Laura Huxley: Widow of Aldous Huxley

Laura Archera, violinist, film editor and therapist: born Turin, Italy 2 November 1911; founder, Children, Our Ultimate Investment 1977; married 1956 Aldous Huxley (died 1963), (one adopted daughter); died Los Angeles 13 December 2007.

Laura Huxley, widow of the writer Aldous Huxley, was a frail, small-boned woman: her husband, with his lanky, elastic frame, seemed twice her height. Aldous married Laura in 1956 for, he said, her fragile beauty and darting, kingfisher mind. "You have the motor of a Thunderbird," he told her, "in the body of a Topolino" (literally "Little Mouse", it's the name of the smallest car in Italy).

Laura Huxley's house for the last 50-odd years stood below the first "O" in the fabled "HOLLYWOOD" sign in Los Angeles. The garden was a profusion of triffid-like foliage and Laura was often to be seen pruning the roses in a gigantic straw hat. Even into her nineties, she had impish wit. "Sadly, my body gets more and more like a Topolino," she said.

She was born Laura Archera in 1911, in the northern Italian city of Turin. In her early teens, she was a prodigy on the violin and gave her first concert in Turin before Queen Marie-Jos of Italy. In Paris, Laura studied under the Romanian composer George Enescu; in Berlin throughout the Thirties, she was a pupil of the violinist Carl Flesch.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Laura went to the United States. Her father, Felice Archera, was put under Fascist investigation during Italy's odious racial laws of 1938 (he had a Jewish mother). Laura was about to board ship in New York to return to Italy when Felice wired to instruct his daughter not to cross the Atlantic. She later wrote in her poignant memoir, This Timeless Moment (1968): "My father feared that I might be blown up by a misdirected torpedo."

Marooned in America, Laura Archera graduated to second violin in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But the career of a virtuoso became "life-devouring". In 1945, having befriended Virginia Pfeiffer, Ernest Hemingway's sister-in-law, Laura gave up the violin and, with her new companion, began to make 16mm films. She met Charlie Chaplin, John Huston, Orson Welles and was later assistant editor on Gabriel Pascal's Androcles and the Lion (1952).

Aldous Huxley had come to Hollywood with his first wife, Maria Nys, in 1937. He adapted Pride and Prejudice ("Pee and Pee") for the 1940 MGM classic with Laurence Olivier. Laura Archera met Huxley in 1948. She wanted to make a documentary about the Palio, the horse race run every year in the Tuscan town of Siena; Huston had told her that Huxley would be just the man to write the script.

Nothing came of the Palio documentary, but Huxley was keen to co-operate. Like Archera, he had been experimenting with psychotherapy techniques, the yogas of increased awareness, even L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics quackery. Maria Huxley was to die of cancer in February 1955; later that year, Laura guided Aldous Huxley on a mescalin trip. She had been always been interested in the neurological basis of hallucinations; Huxley himself had already reported his psychedelic experiences in The Doors of Perception (1954). On impulse, they decided to get married at a drive-in chapel in the Arizona desert.

It was a contented marriage. Disaster struck in May 1961 when a domestic fire broke out. Aldous managed to salvage the manuscript of his last novel, the proto-hippie Island; and Laura escaped with her 1705 Cremona violin, a childhood gift from her father. But letters from Bertrand Russell and an entire correspondence between Hemingway and Virginia Pfeiffer, together with records of Laura's violin dbut at Carnegie Hall, were devoured in the flames.

In the years between 1953 and 1963 Aldous Huxley had no more than 10 or 12 chemically induced psychedelic experiences. Laura regarded her own and her husband's consumption of psilocybin, mescalin and LSD as cautious self-experiment in the name of science. On the day Aldous died of cancer 22 November 1963 he asked for a dose of LSD to speed him on his way and Laura obliged.

Laura Huxley returned to Turin whenever she could, and saw old friends, but her undying concern was for the rights of children. In 1978 she founded Our Ultimate Investment, a bizarre organisation devoted to the health and spiritual nurturing of the unborn. She published pamphlets on pre-natal yoga, on how to "bond with your baby in utero".

Yet her You Are Not the Target (1963), one of the earliest books on self-help, was an admired bestseller in the Sixties. And her children's book, Oneadayreason to be Happy (1986), is an eccentric delight. She wrote numerous other manuals for psychological and spiritual growth. The most popular were Between Heaven and Earth (1976) and What We May Be (1984).

In spite of her many years in Hollywood, Laura Huxley did not take herself too seriously and never lost her mischievous wit; she was a woman of sterling virtues.

Ian Thomson