Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tomorrow Never Knows: The Coming of the Mansonoids. (Part 4)

Mia Farrow’s relationship with Sinatra had always been tempestuous and difficult.  At one point, an intimate dance she shared with Bobby Kennedy precipitated an intense jealousy freakout from Frank.  (The whole Sinatra/Monroe/Kennedy nexus is of course another strange attractor in the secretive and doom-laden Greek mythos of postwar American culture.)  In the aftermath of Rosemary’s Baby and her divorce from Frank, Farrow quickly found herself in the midst of another culturally seminal event.  Along with her sister Prudence and brother John, Farrow joined a star-studded Transcendental Meditation training course which was taking place in the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the foothills of the Himalayas.   The group in attendance included Mike Love from the Beach Boys (whose cousin Dennis would enter the Mansonoid web a couple of months later), the Scottish troubadour and latter day Atlantean prophet Donovan Leitch, and the flautist and New Age pioneer Paul Horn, who would sneak a tape-recorder into the Taj Mahal during the ’68 trip, and later pull the same stunt in the Great Pyramid of Giza.  In February, the Beatles started to arrive with an entourage of girlfriends, associates, and associated press. 

A variety of circumstances had led the Beatles to briefly embrace the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  The first step in the journey had occurred during the making of the film Help! in 1965, in which the Beatles battled a parodic version of the Indian Thugee cult.  A restaurant scene involved some Indian musicians playing the sitar; George Harrison became immediately mesmerized by the sound.  He later discovered the music of Ravi Shankar:  “I put it on and it hit a certain spot in me that I can't explain, but it seemed very familiar to me. The only way I could describe it was: my intellect didn't know what was going on and yet this other part of me identified with it. It just called on me….”  Following in the footsteps of Theosophists in the 19th century, and the Beats in the previous decade, large sections of the youth culture were then turning eastward in the hope of finding something which their intellects couldn’t fathom, but their souls could instantly grok; something utterly alien and instantly familiar at the same time.  Another influential figure in the Beatles turning on to the Maharishi (also present at the ashram in ’68) was “Magic Alex” Madras, the Svengali-like electronics dabbler whom the Fab Four later made the head of Apple’s electronics department.  Madras had created a small plastic box with an assembly of randomly blinking lights called the Nothing Box which Lennon used to gaze into for eons during LSD trips.  (Madras is said to have bedazzled the Beatles with a variety of prospective electronic inventions, including sound-speakers worked into wall-paper, colour-changing electrical paint, and a hovering house supported by an invisible force field.  He is also said to have asked for the V-12 engines of John’s Rolls-Royce and George’s Ferrari in order to build a flying saucer.)

Into the Mystic: The Beatles at the Maharishi's Ashram, Rishikesh, 1968.

The Rishikesh Transcendental Meditation seminars of ’68 were a seminal event for a couple of reasons.  First of all, they represented or concretized an important cultural turning point: the effective end of Christian monotheism’s stranglehold on the spiritual life of the West.  The fact that the most deified and influential emblems of postwar youth were kneeling at the feet of an Indian guru was a significant sign of things to come, however brief the honeymoon would ultimately prove to be.  The Beatles’ period at the ashram was also highly significant in the evolution of their Manson-triggering White Album; Back in the USSR, Wild Honey Pie, Rocky Racoon, Dear Prudence, and Sexy Sadie were all written during or inspired by the Indian experience.  Hence Mia Farrow was coincidentally at the centre of two Manson precursors: Rosemary’s Baby and the White Album.  The song Sexy Sadie was Lennon’s sardonic and somewhat vitriolic riposte to the Maharishi.  The Beatles break with the Maharishi had resulted from a spate of rumours regarding the guru’s supposedly lascivious conduct toward some of the young female students at the ashram, most notably the suggestion that he had attempted to rape Mia Farrow.  The rumours probably didn’t have too much substance; some have suggested that the whole thing was a jealous headtrip composed by Magic Alex, who liked to be at the centre of Lennon’s attention.  One way or another, Lennon and Harrison began to believe the rumours, and on the 12th of April they flew back to London, the last of the Beatles party to leave the Rishikesh compound.  The song Sexy Sadie had a particular resonance for the Manson Family.  Key member Susan Atkins, whom we last met trembling her knockers (Saunders’ expression, not mine!) in Anton Szandor LaVey’s all nude witch revue, had earlier been given the nick-name “Sadie May Glutz” by Manson.  This coincidence helped to solidify the Family’s acid-fried conviction that their exploits were somehow mystically and synchronistically linked to the White Album.

