Ellroy’s Hollywood 1962
by Paul Hunt
James Ellroy’s new book – a brutal tour of 1962
James Ellroy’s The Enchanters is all about Hollywood in 1962. His characters are mainly real historical people. He squeezes his story from all the things that you just can’t prove that his characters were doing at the time. Plus, his real life characters are all dead and aren’t putting up a squawk about any of it. So since I was here in Hollywood in 1962, fresh out of Hollywood High School, and only a mile away from Ellroy’s Fairfax High, I thought I would write about some of the things that did happen to Ellroy’s real-life characters and places in that general time period. Freddy Otash, Marilyn Monroe, Peter Lawford, Daryl Zanuck, Lila Leeds and some of the others were not quite in the furnace of fictional horror that Ellroy plunges them into, but many were not far off from shattered life experiences of their own making. Also, a lot of other weird stuff has bubbled up, and worth a nod. So please enjoy The Enchanters! It’s Ellroy on steroids with his favorite corrupt private eye Fred Otash and Hollywood as it might have been.
Ready for The Enchanters
Meanwhile, here’s a few jabs, in no particular order, about what some of The Enchanters were really up to in real life.
Friend Cole Son once lived in a house where Marilyn Monroe stayed for a while around 1952. He says there was a ghost in the house, maybe it was MM. Look up “Spirit The House of Marilyn” which has a clip of the story. This house was rented by Andre de Dienes, Marilyn’s first photographer. The house, up on Castilion Dr. in the Hollywood Hills, was also, according to one legend, where the photographer buried a box of his early Marilyn pix and then later dug them up. I’m not so sure about that one, because de Dienes was selling nudes of Marilyn from the get go. Tashen publishers put out a nice book of his photos, but the book is pricey on the internet, like $50-100. now. Cole had taken a lot of photos of the ghost, but lost them somewhere years ago. He’s on tiktok with some great songs and poems.
Speaking of Marilyn’s ghost, some 20 years ago when I had a bookstore in Burbank, one of my customers, a young lady who was doing rock music photos, showed me some photos she had taken up at Marilyn’s last place in Brentwood on 5th Helena Drive. She had tried and failed to get inside the house several times, but finally, a young man answered the door and let her go into the bedroom where Marilyn died and shoot some photos. A couple of the photos showed what looked to be a spirit in the room. It was creepy, but I wish I had saved the photographer’s info to take another look. Hopefully she sold the photos somewhere. I’ve seen ghosts, spirits and orbs, and it looked like the real thing. Humans cannot always see them, but the camera does.
The day Ellroy crashed into town the word got out that Marilyn’s house on 5th Helena was scheduled to be demolished. At the same time, the cabin she stayed in up at the Cal-Nev Lodge was also going to be demolished. A protest from Hollywood preservationists has temporarily saved the house on 5th Helena, but all in all, including the brutal reckoning in The Enchanters, Marilyn had a bad week. I would not be surprised to learn how angry her ghost was in mid- September 2023.
5th Helena Dr. in Brentwood. Marilyn’s house is beyond the wall.
In Ellroy’s book, ex-cop and private eye Fred Otash was deeply involved in the Marilyn Monroe scandals. As Ellroy has said, he had been close to Otash near the end of his life and was going to write a biography. He said he paid some heavy bread to look through Otash’s files and interview him for endless hours, but Ellroy decided finally not to write the biography, he really, deeply, did not like Otash. But armed with immense personal knowledge, he has placed Otash in the spotlight of his historical fiction, and maybe it’s better that way.
Growing up in Hollywood, it was not unusual to hear about Fred Otash, private eye to the Stars, and anyone else who would pay. He worked for Confidential Magazine for years, his job was to check out the scandals and verify them in order to keep the lawyers from suing the magazine out of existence. And one thing was for sure, Otash was mixed up in everything big.
Remember the Lana Turner episode? You know, when her daughter Cheryl allegedly stabbed mobster Johnny Stompinato to death. The first people called in, before the Beverly Hills Police showed up, were Lana’s ex-husband Steve Crane, Cheryl’s father, studio lawyer Jerry Geisler and Fred Otash. The word was that if the Italian mob found out that Lana had killed Johnny, it would have been the end of her. Like really the end. But if the young 14 year old daughter had done it “by accident”, well, she got a pass.
