The Charles Manson – Dennis (“Beach Boys”) Wilson Connection

Well. Here is something I’d never heard about before, never once in all the years since I first read the grisly details of Sharon Tate’s murder in the Sunday newspaper’s Parade magazine when I was just a kid under ten years old.

Cult-leader and killer Charles Manson and Beach Boy drummer and surfer Dennis Wilson were friends. For a while, at least. Good enough friends that Manson and his “family” of young women lived with Wilson for several months. Good enough friends that Wilson convinced the Beach Boys to include a song written by Manson, who had musical ambitions, on their album 20/20.

For reference, on the off chance that you don’t know who Charles Manson is, here is a photo. You can tell by the source that he’s not the most upstanding citizen.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Here is Dennis Wilson, playing drums with the Beach Boys in 1964.

Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

And here, in a 1971 promotional shot for the film Two-Lane Blacktop.

Universal Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While I’m at it, here is Sharon Tate, who was murdered in her home with several other people by the Manson family in August 1969. This photo was a publicity shot for Tate’s appearance in the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls.

20th Century-Fox; Restored by Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I haven’t yet seen Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but over my Christmas break I began reading Tarantino’s novelization of it. It’s not quite the genre or style of book I usually read, but I’m enjoying it. Tarantino’s writing style sort of reminds me of his films: quirky characters, nonlinear narrative, shifting points of view, playful refusals to judge while at the same time delivering commentary on characters and situations.

I’m really enjoying the way fact and fiction are so mixed up in this story. The book’s title, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, captures this well. Not only is it a tale about Hollywood as it actually existed once upon a time, but it’s also a complete fairytale about events that (emphatically) never happened.

So I’m reading along (with little prior knowledge of the film’s/book’s plot) and being surprised by the introduction of a young blonde hitchhiking to Hollywood who turns out to be Sharon Tate. And then finding out that one of our main characters lives next door to Sharon and her new husband, Roman Polanski. I know how this will turn out. Until I discover a few chapters later that apparently it won’t. Something about a flamethrower. Tarantino’s little leap forward in time regarding this is disconcerting and is inserted into a discussion of how the main character had too much to drink the night before because he is bipolar, a diagnosis he won’t learn of until much later in his life but which he understands at a future date (even further into the future than the future flame-throwing incident) to have also been the cause of his good friend Pete Duel’s suicide at yet another future date. (Duel was a real person, whom I remember from television and whose death shocked and saddened me.) Anyway, as the strange insertion of future flashbacks implies, the Sharon Tate murder is apparently not going to go down exactly the way it did in real life, and it’s also apparently going to be really fun for us as readers to experience the bad guys getting their just desserts.

Which brings me back to the main bad guy, Charles Manson. I knew as early as the Parade magazine article that Manson and his “family” had gone to Sharon Tate’s house looking for Terry Melcher, who did not live there. And I knew that Manson’s actual target was this Terry Melcher, who I also knew was Doris Day’s son. This constitutes the entirety of my previous knowledge. I had no idea that Terry Melcher was a big shot in his own right, apart from being Doris Day’s son. As it turns out, he was an important producer in the music industry.

Anyway Manson met Terry Melcher through his friend, Dennis Wilson, who was one of the Beach Boys. WHAT??? After the flamethrower incident, which I knew was totally fictional because it directly contradicts real-life facts, I figured this Dennis Wilson appearance was fictional, too.

NOPE! True fact.

Dennis Wilson’s connection to Charles Manson began when he (Wilson) picked up hitchhikers who turned out to be women in Manson’s “family.” Manson showed up at Wilson’s house later that day, and the whole cult commune lived there at Wilson’s house for several months.

Several months!

A very weird story, and one that does not appear to be especially hidden, as there’s a lengthy section about this interlude in Wilson’s life in Wikipedia’s article about him. Plus that song Manson wrote even has its own Wikipedia article. Apparently, Manson knew Wilson well enough to have observed tensions between him and his Beach Boys siblings/band mates, which is the song’s subject matter.

Yet I never heard a whisper of any of this in all the decades I’ve been aware of the murders and of Charles Manson in general. That includes the book and movie about the murders, Helter Skelter, that came out in the mid-1970s when I was in junior high and high school. If Wilson showed up in either of those, I sure missed it.  

Here are links to the relevant Wikipedia articles in case you’d like to see for yourself 🙂

Wikipedia article on Dennis Wilson HERE.

Wikipedia article on Charles Manson’s Beach Boys song HERE.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in Books and reading, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Charles Manson – Dennis (“Beach Boys”) Wilson Connection

  1. Lucy says:

    Jesus Christ, this is a trip to learn about. I had no idea about the Manson Beach Boys connection—it’s absolutely insane and almost unbelievable. But, quite interesting too especially when you delve upon the history. Nice write-up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I saw the movie! Really interesting!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wyrd Smythe says:

    Oof, ya. We lived in Los Angeles at the time, so had front row seats, so to speak. Really horrific headlines!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You probably know far more about these murders than most people. The local papers always carry the more detailed stories. Sadly, I can tell you far more about Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes (which occurred here in Milwaukee) than anyone should ever want to know.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. marlane gohl says:

    Yeah, the Dennis Wilson connection has been documented well. Here’s the link on imdb. John Stamos executive produced this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. marlane gohl says:

    For clarification, John Stamos has been heavily involved with the Beach Boys as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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