Mia Farrow and Friend at Rishikesh.

The other Farrow-related song on The White Album was Dear Prudence.  Mia’s sister Prudence had taken to mediation with an almost fanatical zeal, becoming a near-recluse in her cottage every evening while the others let their Samadhi-seeking hair down a little.  Lennon wrote the song as an exhortation to Prudence to come out and smell the roses, and not get unhealthily wrapped up in the Great Work of attaining spiritual enlightenment.  (She later became a TM instructor and tutored Andy Kaufman for a time.)  Mansonoid Connection (a little strained, depending on how many joints you have on board):  One of the less heralded victims of the Rosemary’s Baby curse was Sharon Tate’s beloved Yorkshire terrier Dr. Sapirstein; Voytek Frykowski accidentally ran over the dog while pulling out of Cielo Drive on July 14, 1969.  (Dr. Sapirstein was named after the sinister doctor and coven-member in Rosemary’s Baby.)  Roman Polanski immediately bought Sharon a replacement terrier which was named Prudence.  

At this point we’ll take a brief detour into the realm of high luridity and innuendo.  Rumours have always abounded that police investigating the Tate murders confiscated pornographic films from the Cicelo residence which show Hollywood elites engaged in extremely compromising antics.  It has been strongly rumoured through the years that the eye-catching centrepiece of this lurid blackmail trove featured a four-way orgy between Yul Brynner, Peter Sellers, Warren Beatty, and Mama Cass Eliot.  Some of the high-luridity and innuendo surrounding the Tate/Polanski/Sebring set stems from more or less contemporary testimony provided by Dennis Hopper.  Regarding the Cielo Drive scene, Hopper said the following to the L.A. Free Press:

“They had fallen into sadism and masochism and bestiality – and they recorded it all on videotape too.  The L.A. police told me this.  I know that three days before they were killed, twenty-five people were invited to that house to a mass whipping of a dealer from Sunset Strip who’d given them bad dope.”
In a 1991interview with Ronald Reagan’s son (of all people) Manson asserted that Sharon Tate’s clique were the real “cult” and refers to a video featuring Yul Brynner and Peter Sellers “gobbling on each other’s nobs in a closet.”  I don’t necessarily put a great deal of store in the testimony of brains as profoundly pickled as Hopper’s in the early 70s or Manson’s in the early 90s – I just thought you might appreciate the mental images.  (In One Hand Jerking: Reports from an Investigative Satirist, Paul Krassner recounts how Hal Lipset, the legendary private detective on whose career The Conversation was based, told him that elements of the L.A. police force were offering seven straight hours of celebrity skin flick seized from the Polanski residence for a quarter of a millions dollars.)

The Babe in the Egg of Blue.

On June 6th, Bobby Kennedy was shot and fatally wounded in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, by one Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian student of self-hypnosis who had paid four dollars in the mail to join the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC) in 1966.  A week later, Rosemary’s Baby premiered in San Francisco.  A conspiranoid bonanza: during the satanic rape sequence, Rosemary dreams that she is on-board a yacht; though rather obliquely suggested in the movie, the novel makes it clear that the captain of the yacht is none other than John F Kennedy.  Rosemary’s Baby is the second major, culturally resonant movie of ’68 to culminate in a birth, the first being Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  If the Aquarian 60s were really the full flowering of Aleister Crowley’s Aeon of the Crowned and Conquering Child, then its birth throes were being captured in the popular cinema of 1968.  In one of his commentaries to the Book of the Law, Crowley describes Harpocrates as the “Babe in the Egg of Blue…….He represents the Higher Self, the Holy Guardian Angel.  He contains everything in Himself, but is unmanifested.”

Michael Aquino, Sammy Davis Jr, and Anton LaVey.

