheaval. On October 24, 1929–Black Tuesday–the stock market crashed, ending the Roaring Twenties and bringing in poverty and breadlines. During the 1920’s there had become a tremendous inequality of wealth distribution as the result of the successful growth of the automobile industry, construction, steel, oil and other booming industries. Funds necessary to match needs for goods were slowly being siphoned from the middle class. The public, still confident in the later part of the decade, engaged in extensive stock market speculation, the combination of all ending in the worst economic slump ever in U.S. history. These current events made socialist theoreticians look like tooth slayers.

In desperate times, desperate people take desperate measures and now radical solutions were being sought. Popular crusades arose. And with it crime. Chuck recorded and assimilated how others of the times tried to bring about change and/or control, some using means not as good as the ends sought. He, along with the entire nation, learned of the affect of fear when Chicago mobsters in 1929 grabbed national headlines as hoods dressed as policemen luring seven of George “Bugsy” Moran’s gang into a garage on St. Valentine’s day, then massacring them all.

And Chuck, alone, stood across the Maumee from an auto strike and beheld what appeared to be bombs–red explosions in the sky–hearing the rat-tat-tat of machine guns firing in the distance, unions making a finer world for workers.


In 1931, in New York the world’s tallest building, The Empire State Building, opened with most of its office space vacant as the depression still ravaged, Chuck Dederich graduated from a Jesuit school, St. Johns, and entered a Catholic University located in South Bend, Indiana, Notre Dame, famous for its football teams turned out by a coach named Knute Rockne.

He struck up a friendship at South Bend with a highly educated forty-five year old Irish priest, a proctor on his floor, the only father figure he would ever have, meeting with him for many private talks. Chuck wanted this man’s respect and told of how his family and friends had said he had the makings of a priest. The proctor was Irish, worldly and liberal. Chuck enjoyed the philosophical dialogue they shared but the priest couldn’t rid him of his inner demons. Nor could the priest talk Chuck out of drinking, occasional use of marijuana nor encourage him in school. Chuck felt bored—later calling it a “mind-numbing boredom”–often wondering if teaching could be done in a more interesting, better and easier way, a daydream much later he would put into action.

After a year and a-half Chuck flunked out of Notre Dame, severing the relationship with the amiable cleric who imagined he had seen something in the young boy. Feeling he had again let people down, Chuck entered Toledo University in l933. After one year there, he quit.

Archie took him in and gave him a job but that terminated the only way it could–swiftly. Chuck next tried an automobile plant, Libby Owens Ford, and then in 1934, at the age of 22, Gulf Oil hired him where he was employed as a traveling sales representative and at various Junior executive jobs over the next nine years.

It was the ideal place to learn big business and Chuck would later claim it was the single biggest factor in his ultimate success.

William Larimer Mellon founded Gulf Oil in l901 after an oil discovery in Spindle Top, Texas at a time when the country’s primary commercial fuel was coal. But in just two years the age of mechanization had arrived, particularly the development of automotive technology. Gasoline was needed to make the motorcar develop and evolve, to go far faster than the one Charles, II drove to his death. Gulf scored big by developing the world’s first drive-in service stations, furnishing complimentary Gulf road maps and providing water drilling at Ferry Lake. During World War I it provided the military with tanker fleets. In 1928 it marketed Gulfpride- a motor oil. By the early 1930s, Gulf had become a major U.S. corporation.

At Gulf Chuck’s potential began to show. He also picked up the type of education not necessarily found in colleges. He learned the politics of big corporations, about chains of command–who had power and who did not. He spied those on top who could delegate work while lunching and golfing at exclusive clubs. His efficiency as a salesman led the company to use him as a trainer and supervisor in the sales force. He enjoyed being a teacher. It gave him feelings of self respect.

A year later, l935, 22 year old Chuck married Chilnessa Mc Keon, a secretary at Gulf Oil. It was a choice fitting his rebel style. Chilnessa was a divorcee and in those days such a marriage by a Catholic boy caused quite a stir. Chuck liked the controversy, the way it created him an image, a trait that would follow throughout his life. He did love her greatly and in no time they had a child, Charles Dederich, Jr., fourth in line to bear that name.

Despite the marriage and family, Chuck’s patterns remained fixed, little within changing. At first he just drank moderately. But feelings of inadequacy in the husband/parent role as a child persisted as an adult. That part of him that gave up back then still functioned. He often felt bored, knew something was gnawing at his insides, as he slipped out some evenings to join his camaraderie for drinking and partying. That, too, came with his promotion job at Gulf. As he knew no bonds with his own father no bonds formed with his son that could reign him in. He lived the life his father did, and then some, he and his friends turning weekend carousing into an art form, complete with occasional nude affairs. Chuck wasn’t good looking, his face like a puggish bulldog, his body swelling from all the food to rebut the booze, but he had a charisma, a voice and some style. He could attract in the ways of unattractive stars of his time –Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson—by style and image. The extracurricular activities made a holocaust of his marriage and his work at Gulf Oil slacked off.

The festivities adjourned temporally when he was needed again by his mother. Archie had gone into an involuntary depression. Hardly broken up about it, Chuck moved his mother, his family and his younger brother’s family all under a single roof, reassuming his prior patriarchal role. He was a tribal chief, or as he would say “king of the mountain,” even having power over Archie, setting the rules and handling the economy of all. It was an experiment in communal living, each pitching in to share costs of goods and services to bring costs down.

Five years later, Archie died.


Chuck did not mourn. Nor did the great battle end with Gardner’s death. As Dederich explained many years later to the admirers gathered around, he still had to do something important and “get my girl back from that rich, famous bachelor who married her.” That he had not yet found what that something constituted was eating him up inside.

The thirties, with its economic devastation, saw a world-wide rise in totalitarianism. In 1934 guerrilla fighter Mao Tse-tung rescued the Communist movement in China from eradication and in 1936 Joseph Stalin launched his first massive terror on the Soviet population, arresting and executing millions. In Germany, a youth movement became watchdogs of their parents and an entire nation followed the dictates of one man. In 1938 that man, Adolf Hitler, rode triumphantly into his homeland, Austria, without having to fire a shot. On September 1, 1939 Germany invaded Poland and France while Great Britain decided to fight back, declaring war on Germany.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, l941 brought America into this second patriotic World War in which approximately one Trillion dollars would be spent and 55 million people would die, 25 million military and 30 million civilian. Five million Jews would perish and in the USSR more than 20 million were killed. In one historic 200 day clash 2 million pawns of totalitarian titans Stalin and Hitler died. Stalin, as had Zulu warriors before him, had platoons of prisoners charge Nazi forces in order that his military troops could judge the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses from a distance. All proof of power of destructive cults.


Following the attack on the Hawaiian naval base, Chuck received good news and bad news all emanating from his right ear. The upside was the ear was infected severe enough to keep him out of military service. But by 1942 the downside had become seriously evident. From the infection he developed meningitis that necessitated a mastoid operation. For days he lied unconscious in a coma, doctors warning he might die. Agnes was beside herself. She had lost two husbands and now was in danger of losing a second son to an illness medicine could not yet combat.

Fortunately, she heard talk of a new miracle drug–first observed to destroy bacteria by Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming in 1928–that might save him. Still in its early stages it was difficult to obtain, had not been widely used and Agnes’ utilized every bit of her remaining social influence to obtain it. The drug, called Penicillin, saved Chuck’s life.

But when Dederich awoke from his long coma he was different. No longer could he hear sounds from the right. Looking in the mirror he saw a face partly paralyzed, his right eye hung low locked in a permanent droop, as did the right corner of his mouth. It made his features look out of place, tilted lopsided to the right and down. A spasm/tick of the right facial muscle pulsated every few seconds, accenting when he spoke, making him, if one wished, an almost involuntary prototype for a new villain Two Face in the early Batman comic books. For a short while he was cross-eyed, so he dawned an eye-patch but that failed to change his conviction that he was being stared at. What vanity he had was mashed, his insecurities pitched to new summits. He also claimed to have developed a black hole in his memory. There were things from earlier days, particularly unpleasant things, he said, that seemed to have just vanished from his mind. Some thirty six years into the future he would proclaim this unusual amnesia phenomena happened again.