Mobster Mickey Cohen was enraged to hear about the killing. He was a long time pal of Johnny S. and was suspicious of the fast Court inquiry, where Cheryl did not have to testify. He also saw the professional hand of Fred Otash, because long before the cops showed up, Freddy could have been moving bodies and evidence around. Otash later admitted he wiped fingerprints off the knife. The crime scene was suspicious. But that’s why the Studio lawyers paid Otash the big bucks. And when Freddie was a cop, he bragged that he and his partner had grabbed Stompanato and taken him up into a remote area of the Hollywood Hills and beat him badly. Then they stripped him naked and filed a report of a suspicious naked man running around the hills.
Meanwhile Mickey Cohen paid for the funeral. Stompanato was sent back to his home town in Woodstock, Ill., where he was somewhat of a hero, being an ex-combat Marine and veteran. Cohen paid for everything, and word had it that he later had Johnny’s ex-wife file a lawsuit against Lana Turner. The press said it was later settled out of Court for about $20,000. Mickey Cohen was a powerful crime boss at that time, he was making a lot of money book making and betting, among many other scams. It was rumored he had the Sheriff’s Office on the pad, but he also had the Italian mob after him. He survived more attempts on his life than can be believed. But he and his boys would also take jobs from the mobs back east, including the big one: Mickey whacked Bugsy. Click here to read the comments and see the video about that.
Mickey even managed to cheat the radical Zionists. In the late 1940s the radical Jewish community was raising money to send guns and ammunition to Palestine. They were arming Jewish settlers and mercenaries to push the Palestinians off their land in order to create their vision of paradise called Israel. So Cohen hosted a big event in Beverly Hills to raise money for guns for the Zionist armies. Hundreds of rich Jews gave generously and Mickey collected a huge amount of cash. Nothing ever got shipped to Israel, as Cohen says in his autobiography, he just paid off a guy at the Examiner to concoct a story about a ship loaded with guns and ammunition that exploded and sank off the coast of California.
One day, I think it was in 1961, my cousin and I were walking home from Hollywood High School, and when we got near my house on Hawthorne Ave, we were shocked to see that in the yard of the bungalow next door was a near-naked young woman running around the yard being chased by an older woman who was hitting her with a strap and yelling a lot of bad things at the younger girl. We were stunned, things like that never happened in those days.
I then noticed that a small group of young women had moved in next door, and a lot of men were coming by at night to visit them. Party time every night. I called my cousin and told him to come over after dinner, that I had noticed there were no curtains up in the house next door, so we could stand in my driveway and see what was really going on there. At twilight we made our way to the driveway and the house next door was only a few feet away, seperated by a 4 foot high chain link fence. As we peered into the bedroom to see what kind of party was going on, I heard a noise a few feet away at the beginning of the driveway. Two burly men in suits hustled up the driveway, putting their fingers up to their lips as if to say “shush”. They jammed badges at us and pushed us aside. Hello Hollywood Vice Squad and goodbye to our observation post. The detectives had tape recorders, cameras and other surveillance things and they spent some time taking photos and sound tapes at the bedroom windows. The next day the cops raided the joint and arrested everyone.
I heard from a neighbor that one of those was Cheryl. She later claimed that she was just at a party at her grandmother’s house that got a little out of control. The neighbor told me that Steve Crane came by in a big car and picked up Cheryl and took her to Beverly Hills. She later worked at the Luau and became a successful realtor. I always felt sorry for her but also admired her bravery. I think she was innocent of the Johnny Stompanato murder, but took the rap for her mother, and suffered a lot for her entire life. When I heard that Johnny was really fond of Cheryl and had given her a horse as a gift, I knew there was no way she would have killed him. She was sent to reform school type places, sent to live with her grandmother, ran away from school a few times, and was spiraling out of control when her dad intervened. I wanted to tell this story to Ellroy, he would appreciate my failed efforts as a peeper, but I never got to talk to him about it. I still feel Cheryl was heroic. How many young girls would take a rap like that for mom?
