By Nikolas Schreck
Life’s twists and turns, you may have noticed, have a way of coming full circle in the most unexpected ways. When exploring that unfathomable black hole in the spacetime continuum we know as the Tate-LaBianca case, I’ve seen this pattern of synchronicities and eternal returns border on the mind-boggling.
Consider if you will, as Rod Serling might have put it when introducing an episode of The Twilight Zone, how my interactions with the on-screen reel life and the off-screen real life of the late great actor Ferdy Mayne led to a decisive turning point in my understanding of the Tate-LaBianca murders. In honor of the karmic debt I owe to Herr Mayne for his groundbreaking assistance in my research, this, what would’ve been his 99th birthday, makes a fitting occasion to offer a few observations on the oddity of it all.
As I told Obsküre magazine in September 2011 when they interviewed me about the French edition of my book The Manson File: Myth and Reality of an Outlaw Shaman – which sounds oh so much more sophisticated when you call it Le dossier Manson: Mythe et réalité d’un chaman hors-la-loi! – “I fell into the Tate-La Bianca rabbit hole in Paris, where I saw Polanski’s Le Bal des Vampires… Watching the film, I was struck by what I now feel was an uncanny premonition of what was to come. Twenty-six years later, the actor Ferdy Mayne, the star of that very film which first drew me into this web, revealed some of the hidden circumstances of the Cielo Drive slayings to Zeena and me, which was the genesis of this book.”
This French connection made it appropriate that my book was originally published in the land where I was first drawn into the Tate-LaBianca mysteries. From the last years of the Sixties until 1973, I spent a lot of time in Paris, largely because my Francophile father counted among his many obsessions a passionate scholarship of all things Napoleonic. A snapshot of my mindset in those years may illuminate the conditions that made me so susceptible to getting sucked into the darkest depths of the psychedelic wormhole that erupted at the 60s violent climax.
Of course I was crushed to learn on my first visit to Paris that there were no more public guillotinings to be seen. I was also disappointed that the Rue Morgue existed only in Edgar Allan Poe’s imagination, and that the Grand Guignol’s gore-spattered curtains had closed forever a few years earlier. And yet, through the one-track filter of my monomaniacal monsters and magic mad mind at the time, The City of Light was a veritable Citadel of Darkness whose ancient arrondissements brimmed with sinister secrets.
I was not blind to the Paris Opera House’s splendor, though my eyes kept searching through its opulence for any telltale shadow in Box 5, which, as everyone knows, is reserved for Erik the Phantom. Notre Dame Cathedral’s beauty paled in comparison to my delight in climbing the steep medieval steps that led to the gargoyle-infested bell tower where Victor Hugo’s hunchbacked Quasimodo once lurked.
Clutching my well-thumbed 1958 University Books translation of Down There, Huysmans‘ classic Symbolist Satanist roman à clef of diabolic fin de siècle decadence, I made another pious pilgrimage to yet another bell tower, Saint-Sulpice’s lofty spires. Huysmans had blasphemously set his landmark of Luciferian lit in that sacred setting, perhaps because such poetes maudites as De Sade and Baudelaire were baptized in that very house of worship. Ah, and who can say he has truly known gay Paree without hunting for the old house on the Rue de la Tannerie where in 1666, Madame Montespan, King Louis XIV’s mistress, cast a lust spell on the monarch while serving as the naked altar for the Black Masses that later scandalized the royal court?
Shortly after the student riots of ’68, whose noise I assiduously ignored with monarchist disdain as worldly rabble-rousing, I discovered in a Paris kiosk several back issues of the astounding magazine Midi-Minuit Fantastique. In stark contrast to the rather stodgy and juvenile monster mags available in the USA, MMF was an adult creature of the counterculture, a creepy Cahiers du Cinéma whose black clad bohemian editors audaciously celebrated the socially subversive, transgressive and – ooh la la! – erotique underpinnings of the horror genre. Just as it took a Baudelaire to appreciate Poe when he was ignored in America, the intellectual avant-garde Gallic ghouls at Midi-Minuit Fantastique re-evaluated the then-derided Mario Bava, Terence Fisher, Jean Rollin and other Eurohorror masters as true artists in the Surrealist tradition. Its provocative pages inspired me to learn to read French as quickly as possible, shaping my understanding of the macabre as an art form worthy of respect. Something of the heady flavor of this uniquely French épater le bourgeois mutation of the 60s craze for the supernatural comes across in this television report on the MMF phenomenon, which, conveniently enough, includes clips from Le Bal des Vampires and a rare interview with Roman Polanski appearing on a program with the editors of Midi-Minuit Fantastique at the height of their notoriety.
Through one issue of my new favorite journal, I was thrilled to learn that there was a cinema in Paris which showed only horror films and nothing but horror films. My idea, in 1968, of Paradise on Earth. I went there tout de suite to see the film fated to play as a matinée that day, Roman Polanski’s Le Bal des Vampires, a film much touted in Midi-Minuit Fantastique, but whose severely truncated US release as the abominably retitled The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck, I’d missed during its brief American run.