The deformities so anguished Chuck that at times he felt void of all feelings. He felt terrorized; often fearing a prompt death. So he dealt with it the way he always had will all pain, the way his father had, and his father’s father. He drank.

Approaching the half-way mark of the 20th century the world was changing dramatically. On May 7, l945 Germany surrendered to Allied forces after Hitler committed suicide in his bunker a week earlier. Two Atom bomb explosions. before and in same month I was born, on August 6 on Hiroshima and August 9 on Nagasaki led Japan to also announce its surrender. But celebration eventually gave way to fears of the Nuclear Age and Communism. Winston Churchill warned of the formation of an “Iron Curtain” dividing Europe.

Back home Americans returned to industry. In l946 Harvard developers introduced the ENIAC–electronic numerical integrator and computer–a massive machine capable of 4,500 calculations per second and in l948 Bell Telephone Laboratories developed the transistor, a powerful electrode technology that made miniaturization of electronics like computers, radios and TV’s possible.

By then Chuck had left Maumee. After seven years of marriage Chilnessa had enough. While she didn’t want to be a twice divorcee in an era that compared such status to a scarlet letter, she also didn’t want to wait for an auto accident as Agnes had. And Chuck had little interest in being a father, not having experienced fatherhood much from either end.

As with many men, then and today, it was only when tossed out on his rear (sometimes he would say he had walked out) that Chuck realized just how much he really loved Chilnessa. For the second time in his life he felt abandoned by the woman he loved. And, of course, he did on this repeated occasion what he did on the first.

This time the drinking sank to a deeper abyss. In l943 Gulf Oil fired him leaving Chuck broken, tired and without ambition. Now with no wife, no child-Dad bonds, he focused on fantasies, boosted by mixing booze with bennies, of a life heard of on the West Coast where people lived lazily as beach bums. He decided that might be a diversion, a change of environment that might rejuvenate. Why have anymore mid-American winters? In California, it was said, there was sunshine all year round.

Chuck’s first step was the hardest as it always is when one tries to turn a daydream into reality. His act of certitude came when he purchased a pick-up truck and a trailer. Now he had to go. In l944 he pointed his vehicle west and took off, doubts multiplying each mile of the way. Despite the purchase, he initially had to pay for overnight motels until he finally figured out how to open the trailer. “What am I doing? Running away? …I have a family…What am I really going to do on the West Coast?”

When he reached Las Vegas he knew he didn’t have that far to go. It was as if he could smell the saltwater beyond. And then suddenly he turned and headed back for Toledo. He could make it work again. He had taken charge before. His mother was still there. He could take care of her again. People needed him. But the loss of his wife hurt. Deeply. When he got to Kansas City he whirled west again, this time straight through to Santa Monica, California.

He was now in the county where I was born the year the war ended.


He got his dream, living as a vagabond on the beach, sleeping in his trailer. But he wasn’t exactly a surfer nor did he pick up the beach lingo. Doing nothing wasn’t as rewarding as he thought. He found it could make him more tired than hard work. He looked for employment, shifting from a few odd jobs, including caddying and sales, until he found full time work at Douglas Aircraft, first in the tool crib keeping track of tools and then as a journeyman tool and model maker. Considering his trouble opening his new trailer, making things with his hands was a new challenge. And once again, Dederich was able to observe big business first hand.

Donald Willis Douglas founded the Davis Douglas Company on July 22, 1920 having decided after World War I that the future of the airplane was transporting people and cargo in unconfined highways of the sky. His first product was the Cloudster, a wood, wire and doped-cloth biplane powered by a 400 hp Liberty engine, surplus from World War I, ordered by a wealthy sportsman, David R. Davis. From this came the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1928. By the 1950s it was a leader in aerospace, ultimately merging with McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in 1967.

For Chuck, working there gave him a dose of pride again. He began a new life in 1948, moving into a new home with a new wife, Ruth Jason, who like his former was employed as a secretary. Marrying Ruth, like it was with divorcee Chilnessa, was also rebellious in nature. Chuck, the would-be-priest and stepson to conservative Catholic Archie Gardner, married a Jew. He cared for her, became dependent on her, but never really loved her.

Chuck moved up at Douglas, learning, as he did at Gulf, more business skills. He transferred to bookkeeping, liaison work and eventually returned to an area he had excelled at Gulf Oil, the occupation of his less successful father, marketing and sales. Chuck was a good talker and a better salesman, skills he had confidence in.

In 1950, five years after I was born, Ruth bore Chuck a second child, this time a girl–Cecilia Jason Dederich– nicknamed Jady. The times seem suited for Chuck to make good on his second attempt as a husband and father. The 50’s was a period filled with promise and money to spend saved from the war. Despite fears of a world-ending nuclear holocaust and engagement in conventional warfare with the Communists in Korea from l950 to l953, exposing the West to Eastern thought reform systems, people were optimistic and living a good life. These were romantic times. Dance jazz/swing bands of the l940’s moved into Concert Halls as large orchestras, led by the innovations of band leader Stan Kenton.

Significantly, this was an era that promoted family values. Television, the newest thing, brought into homes images of a happy, content and idolized lifestyle centering on the domestic unit. The Nelson family–Ozzie and Harriet — debuted in l952 and Robert Young in Father Knows Best followed in l954. But despite these role models fatherhood still eluded Chuck as if to so engage would bring back the specter of his deceased brother. Children held no interest, a trait extending to Chuck’s later years when hundreds of children at a time would come under his charge. He couldn’t relate to what he never was or knew or was afraid to be.

Ruth, too, was a problem. She was pretty, intelligent, efficient, but very controlling, the later a trait not suitable to Chuck. He had finally come to recognize the rebound element, that he really wished he was still with Chilnessa. And so he returned to other familiar elements, spending his time at bars and his money on booze.

In l951 he was arrested for public drunkenness during a police Christmas sweep-up. Chuck was placed on two years probation and fined $250.00. But that was of little consequence as compared to what happened the next year.


In 1952 Agnes Countz Dederich passed away. Chuck returned to Toledo with his new family and at a lonely grave paid his last respects to the woman who was once his life. At the funeral services he got roaring drunk and his family and friends avoided him. He stayed around Toledo long enough to pick up a $15,000.00 inheritance and then returned to Santa Monica.

Before leaving he saw Chilnessa again, which was difficult. He also reunited with his son Chuck, Jr. Left without a father figure, as his father before him, Chuck, Jr. had been a problem to Chilnessa. It was agreed Chuck, Jr. would give living with his father out west a chance but the experiment didn’t last long. After nine months Chuck, Jr. left for the army. No bond had developed and when Chuck, Jr. left he did not keep in contact with his father.

Chuck continued to drink, but now not just at bars. Often he took a bottle into his room, alone, away from his wife and daughter, listening to the sounds of classical German composers-a-Wagner, Beethoven–on his record player. When he went out he loved to party. And once again the drinking cost him his job. Like Agnes, when Charles II died, Ruth was forced to work. She still wanted the marriage and at her insistence Chuck went to see a doctor who told him to quit drinking or he would die. Chuck listened and then went straight to a local pub.

There were more changes in the 50’s. Elvis Presley paid $4 at Sun Studios to record in 1954 and two years later released Heartbreak Hotel. Rock and roll arrived and was here to stay. In l955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man and was arrested, triggering a bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., and bringing Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement to prominence. The Soviet Union in l957, one year after its tanks put down a rebellion in Hungary, launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. In l959 Texas Instruments engineers invented the microchip, a silicon chip that can house an integrated circuit, paving the way for micro-processing and the future personal computer revolution.