The end of June, 1962 was to be a turning point of sorts for Cheryl. She got a job up on the Sunset Strip at the Summit Club modeling swimsuits from 5 to 7pm. on Fridays. The Press took notice, she was now 18 years old and described as “shapely”. The ads created a stir and the club would have been packed with men ogling young Cheryl and others parading around in bikinis. Alas for the men, Steve Crane put it to a stop. She was to be a well-dressed hostess at the Luau, and no bikinis, thank you. The Summit had to eat the contract.
Lila Leeds looked great in bathing suit
In The Enchanters, Ellroy piles on the characters, including Hollywood pin-ups like Lila Leeds and Barbara Payton. They play minor roles with Otash in the story, but they were both real hot properties in Hollywood, and both trashed in the press and scandal mags. Lila Leeds had a good start to her career, but a small party with Robert Mitchum and some pot-smoking led to a vice squad arrest. Mitchum became a Hollywood Bad Boy, and his career soared, but poor Lila was convicted and lost her contracts with the studios. Now there is a strange intersection of events, like for real, that just makes you wonder how in the world this small group of people crossed paths. Dig it:
**Steve Crane married Lana Turner, who divorced him after a short marriage.
** In March 1943, Lana remarried Crane because she had become pregnant.
** Cheryl was born July 25, 1943.
**Lana and Steve Crane divorced in August of 1944.
** In the late 1940s Crane is dating Lila Leeds. They were engaged in 1948.
** Lila had also dated Peter Lawford in the 1940s.
** Lila had a part in Green Dolphin Street starring Lana Turner.
** August 1948 Lila is busted with Mitchum at a pot-smoking party.
** Steve Crane decides it is best to go to Europe for a few years, rather then suffer through all the bad publicity. Amazing how much Lila resembled Lana.
** Lila was convicted and then actually banished from California by the Judge until Feb. 1954. This is the first I ever heard of an individual, especially a celebrity being banished from California. I can’t even imagine if it was legal.
**In 1954 Fred Otash was living at 8640 Wonderland. Weirdly it was just around the corner from 8763 Wonderland where the famous Eddie Nash and John Holmes were involved in the Wonderland murders in 1981.
**Lila’s life just kept getting worse. After starring in the famous marijauna movie, she got into heavy drugs. Toward the end of her life she had come back to Hollywood and opened a thrift shop and helped folks get off drugs.
** Meanwhile, in The Enchanters, Lila and Barbara Payton are working as car-hops at Stan’s Drive in Across from Hollywood High School in August of 1962. We sometimes went to Stan’s on a Saturday date night. And yes, the girls who worked there were hot, although I’m pretty sure Lila wasn’t one of them. But she could have been.
Ellroy loves The Losers Club. This was at 881 North La Cienega on “Restaurant Row.” It was famous for its Loser of the Week sign out in front. In The Enchanters, Fred Otash is working with his crew as bodyguards for Eddie Fisher who actually did appear at the Losers around that time. Ellroy said the Fisher Combo “were all in tight black suits and fruit boots and half on the nod.” Fisher at the Losers while his ex, Elizabeth Taylor was acting like a spoiled Cleopatra at the time with Burton and driving the studio nuts in costly delays. According to Ellroy, Fisher’s Rabbi said of Liz, that she was “the poisonous fruit of the Goyishe Tree.” Indeed, a thought surely shared by Zanuck.
A weird thing happened a couple of weeks after Eddie Fisher made the Loser of the Week on the famous sign out front. As the owner was letting patrons out of the club for the evening, three masked men with pistols robbed the place. They made the patrons lie on the floor while one gunman jumped behind the bar and got the money out of the cash register. The other robber made the manager open the safe in the office and made off with a total of about $700 (over $7,000 in purchasing power in 2023). They did not rob the patrons. The owner said that they were going to put U.S. Steele up as Loser of the Week, but instead had to put themselves on the sign, the big losers was the Loser Club itself.
