The Manson Connection:

A Nightmare in Multiple Dimensions

By Steve sullivan
Excerpted from glamour girls #16
SPRING 2002

The blood-splattered final sequence of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, dark and disturbing as it was to viewers, had a far deeper resonance to Erica because of the events in her own life.  Meyer and Ebert based the finale on the gruesome Tate-LaBianca murders committed by the Charles Manson “family” on the evenings of August 9 and 10, 1969, just a few months before Dolls began shooting.

“I remember when those murders happened, and how shocked I was, because that was the circle in which I traveled.”  Two of the victims (on the second night of the killing spree) were businessman Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.  “I grew up with the LaBianca kids. They lived in Silver Lake, and I went to school with their daughter, Susan.”

 

Jay Sebring, one of the victims that awful first night, was well known to several of the women of Dolls.  Cynthia and Lynn Carey had both dated him, and Erica (as we’ll see) had a memorable experience with this colorful and doomed character.  One of most celebrated ladies’ men in Hollywood, Sebring was the foremost hair stylist to the stars, including Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen.  Sharon Tate was one of the many Hollywood beauties he had romanced; she broke off her relationship with Sebring when she became involved with Roman Polanski.

 

“I knew Jay Sebring through my friend Bebe, who had been seeing him after he and Sharon had broken up.  Jay had set up this little rendezvous with us and Steve McQueen, to get all of us in bed together.  Jay was also Elmer Valentine’s best friend, and at one time Elmer was going to marry Bebe. [Note: Valentine was the owner of the trendy clubs The Roxy and The Rainbow.]

 

The rendezvous took place while the girls were still working at The Losers, which would place it around early 1968. “It was at Jay’s house in Benedict Canyon, not far from where Sharon lived. The whole evening turned out to be horrible, so uncool. We ended up in the bedroom, Jay and Bebe were having sex when I walked in, and Steve said, ‘come on, let’s get in bed.’ I said, ‘wait a minute, this just isn’t working for me.’ I mean, this was Steve McQueen—he’d already been with everybody, and I didn’t want to be just another one of his conquests. So I said, ‘these boots are made for walkin’, honey—bye bye!’ And I was out the door.”

Erica recalls the day the first group of murders became public: “I remember when Bebe called me to say that Jay had been killed, along with Sharon and the others.  I was in San Diego for a meeting in connection for some possible movie work. I was freaked out.” Bebe had seen Sebring just a month before the tragedy, on Sunset Boulevard. “Jay asked if they could start seeing each other again, and she said sure.  But she never heard from him again.”

“What made [the Manson connection] come full circle is that I ended up dating one of the Manson attorneys. Paul J. Fitzgerald was a brilliant and colorful attorney in the Los Angeles County public defender’s office.  He was briefly assigned by the office to defend Manson; soon thereafter Manson was switched to another attorney, and Fitzgerald represented Patricia Krenwinkle, one of the three Manson followers accused in the murders.  When told by his superiors three months later that he would have to give up the case because the office had a possible conflict of interest, he refused on March 24, 1970 resigned.  For the next year he continued to represent Krenwinkle at no charge, and because he was the most experienced and skilled of the defense team, became the chief strategist for the other two Manson followers as well.

 

“I met Paul in court through Elliott Mintz who had a talk radio show on KABC and a TV show.  Elliott was attending the trial because he knew Sharon and Jay, and he brought me in one day.  Almost right away, Paul and I started seeing each other.  It was one of my crazier times.”  The trial itself began on June 15, 1970—just two days before the Hollywood premiere of Dolls, as fate would have it—and their affair began a few weeks later.

“Going through the whole trial was a bizarre experience.  I would get letters from Susan Atkins and drawings that sort of showed mirror images of me and her. That was really hitting close to home, since I had re-enacted that same scene in Dolls!

The women in the Manson “family” who were not on trial (Leslie Van Houten was the third girl being tried) lived in a van parked near the courthouse, and showed their support for “Charlie” at every opportunity. This group included Lynette “Squeaky” From, who would go to to prison years later for attempting to assassinate then-President Ford.

“Having the Manson girls being a part of my life was so strange. [Note: Female members of the family not on trial basically camped out in a van near the courthouse and included the notorious Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme.] We’d visit them on the street corner and give them money.  I got to know them well.  One night, they just crashed on the floor of our home. It was insanity, it was true insanity.” The basic argument of Fitzgerald and the defense team was that the women had been brainwashed into thinking Manson was God, and robotically carried out his instructions to kill the “pigs” with no free will of their own, but it was a doomed case.

 

Exactly seven months after the trial began, it concluded on January 15, 1971. Ten days later, the jury delivered the verdicts that Manson, Krenwinkle, Atkins and Van Houten were all guilty of multiple counts of first -degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The penalty phase of the trial began before the same jury; on March 29, all four were given the penalty of death. In February 1972, the California Supreme Court held the death penalty unconstitutional in the state, and the sentences of everyone awaiting executions, including Manson and his girls, were reduced to life imprisonment.

 

“The case took a year and a half of Paul’s life at no pay, and it was just devastating.” He had been forced to sell his stereo and other possessions, and gone $5,000 into debt. “The day of the guilty verdicts was the worst day of my entire life.” This was not because of the verdicts themselves, but Fitzgerald’s response to them. “That night, he sat across from me and proceeded to get totally drunk and to abuse me, verbally and emotionally, for about nine hours. And I just sat there like an idiot, taking it. He just needed to vent, and he dumped it all on me. Then, when they got the death penalty—he really freaked out on that.”

Erica and Paul would remain together until about 1975, with a couple of brief reunions.  Reflecting on the eerie synchronicities between her real and cinematic lives in this context, she mused: “Sometimes I don’t know if I’m really alive, or on the other side.”

 

“We had our ups and downs, and we were probably never meant to stay together for too long. That breakup almost killed me. But it was a passionate relationship, and when it was good it was amazing. We went through every extreme together. How would you know extreme joy in a relationship without also knowing sorrow? In some ways he was the love of my life.”

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