But Chuck’s life continued to remain a constant. He spent little time in the role of father or husband but was instead withdrawn into the spirits world. He was a flamboyant drunk who later bragged of this time period that after a few drinks he could “Out-Orson Orson Wells.” Ruth threatened to end their marriage if he didn’t get help. But Chuck resisted. He could be a good talker and would sooth her anger. “I’m just a social drinker, he told her. I can handle it…the food absorbs it… I don’t stagger around.” But in l953 his drinking led to Ruth calling Alcoholics Anonymous for help. A sponsor came to offer assistance but Chuck refused. He celebrated Thanksgiving in l955 by crashing on the floor after a string of stingers with his holiday meal.

And as it was for the first, the magic number of years for the second marriage again concluded at seven. It was the second time Chuck lost a wife, the third time he felt a woman’s rejection. He would feel such loss once more twenty-one years later deciding then upon a cure, a notion he would then describe as emotional surgery on couples to prevent what everyone had thought was inevitable pain from all relationships ultimate ending.

The end came, or as some might say, the beginning, in the spring of l956 when Chuck, now 43, went on his biggest binge. Nothing in his past had compared to it. It lasted a month and during this period for the first time he stopped eating. He lost his job and his money was depleted. What friends he had abandoned ship. And so did Ruth. A decision that would, unfortunately, lead for her to an early tragic death.

The catapult to her departure was finding Chuck on the floor, eyeballs bursting and hallucinating, a condition he later likened to as a “gibbering idiot.” Neighbors got him to a doctor who shot him with thorazine and pumped him up with vitamins in order to hold off the DT’s. To her credit, Ruth did not ask Chuck to leave until he was sufficiently sobered up. She took the big step in calling Alcoholics Anonymous. Coincidentally, the sponsor who returned the call was the same who had offered Chuck help three years earlier but was turned down. This time he wasn’t. He nursed Chuck through four horrible days of dry heaving. On the fifth day he told Chuck to come out with him that evening, they were going to a special place–Alcoholics Anonymous.

I was eleven at the time.


At the turn of the 20th Century, an American, Frank Buckman, from Pennsylvania, felt he had slighted a friend in England but received such a catharsis in writing an apology letter that he commenced the Oxford Group, an evangelic society at a local YMCA in Britain. People gathered there to unburden themselves by confessing their real and imagined slights of each other. It spread to America where it found two members, Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith.

Wilson grew up in a quarry town in Vermont, raised in the family Wilson Hotel where everyone had access to the bar. By age 10 his hard-drinking father took off for Canada and his mother for Boston, leaving him with sickly grandparents on his mother’s side. He took to drinking as a soldier and then to celebrate his success on Wall Street. In 1918 he and his newly married wife, Lois Burnham, toured the country by motorcycle. But the days of wine and roses ultimately took him down. By 1933 he was as impoverished as the country, sometimes panhandling for cash. After being an alcoholic for 17 years, and during his fourth incarceration in Manhattan’s Town’s Hospital in l934, he had a spiritual awakening, a flash of white light–what he called a liberating awareness of God. During this time of the then state-of-the-art cure–purge and puke–mixing barbiturates with belladonna, he read Carl Jung and William James’ Variety of Religious Experiences, an argument to place religious exeperience above science, even if the religious founder is mentally ill. He also dwelt upon phrases thrown out at past Oxford Group meetings he had attended. Five months sober, he was again tempted after a business deal fell through. Standing across from the bar at the Mayflower Hotel he suddenly realized he could save himself if instead of drinking he involved himself in convincing someone else not to drink. He reached Dr. Smith, who reluctantly agreed to talk but for no more than 15 minutes. Instead, their meeting on June 10, l925 lasted into the night, the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Burnham family house on Clinton Street became a meeting place. Wilson wrote down principles for sobriety and Dr. Smith edited them from his home in Akron. They told alcoholics to spread the word. A four hundred paged book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was released but as it didn’t sell well Wilson tried to make a living as a wire-rope salesman. AA had about a hundred members then, but many were still drinking. In 1939, a bank foreclosed on the Burnham house and Wilson and his wife became homeless, staying at various friends, once living above an AA temporary clubhouse on 24th Street in Manhattan.

The first break came in l940 when an impressed John D. Rockefeller Jr, of Standard Oil, held an AA dinner and set up a trust to support the organization. In what turned out to be a stroke of incomparable foresight, Rockefeller made a decision that alone may have led to AA’s survival. He limited the trust to provide Wilson with no more than $30.00 a week. Anymore, Rockefeller wisely thought, might corrupt AA.

The second break came in 1941 when the Saturday Evening Post published an article on AA. Attendance doubled, then tripled. In Twelve Traditions, Wilson set down bylaws that would endure. He concentrated on individual freedom, confidentiality and privacy. To encourage participation names of members would not be given out. The 12 steps included admission of powerlessness, learning of morals, repairing past wrongs and a surrender to one’s personal God, whatever or whomever that deity might be. AA influenced the American Medical Association to classify alcoholism as a chronic disease, not a failure of willpower. Most importantly Wilson followed Rockefeller’s wisdom, prohibiting by rule any accumulation of power or money. No member could contribute more than $1,000.00.

Wilson liked to think of himself as pupil rather than teacher and stayed within AA’s concept on anonymity–referring to himself as Bill W–, refusing money for counseling, turning down publicity, rewards and titles such as an honorary degree from Yale. He declined to be on the cover of Time.

In l952, Wilson moved into a modest home–Stepping Stones–in Bedford, N.Y. In 1955 at a convention in St. Louis he ended any temptation to power by turning over the leadership to a General Service Board. AA would have no sole leaders in its future.

Wilson moved to Miami in l971 for treatment of pneumonia and emphysema, the result of another addiction that strangely seemed harder to shake than alcohol–smoking. There he died, leaving behind an organization with more than 2 million members in 150 countries, still following his informal structure. The process has been copied to other Anonymous programs dealing with over eating, gambling, sex and any current vice trends. He was named in l999 by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential men of the 20th century. One man, who actively sought to be on that list–Charles Dederich–would take a lot from AA, but unfortunately it did not include Rockefeller’s premonitions nor Wilson’s frugality–and he would have loved to have been on the cover of Time.


On May 4, l956 Charles Edwin Dederich, III, entered the sphere of AA, an organization without rules or entry requirements–not even the giving of a last name. He was brought to the Beverly Hills Stag Group. Filled with veterans and newcomers, it had been holding such AA meetings for many years in the prosperous city. His sponsor propped Chuck, still lingering from his binge, up near a door next to a speaker’ stand where he stood like a slouched mannequin. The sponsor put a shaker of ice water in Chuck’s hands. It was as close as Chuck, feeling utterly friendless and alienated, could be placed near the bathroom.

“Hi….my name is John B. and I’m an alcoholic.”

“Hi, John,” boomed the crowd in unity. Dederich listened as John B. told the common tale of rebounding after alcohol led a once promising life into depravity. He spoke of many current clean days without drink and of his recovery. There was we-understand-laughter and applause. Others took their turn, telling similar tales with similar affect. Chuck gazed at it, intently listening with his one good ear. What he surveyed appealed to his inner salesman. He made many trips to the john, where as he would later re-tell, he heaved and did everything else from every bodily orifice. Then, without introduction, Chuck leaped to his feet and rushed to the podium and harangued the audience, breaking into what he recounted as some kind of religious diatribe. Instead of rebuked, the crowd appeared to admire him. Chuck went on about his life, adding comical remarks, receiving laughter and applause seemingly as addicting as liquor.

He didn’t exactly understand what was going on or what he was doing. Part of him remained totally out of it while another part burned up with excitement. He continued rattling his stuff, discovering his speaking voice as he went.

“I was getting drunk every night,” he bellowed, «… and taking a lot of pills …you know… to… pills to get up with and pills to stay smart with during the day and then pills to go to sleep at night… and …and…congesting copious quantities of a mixture that I had invented–vodka with Vin Rose Wine. I’d always push it down with something to eat.”

He cried, something he had developed into a fine art, and everybody dried a tear, clapped and laughed. When it was over people came forward proudly slapping Chuck on the back, some so hard he thought in his condition, as he would later tell would-be-historians, they almost “damn near killed me.”