An earlier robbery of a nightclub comes to mind. Christmas Eve, 1945. Eddie Nealis owned the Clover Club at 8477 Sunset Blvd., and an nearby gambling joint that was “un-named” at 9216 Sunset. Some masked gunmen robbed the gambling joint and the patrons, including movie star Betty Grable, getting away with an estimated $75,000 in cash and jewelry. Mickey Cohen later admitted to this one, which he said he did “as a favor” to Bugsy Siegel. Club owner Eddie Nealis produced the film Johnny O Clock in 1947. (Film Noir Crime Drama. Interesting Camera Work, watch it on youtube.) He was also, coincidentally married to Doris Hauck, Fred Otash’s ex-wife.
Fred and Doris
So the first thing of importance that went down in 1962 was on January 2nd, when Jerry Geisler died. He was one of the greatest defense attorneys of the previous decades. He was the link in the chain of life between the family of outlaws, celebrities, cops and mobsters. That small group of people who all knew each other and played off each other like some twisted Shakespearean play. There was a lot going on in 1962. James Ellroy explores what might have been going on behind the scenes, and his character Fred Otash was right in the middle of the soup.
Ellroy’s story goes deep into Hollywood’s woes in 1962. Both Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe were causing 20th Century Fox to bleed money and put the studio at risk. Otash is wiretapping Marilyn and spying on Fox and Zanuck. Monroe was a mess and in the midst of torrid relationships with both the Kennedy brothers. Ezra Goodman, author of The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood, hints that Zanuck gave Marilyn a $450,000 under the table cash bonus to stick with 20th. She showed her gratitude by not showing up on the set and finally getting the boot.
Marilyn’s one time agent, Charles Feldman told Goodman that Marilyn had purchased the rights to the screenplay “Horns of the Devil” for $25,000 from Feldman. For those who think she was just a looney blond, consider that she could be very shrewd behind the little girl next door demeanor. She sold the screenplay later to Fox for $250,000.
Billy Wilder, interviewed by Goodman, had a brutal insight on Marilyn. “The question is whether Marilyn Monroe is a person or one of the greatest Dupont products ever invented. She has breasts like granite and a brain like swiss cheese, full of holes. She defies gravity. She hasn’t the vaguest conception of the time of the day. She arrives late and tells you she couldn’t find the Studio that she’s been working at for years.”
Goodman wrote that Southern California was littered with the remains of people who were involved with her. Marilyn acquires people then gets rid of them — in shifts. She likes to change people in her life like other women change hats. Her last sweeping change exiled her agent Charles Feldman, columnist and very close confident Sidney Skolsky, her close friend and drama coach Natasha Lytess, and her personal West Coast lawyer Frank Delancy. All gone and blocked out of her life in an instant.
Zanuck and Lawford research o’rama.
Back in the real world of 1962 Darryl Zanuck saved the Studio by his obsessive push to produce The Longest Day, shot in black and white and starring a fabulous cast that also included some of the characters in The Enchanters, like Peter Lawford and Richard Burton, who had flown in to shoot some scenes because he was bored with the slow pace of filming Cleopatra.
Looking at 1962, the Kennedy’s had their hands full. The Cuban Missile crises built up from the beginning of the year and almost ended all civilization in a nuclear war in October. In addition, there was JFK’s challenge to go to the moon in September, and the whole segregation system in defiance in early October with James Meradeth escorted to school by Federal Marshalls. The last thing the Kennedy’s needed was Marilyn’s threat to go to the press and expose her affairs with the brothers.
The end was on August 5th when she was “found dead” in her house by her housekeeper. Was she murdered? The Kennedy’s had motive. RFK was in town that night, in fact stopped by a cop. He was allegedly up at Marilyn’s house on 5th Helena early that evening, in a screaming match with Marilyn. And where was Fred Otash? From various sources, Peter Lawford may have been at Marilyn’s after she had overdosed and although he was near drunk or hopped up, he tried to remove anything that would implicate the Kennedys. Later, around 3 am he got in touch with Otash and met him at his office on Laurel, asking him to go up to the house and make sure all matters Kennedy had been removed. Otash refused to go, saying that everyone in town knew him, but that he would send one of his guys up to the house. Too late, the cops were already there with others, so there was no second chance to clean up loose ends.
