The Manson Family on Primetime?

NBC Television nearly filmed a documentary about the Family before the murders

In July and August of 1969, members of the Manson Family murdered ten innocent people during a four-week span of time. But two months before the murders, they were in negotiations with NBC Studios to film a documentary that would portray them as the epitome of the Peace & Love generation!

Charles Manson had befriended three very influential men in the music business: Dennis Wilson, drummer for the Beach Boys; talent scout Gregg Jakobson; and Terry Melcher, producer for Columbia Records. All three were good friends and all three were connected to very powerful people in the film industry: Melcher was the son of movie star Doris Day, Jakobson was the son-in-law of famed comedian Lou Costello (Abbott and Costello), and all three men knew many supremely successful people in the music biz including producer Lou Adler.

In 1968, Terry Melcher was in talks with Dennis and Adler to start a film company. Adler had worked with Janis Joplin, the Mamas and the Papas, and produced the award-winning film of the Monterey Pop Festival.

Charlie met Melcher and Jakobson through Dennis Wilson, who had picked up two members of the Family (Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey) hitchhiking. Wilson brought the women to his house where they ate cookies and drank milk, and then had sex together. The drummer left the women at his Pacific Palisades home to go to the recording studio and when he returned home, his house was all lit up and Charles Manson greeted him at the back door by kissing his feet.

Charlie knew that Wilson, Jakobson and Melcher were the most likely of all the people he’d met to help him get a record deal. He told his women to be available to the men in hopes of sweetening the deal.

Wilson and Jakobson were both very enamored of Charlie, in different ways. Wilson had experienced a very traumatic childhood and was looking to drugs, meditation, gurus, to help soothe his troubled soul. He thought he found that in Manson, whom he called ‘The Wizard’.

Gregg Jakobson had a different perspective of Manson than his good buddy Wilson. He enjoyed Charlie and found him mercurial, charming and a lot of fun to be around.

“His rap was solid. He had this charm of throwing ten things at you, and while you’re still working on number three, he’s at seven… He’d bend down, pick up a handful of rocks, and throw them in the air. They’d all come back to him, and he’d look at you and say, ‘Throw it all away, and it’ll come back to you’” But even Jakobson witnessed Charlie’s bad moods. “I remember once he held a gun to my head and said, ‘What would you do if I pulled the trigger?’ I said, ‘Well, I guess I’d die.’ He really liked that, and just put it back in his belt… strange as it sounds, I loved Charlie for pointing that gun at my head.” — Gregg Jakobson quoted in “Charlie Manson Saves the Whales” by Ivan Solotaroff ©February 1992 Esquire magazine

In the fall of ’68, the Beach Boys recorded a single that Charlie wrote. It was originally titled ‘Cease to Exist’ but the band changed the name to ‘Never Learn Not to Love’. Manson was pissed at this (he also never earned royalties on the single) but he still needed Wilson, Jakobson and Melcher to help him ignite his music career so he tried to bite his tongue.

Wilson arranged several recording sessions with Manson and the Family, including at Brian Wilson’s home studio. There were sessions in early 1969 at a Westwood Studio, as well.

In May 1969, Wilson and Jakobson scheduled another studio session for Manson. It went disastrously. But during the session, Jakobson mentioned filming a documentary about the Family. He believed in Charlie and thought the film might spotlight his talents.

Jakobson reached out to NBC Studios to pitch his documentary about a hippie commune living above the Hollywood Hills and NBC was intrigued. Jakobson also called Melcher, who agreed to hear Charlie outside of the studio, where he’d be more relaxed. Melcher arranged to visit Spahn Ranch a week later.

Melcher met with Charlie and arranged for a friend of his, musician Mike Deasy, to come out to Spahn Ranch to record the Family. Deasy had a mobile van that would be perfect for outdoor recordings, which would be much better for Charlie than the rigid structure of a traditional studio.

On June 3rd, Jakobson and Melcher arrived at Spahn Ranch to visit Manson ahead of Deasy’s recording session. An argument broke out between Melcher, Manson and Jakobson. Author Ed Sanders claimed that the argument was witnessed by Family member Edward ‘Sunshine’ Pierce and was about the direction that the film would take:

“Already they’d shot pictures and made tapes for a presentation. The NBC officials, on the one hand, wanted a verité hippie-commune movie with a narrator. But Charlie hated hippies. Charlie wanted to make an honest movie presenting the Family in an as-is situation, adding marauder elements, bikers, creepy-crawlie capers — in order to magnet in on potential followers and attract them.” — The Family by Ed Sanders ©2002 Thunder’s Mouth Press

Angry with Jakobson who refused to broker a documentary based on Manson’s Helter Skelter visions, the Family then went to NBC Studios and stole a van filled with video equipment.

There have been many rumors abounding in the past five decades about what may have happened to that equipment. There was chatter for years that the Family filmed pornography or even snuff films with the equipment.

And the session withe Deasy, like the studio sessions before it, went horribly wrong. The Family dosed Deasy with too much acid and he spent a day in agony at Spahn Ranch, without any suitable recordings.

But we know what happened to much of the audio equipment from the NBC van: On the day of the Moon Landing (July 20, 1969) Charlie went into a rage after two Family women (Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share and Nancy ‘Brenda’ Pitman rolled a barrel down a hill and the lid accidentally broke off. Charlie beat Gypsy, kicking her viciously.

“Charlie was kicking me and I rolled over into a ball, trying to protect my body. I didn’t know why he beat me. He instilled terror toward the end there, in every single person around him. He had total control over them.” — Catherine Share from the documentary “Manson” ©2009 The History Channel

After he beat the living hell out of Gypsy, Manson then destroyed some of the sound equipment that day, stolen from the NBC van.

A week after destroying that equipment, the Family committed their first murder.

Now, we don’t actually know whether anyone in a top position at NBC Studios was seriously considering making a film about the Manson Family. We have no idea who Jakobson’s contact at the studios was. But media was certainly looking for ways to reflect the counterculture, for their own profits and it could be that this proposed documentary was under serious consideration during the summer of 1969.

Manson always was his worst enemy. But it’s interesting to imagine what a documentary on NBC prime time television would have looked like, featuring the Manson Family just months or weeks before they savagely killed ten innocent people.

You can learn more about Charlie’s music career here:

And more about Charlie’s other famous connections here:

H. Allegra Lansing is the author of the true crime book The Manson Family: More to the Story

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

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