Chuck hadn’t had much exposure to people the previous three years. His behavior during drinking had alienated his friends, his wife’s friends, those at work. People didn’t visit. But these AA people were enjoying him, treating him as a hero. He later would say he released that day a “tremendous amount of verbiage bottled up.” He told his sponsor, “This is for me. I love it.” Then his sponsor, normally a gentle and soft-spoken fellow, looked him in the eye and brought him back down to earth.

“Fatso,” he said, “It better be for you. If you don’t go to a meeting every goddamn day, you’ll die. But fast. ”

Unlike he had with the doctor who had spouted similar warnings, this time Dederich listened and did just that. For the next 18 months he was an AA zealot spouting off as he would say on his “adventures with Demon Rum.” Every day during lunch and after work, he ran to AA as if life depended on it. He went twice each Saturday and Sunday. The nearest recovery house was on 26th street in Santa Monica. In the evenings he would travel to one or more of the 300 some AA meeting going on in Los Angeles each week wherever and whatever could be provided– church basements, hotel lobbies, hospital conference rooms, school gyms.

He made progress reports once a week but enjoyed more doing his stand-up routine at each meeting, working on his act, something one day long after he described to his personal archivist as “sounding off on the Bible, the Talmud, cybernetics or any topic at hand.” He would arrive early and wait, often being the first to speak and would keep going for hours, sometimes going all night unless stopped. He learned subject wasn’t as important as delivery.

He became an AA True Believer and exemplified the AA slogan: “it doesn’t take much of a man to make this program, it takes all of him.” He pushed the norms; a zealot even to the point his welcome sometimes grew sparse. He pontificated, particularly at the Beverly Hills location, going through what he later referred to as his “junior psychiatrist” stage where he would lecture his betters–old-timers and aging actors like Kent Taylor of Boston Whitey fame who had been attending for 14 years. They grimaced at his never-ending efforts to be the star, hoping like all newcomer fanatics he would burn out. Eventually a few old timers told him to “shut up or get lost.” Chuck couldn’t shut up and they had to admit he was a good speaker, so AA started sending him to outside audiences to give lectures on AA and alcoholism.

Chuck lived AA; breathing it, sleeping it. For six weeks he was firmly convinced this was his life; he would never again have a job nor other friends. He believed his women adventures were over and he would never again marry, nor have a girl friend. He was sure of this and his new dedication.

But changing direction was his nature. It would always be that way. When he found employment 21 blocks from the AA house on 26th Street and Broadway in Santa Monica, which made half-hour lunching at AA feasible he took it. It also made easy early evening arrival at AA after work ended at 4 p.m. He could sit at AA for awhile then go home, heat up a can of chili, take a bath and return to AA. For the second time he took a job with his hands, this time as a pattern-maker, and for the second time with an aero-physics company, Curtiss-Wright.


It was Chuck’s third exposure to a corporate conglomerate. The Curtiss-Wright Corporation was founded in 1929 by the merger of the Wright Aeronautical Corporation, begun in 1909, and the Curtiss Airplane and Motor Company, started in 1911. The former evolved from inventor brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright first successful powered flight — Kitty Hawk– in North Carolina on Dec. 17, 1903, which gave birth to the aviation industry. Glenn Hammond Curtiss, like the Wright brothers, was self taught and of little formal education. A motorcycle racer who built his own engines, his work caught the eye of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell at the New York City Auto Show in 1906. Dr. Bell, then 60 years of age, had switched interest from telephones to airplanes. Curtiss joined Bell’s Aerial Experiment Association in October of 1907 winning instant fame flying in aviation competition. When he started his own company, he and the Wright brothers became bitter rivals facing each other in court battles where the Wright brothers claimed Curtiss stole their patents. They resolved the case by merging.

The Mellons, Douglas, Wright Brothers, and Curtiss were all individuals who had made their dreams come true. They were heroes Chuck envied. The Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of their time. Working at their companies had taught Chuck a lot, particularly how to advance through use of internal politics. Chuck would even later claim if he hadn’t worked at Gulf Oil he would never have succeeded in the building of his empire. And when he did many of those corporate families he had envied would both revere and support him.

As expected from anyone who had difficulty opening his trailer, Dederich had not been the greatest model or tool maker, although two decades later he would decree all must whittle–hobby lobby–with their hands as he and done and was doing. In the Spring of 1957, with a little politicking, Chuck got Curtiss-Wright to transfer him to a better job, sort of an office expediter-errand boy, with his own desk, at one of its companies, the Aerophysics Development Company in Goleta, just outside Santa Barbara. Curtiss-Wright was building a big plant there and was currently operating out of anything it could get a hold of, old houses, warehouses, store fronts, a style Chuck would learn from. He drove out there in a 12-year old Oldsmobile he had picked up for $60.00. He was relieved when he found the local AA and spent his spare time on AA activities, attending meetings, dining with fellow alcoholics and dropping in at the house during company errand runs between business locations.

Then as summer approached, panic set in.


Chuck was sweating and he didn’t understand why. He was terrified and he didn’t know of what. He had been that way since he woke up. He couldn’t leave his motel room, suddenly phobic of the streets, a feeling of impending trepidation. He stayed curled up in bed like a frightened child, playing hooky from work without choice. He felt claustrophobic as he sometimes had experienced as a child. When he finally dressed and went out it was to go directly to what he felt was the safe house, the nearby Santa Barbara AA parlor. He sat on its steps until it opened at 9 a.m. For the entire week he didn’t report to work, going instead to the center and staying until it closed at eleven p.m. To eat, he asked other AA members to go out and get bread and baloney for sandwiches and canned foods that he heated up on the center stove.

Chuck slept at night at a nearby motel. He was extremely anxious, filled with dread. He was afraid to unpack his suitcases or boxes, placing whatever he used back inside instead of putting clothing or items in dressers, closets or the bathroom. Except to go to the AA Center he would not leave his room. Early childhoods fears of confinement resurfaced. One night, sleepless, seeking refuge from the week-long apprehension, searching for just anything to do, he went through his belongings to take account of what he had. Or as he thought, how little he had. What he found amongst his clutter was something that had long been there but also long forgotten. It would change the course of his life and become a building block; something to him as significant as Jung and James had been to Bill Wilson. Ironically, it had belonged to Archie Gardner, a gift his step-father had received when he graduated MIT in 1902.

What he relocated was a beautifully calf-bound copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, illuminated in large ornate print, on Self-Reliance. Emerson, born May 25 1803 in Boston and attended Harvard Divinity School, kept a journal most of his life and published Self-Reliance in 1841. The essay message was avoid conformity. Each of us has a piece of God inside and we should therefore rely on our own thinking and instincts. Be true to your own inborn religion; “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” The essay would lead to a phrase that would rule pop culture over a century later: “Do your own thing.”

Chuck had read the essay twice before. Once as a kid in school and the other when he joined AA. He had always been impressed with it but thought more than anything it was just Emerson showing off his genius with words, hardly anything practical. After a few days, when he had nothing to do, he took it out and read it. Now it appeared different…a real truth… “profundities that drip out of every page,” he would say, its prose-poetry thundering like a personal letter from Emerson to himself, to one Charles Edwin Dederich, III. A manual on repairing human beings as a mechanic might have for a car.

After Dederich read the passages he read them again. He read them sometimes as often as ten times a day. Suddenly, for reasons as unknown to Chuck as its arrival, the dread and panic disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. He took the pamphlet with him when he finally returned to his office and stuck it in his desk. When he left he carried it with him. His first clean birthday– Alcoholics Anonymous annually celebrates the day each member stopped drinking– came but he didn’t tell anyone, remaining silent as if he had a big secret. And once more he decided he no longer needed a job to survive. The enjoyment of work had vanished the day he was no longer a salesman or merchandiser. That type of work had been, he thought, the Dederich family tradition. He gave Curtiss-Wright two weeks notice. His employers had no hard feelings and wished him well.

Excited over what laid ahead, Chuck upgraded to a newer Oldsmobile, this one only four years old. He put $1,000.00 down on it and in June of l957 headed back to Santa Monica and his AA comrades. He had with him the handbook on life. He would teach Emerson to drunks.

