Having read easily in excess of a dozen books on Charles Manson over the years, plus viewing at least that number of films and documentaries about his life, not to mention the literally countless scads of magazine and news articles devoted to chronicling he and his followers’ brain-curdling exploits, I was content in the belief I knew everything there was to know about the the 20th century’s answer to Jack the Ripper.
How wrong that was. A book published last year by American journalist Ivor Davis to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the crimes known to the world as the Tate/LaBianca killings has dramatically and emphatically turned that belief on it’s head.
MEMBER OF THE FAMILY (HERE) written by Dianne Lake and published in 2018 was the last book I read from what may properly be referred to as the ‘Manson canon’. That book was such an insightful and gripping read, I made a pact with myself never to read another book on Manson that wasn’t penned by a person who was actually there and a member of Manson’s inner circle known as The Family.
That meant no more books by journalists, hangers-on, Manson-ologists, sideline commentators and self-appointed experts. God knows there’s been way too many of those over the years offering absolutely nothing new on the subject of Charles Manson and his band of devoted followers.
Back in August 1969, Ivor Davis was the U.S. correspondent for The London Times newspaper. He was among the throng of reporters gathered outside 10050 Cielo Drive, Los Angeles the day after the murders of actress Sharon Tate and four others hoping for any morsel of information shared from the attending police and detectives.
Davis not only wrote the second ever published book – FIVE TO DIE – on the case back in 1970, he also accompanied the Beatles on their 1964, 31 concert American tour (Manson claimed songs from the Beatles WHITE ALBUM foretold of a black/white race war that he would be the architect of).
He also personally interviewed Sharon Tate about her movie career prior to her murder and recorded interviews with John Lennon and Paul McCartney regarding their views on Manson’s twisted interpretation of their song lyrics.
In other words one would be hard-pressed to think of someone more consummately qualified than Davis – now aged 82 – to write the definitive journalist’s account of this unique and so very dark period of American history.
Among his new book’s many revelations are –
- Actor Steve McQueen once got into a fight with Charles Manson and broke the delusional Svengali’s nose
- Steve McQueen was en-route to Sharon Tate’s house the night of the murders to have dinner with Sharon and Roman Polanski but got sidetracked when he picked up a female hitchhiker. Instead he spent the night back at her house. For years, that close shave with death was known around Hollywood as McQueen’s GREAT ESCAPE (after the 1963 movie of the same name he starred in)
- Months before the killings Manson had a brief encounter with Sharon Tate at her Cielo Drive residence
- Singer Neil Young once gifted Manson a motorcycle
- A few weeks after the murders, Roman Polanski received a bill from his landlord Rudi Altobelli – from whom he and Sharon were renting the property at 10050 Cielo Drive – for $1500 for damage done to the property on the night of the murders. The expenses included replacement of blood-stained carpets, damage to drapes and repainting of walls that had been inscribed with messages written in the victims’ blood
- Bruce Lee was briefly considered a suspect in the Tate/LaBianca murders. Lee had coached Sharon Tate in martial arts for her role in the movie THE WRECKING CREW.
- In 1983, a company called GREY MATTER RECORDS released a 13 track album of Manson music titled CHARLES MANSON: LIVE AT SAN QUENTIN, recorded in and smuggled out of Vacaville Prison
- When he died in 2017, Manson had 8620 Twitter followers
- On the day he died – November 17th – the headline of The New York Post ran –
Interestingly, MANSON EXPOSED includes one of the few positive anecdotes I’ve read which paints Manson in what could be construed as a vaguely humanitarian light.
The story is recounted (page 201) that on the second night of murders, August 10, 1969, while driving around Benedict Canyon looking for a house to kill all the occupants of, Manson is said to have looked inside a home and remarked “Let’s drive on – there’s children in that house”.
Not something one might exactly include on a character reference but if your name happened to be Charlie Manson then I imagine anything that could be even remotely mistaken for a charitable comment might be welcome.
The real game-changer however, delivered to me from reading Ivor Davis’s book, concerned Charles Manson’s thwarted music career.
A number of books and sources over the decades have offered the motive for the murder of Sharon Tate and the four other victims at 10050 Cielo Drive on the night of August 9, 1969 as being a mistaken, tragically misplaced revenge killing ordered by Manson whose real intended victim had been record producer Terry Melcher (son of Doris Day).
Through a series of by now very well-documented events, Terry Melcher expressed interest in recording a demo session with Charlie in his recording studio. Manson rashly and idiotically interpreted this as a handshake agreement to the pre-signing of a record contract.
When the imagined record contract did not eventuate, Manson regarded it as an act of treachery and double-cross on the part of Melcher and swore vengeance. Terry Melcher was at one time the tenant of 10050 Cielo Drive but had moved out several weeks before Manson’s band of demented followers struck.
What the 2019 book MANSON EXPOSED reveals is that Manson had numerous chances to achieve his dreams of singer/songwriter success but due in no small part to his own in-efforts and lack of follow-up, ended up bitter, disillusioned and empty-handed.
Davis recounts the time Manson recorded a three hour demo session with Gary Stromberg, a producer at Universal Records. Stromberg wanted Charlie to come back and do some more but Manson never showed up.
About a year later, Charlie gained the interest of another music producer but after the recording he again failed to show for the follow up. Phil Kaufman, a music industry insider, is quoted as saying “We tried to sell Charlie’s music a long time ago but we never could get him to sit down and do it.” (page 37).
Whether it was due to Manson’s nomadic, drug-fueled lifestyle, or his need to keep on the run from authorities or some other reason, accounts such as these go against the previously unchallenged picture of down-trodden Charlie who couldn’t get an even break from a music industry blind to his talent.
I reckon a decent enough fiction writer could have a rolling good time with the possibilities inherent in an alternate history version of the Manson narrative. What if fate had deemed that Charlie’s musical career did take off? And take off spectacularly?
Speaking of which…
A writing site called QUERY LETTER.COM is running a competition asking entrants to write a back cover blurb of 100 words or less for a made-up, yet-to-be-written book.
I thought I’d try my hand and came up with this –
California. 1972. Former hippie cult leader Charles Manson is now a successful recording artist on his way to becoming the next Bob Dylan. The brutal killings forever associated with his name are yet to take place. Instead, the sort of success Charlie always dreamed of finally seems within reach.
Industry executive Roman Reyes is charged with managing the eccentric superstar on the rise but when he promises more than he can deliver events take on an unexpected, sinister turn. Will Charlie revert to old ways and seek vengeance or is this a messiah reborn? Find out in MANSON SPIN CITY.
Coming up with the name of the actual book proved to be challenging. I boiled it down to this list of ten titles, then chose one –
Front Man Charlie
Manson Set List
The Sound & The Fury
Manson Spin City
Charlie Hasn’t Left Yet
The Manson Also Rises
Brave New Charlie
There’s $500 up for grabs for the winner. Entrants have until September 15 to submit. Go HERE if you’ve got a brilliant idea.
Ps. Your bonus view this week is an interview with Charles Manson’s son, Michael Brunner. He comes across as someone who has lead a thoughtful life and doesn’t appear to be a chip off the ‘ol block.