The brutal slaying of Sharon Tate in the summer of '69 sent Hollywood's elite and powerful into paranoia. Stars carried guns, bosses treated overworked and beleaguered employees with kid-gloved respect, and movie magnates left town for well-timed impromptu vacations. The days between the August 9 killings and the November arrest of the Manson clan were like no other Hollywood has ever seen -- until now.
The monstrous murder of master PR agent Ronni Chasen has put Hollywood's hard-boiled honchos back to the business of watching their own backs. Since the Tuesday murder, florists have been busy filling orders for banquets of bouquets to some of Tinseltown's toniest and most lionized offices. Everyone is paranoid.
Mysterious murders are nothing new to Hollywood. Thomas Ince, William Desmond Taylor, Thelma Todd, Sal Mineo, and Bob Crane are among the thousands of unsolved American slayings. Time and circumstance has relegated those injustices to the back burner, but the Chasen slaying is destined to live on as legendary long after the case goes stone cold.
I live in Beverly Hills. My back gate opens up to Whittier Drive. Had I not dined on too many martinis at the Polo Lounge on Tuesday night, my routine would have found me up and active near my open kitchen window. Surely I would have heard the five shots that tore into my enclave's sense of security. I may have been Lindsay-Lohan-passed-out that night, but all week the shots' bang-bang-bang-bang-bang aftermath has been evident to me across Beverly Hills. Police are knocking on doors looking for surveillance video, pulling over large numbers of vehicles - especially taxicabs, and combing for clues that are buried in a killer's conscience.
Within a Little League pitch of where Chasen's car came to rest on Whittier drive, two more of Beverly Hills' most bloody and catastrophic events occurred. Just across the street and slightly to the left of the Chasen crash is the home where Bugsy Siegel was murdered as he sat reading his newspaper in the living room. Siegel was fired on nine times through the window of the mansion. His assassin was never caught. Just across the street and to the right of where Chasen was found dead from five bullet wounds to the chest, is the home where Howard Hughes crashed his XF-11 in 1946. Hughes was aiming for an emergency landing at the Los Angeles Country Club, but fell short, coming to a fiery wreck on Whittier Drive. The northern edge of Whittier Drive is a Beverly Hills Bermuda Triangle of calamity right on the edge of dreamland.
Since the death of Michael Jackson (a scant quarter mile from where Chasen's car came to rest) star tour vans have barraged the rented house where he took the fatal dose. Now, for at least the near-term, there is a new ghoulishness in town. The Chasen murder has taken the conscientiousness of tourists, regular citizens, and movie moguls hostage. The murmur of a biopic has agents checking their client rosters for a star to play the 64 year-old PR doyenne as the whodunit aspect simultaneously leaves everyone checking their enemies list.
Crime and violence has always been a cold, hard fact of human existence. War turns moral norms upside down; murder becomes a job, and the killer conduit for the rage of the people. If we are to continue to overpopulate at current rates, we must be prepared for stress and anger directed towards another individual or country.
Whether it's Vermont-Slauson, Watts, Camden NJ, Detroit, or Beverly Hills, selfishness or injustice towards another and the anger desperation breeds will continue to come to rest on all our front yards until we evolve or humanity becomes extinct.
For Hollywood, the violence against Ronni Chasen came too close, too hard, and too shocking to ever fade anything but black.