In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Quentin Tarantino decided to rewrite history and spare the heavily pregnant Sharon Tate, along with Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger and Steven Parent, from a violent death at the hands of the Manson Family at 10050 Cielo Drive on the night of August 8, 1969. He probably also spared Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, who were murdered at 3301 Waverly Drive the following night.
In Tarantino’s Hollywood of 1969, the four Family members are challenged by Rick Dalton, the fading star of a fifties Western television series and a few Italian B movies and the next door neighbour of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, after he hears their car creeping around on the road. They decide to murder him rather than Tate and the three, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins and Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel, are beaten and killed by Dalton and his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth. Dalton and Booth work over and kill Charlie’s people, with Booth’s pit bull and a flamethrower in a swimming pool prominent.
Tarantino has Linda ‘Flowerchild’ Kasabian drive away rather than stay as the driver and lookout. Kasabian was a key witness for the prosecution at Manson and the Family’s trial in 1970. Flowerchild’s motives for driving away aren’t really clear. Was she reluctant to be a participant or running back to Charlie when Tex disobeys Manson and switches targets?
The real Linda Kasabian returned to Spahn Ranch after the Tate murders with Atkins, Krenwinkel and Watson. While Kasabian fled the Family two days after the LaBianca murders, returning to her mother in New Hampshire, she didn’t go to the police until there was a warrant issued for her arrest in October. She was then offered immunity from prosecution.
Either way, Flowerchild going to the cops or running home to Spahn Ranch probably wouldn’t have made much difference in 1969. Flowerchild could say she was in the car at Cielo Drive, but surely couldn’t prove what Tex, Sadie and Katie were there for. It would be written up as a hippy drug-induced robbery that went gloriously wrong.
The LaBianca murders wouldn’t have taken place as they were only chosen because Manson thought the Tate murders were botched and didn’t point to the Black Panthers as being the perpetrators, and therefore wouldn't help start Helter Skelter, the race war Charlie was predicting. Nor would it help free Bobby Beausoleil, Manson’s friend and semi-Family member, who was in jail charged with murdering Gary Hinman, another associate of Manson and the Family. Manson was hoping the similarities of both murder scenes would lead the police to conclude Black Panthers were responsible.
So Manson took the Tate killers along with Leslie Van Houten and Steve ‘Clem’ Grogan to 3301 Waverly Drive, the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, to show them how it should be done. The LaBiancas were only chosen because Charlie and a few of the Family had attended a party the previous summer at the house next door.
Now we have to imagine Manson’s reaction if Tarantino’s alternative history were true. He’d hear about the failed invasion of Rick Dalton’s home and no doubt he’d have been paranoid and angry. If Linda Kasabian had returned to Spahn Ranch she’d have been beaten, probably by Charlie, all the while swearing revenge on Dalton and Booth. Manson had beaten women all his life. After his rage was spent, he would've realised he needed another, more high profile, target. There were several candidates.
The Beach Boys co-founder and drummer, and brother of Brian and Carl Wilson, met the Family in the spring of 1968, and they’d lived in his home at 14400 Sunset Boulevard for a few months until Wilson grew sick of their sponging and moved out, knowing his lease on the property was coming to an end. Later in 1968, the Beach Boys recorded one of Manson’s songs, Cease to Exist, which was heavily reworked into Never Learn Not to Love and released as a B-side and included on the album 20/20. The song was credited to Dennis Wilson alone. Wilson had already given Manson cash and a motorbike in exchange for the rights to the song.
Manson, however, was angry that the original lyrics had been changed and had a bullet given to Wilson's housekeeper at his new home. Wilson had by then broken off any contact with Manson and the Family, though he did give Charlie some money when he turned up at his door a few days after the Tate–LaBianca murders.
Wilson was too scared to testify at Manson’s trial, though he gave evidence in a private interview with prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. Wilson was haunted by his association with Manson and later struggled with addictions to achohol, cocaine and heroin. He drowned while high at Marina del Rey in the late afternoon of December 28, 1983, after drinking all day. He was just 39 years old.
Terry Melcher was the son of Doris Day and a producer and talent scout for Columbia Records, producing the first two albums by The Byrds. In late 1968 Dennis Wilson introduced Melcher to Charlie at Melcher’s house at 10050 Cielo Drive, the home he shared with his actress girlfriend Candice Bergen. Charlie auditioned for Melcher at Spahn Ranch, but Melcher wasn’t sold, stalling the eager Manson. Melcher was thinking more of a documentary film about Manson and his cult. Soon after Melcher and Bergen moved out of 10050 Cielo Drive as Melcher was trying to sort out his mother’s financial problems. Melcher and Bergen moved into one of Day’s properties in Malibu. Family member Susan Atkins, Sexy Sadie, later said the house at 10050 Cielo Drive was chosen to scare Melcher because he’d gone back on his word.
Brian Wilson despised Charles Manson and saw him as a talentless crook, calling the short and unwashed guru ‘pigpen’. Brian had done a background check on Manson and warned his brother about his long and violent criminal record. For Dennis this merely enforced the guru’s outlaw status. While Dennis was keen to sign Manson to Brother Records, the label owned by the Beach Boys, Brian was resolutely opposed.
Neil Young heard Manson play at Spahn Ranch, and thought he had something. He spoke to Charlie and asked if he was signed to a label. Manson wasn’t, of course, and Young suggested to Mo Ostin, the head of Reprise Records, he should have someone at the label check him out. There’s no record of anyone from Reprise acting on Young’s tip.
The KIll List
While in custody awaiting trial, Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins claimed Manson has a hit list of Hollywood celebrities, which included Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. No actual written list was ever found.
The frontrunner would’ve always been Terry Melcher, the traitor who wouldn't make Charlie a rock star, perhaps even along with Melcher's mother, Doris Day.
There’s also the possibility that Manson could’ve given up trying to jump-start Helter Skelter and just waited for it all to happen without him. He would’ve moved the Family from Spahn Ranch to Barker Ranch in Death Valley, just as he did after the real Tate–LaBianca murders. The Family would’ve just drifted apart and faded away, like so many other hippy cults at the end of the sixties. In Tarantino’s alternative Hollywood of 1969, Manson and the Family might've just been forgotten, lost in a bright acid haze.