After buying the car he had $200.00 left. He used $110.00 of it to rent an apartment in Santa Monica north of Wiltshire, the more elite portion of Santa Monica. He rolled up his sleeves and went looking for fellow alcoholics to help. Bill Wilson had been right. This was the best way to stay sober. He spent time at the AA center taking the 12 step calls. He, in his own words, “jerked drunks off barstools and yanked them out of their homes.” He felt this was better, doing more than those at AA who like himself once had only contributed by giving fancy scientific, spiritual and humorous speeches. Chuck attended hospital wards, stood at the mouths of jails, gave away his clothes, helped clean up apartments, took away alcohol and induced vomiting. He would later brag, “I lost 4 sets of teeth down my toilet and so on. We did this all whether they liked it or not.”

Once sober each alcoholic was taught the Twelve Steps. Chuck felt most drank to escape their miserable lives so unless they were given a philosophy of life sobering them up wasn’t necessarily a favor. Some he said would just live horrible sober lives and would have been “happily drunk or happily dead if I’d left them alone.” As to others he helped, one way Chuck found to instill purpose was to organize them into a crew to aid others.

Money was still a problem. Unlike other alcoholics he never slept a day outside, always had a meal, but at the same time he was drifting, living as he said, “hand-to-mouth.” Dederich went to work for a dryer, Joe Asky, down in the Wilshire district of Los Angeles. This occupation, now extinct, was an unusual predecessor to the headhunter profession. After drying out an alcoholic they waited for him on next payday to grab part of his job money. For Chuck’s services, the dryer took care of his room and board. This was not easy work and Chuck lasted only ten days.

He had no choice but to once again surrender and give it a try as a toolmaker. But he was laid off in one week for lack of work. It was the last time he was to work for anyone. Money had to come another way. Some of the families of alcoholics he helped, hoping to free him to assist others, gave him a hand, slipping an occasional few bucks. But it wasn’t enough. His clothes were getting old and wearing out. He reasoned tomorrow is going to come, nothing we can do about it, so why think about it today. He was convinced it would all work out. It had to. He was doing good things.

But when tomorrow came, the bank repossessed his Olds and he was evicted from his apartment.

Without funds, Chuck worked for and slept at Twelve Steps House. Stories of what Chuck was trying to accomplish and his plight spread through the alcoholic community. He was finally rescued in July of l957 by a friend from the Santa Barbara AA chapter who got up a purse of $37.00 for Chuck. With it Chuck leased a room in Santa Monica for eight weeks. He put up drunks, taking donations to help with the rent, but the money ran out.

He hit rock bottom– a $7 room in an old flea bag motel down in Venice with a shared bath down the hall. He would walk from there about five miles to the AA house on 26th Street in Santa Monica, over an hour’s journey by foot. One night on the way to an AA meeting he ran into a guy he had sobered up a few months ago only to relapse. He had recently spent 30 days in the drunk tank and when he saw Chuck he put out the arm for a handout. “What the hell?” Chuck thought and reached into his pocket. But all that came out was two pennies. It then sunk in that was all the money he had left. Not much to lose. “I’ll share with you,” Chuck smirked and handed him one penny. Chuck flipped his remaining coin in the air, stuck it back in his pocket, laughing as he continued on his way to the AA Center, believing as always that it would emerge.

That evening at AA, a woman, showing up after dropping her husband off at the airport for a business trip to New York, approached Chuck over his living situation. She occasionally housed alcoholics herself and knew if she took Chuck in he would help her help others. She drove him to Venice to get his suitcase and cardboard box. On the way she explained how unemployment insurance worked and the next day she took him by the hand down to the office, got in line with him and helped him with the forms. Chuck stayed at her home for two weeks along with a group of other up-to-a-year sober AA members until his first $33.00 unemployment check arrived. Then he borrowed her car, went down to Ocean Park, a then seedy area connecting Venice and Santa Monica, and rented a small room for $50 a month payable in bi-weekly installments. It had a kitchen, bathroom and living room. A Murphy bed slid out in the kitchen for sleeping, covering the entire floor. Often he gave up the bed to crashing alcoholics who had no place to stay, Chuck having them fork over whatever little money each had, finding his own space on frayed living room carpet.

When he had been a drunk Chuck had never really lived in slums. Ironically, now that he was sober he was there, yet he was partly attracted to what he called the “wild side.” Dope addicts and alcoholic vagabonds. He had never known people like this…People who on the spur of a moment did what they want…took off for Mardi Gras…loaded most of the time.

They were interested in him, too. Chuck was increasingly becoming folklore. A guy willing to try anything to stop alcoholism.


On August 28, 1957, just after I turned 12, Chuck proved just how far he really would go. A couple of UCLA professors showed up at an AA chapter and asked for volunteers for an experiment with a new drug that the tests conductors–Dr Keith Ditman and Dr. Sidney Cohen– hoped might help alcoholics by providing a substitute high without addiction. The tests were funded by the National Institute for Mental Health. Ditman, a USC medical school graduate and Beverly Hill physician, was head of the Alcoholism Research Clinic at UCLA. He was at the beginning of a career as a research psychiatrist, which would span from 1956 to 1971 wherein he would publish over 65 articles. Both Ditman and Cohen were part of an intellectual group, which included philosophers Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley, that had begun using this new drug at social gatherings. Its use in the 1950’s had not been wide spread, being dispensed to mainly movie stars and Hollywood moguls on psychiatrist couches. It was also used by the CIA in its clandestine MK-ULTRA operation, testing it on unknowing public to find out its capacities for brainwashing.

For Chuck being one of five volunteers was part altruism, part curiosity. The idea of experimentation appealed to him, always had and always would. He liked the idea of being part of a new discovery, something that changes something else. He felt that way since he was a boy walking along the Maumee. He figured doctors wouldn’t be doing this if the drug could be real harmful. He had earlier offered himself as a guinea pig, swallowing several belts of medical alcohol while wired to an electro-encephalograph.

This particular hallucinogen itself would gain far more popularity in the 60’s–even become a household word–when a prominent psychologist, Timothy Leary, took experiments with it in a different direction at Harvard, deciding to turn on an entire generation to an era of Dropping Out. The new drug, of course, was identified by three simple letters, L-S-D, and the number 25. It was a pure form obtained from the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Co.

The Ditman-Cohen experiment was a failure and ultimately disbanded. A few volunteers had psychotic episodes and all but Dederich returned to drinking even though they had been dry at the time of the experiment.

But Dederich, personally, felt it was a success. The second and third time he took the drug it had actually been disappointing, of little consequence. Comparable, he thought, to downing about six martinis. But the first time…on that first drop…it had happened. An experience, he would say, looking back, “changed my whole life.”

Up to this point Chuck had experienced few feelings of love. There had been his mother and Chilnessa but the rest was a drunken murk. But following that first plunge he experienced what he later compared to being schizophrenic, reliving six vivid childhood scenes, moments long forgotten. He remembered and regretted an incident of drunkenly lashing out at his son, Chuck, Jr. He cried uncontrollably for several days. He had been unable to cry before. The emotions were intense. He watched himself in the mirror, sloppily eating, a swine in action.

“I feel very alive, as I had when I was 25,” he told the testers three months after the first drop. He had feelings of omnipotence and omniscience, a sense of confidence he never before had experienced was suddenly liberated. He felt reborn as psychic defenses and barriers dissolved, a process when he would become more expert in psychology he would call dissipation. His trip, he would then declare, had altered his life, bringing him into contact with a cosmic consciousness. By the time of those comments he had begun his own experimenting with emotional and environment manipulations trying to recreate the purgation for others.

Chuck envisioned during this altered state of consciousness the nature of things–a melting of polars; all the same time significant and insignificant. He perceived a nature of reality and a new ability to observe all sides of a single phenomena. He knew he had insights others lacked; the contradictions in up and down and good and bad dissolved. He needed to share and found a receptacle in a UCLA lab technician who dabbled in sociological/religious studies. During breaks at the UCLA probe of LSD, they had many philosophical discussions. A UCLA psychology professor referred Chuck to Eastern philosophies, most notably Zen, teachings of which Chuck believed paralleled his new experience.

