Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What was the influence of Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" on the Family?

The subject of science fiction author Robert Heinlein's book "Stranger in a Strange Land" and the philosophy of the Manson Family have many parallels.  This was first noted in an article in a San Francisco newspaper in about February of 1970:
"Tate Massacre By The Book?
There is compelling evidence that the murder of actress Sharon Tate and at least six others were part of a grotesque, psychotic drama improvised by Charles Manson from a novel he read over and over.

The central character and the sequence of events in the science fiction novel are hauntingly similar to the personality and the style of life that Manson cultivated while he lived in San Francisco and Death Valley.

His gathering of a nomadic harem, his “hypnotic” domination over his “family,” their communal marriage and free sexual sharing with visitors, their attitudes toward human death, and the Los Angeles killings — all are mirrored in the book “Stranger in a Strange Land,” by Robert A. Heinlein.

In the opinion of a close acquaintance of Manson’s, these and numerous other parallels between the book and reality are not coincidental for it appears that Charles Manson has spent the past two years acting the key elements of the plot.

The acquaintance, who asked not to be identified*, is a respected drug researcher who came to know Manson when the accused killer lived in the Haight-Ashbury district in 1967-68.
*It's obvious the source is either Dr. David Smith or PO Roger Smith.

The drug researcher who knew Manson well says he read the book “over and over” and seemingly integrated his life with that of the book’s main character—a young man named Valentine Michael Smith whose description is strikingly Mansonesque: Small, notable for his sexual prowess, a gleam in his eye, and a hypnotic collector of women. ...

V. Michael Smith is held at first as a prisoner of the federal government. ...
V. Michael Smith soon escapes from the government and enters the custody of one Jubal Harshaw, an aging but hip lawyer and doctor who helps familiarize Smith with earthly ways and eases his transition to freedom.
In effect, Jubal acts as a parole officer for Smith. Manson saw the similarity and nicknamed his own amiable parole officer in San Francisco “Jubal.”

As the story progresses, V. Michael Smith leaves (Jubal) Harshaw .. and heads for San Francisco, where he begins to mold his own brand of reformist religion. He spruces it up with carnival mysticism and appoints himself as a Christ figure — at the same time asserting that all creatures are collectively God.

Manson’s family is closely parallel to the fictional version:

– Both reached a peak membership of about 20, with girls in the great majority.

– Domestic nudity was the rule in both, and uninhibited sexual sharing a common bond.

– Conventional love or romance is notably absent between Smith and his girls, as it was between Manson and his family.


Of course we know Charlie named his son with Mary Brunner 'Valentine Michael Manson'(aka Pooh Bear) directly after the main character in the book, 'Valentine Michael Smith.'

More similarities, directly from the novel:

"...only men had souls."

[Females are "separate creations. .. They don't need souls, they are spirits to start with, eternal, unchanging, and beautiful."]

"He accepted homage from the girls as if a natural right"

Valentine and his girls communicate via telepathy

[Didn't some followers say that Charlie could read their thoughts?]

"... a young sinner in the country school he went to shot a poor little birdie... and he picked it up and stroked it and it flew away unharmed."

[You may remember the tale that Charlie once picked up a dead bird and breathed life back into it.]

Share water "this is like being baptized... and like getting married. .. It means you trust us and we trust you.. we are partners, now and forever. But once done it can never be broken. If you broke it, we would die--at once.

[After Charlie's incarceration, his followers would allegedly at certain times gather to 'share water' with him remotely.]

"Mike(Valentine) liked her snakes and could handle the poisonous ones....they grokked with him."

[Charlie could allegedly pick up a rattlesnake and not get bitten.]

"Foster(the huckster leader of an evangelical church that Michael Valentine copies) had in common with every great religious leader of that planet two traits: he had an extremely magnetic personality, and sexually he did not fall near the human norm. ... He borrowed ... from earlier scriptures in composing his New Revelation. He sugarcoated it all as a return to primitive Christianity. ...The New Revelation did not specifically encourage lechery, but it got quite mystical in discussing sexual conduct. ...
Inside the overt church was the Inner Church--a hard core of fully dedicated who made up the priesthood, the lay leaders, all keepers of keys and makers of policy. They were "reborn," beyond sin, certain of heaven, and sole celebrants of the inner mysteries."

"He looked for men like himself and for women like his priestess-wives--dynamic, utterly convinced, stubborn, and free (or able to be freed, once guilt and insecurity were purged) of jealousy in its most human meaning--and all of them potential satyrs and nymphs, as the secret church was that Dionysian cult that America had lacked...."