Present at the premier of Rosemary’s Baby are two would-be spokesmen of the New Aeon: Anton LaVey and his future disciple Michael Aquino.  Aquino was then in the middle of a tour of duty at Fort Brag with the 82nd Airborne Division, and would later be made a PSYOP/Special Forces officer.  His activities in Vietnam will include projecting amplified sound – “demonic screams” and the like – from helicopters in order to disorientate the Vietcong.  In a weird echo of Francis Ford Coppola’s later Vietnam fever-dream Apocalypse Now, Aquino enjoys blasting Jefferson Airplane from the helicopter on return flights, leading to rumours that Uncle Sam is bombarding Charlie with psychedelic rock.  Aquino continues to develop his interest in the Church of Satan and correspond with LaVey while in Vietnam, and bizarrely manages to write a would-be prophetic text of Satanism entitled The Diabolicon while on duty.  But on the evening of the Rosemary’s Baby premier in July of ’68, LaVey and Aquino do not know each other yet, and we will turn our attention instead to the film’s producer William Castle.

William Castle arrived in Hollywood at the age of 23 in 1937, and had been producing, directing, and occasionally acting in pictures since the early 40s.  He worked as an assistant to Orson Welles in ’47 on The Lady from Shanghai, but his reputation was destined to be the opposite of that of a Welles.  Welles everyone regarded as a Great Artist who couldn’t acquiesce to the demands of Hollywood as a commercial business rather than an art-form.  Castle on the other hand was often viewed as a carnival barker who could just about acquiesce to the demands of making some kind of art to go behind the pitch.  Castle was the High Renaissance Master of Gimmick; he seemed enraptured and utterly possessed by gimmickry at its most patent and absurd.  There was just nothing he wouldn’t do to fill seats.  ’59’s The Tingler was filmed in “Percepto”; this meant it was shot the same damn way as every other picture, except some seats were equipped with vibrating motors.  Also in ’59, The House on Haunted Hill was filmed in “Emergo”; this meant it was shot the same damn way as every other picture, except that at a certain point in the movie a doubtless spine-chilling inflatable glow in the dark skeleton floated on a wire over the audience in the theatre.  ‘61’s Homicidal had a “Fright break” and what was called “Coward’s corner”: a “yellow cardboard booth, manned by a bewildered theatre employee in the lobby. When the Fright Break was announced, and you found that you couldn't take it anymore, you had to leave your seat and, in front of the entire audience, follow yellow footsteps up the aisle, bathed in a yellow light. Before you reached Coward's Corner, you crossed yellow lines with the stencilled message: 'Cowards Keep Walking.' You passed a nurse, who would offer a blood-pressure test. All the while a recording was blaring, "'Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in Coward's Corner'!"

Yet, for all his obvious gusto for theatrical schlock and gimmickry, a part of Castle longed for the gravitas and prestige of making an honest to god real stand on its own merits artistically respectable picture.  Imagine then that you’re William Castle in June ’68; you’ve finally, finally made a great, critically lauded picture…..and then everything starts to go scarily wrong.  William Castle is about to enter a conspiranoid Twilight Zone where Rosemary’s Baby turned out to be shot in….Diabolical Life-Threatening Curso-vision.

First came the angry letters.  A noisy minority of religious lamp-shades didn’t take too kindly to films about the devil, and let Castle know their feelings in print.  “Rosemary’s Baby is filth and YOU will die as a result” went one, “you have unleashed evil on the earth” another.    The most memorable:  "Bastard.  Believer of Witchcraft.  Worshipper at the Shrine of Satanism.  My prediction is you will slowly rot during a long and painful illness which you have brought upon yourself."  Which was all well and good for laughs, except Castle did get sick.  He began to feel sharp and excruciating pains in his groin; which, if you think about it, is a pretty likely location to receive the wrath of a loopy fundamentalist Christian.  Castle eventually collapsed, requiring a spinal tap to remove a blockage from his urinary tract.  Doubtless a little feverish from his illness, Castle started to worry quite a bit about Rosemary’s Baby; "The story of Rosemary's Baby was happening in life. Witches, all of them, were casting their spell, and I was becoming one of the principal players."  The legend has it that Castle yelled out “Rosemary, put down that knife!” during one of this treatments.