Dederich took $4.00 of his last $5.00 and bought a book of Zen Sutras.


Chuck would state his ideas became “balanced” by his acid trip, that what he was to build in the near future was not a descendant of AA but a resulting mutation. The LSD experience had led him to the library where he got a card and began reading…Lao Tse, Emerson, Thoreau, Freud, St. Thomas, B. F. Skinner, Alan Watts and others. He wanted to do this alone non-stop for at least a year. To lay horizontally in his room, day and night, studying philosophy and psychology. The unemployment insurance was scheduled for six months with a possible three-month extension. When that would end he figured something else would emerge.

He also read an article in Cosmopolitan discussing changes that would come out of the 20th Century such as a universal credit card that would replace money. Also listed was the idea of a cheap and effective psychoanalysis. Dederich thought better would be an autonomous mechanism that would clean up neuroses developed by a complicated culture.

But of his readings during this period, Henry David Thoreau and Burrhus Frederic Skinner may have been more influential than Emerson.

Born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau became a student and friend of Emerson’s in 1837 and lived in a small house on the shore of Walden Pond on Emerson’s property from 1845-47. His experiences were published in the book Walden’s Pond on August 9, 1854. Therein he wrote ”the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and described the alternative of living simply in the beauty of nature amongst forest and meadows. Schools, he stated, teach what students will never use, a waste of precious time when one could instead learn how his bread is made. People meet at the post-office and at the sociable, but never learn mutual respect.

Thoreau wrote of the fitness of working with one’s hands. Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged?

“…I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house, standing in a golden age, of enduring materials…, which shall still consist of only one room… where some may live in the fireplace, some in the recess of a window … a house which you have got into when you have opened the outside door, and the ceremony is over; … where you can see all the treasures of the house at one view…”

During his time at Walden in 1846 Massachusetts voted to return escaped slaves back to the south. Thoreau objected and refused to pay taxes. Massachusetts sent him to jail; but, to his annoyance, one of his aunts paid his tax and he was released the next morning. It led to his writing of civil disobedience, advocating disobedience of unjust laws. If one advances in the direction of his dreams, Thoreau wrote, he will meet with unexpected success, will pass an invisible boundary, new laws will establish around him and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. Those who build “castles in the air,” he stated, should then put the “foundations” under them.

Skinner, born in a small railroad town in Susquehanna, Pa. on March 20, 1904, while at Harvard University, inspired by Bertrand Russell’s articles on behaviorism, developed the Skinner box, a controlled environment for studying the behavior of organisms. In l948 he wrote Walden Two, a novel of life in a utopian community created on his principles of social engineering which allowed 1,000 individuals to live the most meaningful and fulfilling life possible.

In Walden 2 there is no democracy; society is run by behavioral engineers. The belief is that the more successful the planners the more people will do what they are intended to do: living productive and contented lives. When things don’t work right, it is because people are “voting” against a certain social arrangement by not cooperating. At the same time, every member has a direct channel through which he may protest to the Managers or even the Planners. There is no money and everyone consumes the goods based on labor credits, each expected to contribute 4 labor credits a day. The educational system is based on freedom and self-motivation without regimented classrooms or threats of bad grades, the desire to learn solely arising from curiosity. Students are taught the methodology of learning and then set loose.

The novel’s main character is Frazier, the originator of Walden 2. He claims to know what “conditions” are necessary to stimulate a renaissance in great culture. The other central characters are two college professors: Burris who understands what Walden 2 has to offer but is reluctant to make the leap and Professor Castle who sees Walden 2 as evil and Frazier as some sort of dictator.

They have a running dialogue. Frazier says, “Why do we have such a strong tendency to resist the concept of behavioral engineering? Do we really have free will?.. Suppose you suddenly found it possible to control the behavior of men as you wished… My question is, have you the courage to take up and wield the science of behavior for the good of mankind? …The philosopher in search of a rational basis for deciding what is good has always reminded me of the centipede trying to decide how to walk. Simply go ahead and walk! We all know what’s good, until we stop to think about it. For example, is there any doubt that health is better than sickness?”

In the story’s end, Burris stays at Walden 2 while Castle, still convinced of the evilness of Walden 2, returns to teaching.

Skinner entertained the notion of starting a utopian community based upon behaviorist principles between the years 1955 and 1965, parallelling Dederich’s period of rising and even got as far as consulting an architect to plan the physical dimensions of one. But when asked, in 1979, after the failure of Dedederich and Jim Jones who tried, why he never followed through on his earlier intentions to start a community, or even joining an existing one, he said: “I’d have to get a divorce right away…My wife doesn’t believe in community.”


At AA meetings, post his LSD experience Chuck still handled calls, but the meetings became less attractive. AA’s religious overtones turned boring compared to his new interest in anthropology, psychology, philosophy and sociology. He reduced his attendance to two meetings a week, then one and finally stopped altogether.

His life became a simple routine, but one that was very fixed, what he later supposed was a ”harbinger” of the rigidity he would establish. He walked everywhere, not wasting dimes on buses. He would walk to get his unemployment check, cashing it at a local market where he picked up a few groceries. He cooked different soups on his stove, snacked on candy bars. On hand always were instant coffee and Camel cigarettes for him and guests dropping by for small talk or to borrow a book. He spent time at the library and stopped by the AA center, although this later, too, decreased.

It was a life far different than memories of growing up with his mother, certainly far from the life he twice had in marriage. Drunk, he had always been cared for. Sober, he was now alone and poor. His cooking utensils were courtesy Salvation Army. Decoration was limited to the surrounding books. Simple things still remained difficult, like doing laundry in the bathtub. He was not a natural at cleaning but did his best, an effort that would lead to ultimately to a command of immaculateness from others.

His goal of a year of solitude reading ended with a simple knock on his door. Chuck assumed it was just one of his AA buddies dropping by for coffee, smoke and some gab. But it wasn’t. When he opened the door there stood a telephone serviceman to disconnect and take back the telephone for non-payment. These were pre-purchased phones days; they were instead rented from the phone company. It took a moment for the shock to settle in both men. For a while they just stood, speechless and gawked at each other. Chuck finally broke the ice, asking his son, Dede, now out of the service, living in the valley portion of Los Angeles, a repairman, to enter.

It was an odd reunion. Chuck knew his son felt embarrassed at his purpose and put him at ease. “Sure, take out the phone,” he said. ”I don’t really have any use for it. Not like it rings a lot, anyway.”

But Chuck, Jr. had other ideas. He had looked around, horrified by the environment. He had memories of his father’s drinking, but not of such poverty. “You can’t live this way,,” he said. “And everyone needs a telephone…I’ll just hook it up and take it out in my name, which is yours, anyway.” Whatever the past, Chuck, Jr. thought, he was still his father. And while they really didn’t know each other–alcohol stopped that–now he wasn’t drinking. He inquired shyly to make sure. And once assured Chuck, Jr. volunteered to help with rent as well. Chuck was touched, felt a bond. Now that his child was grown up, an adult, they could relate. Gradually, they became friends.

Chuck also made an observation. His son had become a man without the benefit of an adjusted caring father. Military discipline, he concluded, had done the job on his son, straightening him out. Chuck, Jr. had finished high school in the army and had a learned trade.

The phone became of immediate value. People called wanting to see how he was and what he was doing. Mainly they wanted to come by and talk. Chuck started spending less time at the library. It was time to distribute his new knowledge. He felt he knew something and wanted to transmit it. He felt he always had been a good teacher when he trained salesmen at Gulf Oil. By January of l958 visits to his apartment frequently turned into philosophical and psychological bull sessions. His room began to less resemble a library branch and more of a perpetual seminar. As many AA members had been to psychiatrists, they were eager to give back their deduced insights. The chatter often became psychoanalytic. For many it was a welcome change from AA’s “tea party talks” where every one congratulated each other for being sober. Instead each reprimanded the other for past and current destructive behavior. Chuck was known to explode whenever anyone said, “this was a bunch of bullshit.”

