Charles Manson and Helter Skelter (’69)

By Summer ‘68, the Spahn Ranch saw very little Hollywood action, making it the perfect spot for Manson to set up his hedonistic commune. With very little dough to pay George for rent, Charlie and the blind man reached a sort of “gentlemen’s agreement”. The Manson family wives would have sex with Spahn and act as his personal slaves, so that the clan could stay for free. This level of beck and call intimacy is what led to Spahn bestowing the girls their scandalous nicknames: Patricia “Big Patty” Krenwinkel, Catherine “Gypsy” Share, Susan “Sexy Sadie” Atkins and, most notably, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. Squeaky became Spahn’s favorite, taking on the role of his “spouse” (her new moniker derived from the sounds she made when the old man touched her). It was Squeaky’s job to essentially act as a Ranch watchdog, making sure nobody got out of line, while providing George the most sexual favors.

Before they’d moved in with Spahn, the Manson Family had been living with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, who’d picked the girls up hitchhiking and then met Charlie, who treated the musician like a veritable bank (Wilson would at one point estimate the experience cost him $100,000, including a crashed $21,000 Mercedes). The troupe engaged in copious group sex, while Manson recorded music with Wilson’s band, much to musical mastermind Brian Wilson’s dismay. It’s during this time that Manson also met L.A. record producer Terry Melcher. The son of movie star Doris Day, Melcher manned the boards on Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn”, and played on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Manson’s bizarre charisma reportedly intrigued Melcher, and the two discussed recording a demo for the cult leader to take out to record companies in the hopes of getting signed.

By that Fall, Manson had penned a collection of songs on the Ranch, and the Beach Boys recorded “Cease to Exist” (which Dennis Wilson would later revise and rename “Never Learn Not To Love” for their album 20/20). The song would also appear as a B-Side on the Boys’ “Bluebirds Over the Mountain”, which placed on the charts, peaking at number sixty-one. However, Manson became enraged that Melcher hadn’t delivered on their supposed deal to cut a record together, and stormed his house on Cielo Drive, unaware that the producer had already vacated the premises. Instead, Charlie crashed a party being thrown by its latest resident: a beautiful actress named Sharon Tate.

Manson often described a race war he desired to incite using lyrics from the Beatles’ White Album and passages from the Biblical Book of Revelations. He called this chimerical vision “Helter Skelter” and predicted it would occur in the Summer of ’69. On July 1, 1969, Tex Watson – a family member living on the Spahn Ranch – planned to hustle black weed dealer Bernard “Lotsapoppa” Crowe, successfully scamming him out of $2500. After Crowe demanded his scratch back, Manson arranged a meeting at the connection’s apartment, and shot the man square in his chest. Though George Spahn would deny any knowledge of these events, the proof is rather apparent. “Helter Skelter” began on his run-down Movie Ranch, and would end on August 25, as ranch hand and former stunt man Donald “Shorty” Shea became the Family’s final victim, his body going undiscovered until 1977.

once upon a time in hollywood cast

Burt Reynolds and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (’19)

Long before he was cast in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, Burt Reynolds spent a solid amount of time on Western TV sets with his longtime stunt double-turned-director Hal Needham (Hooper [‘78]). While unconfirmed, it’s difficult not to speculate that the Gunsmoke (’55 – ’75) duo are at least partially the basis for Tarantino’s fictional compadres (and next-door neighbors to Sharon Tate): former Western TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his own stunt stand-in Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). While neither spent a significant amount of time on the Spahn Ranch, Reynolds and Needham shared a rather raucous bachelor pad together, as they were inseparable best friends. The Summer of ’69 is also just before Reynolds became a household name, thanks to breakout roles in Deliverance (’72) and White Lightning (’73).

Yet this is what marks the 82-year-old Reynolds’ casting as George Spahn so damn intriguing (beyond giving the brilliant movie star perhaps his final iconic character). With Burt, QT is creating a living reference to the era via a man who lived through it and knows how those sets and actors worked. Reynolds’ presence is proof that these stories still live and breathe amongst us, as those who were witnesses to the Manson’s decimation of peace and love (not to mention the decline of serialized Western programming) can still relay what it was like to exist at the dawn of New Hollywood.

If the rumors are true, Manson actually plays a very tiny part in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, as Tarantino is reportedly focusing on the individuals who hovered around this black hole, often without even knowing how dangerous his evil presence was on Los Angeles’ peripheral. Zeroing in on a Reynolds/Needham-style duo just trying to make their mark on entertainment history – all while bumping into Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski (who’s supposed to also be a significant character in the picture) – hints at the grand design QT may have in store for us come next August. During LA’s Summer of ’69, you could easily encounter Death Himself (or, in the case of George Spahn, become His literal landlord) while trying to make it big under the scorching California sun.

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