Charles Manson and Grandpa Munster

yeah, the notorious cult leader knew actor Al Lewis

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A mugshot photograph of Manson shortly after his ’67 release

In March 1967, Charles Manson was released from prison. He’d served six years on check forgery charges and previously served about nine or ten years in youth detention centers, reformatories and jails, on charges ranging from petty larcery, auto theft and pimping. Between 1960–1966 he served at McNeil Island in Washington State, and then was transferred to Terminal Island in San Pedro, California.

During those years, Charlie invested in time in two primary pursuits: perfecting his musicianship skills (he was a guitarist and songwriter) and educating himself on ways to improve his lot in life (he studied everything from Scientology to Dale Carnegie, and absorbed lessons from other inmates who he felt seemed to have a good grip on what was happening in the world).

When he came out of prison, he wanted to dedicate himself to becoming a rock and roll star.

Between spring of 1967 and summer of 1968, he began to ‘collect’ young people in the San Francisco Bay Area — primarily women and teen girls — who were disenfranchised from their own families. He became their father figures, their lovers, their priests, their gurus. And he and his growing ‘Family’ bought an old school bus which they painted black and drove down to Los Angeles so he could make contacts in the music biz.

Charlie actually met a number of famous people during 1968. Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson. Neil Young. The Mamas and the Papas. But this article is about one of his ‘celebrity friends’ — none other than character actor Al Lewis.

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Actor Al Lewis, in character as Grandpa Munster (CBS)

The only ‘alias’ Charlie ever used was ‘Chuck Summers’. Summers was his talent scout alter-ego. He’d go to the clubs on Sunset Boulevard and try to pick up pretty young things. He didn’t have much success — although later he used elfin Paul Watkins (a member of the Manson Family) to do this kind of dirty work to greater effect. But he did meet some interesting characters in Hollywood. One was none other than actor Al Lewis, ‘Grandpa’ from The Munsters!

I will caution readers that Lewis was known as a champion bullshitter (the only actor in the biz who pretended to be older than he was!) so take this with a grain of salt:

Lewis had three young sons (Paul, Ted and Dave) at that time with his first wife, Marge. In a 1997 radio interview, Lewis explained:

“Every Friday I used to have about fifty, sixty kids who would wait for me on Sunset Boulevard and I’d take them all to dinner. All runaways. That’s how I met Charlie Manson. He wanted to be in the music business. He babysat my three kids… I met him in front of the Whiskey-A-Go-Go on Sunset Boulevard. He… amused the kids, he brought the guitar and he played, no big deal, no sweat.”

Al Lewis was born April 30, 1923 in Brooklyn, New York — the child of Russian immigrants. He had two younger brothers, and they were raised Jewish.

Lewis later claimed that he was born in 1910 — which would have made him thirteen years older than he was! He also claimed that he earned a Ph.D. in child psychology from Columbia University — Columbia denies that Lewis was ever a student at the university.

Lewis spent his early adulthood working in radio, as well as burlesque and vaudeville theater. He also was in a few Broadway Plays in the ’50s and ’60s (The Night Circus 1958, One More River 1960, Do Re Mi 1962). He parlayed that work into television appearances on the Phil Silvers Show and then on Car 54, Where Are You where he met his Munsters co-star Fred Gwynne.

Lewis was also on one episode of Lost in Space (Rocket to Earth 1967).

He was in several movies in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s but by then, he was typecast after starring as the irascible Grandpa Munster on CBS for two seasons (seems like there were more episodes than that, doesn’t it?).

Lewis was also a self-described ‘revolutionary’ by the ’60s, supporting the anti-war movement and generally friendly with many of the era’s counterculture figures. It was during this time that he met Charles Manson. Like a lot of people, his impressions of the itinerant musician were positive. Lewis always said, “He was nice to me.

Charlie was nice to everybody, until he wasn’t.

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Marilyn didn’t feel like such a freak when cousin Charlie came to visit (Munsters CBS 1966 promotional photo)

You can learn more about Charles Manson by visiting

You can learn more about Manson’s celebrity connections here:

And more about Charlie’s first months of freedom in the Summer of Love:

Written by

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series.

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