I have no personal on-site stories about what happened at 10050 Cielo Drive that hot August night in 1969.

I rarely think about that night anymore, and it only came floating back after reading the Portland Press Herald editorial editor Greg Keisich’s Aug. 4 column, “Murders that ended the 60s still haunt us.”

Those were the ’60s and ’70s. Look at your history books. It was a time so packed with explosives you had to keep moving lest you step on something that could hurt you.

At the time, I was one of the hundreds of nervous young moving figures that floated up and down that part of Sunset Boulevard we called “The Strip,” a long river of light that still snakes through West Hollywood, like a neon version of Joseph Conrad’s Congo.

I arrived in West Hollywood in 1962 as a wannabe movie actor, and like everyone else, quickly became a permanent part of the landscape.

I had a lot of little bread-and-butter jobs on the Strip in those days. With a wife and two little girls at home, I started in a book store in late morning, moved to another one in the afternoon, and into managing a movie theater in the evening, winding up at midnight at the Comedy Club, waiting to go on and do my five minutes.

Such was my life for two years as a beginner, a pilgrim paddling his way up the river of dreams. The days and nights all seemed alike. And then it was “Aug. 9th.”

On the night of Aug. 9, four of us, two of whom became very famous and got in and out of trouble before becoming stars, were drinking at a bar restaurant on a patio overlooking the Strip.

They’re both gone now, but their kids are still there, so I will forget how to spell their names.

For the denizens of dreamland, it was a night like any other, until it wasn’t. Because this was Aug. 9, the night Mr. Kesich told you about, the night of the infamous Manson Murders.

The tables were all booked. We were sitting in the bar section, watching the famous and nearly famous come and go. There was the usual chatter and laughter, clinking glasses and smoke. You could do that then.

Out of nowhere, a police cruiser screamed by. Nothing special on the Strip, no one even looked up. But then another roared by, and another and another, followed by an ambulance and a fire rescue truck. That got everyone’s attention. Then they were gone, and the laughing and chatting resumed.

I knew it was late, and I should have been at home, but the two who would become very famous had just gotten big jobs and were telling great stories and paying for the drinks, so I stayed. For how much longer? I don’t remember.

But then this tall fellow in a white linen jacket came in, looked around, and went to the four front tables and started talking without sitting down.

One of the soon-to-be-famous guys turned his chair around and said something like, “Oh Jesus, I know him, he’s a reporter, don’t let him see me.” Those words exactly.

The reporter’s friends got up quickly and rushed out, and whatever he said to them blew across the floor like the wind. While we watched, almost the entire place emptied. We learned later, as the terrible, nightmarish news about Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring and their friends spread, that the rapid exodus we watched was happening all over Hollywood.

Weeks later, my friend who didn’t want to be seen that night, met me at an audition and explained. Before the afternoon of Aug. 10, wild, crazy rumors had spread in the vast palm tree dotted garden of the rich and famous, that Manson’s “gang” was larger than reported, and that they were targeting celebrities at random. Quietly, a perfumed panic had spread as bodyguards were hired and hasty trips abroad were taken. True story.

The myriad stories of that dark night have changed from that day to this. Facts were disputed, rechecked and trashed. Like Elizabeth (“Black Dahlia”) Short, and Natalie Wood’s mysterious end, Hollywood moved on and the house on 10050 Cielo Drive has long ago been torn down. Still, Hollywood, while hiding teary eyes behind sunglasses, loves its lurid past.

After all, this is Raymond Chandler country.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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