People looked forward to these gatherings and the meetings evolved into tri-weekly affairs. The early groups consisted of 8 to 12 people and lasted usually an hour. More and more AA members wanted in and soon the group size outgrew Chuck’s apartment. It required a bigger meeting place and they found refuge at a wealthy female divorcee’s house in Bel Air, an elite community built along Sunset Blvd just west of Beverly Hills. For the first meeting there Dederich made notes in red ink to the effect they would pursue a concept he took from Zen literature, “a line of inquiry with no line.” They would just see where the talk went. People followed the AA format of telling’s one story and anecdotes, but here the others could respond to it.

Chuck still remained the leader, using all the psychology terms he learned at the Santa Monica Library. The meetings became free association discussions without guidelines. Chuck loved the experience, tearing into everyone as if each ”had a tail.”

People who came to Chuck’s were always inviting someone new to tag along. One of such guests became Chuck’s first close male friend since the priest at Notre Dame. Chuck was always at unease in one-to-one encounters. He operated best in groups and Gray Thompson, mesmerized by a speech, saw Chuck performing in that light. Dederich, in turn, enjoyed Thomspson, especially the adoration he gave. They were a strange combination, two opposites attracted to the other.

Gray Thompson was everything Chuck was not and wanted to be. He was tall–six feet four–solid, good looking and despite his past love affair with alcohol he was always upbeat and full of endless vigor, a striking contrast to a moody 5 foot ten inch Dederich who along with his right-side facial paralysis had a short military style crew cut and 220 pounds, much of it now drooping over his trousers.

Dederich was giving an AA speech at a sheriff station’s in Malibu when Thomspson, as Dederich described, ”came at me like a huge dog…a Great Dane wanting to slobber all over me.” Thompson invited Dederich down to his pad at the beach. Each admired the other for what he lacked. Thompson was awestruck by an intellect he thought he could never obtain. Chuck never had such adulation, particularly from someone who had Thompson’s physical attributes and outlook. Thompson’s dedication transformed Dederich. It gave his already budding confidence a major encouragement and validation. A seal of approval. What they had in common was endless energy. They outlasted everyone at parties and called themselves Twin Falstaffs.

They became in a short time inseparable. At the beach Thompson would order people out of the Pacific because Dederich was going to take a swim. He would pat the sand before Dederich would lie down. Thompson took him to a clothing store and bought him a complete outfit that was later lost when a hype wore it and split. Chuck had started going back to Saturday night Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and Thompson, as a perfect John, the Baptist, parted a path into AA crowds for Dederich to walk. Chuck, still the rebel, loved to shock, loved the attention it got. Together Thompson and Dederich blew out AA moderators and took over meetings. They often entered AA meetings with a pair of what Dederich would describe as “good looking broads” which Thompson never had a hard time finding. Another reason Chuck kept him around. Dederich, himself, once went to an AA meeting with a nightclub cigarette girl still in her uniform. It didn’t go over to well.

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Behind the charm, Thompson had surprisingly deep hostilities. And at Chuck’s apartment he found for the first time in his life an outlet. At first the others were astonished when Thompson injected gutter talk and foul words into their talks. Chuck liked it, as he did almost anything that Thompson did. When Thompson’s vulgarity was questioned, Chuck backed him. “These are just words, “Chuck explained. “They can’t hurt.”

“Talk dirty and live clean,” Chuck told the group. Chuck then emulated Gray and the others emulated Chuck. Soon each tried to outdo the other. Street talk was in. “Alcoholics Anonymous,” Chuck later reminisced, “was born out of love. We were born out of hate. I think our theory works better.”

The meetings were loud and boisterous, something that came easy to drunks. Attack was the key and Chuck was the best at it. Ten to thirty people sat in a circle in chairs or on the floor, the focus moving from the behavior of one to another. Any subject, any character trait was open to attack. The AA taboos on discussing private behavior, such as sex, were tossed out as silly. When Chuck felt someone was lying or involved in self-deception, he waited, letting the mark finish, then, using the “rude truth,” he viciously tore the person apart, partly out of his own irritation, partly so he himself would not likewise be attacked, partly for the feeling of superiority it gave him. He yelled, ridiculed, swore and cursed, releasing, as he would claim, years of “bottled-up hostility.” The harder he attacked the more he was held in esteem. When he challenged one person’s behavior he found it could carom off and effect equally his audience. The group meetings were the highpoint of everyone’s week and within a couple of months the group size swelled to 30. Some took apartments–they were called pads” then–near Dederich’s.

From the start there could, of course, be no drinking. But no one minded. They were AA members and AA restricted drinking. But here they did something they didn’t do at AA. They freely revealed their inner selves to each other, not just their drunken exploits, stripping down to their most hidden, private and shameful moments of life; revealing to each other their most intimate and secret details, pitching into each other with newly discovered verbal surgical tools. Despite what appeared as viciousness, each regarded the other as a loving friend and trusted the personal attacks as having good intent. Whatever the hurt, the pain brought forth, it was believed such endurance would bring each to a better state. No one afterwards was to harbor anger over anything said. So each took turns confessing his or hers sins to the group.

At one point they tried a rotating moderator system, but after the third meeting Chuck took over again with rigid control, conducting each Monday, Wednesday and Friday affair. He was having a ball, throwing himself into terrible rages without restraint or criticism. It was for him a tremendous catharsis. He directed which way the group went, who was attacked, what ideas would be explored. “Who needs alcohol,” he said to the group. “Here we can get drunk with ideas.” Chuck’s outbursts, however, often exhausted him to the point of vomiting and by the end of the week’s third night he was some time’s ill.

Dederich became aware he had a small “cult” forming around him, led by Thompson. Some called his apartment the “clubhouse.” Chuck was the inquisitor, using confession, ridicule and cross-examination to change the thinking of his followers. He was a salesman once again. A powerful manipulator, controlling and developing the group philosophy. He told the group, “Some things might be right at one time and wrong on another. It depend on you know…you know…what you are trying to accomplish. And so on.” It was a philosophy he would always adhere to.

In May of 1958 Thompson brought around a friend, Whitey Walker, who had just been released from the penitentiary and was staying at an apartment nearby Chuck’s. Whitey was distinctly different from the others. He was not a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was not an alcoholic. He was into something else–drugs. He had done about 8 years big time plus stints in county jails and hospitals.

AA in those days looked down on drug users, not allowing them in, viewing them as hopeless and disruptive. Whitey appeared a good example of that rarely being clean for more than a day or two. Drug addicts could not hold a job. Not only were they still using, they were incurable, incapable of quitting. Far too many supported their habit by crime. AA feared if allowed in they would come to meetings high. Possibly rob or steal from members. Who would watch their cars? Their wallets? An alcoholic, on the other hand, was abstaining and usually working and maintaining a family life.

But Chuck, as a favor to Thompson, let Whitey hang around and participate. The first dope fiend. Synanon later adopted the word “fiend” instead of “addict” as better describing prior behavior. It infers an untrustworthy criminal for which no act is too low. He was a rat running up and down alleys stealing and jamming a needle in his arm. Passing out and then doing it all over again

That night Chuck ripped into him and Whitey and the lord of the street shriveled up and had what Chuck called an immediate “father transference.” Then surprise. Whitey stopped using. On the beach Whitey ran into some female addicts who had also been just released from jail. At first they didn’t believe Whitey when he said he wasn’t using, but he talked them in to coming over to Chuck’s and Dederich let them, too, join in. Like the hardcore AA attendees they moved to nearby apartments, starting what would be called the female wing. And they, too, like Whitey, stopped using and talked more addicts into coming around, all telling Chuck as to therapy, prison programs, hospitals, none of it works. Chuck thought they were real experts on addiction, knowing more than the so-called experts. The AA members who attended, newcomers and veterans, on the other hand, became uneasy over their presence.