But the weirdness was only getting started.  Imagine how Castle must have felt when Krzysztof Komeda, the Polish jazz musician who had composed the score for Rosemary Baby, was rushed to the same hospital, suffering from a mysterious brain trauma.  Accounts as to how Komeda received the injury varied, although it is most widely believed that it was a result of a fall he took during a friendly scuffle with the Polish writer Marek Hlasko in the latter stages of a drinking party.  Hlasko was heard to say “If Krysztof dies, I will go along.”  Komeda died in Warsaw on the 23rd of April, 1969, and on June 14th, Hlasko, whose heroes had been Dostoevsky and Boogie, died of what is assumed to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills and booze.  Then, of course, on August 9, the attack on Cielo drive happened, with Charles “Tex” Watson reputedly introducing himself: “I am the devil, here to do the devil’s business.”  Castle must have been losing his mind, not even realizing that his leading lady had also been present during the genesis of many of the songs which the killers had turned into their own private Book of Revelations.  He later wrote:  “All my life I had yearned for the applause, approval and recognition of my peers; and when the awards were being passed out, I no longer cared.  I was at home, very frightened of Rosemary’s Baby.”  Castle had scared himself into the Coward’s corner of his own movie.

A Very Weird Aside Starring Steve McQueen

I thought I was going to get this finished up with this post but it looks like running for one more, so I’m just going to throw one last shard of weirdness into the mix to really get the cauldron boiling.  Let’s return to Jay Sebring, whom we last met exchanging nods and winks with Sammy Davis at the LaVeyan grope gallery.  Sebring was a phenomenal presence on the Hollywood social scene during the 60s.  When Sebring was at a party, things tended to run normally enough until about 1 am.  However, once all the straights had left, Sebring would bring out his bag of tricks, and then the party really started.  (I’m paraphrasing Marshall Terrill here, whose book I don’t have to hand.)  One of his very close friends was the legendary Steve McQueen, who availed himself of Sebring’s genius with the scissors, as well his considerable access to high quality drugs and orgy partners.  Rumours abounded regarding Sebring’s satanic activities, but McQueen didn’t really go in for that angle.  Describing himself as a “hip kind of conservative”, he was happy enough with the hard drugs and group sex, thank you very much, without any ritual weirdness on top.  I came across the following story while browsing through Marshall Terrill’s book Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel in a shop.  It may be the weirdest aside to the Manson story I’ve yet encountered.

Steve McQueen was fond of taking walks by himself in the desert near Palm Springs at night.  At some point in 1969, after he had finished up working on The Reivers, McQueen was on one of his nocturnal desert walks when he came upon a campfire.  At the fire, he saw two young women sitting in a meditative trance, and some kind of satanic paraphernalia strewn around the campfire.  He doesn’t seem to have spoken to the girls, but every Friday night after the encounter, at exactly the same time, he suffered an intense migraine, accompanied by a powerful image of the devil.  McQueen was somewhat rattled by all this, so he went to consult a psychic.  The psychic told him that a coven of witches (in England, for some reason) were working to destroy him; they were attacking his mind in order to compel him to take his own life.  (Oddly enough, Krassner tells us in One Hand Jerking that McQueen fled to England for a while in the immediate aftermath of the Tate/LaBianca killings.)  After the Manson Family were arrested, it emerged that they had compiled a gruesome celebrity hit-list, which detailed, in a manner somewhat redolent of Crash-era JG Ballard at his most feverish, precisely how each one was to be done away with.  The Burtons were to be boiled.  Frank Sinatra was to be castrated.  There was some plan for Tom Jones which escapes me at the moment.  (In prison, Susan Atkins told a cellmate that snuffing Tom Jones would have bothered her because “he turns me on.”  Even Mansonoid psychosis couldn’t overrule Tom Jones’ perennial sex appeal.)  Since his company Solar Pictures had turned down some proposed Manson movies, Steve McQueen was on the list.  The Family planned to kidnap McQueen, and just as the psychic had said, force him to take his own life.  Oo-ee-oo.  No wonder Lee Marvin was afraid.

Concluded shortly.

I got the Beatles at the Ashram pictures from an excellent selection here.

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