"Then she grokked that Mike and Patty were two of a kind--God's innocents, unable to sin no matter what they did."

" is impossible to kill a man..."

"Mike said gently, "Look at me. I am a son of man." "

"How can he be dead when no one can be killed?

Love Needs Care; a history of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic and its pioneer role in treating drug-abuse problems by Dr. David E. Smith, M.D. and John Luce, published in 1971; written in 1970
In addition, he (Manson) started espousing a philosophy which bore a striking resemblance to that set forth in the book which interested Ken Kesey and so many other early leaders of the psychedelic movement. This was Stranger in a Strange Land.
...  Roger Smith... was impressed by how closely he modeled his own fantasies to its plot. Charlie was deeply interested in Valentine Michael Smith's Christ-like character...
... Many(of the girls) had read Stranger in a Strange Land.  Like their fictional and real leader, they believed that a child would lead them toward the creation of a worldwide family in which they would play prominent roles.
Turn Off Your Mind, Gary Lachman, pgs. 223-224
The link between the book and Manson was so strong that Heinlein turned down an interview with Playboy because Hugh Hefner wanted to ask questions about its influence on the Family.

The Hef


Now what's interesting is that no one in the Family has ever spoken of this obvious link.  Despite what the parole officer said, Charlie has denied he even read the book:

Manson In His Own Words by Nuel Emmons  pg222
Manson:  "I... never read a book all the way through in my life..."

Or he didn't read the book because he was functionally illiterate:

Robert A. Heinlein by Leon Stover  pg57
For his own lawyer had discovered, by interviewing Manson in jail, that the murderer had never read Stranger, had never even heard of its author's name.  Indeed, he turned out to be scarcely literate, a reader of no books at all.

Though that was probably just Charlie doing his "me-so-stupid" routine.

Taming the Beast: Charles Manson's Life Behind Bars by Edward George c. 1998  pg43
He(Charlie) read a lot, dispelling the much repeated notion that he's illiterate. The illiterate tag was something he promoted himself, apparently to lure his adversaries into underestimating him.

Manson In His Own Words by Nuel Emmons, published in 1986  pg82
"As a matter of fact I just got out of the joint and am kind of like a stranger in a strange land."
(And this curious comment is the only reference to the Heinlein book.)

There is no evidence that Tex ever read the novel, but he did say this back in 2012:
Manson's Right Hand Man Speaks Out by Charles "Tex" Watson c. 2012  pg50
"...I got to a pretty low state in the Los Angeles County Jail--to the point of not wanting to live. I felt like a stranger in a strange land."
(An innocent comment, or did Tex make a deliberate reference to the book?)

But whether Charlie read the book himself, or heard about it from other cons in the Can, or from Family members, it would have been hard not to know about it, as this book had a huge effect on the counter-culture of the time:

Love Needs Care  by Dr. David E. Smith, M.D. and John Luce  pg97
Ken Kesey(one of the original Merry Pranksters and an early promoter of LSD use) was a fan of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

Robert A. Heinlein by Leon Stover   c.1987
In the event, the novel became a how-to-do-it cult book among successors to Kerouac's beatniks, the hippies. In the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and elsewhere these dope smoking dropouts of the so-called counterculture formed "nests" of free sexual sharing and group nudity. They did this, as they were wont to say, "by the book" out of Heinlein's book--much to the author's surprise.
Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, David McGowan, pgs. 58-59
Heinlein's best-known work is the novel Stranger in a Strange Land, which many in the Laurel Canyon scene found to be hugely influential. ...

Got a revolution; the turbulent flight of the Jefferson Airplane by Jeff Tamarkin, c.2003  pg18
David Crosby(of CS&N):  "We were trying to make a living being folkies.  We'd all read Stranger in a Strange Land and we kept all our money in a bowl, on the mantelpiece--if you put it in there and if you needed some you took it out.

One wonders if the whole group had somehow been caught up playing some huge 'game' they couldn't get out of, even after two years of it:

Snapping by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, c.1978  pg201-3
When it came time to play Helter Skelter, life in the Family had become a game with no borders on fantasy and reality, an extended "trip" that kept up long after any chemical effects had worn off.
 In a scenario perhaps reminiscent of Mark David Chapman's and John Hinckley's infatuation with Catcher in the Rye, could Stranger in a Strange Land somehow have been Manson's program-trigger mechanism?  Was the concept of Helter Skelter part of Manson's program?

The big question, though, is why didn't Bugliosi even mention the obvious influence of this book in his own tome "Helter Skelter?"  One gets the feeling Bugs wanted to steer people away from this link, just like he steered his readers away from any links to the Black Muslims or The Fountain of the World(FOTW).  But why?

