Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Manson Family in Fiction: Some Short Takes, Part One

   When it comes to all things Manson related, the truth is often stranger than fiction. While there have been quite a few attempts at film dramas, there aren't a lot of novels and stories that deal with Manson and company. Kind of surprising considering the people and events involved. 

  There are two types of fictional treatments to look at: stories directly about the people and events, albeit in a fictional context, and stories based on the people and events. The latter will feature characters that may be easily recognizable as being based on Charlie, Squeaky, Sadie, etc., but the stories do not directly mention the crimes or the people involved directly by name, and the events will often be similar to what actually transpired. 

    The books that are directly about the Manson Family will obviously be held to a different standard than ones that are loosely based on the events. Readability will also be factored in. No point in taking the time to read it, if it isn't ultimately entertaining. Oddly, a majority of these books are directed towards the young adult (YA) market, and they often have a feminist slant. For the first post, I thought I would tackle two that deal directly with the Manson Family.

    First up is the short story 'Charlie's Girls' by Laura Elizabeth Woollett, which appears in the short story collection The Love of a Bad Man (2016). The book itself is a collection of short stories from the point of view of the wives, lovers, etc of various bad men throughout history. 

  'Charlie's Girls' starts right smack in the middle of the murders on Cielo. We are not sure who is actually narrating the story, other than one of the 'girls.' At first it seems like it could be Katie or Sadie, until they are in the car (being driven by 'Darling') leaving the residence, and the narrator mentions what Tex, Sadie, Katie, and 'Darling' are doing. The addition of an unnamed fifth person at Cielo totally destroys the credibility. This one is not worth it, particularly since it is only 10 pages. Check it out at the library if you are really interested.   

   Next up is the novel American Girls (2016) by Alison Umminger, which goes by the much better title My Favorite Manson Girl in the UK. this one is marketed toward the YA market, and it definitely does have a feminist slant. The story revolves around a young woman, Anna, who is in high school and moves to Hollywood to spend time with her older half-sister. The older half-sister is an actress and is working in B Movies. Her director puts Anna to work researching the Manson Girls for a project. The book is mostly about Anna interacting with the various people in her life, but a decent amount of it is her musings on the Manson Girls. These observations make the book worth reading. Some key passages:

- when discussing Mary and Katie: 'it's not like either of those girls had crazy written all over them- more like ugly with a big fat side of alone.' 

- referencing Sadie: 'Atkins was like a lot of the other Manson girls- their lives were kind of screwed up, but definitely not screwed up enough to go out and start killing people.'

Sharon Tate- 'I kept going back to that part of the murder- a bunch of okay looking girls killing the really beautiful one. Not because it was creepy, but because it wasn't so terribly hard to imagine after all.' When someone says a friend of hers reminds her of a Manson girl, she muses that she 'was more like Sharon Tate. Pretty, but pretty boring.'

Barbara Hoyt- 'looked every bit as crazy as the crazy girls.'

One of the best lines is when she refers to the Family as 'Manson's battalion of zombie bimbos.' That would make a great title for a B-Movie. 

  Anna's overall take on the Manson girls is that they should never have been the Manson girls. She doesn't excuse their behavior, but she does feel that they weren't monsters, and that the right turn of events could have turned even her into a Manson girl. They were the children of America at the time.

 There are only a couple of errors as far as the history of the events- the author has six people killing the LaBiancas, forks in both of their stomachs, and the killers wearing the LaBiancas clothes

American Girls is worth a read, mostly for Anna's commentary on the girls and their place in society. Her observations are sharp and funny and thought provoking. The point of view of a teenage girl works well, since she is very close in age to the Manson girls, and can relate to them on some of the same levels. 

    Next up: The Girls and Cold: a novelized biography of Susan Atkins. 



Loegria15 said...

Has anybody ever read "The Closed Circle", listed on this page? I distinctly remember one of the words that the cult of rich people used in their oath or whatever was "Manson"; they hissed it, too!

There's others I've read, but that one sticks out in my mind. Oh yeah, waitaminit: I'm re-reading "Ghost Story", by the recently-deceased Peter Straub, and a cult known as the Xala Xalior Xlata, thought to correspond to the O.T.O, is mentioned; natch, the name "Manson" is mentioned, as it takes place in Berkeley in the early 1970s.

But these are mentions, really, though the former seems like the wealthy's revenge on the hippie-wanna-bes because of Manson & Co.

(I have a problem spelling the city in CA properly, as the 'burb in Michigan is spelled "Berkley".)

grimtraveller said...

Jay said:

There are only a couple of errors as far as the history of the events- the author has six people killing the LaBiancas, forks in both of their stomachs, and the killers wearing the LaBiancas clothes

I can sort of understand the first one; although there were 7 that went out that night, there were supposed to be 2 death squads and each was composed of a man and two women.
As for the latter, Leslie did wear something of Rosemary LaBianca. She had given Tex her trousers as his zip had broken, so she wore a pair of Rosemary's shorts for the ride back to Spahn.

Jay said...