Fred Otash on TV
The blame for Monroe’s death went down a lot of different paths. Shift the scene to Cosmopolitan Book Shop on Melrose Avenue a few years after Marilyn’s death. Book Shop owner Eli Goodman had been forced to hide his brother Ezra in the back of his book shop. Ezra was a noted Hollywood author and for years was Hollywood correspondent for Time Magazine. Ezra was convinced that the Hollywood Moguls had put out a contract on him for his revelations in The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood, which came out in 1962, before Marilyn’s death. I had met Ezra there in the shop but had no idea who he was. Wearing an old somewhat shabby suit, a little unshaven, hiding out in the back of the shop (where I would work years later), we got in a heated discussion about his pricing of books. I didn’t know it was Eli’s brother, in mufti, hiding out from Studio Assassins. I just assumed that Eli had hired another eccentric character to work in the shop.
Goodman’s book is a great read – His files may reveal more secrets.
Ezra Goodman had spent months investigating Marilyn Monroe for a big special piece in Time Magazine. He interviewed over 100 people who knew Marilyn, including friends, foster parents, agents, acting coaches, attorneys, directors, producers and others. His report was almost a book length feature story. But as some wags said, Time spelled backwards is emit. The well-documented story that Goodman sent to the editors at Time was emitted in a form that had little or no relation to what he had written.
What Goodman found in his research, was that none of Marilyn’s stories matched up with any reality. Facts, friends and events were nebulous. He pieced together a fascinating portrait of Marilyn which can be read in a shortened version in his book. Natasha Lytess, an important figure in Ellroy’s The Enchanters, was interviewed, and Ellroy has done a superb job of fictionalizing this strange woman who, for a time, was very close to Marilyn. She was always on the set of any filming and was actually paid by Fox for a while, but eventually fired and then dumped by Marilyn. Strangely, Marilyn needed someone she trusted to help her keep it together during filming, and Paula Strasberg later filled in the shoes of Natasha Lytess so to speak.
One of Eli’s best customers was Lee Strasberg, who with his wife Paula exerted tremendous influence on Marilyn Monroe. Paula was on the sets of Marilyn’s films, trying to work with her and keep her focused. The Studio Directors hated it but had to put up with the situation. Anyway, Lee Strasberg would descend on Cosmopolitan once or twice a year and spend a lot of money buying books on acting, celebrities, film history, biographies and such. One of these bight sunny California days, Lee’s driver pulled up his car in front of Cosmopolitian and Lee rushed in and started piling up books to purchase.
Cosmopolitan Book Shop
At this moment, out of the back of the store burst Ezra Goodman, looking like a mad Rasputin. He yelled at Lee “You…..you killed her you bastard! You’re responsible for Marilyn’s death.!” He shouted at Strasberg and lunged toward him. The shock of this attack, coming out of the darkened black pit of the bookstore, put the big fear in Strasberg, who ran out the front of the store with Ezra behind him screaming at him, and jumped into his car and had his driver zoom away at high speed. Eli was devastated. His brother had just run off his best customer, a wealthy Hollywood power broker, who would never return to the shop again. It should be noted that the Strasbergs had a huge influence over Marilyn, and she left them a large portion of her wealth in her will.
I wish I had known about this incident before Ezra died. I would like to have explored why he thought Lee Strasberg was somehow responsible for Marilyn’s death. Ezra knew them both, and knew everyone in Hollywood, so is there something behind all the shouting? I can’t imagine what it would be. Maybe it was just jealousy. The Strasbergs were such close friends with Marilyn. And Ezra at that point in his life, hiding out from mysterious thugs gunning for him, was on the ragged edge himself. We’ll never know what that was, unless Ezra left something in writing, which is possible. His effects were boxed up and are now piled in the rafters of a Quonset hut in the Valley, under the protection of a guy who got all of Eli Goodman’s belongings when he died a few years ago. Some of us would like to look through Ezra’s files if they ever surface. In fact there might be a line of folks who would like to see those files, for many reasons. It’s like the Otash files that got sold to the Hollywood Reporter. We would all like to get a glimpse of them, and see what the Enchanters were really up to in those exciting days of 1962.
Click Here to see video of Ellroy at Chevalier’s Book Shop.
James Ellroy’s dynamic talk at Chevalier’s Book Store