Thompson had been spread the word as what was happening. And Thompson himself was a lure. He was a golden boy who could gallop along the beach like a stallion and swim in the waters like a seal. He was a tall statue of masculinity. In the army his bravery won many citations. Women, married or single, wanted him and with endless enthusiasm he did not deny many. Soon apartments had to be rented for the arriving addicts.

With the multitude of drugs addicts, the language became even more foul, assimilating phrases from the drug culture and criminal underworld. Sessions got nosier, the length extending sometimes to all night. Words got lost in heated arguments, screaming and loud record playing. ”Egos,” a member said, “were like oyster shells being cracked open.” Another claimed to be ”reborn.” “Street talk” was the vene and Dederich mastered it to break through thir “rationalizations.” By hyperolic and chest bating, Dederich concluded they learned self-worth and self respect.

By July it was becoming too big again, numbering about 30, and it was time for another move. They wanted and needed a place of their own. Some had moved in tightly at Chuck’s place. One member had a total disability pension and Dederich talked him into using it to rent as a club house a very old empty storefront located at 2801 Promenade in Ocean Park, near Chuck’s apartment located smack in the middle of the drug culture. As it was falling apart the rent was just $100 a month. So on July 14, l958, twenty-five members, calling Dederich ”Dad,” followed him there. They found some old mattresses tossed out as garbage to use for beds. Women shared an apartment near the back of the store. A few got apartments nearby. Chuck kept his. The idea was that the storefront would be a club, a fun house. The new neighbors were not pleased, complaining of the all night music, philosophizing and arguing that reached screaming pitches. Dederich paid them no mind and placed a sign in the storefront window declaring it the ”Tender Loving Care Club.”

It wasn’t the only attention-getter in what was regarded as a beach slum. Fourteen days later a 28 acre nautical theme park, Pacific Ocean Park, developed by CBS and the Los Angeles Turf Club (Santa Anita) opened nearby on the Ocean Park Pier to a crowd of 20,000 including Hollywood celebrities. The next day 37,262 attended and 1,190,000 visited in the first six months, including myself at age 12. After that it was downhill for P.O.P. The public became dismayed by the nearby streets littered with bums and winos who accosted customers for money. And just 45 miles away in Anaheim was another park hard to compete with, started in 1955, called Disneyland. P.O.P couldn’t pay its rent to the city of Santa Monica, was forced into bankruptcy and the park closed on October 6, 1967, a fact Dederich would call upon in his legal battles that year. By then Dederich’s club had long left Ocean Park for better places and higher ideals, leaving the vagabonds and street people behind.


It didn’t take long in the summer of l958 in Ocean Park for the TLC club to split into two factions. Chuck was excited that Whitey had been clean for three months but the AA people, as had AA, did not want the drug addicts, contending this was their club, an extension of AA, a place for them to have fun. Many of these people voiced condemnation of Dederich taking LSD.

And so it happened one night in mid-August at a Saturday night AA meeting at the 26th and Broadway location, the type of moment from which legends are born. Chuck attended, some now-non using dope fiends in tow. AA officials voiced their disapproval of their presence. They wanted them out.

Chuck became infuriated, calling it needless bigotry. They were small minded. In turn, Chuck was put to the choice–the AA members who had helped him and who had a common addiction or the addicts who needed him more, had no real alternatives and were dependent on him?

His answer, knowing this day was coming, had really already been made up. There were programs for alcoholics in California but none for druggies, except jail or mental hospitals like Camarillo where there treatment was lumped with the psychotic and schizophrenics. This could be ground-breaking. He harangued the AA members as shortsighted and in a perfect coup arrogantly took off, his addicts trailing him in cars, back to the Tender Loving Care Club. He would never return to Alcoholics Anonymous. To Chuck they had no vision, were financially tight and preoccupied with salvation, spiritualism and God. He wanted to run his group like a social scientist. Like Skinner would.

To his new followers, in Chuck’s words, “I became the champion of the addicts,” an alcoholic who turned his back on his own kind– “chucking them out” — for them, the drug users, supposedly lowest of all low life. On the streets the word further spread …this man was legit. A hope. Maybe a savior. Hospitals and doctors had failed, but Chuck Dederich was worth a try. The efforts of the addicts, however, were not always bonafide nor was there any real complete success. Hits of marijuana occurred on the beach and cough syrup with Terpin hydrate (a narcotic) passed hands. Some experimented with flea powder. Whitey and the girls he brought would eventually all leave and return to hardcore drugs. Most did not last more than three weeks before taking a fix. Each time one did, Chuck became irate, challenged, and gave the fiend hell, feeling they were children and should be treated as such.

The problem was that being a father wasn’t something he had a lot of experience at. But he was learning. He knew he had to have something to keep them there, buy time in hope they would grow. He tried to make the house fun by developing camaraderie and socialization. Sex was “all over the place,” as Chuck would say and he didn’t try to stop it. Whatever kept them. Chuck felt like a salesman again, calling his actions “merchandising,” selling himself to the club.

By the end of July Chuck felt he had something for sure. They were all, he told the club, on the vanguard of a major breakthrough and no one should become discouraged. Chuck himself felt he at last discovered a career. He could fulfill that promise everyone saw in him as a child. The priest. And he could finally be a father. He would dedicate himself to this as no one dedicated themselves to anything else.

Years later he confessed to a writer of his feelings at this time; that he wanted to be a big man, “to make history,” to build a “better mousetrap.”

“We had eight or ten addicts staying voluntarily drug free and you didn’t need much intelligence to connect that something good was going on. At that point, my search was over and my dedication began.”

“I guess I always wanted to be as good as the man my mother married when I was twelve…I never had made that before.” Prophetically, he added, “I knew it would end in either jail, death or success.”

For two months they struggled, Dederich being the one concentrating on making each month’s rent and getting food. Sometimes there was only enough food to prepare one meal.

What they were attempting to accomplish was noticed by some in the outer community. A few locals, including lawyers, became donors of time, goods and services to the club. Attorney Jim Kemper suggested they incorporate. Dederich gave the OK but Kemper reported back the name Tender Loving Care had been taken. A new name was needed. Gray Thompson came through and solved the problem, inadvertently.

Up until this time the group sessions had gone by several names. Sometimes it was simply the “discussion group;” sometimes it was called “symposiums” and on other occasions “seminars” depending on who was speaking. Thompson, with his boundless energy, often talked in over excitement and exaggerated speech that at times led to mumbling. He was in the bathroom when he told a newcomer to go over to the club house for a group commencement and inadvertently combined the two words and spit out something comparable to “syn-anars.”

Dederich and others laughed. Then Chuck thought about it. He liked the sound of it. Jim Kemper asked how it could be spelled. Chuck wrote it in the sand with various spellings, like “C-y-n-a-n-o-n.” But that suggested the word “cynical.” He tried “C-i-n-a-n-o-n” but it didn’t look right. He changed the “C” to an “S”, But the “S-i-n” could never do. So he substituted the “i” with a “y.” He liked it. “S-y-n-a-n-on.” For design he drew an above line capital “S” followed by a below line lowercase “y.”

The “anon” from Alcoholics Anonymous was at the end. It gave identification of purpose. People could argue over its meaning. Were they supposed to be synonymous with something? He thought it was a “tall word” and would look good on the side of a truck or on business stationary. Later, he would define it. The “syn” (putting together) and “anon” (the unknown). At the time he felt satisfied that it was a new word in the English language. Most surely it would be controversial and for Chuck that was paramount. He announced the name to his followers. Henceforth, their sessions would be called synanons with a small ”s.” The club would be called Synanon with a large ”S.” He boasted one day the word would be as popular as ”Coca-Cola.”

And so it was that on August 30, l958, two weeks after my thirteenth birthday, Synanon was founded. On September 18, 1958, Synanon Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization, dedicated to the fight against drug addiction, was officially incorporated in the State of California. A new sign was put on the door: “Synanon. Private Club. For Members Only.” Someone donated an old typewriter and $50 was anteed up for deposit in a corporate bank account, the first check written for gas and oil.

Camelot, some said, had finally arrived.