Grim: Thanks for the input. I might've been a little nitpicky about that passage. The exact passage is-
'The next night, six more of his “family” members killed a married couple, the LaBiancas, in basically the same way but in a different part of Los Angeles. The killers even showered and changed into new clothes from the victims’ closets at the crime scene.'
She got the showering part right. Maybe if she added 'one of the killers' right before 'changed into new clothes...', it wouldn't have stood out. I'm thinking the number six didn't include Charlie. The rest of the novel is accurate as far as the facts go, to the best of my knowledge. Maybe this passage is due to editing more than what the author actually wrote.

Loegria15: I'll have to check those out. Thanks for bringing them up

grimtraveller said...

I guess to be fair, 6 people were indicted for the murders, and 5 of them were convicted for the death of the LaBiancas.

tobiasragg said...

Is authenticity or accuracy even an expectation when picking up a book like these?

grimtraveller said...

Not if it's supposed to be fiction.

tobiasragg said...

That was my assumption. Weird that it was a point of criticism here. I do salute the author for wading through this drek, however!

Eidolon said...

Not intending to be snarky or "clever," but I don't think one should forget to mention *Once Upon a Time in Hollywood*. Although what one could do with that, I'm not sure. I watched it recently, for the 1st time, and found it to be a kind of charming "made for TV" "Movie of the Week" *safe* filtering of the filthiness, bestiality, and stupidity of what I sense in the T-L "scene" and events... I keep thinking that there MUST be references to Tate-LaBianca in the books of Elmore Leonard, and almost *certainly* in those of James Ellroy, THE contemporary writer who is fascinated by crime in Los Angeles (his mother was murdered there and the crime has never been solved), and who delves into the minds of psychotic killers in his books.

tobiasragg said...

Well the Tarantino film was more a love letter to the latter sixties-era Hollywood scene more than anything. The Spahn sequence was the kind of antithesis of that. But yes, it was fantasy and it was Tarantino and it was rather fantastic, IMO.

Jay said...

Eidolon: I'll probably get to Once Upon a Time in a later post- thanks for the suggestion
Elmore Leonard wrote a lot of crime novels set in Detroit and Florida. I don't believe any of his dealt with TLB. Maybe in one of them there might be a passing reference, who knows.
Ellroy wrote a lot about LA in the 1940s through the early 1960s. His LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz) ends around 1958-59. His Underworld USA trilogy goes all the way to 1972, but it is a 'big picture' series, dealing with things like the Kennedy's, Hoffa, J. Edgar Hoover. Kind of surprised there wasn't an opportunity to work Manson in there, but the characters in the series were involved in higher level corruption etc, on the national scale.
Ellroy had an obsession with the Black Dahlia and crime in 40'50s, since that was when his mother was murdered. My Dark Places is an excellent memoir he wrote that deals with that crime and how it affected him.
I do agree that Ellroy would be a fantastic choice to write about Manson and company.

Tobais: that film was definitely a Tarantino film. He captured some of the flavor of Hollywood of the era rather well. I think maybe they initally marketed it as a 'Manson movie,' which may have skewed a lot of people's initial opinions. I remember a slew of articles, etc along the lines of 'Tarantino takes on the Manson murders.' Personally, with or with out Manson (except for the rather explosive ending) it was a very good movie.
I don't think a lot of people are lukewarm to Tarantino. Great filmmaker
Not sure how everyone else feels, but I never saw what the big deal was about Tate as an actress. I get the feeling Tarantino felt she was the future of the movies. She seems like she was a very lovely person, but as far as her acting goes, I tend to agree with the character in American Girls that describes her as 'pretty, but pretty boring.' Polanski kind of elicits the same feeling- he did some good work, but in general he seems kind of overrated.

Eidolon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eidolon said...

^^"Chinatown" is, simply, one of the very greatest movies ever made in America. Every time I watch it, I notice some amazing thing that I had never picked up on before, and I've been watching it since it was first released in theaters. It deserves very close attention...

tobiasragg said...

"I get the feeling Tarantino felt she was the future of the movies"

Agreed on Chinatown. I also enjoyed Tess and The Pianist and Frantic when they were released. Rosemary's Baby hasn't aged particularly well IMO, but it remains a kind of classic in many minds. Polanski's early work seems rather cartoonish or simplistic in comparison.

Personally, I take the Tarantino film - as well as the general view on Sharon Tate herself - as a kind of idealized or fantasy version of Hollywood & its starlets in this era. Tate herself never really exhibited substantial acting chops but given her untimely death, she seems forever frozen in that "swinging" late sixties version of the starlet or pinup girl. This is how I took Tarantino's "Sharon Tate", anyway.

Personally, I LOVED the ending of Once Upon a Time . . . seeing Krenwinkle's face being bashed repeatedly into a wall was very satisfying lol.

Jay said...

Eidolon and Tobias- thanks for the comments. I did like the Tarantino film myself. The dialogue and acting during that whole ending sequence was totally wild, which made for an enjoyable scene.
Chinatown was an excellent one for sure. I do remember seeing his version of Macbeth back in high school. Our English teacher screened it during class. It was odd and disturbing and I do think a lot of it was him maybe working out the trauma of the murders. Having it screened for high schoolers is weird enough, but I actually saw it at a Catholic school.
As far as the books reviewed go, I found the short story much harder to slog through than the novel. For me, the short story was just bland. I read that one and then tried to read a couple of the other stories, but just couldn't get through them. At least with the novel, there was some life to the writing.