Dirty secrets of Hollywood’s golden age revealed as PI’s archive is released
Rock Hudson’s row with his wife and Marilyn Monroe having sex with JFK among records
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, was published in 2014.
Friday 07 June 2013
In January 1958, Rock Hudson’s wife, Phyllis Gates, confronted the Hollywood heartthrob about his homosexuality.
The sensational transcript of that conversation has come to light as one of the items in the archive of the late private detective Fred Otash, studied for the first time since Otash’s death more than 20 years ago by The Hollywood Reporter.
Otash, who inspired the character of private investigator Jake Gittes (played by Jack Nicholson) in the 1974 film Chinatown, was a notorious Hollywood gumshoe during the 1950s and 1960s, who snooped on – and on behalf of – a slew of the era’s stars, including Lana Turner, Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra and Bette Davis. In his notes, Otash claims to know the location of Judy Garland’s secret supply of pills; to have caught James Dean shoplifting at a Hollywood store; and to have heard Marilyn Monroe having sex with John F Kennedy.
In 1958, Gates hired Otash to record her exchanges with Hudson, her husband of three years. The transcript of the crucial conversation reveals that Gates demanded Hudson “grow out of” his homosexuality. “Everyone knows that you were picking up boys off the street shortly after we were married and have continued to do so, thinking that being married would cover up for you,” Gates said. But Hudson denied the charge, saying: “I have never picked up any boys on the street. I have never picked up any boys in a bar, never. I have never picked up any boys, other than to give them a ride.” Gates filed for divorce three months later.
Otash, known as “Mr O”, died aged 70 in 1992, having just completed a book called Marilyn, Kennedy and Me. The manuscript, never published, was also found among his files, which had been kept by his daughter. In it, he recalls bugging Monroe’s house, allegedly to snoop on Kennedy and other Democrats for the Republican tycoon Howard Hughes. Otash claims to have taped an argument between Monroe, Bobby Kennedy and Kennedy’s brother-in-law, the actor Peter Lawford, on the day she died.
The detective later said Lawford had asked him to remove anything that incriminated the Kennedy brothers – both rumoured to have had romantic relations with Monroe – from the dead star’s home.
A 6ft 2in ex-marine and vice cop, Otash left the LAPD under a cloud in 1955 and set up his own detective bureau. He drove a Cadillac, drank Scotch and smoked four packs of cigarettes per day. His career as a PI came to an end in the 1960s, after Congress began to investigate the Hollywood gossip magazines for which he often worked.
Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne said he drew on several figures for inspiration when creating Gittes, “but [Otash] was one of them”. It was recently announced that novelist James Ellroy is writing a television pilot entitled Shakedown, featuring Otash as its protagonist. Otash’s daughter Colleen, and the family’s sometime neighbour Manfred Westphal, said they had made the detective’s records public to counter his negative portrayal in Ellroy’s fiction. “Colleen and I are committed to setting the record straight,” Westphal told The Hollywood Reporter. “The truth is far more entertaining than fiction.”
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