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Bizarre Celebrity Encounters With Charles Manson

Barbara Stepko
Getty Images
Getty Images

For a really wild game of “Six Degrees of Separation,” you might consider swapping Kevin Bacon for Charles Manson. Yep, the crazed cult leader crossed paths with more than a few Hollywood celebrities in his (pre) prison days. (Doris Day’s son? Angela Lansbury’s daughter? Michael Caine?) Yes, yes, and yes.

Here are a few of the big names who looked the devil in the eye and lived to tell the tale.

Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston at the opening ceremony of the Berlin International Film Festival 2018. Photo by Martin J. Kraft CC BY-SA 3.0

Bryan Cranston at the opening ceremony of the Berlin International Film Festival 2018. Photo by Martin J. Kraft CC BY-SA 3.0

The Breaking Bad star was 12-years-old when he went horse-back riding at Spahn Ranch, located in the Canoga Park section of L.A., not far from where he grew up.

The ranch, a former film set for old-time Westerns, is where the Manson Family was encamped. As Cranston related the story to The Daily Beast, while riding along a trail, the youngsters came across a group of people on horseback.

Charles Manson booking photo, Federal Correctional Institute Terminal Island, May 2, 1956

Charles Manson booking photo, Federal Correctional Institute Terminal Island, May 2, 1956

One of them was Charles Manson, who Cranston described as a “comatose, bearded, long-haired guy with big eyes … Totally zoned out. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him.”

Imagine Cranston’s surprise when, six months afterward, he spotted Manson’s mug on the news after he had been arrested for the Tate and LaBianca murders. “The picture of Charlie Manson was the guy on the back of this horse,” said Cranston. “And [my cousin and I] thought for a second, Oh my god, what if?”

Dennis Wilson

Cropped 1971 promotional photo of Dennis Wilson for ‘Two-Lane Blacktop’.

Cropped 1971 promotional photo of Dennis Wilson for ‘Two-Lane Blacktop’.

The Beach Boy’s drummer made the mistake of picking up two female hitchhikers who just happened to be members of the Manson Family. The girls no doubt spread the word about their cushy digs, because before you know it, more members moved into Wilson’s mansion. This being the “go with the flow” 60s and all, Wilson wasn’t all that mad.

Rock and roll band The Beach Boys walk along the beach holding a surfboard for a portrait session in August 1962 in Los Angeles, California. (L-R) Dennis Wilson, David Marks, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Brian Wilson. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Rock and roll band The Beach Boys walk along the beach holding a surfboard for a portrait session in August 1962 in Los Angeles, California. (L-R) Dennis Wilson, David Marks, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Brian Wilson. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In fact, he kind of dug Manson and not only introduced him to big-wigs in the music industry but produced a record with him (which never saw the light of day).

Eventually, the relationship went south, resulting in Manson threatening Wilson and his family. Rumor has it: He showed Wilson a bullet and said, “Every time you look at it, I want you to think how nice it is your kids are still safe.” Wilson flipped out and attacked Manson. He then (wisely) abandoned his home, never to return.

Neil Young

Neil Young in concert November 9, 1976, in Austin, Texas. Photo by Mark Estabrook

Neil Young in concert November 9, 1976, in Austin, Texas. Photo by Mark Estabrook

The Canadian-born rock star met the Manson and his “girls” at one of Dennis Wilson’s parties. Young would recall the group as having an “intense vibe” (ya think?).

Nonetheless, he listened to some of Manson’s music and was impressed. Young suggested that a record executive give him an audition, but Manson had to bail.

The Mamas and the Papas

The Mamas and the Papas

The Mamas and the Papas

Like Young, “Mama” Cass Elliot and John Phillips also thought Manson had the stuff to make it in music, and even introduced him to record executives. (Interesting tidbit: Susan Atkins, the Family member who killed Sharon Tate, would write in a journal that Cass Elliot taught her how to make brownies!)

Terry Melcher

Photo of producer Terry Melcher (left) in the recording studio with the Byrds, Gene Clark (center) and David Crosby (right), listening to a take.

Photo of producer Terry Melcher (left) in the recording studio with the Byrds, Gene Clark (center) and David Crosby (right), listening to a take.

Dennis Wilson, Neil Young and Cass Elliot may have been impressed by Manson’s way with an acoustic guitar, but Melcher, a successful music producer (who just happened to be the son of Doris Day), was nonplussed.

He gave it to Manson straight, and let’s just say that the musician wanna-be — not a fan of constructive criticism — didn’t take it well. That was sticky: Manson knew where Melcher (and his live-in girlfriend at the time, Candice Bergen) lived.

Fortunately, for Melcher (and Murphy Brown fans), the two would relocate.

In moved another young couple: director Roman Polanski and his pregnant wife Sharon Tate. There are many who believe that the murders may not have been a random act, but rather designed to target Melcher, the man who put the kibosh on Manson’s musical aspirations.

In short, Tate and her houseguests just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Michael Caine

Michael Caine at the Vienna International Film Festival 2012, Gartenbaukino. Photo by Manfred Werner / Tsui CC BY-SA 3.0

Michael Caine at the Vienna International Film Festival 2012, Gartenbaukino. Photo by Manfred Werner / Tsui CC BY-SA 3.0

According to Caine’s 1992 autobiography, What’s It All About?, the Brit actor crossed paths with Manson at Hollywood party, describing him as “a scruffy little man.”

Especially eerie, Sharon Tate and hairstylist Jay Sebring, who would be murdered by Manson’s followers, were guests at the same party.

Deirdre Shaw

Angela Lansbury with her children in 1957

Angela Lansbury with her children in 1957

Don’t recognize the name? Shaw is the daughter of Angela Lansbury and her former husband, producer Peter Shaw. As an impressionable teen, Shaw fell in with the Family (sort of) for a time — one of many young girls mesmerized by the charismatic cult leader.

Manson and his crew, always short on cash, targeted the high-schooler, using her as their own personal ATM machine to pay for clothes and car parts.

Charles Manson mugshot

Charles Manson mugshot

Shaw, impressed with the groovy free spirits, gladly complied. When her parents discovered what was going on, they canned her credit and high-tailed it to Ireland. Lansbury would tell London’s Daily Mail: “It pains me to say it but, at one stage, Deirdre was in with a crowd led by Charles Manson.”

Read another story from us: How Beach Boy Dennis Wilson Came Under the Spell of Charles Manson

“She was one of many youngsters who knew him — and they were fascinated. He was an extraordinary character, charismatic in many ways, no question about it.”

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