Inside An Upper West Side Sex Cult: The Sullivanians

A new book about an infamous psychosexual sex cult based on the Upper West Side was recently published. Entitled “Happy As Larry: A New York Story of Cults, Crushes and Quaaludes”, the New York Post discussed the book with author Kaethe Cherney, who examines The Sullivanians and the impact they had on her early years.

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The “group” was founded as the Sullivan Institute in 1957 by Saul B. Newton and his wife, Dr. Jane Pearce. They occupied three buildings on the Upper West Side including 2643 Broadway (at 100th Street), in addition to buildings on 98th and 106th Streets. Their purpose, or at least one of them, was to provide an alternative to the traditional family, which they believed was the root of all social anxiety.

That was the beginning of the end [of the family]. It was the first major fault line” Kaethe told the post.

It was back when [the Upper West Side] didn’t feel safe. Mom . . . wanted to be my friend more than my mother. I didn’t feel protected.”

Members were encouraged to engage in loose sexual relationships, while being discouraged from forming exclusive and meaningful ones.

If a child were born to Sullivanians, they were sent away to boarding school or given to caretakers. Parents who belonged to this group very rarely saw their own kids.

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The group had about 500 members at its peak in the 1970s, and ended in 1991 when Newton passed away.

Here’s a description of the new book, along with a link below.

After her beloved father suddenly dies, teenage Saskia gets a crash course in growing up, in the gritty glamour of 1970s New York. Her downwardly mobile family move from Gramercy Park to the seedy Upper West Side. Her mother becomes increasingly nihilistic and embarks on a sexual walkabout, which costs her the trust of Saskia’s two older siblings, who consequently run away to join the Sullivanians, a predatory psychosexual cult. Ex-communicated by her siblings, Saskia becomes her mom’s mom. High school becomes all about getting high at school, as Saskia struggles with grieving, hapless crushes, fixing her family, and the desire to be loved. This witty, heartbreaking, but ultimately affirming coming-of-age novel doubles as a love letter to a Manhattan of an edgier era, and speaks to the chaos of closure and the satisfaction of self-determination.

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