I think the answer is that, if the public had found out the "Helter Skelter" philosophy wasn't Charlie's idea, and if the very concept of the "Family" wasn't Charlie's idea, they might wonder to what extant TLB wasn't Charlie's idea.


 "And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land."
     --Exodus 2:22


There were some other odd connections by Heinlein to the case:

Heinlein shared this strange proclivity with Charlie:
Heinlein was in an open marriage with (his second wife)Leslyn, a poet and script editor. He had a habit of encouraging his close male buddies to take Leslyn as a lover. As (his friend L. Ron)Hubbard would later marvel, Heinlein “almost forced me to sleep with his wife.” Sharing his wife’s body was a form of male bonding for Heinlein, and it served as a precursor to the communal orgies that he imagined in Stranger in a Strange Land, which helped the members of his imaginary religion form group solidarity.


Heinlein was corresponding with Catherine Share while the Family was in the Inyo County Jail:

Member of the Family by Dianne Lake
Gypsy, who also used another alias, Minon Minette, spent her time(at the jail in Inyo County) writing letters to author Robert Heinlein to see if he would help bail us out, since we were only acting in defiance of the establishment. He wrote her back a nice letter admitting he had done some pranks in his youth, but unlike the character in his book Stranger in a Strange Land, he was unable to offer any other type of legal or financial support.

There were apparently three letters:
January 7, 1970: Virginia Heinlein(third wife) letter to Lurton Blassingame
"Some weeks ago, a fan letter came in from the jail in Independence, California. In a burst of generosity, Robert tried to do something about this girl who'd written him. It turned out that she was one of the Manson family. So if we're knifed in our beds like Sharon Tate, it's because of three letters from members of the family. Just tell the police. I'm leaving these notices everywhere I can, in hopes of preventing anything from happening.
Heinlein, Vol 2 pg313
In the mail was a disturbing letter from a young woman in Inyo County--out by the Mojave Desert near Los Angeles--who asked him for help: She and her friends were being chased by police helicopters. It was a crazed letter--the margins filled with decorative drawn fancies--and yet there was something about this one. ... ...he placed a call to the Inyo County Sheriff's Office and found that the bare outlines of the woman's story--"Annette or Nanette or something"--were accurate. The police were chasing down a group of young people, but in answer to Heinlein's question, the sheriff's office told him drugs were not the issue--and that was all they would say.

How did they get Heinlein's address while they were in the jail?  Why would Heinlein have personally answered this letter, out of all the other pieces of fan mail he got?
Turn Off Your Mind, Gary Lachman, pgs. 223-224
.. at one point Heinlein was asked to lead a seminar at Big Sur's Esalen Institute, sharing the bill with Alan Watts. ...

Could members of the Family have met Heinlein at Esalen?  Is this why Gypsy felt comfortable enough to contact him while they were jailed in Inyo County?  Is this why Heinlein felt the need to write back?


Heinlein even met Polanski:
In March 1969, Robert A. Heinlein flew with his wife Ginny to Brazil, where he had been invited to serve as a guest of honor at a film festival in Rio de Janeiro. Another passenger on their plane was the director Roman Polanski...


And for those of you who grok with the author Dave McGowan's "Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon" theory about curious connections between the Laurel Canyon music scene and the military and intelligence worlds, it turns out Heinlein was living in Laurel Canyon at the time, and was himself a graduate of the US Naval Academy.
Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, David McGowan, pgs. 58-59
David McGowan writes:  "Another famous resident of Laurel Canyon was science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein, who resided at 8775 Lookout Mountain Avenue.


There was even a tangential link to The BEL:
--the Brotherhood of Eternal Love
His(Ron Stark) textbook for security, exhorting others to follow his example, was, of all things, a science-fiction novel published in the 1960s by Robert A. Heinlein, called The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. It is the story of a lunar colony's attempt to free itself from the control of Earth through a movement based on a system of cells, each kept in ignorance of the others.


If Charlie was an actual fan of Heinlein, he may have read this book too:

Robert A. Heinlein by Leon Stover   c.1987 pg60
"....When Farnham's Freehold(c 1964) appeared, at the height of the Black Power movement, it met with a storm of critical indignation. The title hero is flung into a future in which the rule of North America has passed to the Black Muslims. ... They(critics) jabbed at the novel's hero, Hugh Farnham, for the single-minded attention he gave to rescuing his family from black enslavement, and then for defending the family freehold upon the return of the Farnhams to the postwar anarchy of the "present" time."