Some idea of how this film impacted my impressionable infernal mind can be gleaned from what I later wrote in The Satanic Screen: An Illustrated Guide To The Devil In Cinema (2001, Creation Books, London):
“Considering the attention Roman Polanski would pay to Satan in ROSEMARY’S BABY, the diabolism in his THE DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES (1967) is illuminating. In this seemingly innocuous parody of Hammer’s vampire movies, there are shadows of darker works to come. Count Krolock (Ferdy Mayne), like warlock Roman Castavet in the later film, is the leader of a Satanic cult. Krolock uses occult terminology to describe his vampire disciples, telling his human opponents that “as brooks flow into streams, streams into rivers, and rivers into the sea, so our adepts flow back to us, to swell our ranks.” Both films contain scenes in which the coven leader addresses his followers in the language of religion. Krolock declares: “I, your pastor, and you, my beloved flock, with hopefulness in my heart, I told you with Lucifer’s aid, we might look forward to a more succulent occasion.” With this, he holds up his hand in the so-called sign of the horns, a gesture used for centuries to signify the Devil among European Satanists. (As previously mentioned, Polanski obviously based his vampires on the robed coven of blood-drinkers in THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE.) In the final scene, the incompetent heroes escape Krolock’s castle with the rescued heroine (Sharon Tate) in tow. When Tate cuddles up to her fearless vampire-killer suitor (Polanski), we see that she has already become one of the undead; she bares her fangs to infect her protector. Ferdy Mayne‘s sinister voice tells us that the vampire-hunting Professor “never guessed he was carrying away with him the very evil he wished to destroy. Thanks to him, this evil would at last be able to spread across the world.” This subversive victory of evil broke all the rules of morality imposed on audiences by decades of Hollywood conditioning. The triumph of Polanski’s Satanic vampires, although leavened by comedy, may be read as a turning point in the relation of the cinema to the icons of Lucifer. In 1967, forces were stirring – in the cinema and in society – that would create an unprecedented popular fascination with black magic.”
The film hit me like an epiphany, fascinating me in some irrational way I still cannot explain. Always keenly sensitive to music, I was especially stirred by the score by Kryzstof Komeda, one of many in the doomed Polanski circle to meet an early death. I could not then have put the numinous intuition unfolding in the dark of that Paris cinema into words, but something about it deeply disturbed, delighted, and haunted me, sparking an altered state of consciousness I could not comprehend.
Ferdy Mayne’s performance as Count von Krolock immediately struck me as one of the best screen portrayals of the ancient archetype of the vampire. As I followed the sometimes obscure ups and downs of his hit and miss career, I was always impressed with the arch aristocratic elegance and suave menace he brought to his other roles. Whether snapping his fangs again in the dreadful The Vampire Happening, snapping his cruel heels as a Wehrmacht General in Where Eagles Dare, submitting to the bite of the delectable Ingrid Pitt in The Vampire Lovers, and even gracing Kubrick’s masterful epic Barry Lyndon, one of my favorite films of all time, as yet another Prussian officer, he could be counted on to bring debonair dash to his dastardly deeds. Mayne never attained enough signature roles to reach the iconic status of his more successful contemporaries Lee and Price, but seemed to me, along with the equally underrated Robert Quarry, to rate a pedestal among the greats of the genre.
For those of you unfamiliar with his work, take a look at one of his last major roles in 1983‘s Frightmare, in which Mayne plays an aging horror star much like himself. It may not be Citizen Kane, but despite its flaws, its knowing use of genre lore makes the relatively unknown Frightmare a fitting tribute to Ferdy Mayne’s career, comparable to Karloff’s swan song Targets.
Only in 1969, after the murder of Sharon Tate, and the irresponsible media’s sensational linkage of that crime with the myth of the vampiric blood-drinking Susan Atkins aka Sharon King and supposed ritual murders committed by a witchy commune the press presented as “Satan’s Slaves” did I come to feel that in that Paris cinema I’d somehow picked up on some hidden hint or portent of the mayhem awaiting The Dance of the Vampires‘ director and lead actress. The scene where Ferdy Mayne presented Sharon Tate to his disciples as a sacrifice struck me in retrospect as a kind of poetic prophecy of what was to come. One of my first intimations that film is an oracular technology which changes reality by capturing light and shadow on the magical medium of celluloid, creating an artificial mirror world, an alternate dimension which effects this “real” world from its stylized ritual space frozen in time.
Flash forward from the exciting cultural bouillabaisse of Paris of the 60s to the depressing cultural wasteland of Los Angeles in the mid-90s when Zeena and I befriended Ferdy Mayne. His cultured Old World charm, his sly and often obscene sense of humor, and his skill as a raconteur blessed with a font of amusing anecdotes about an adventurous life which brought him from Weimar Germany to secret service as an agent for MI5 to a sterling stage and screen career made him an endlessly entertaining and convivial companion.
As we got to know him better, Ferdy opened up to us about the vulnerability of an actor’s life, the anxiety caused by constant dependence on others for providing roles. He admitted his annoyance at how typecasting limited his aspirations, and the frustrations of a lifelong ladies’ man in the winter of his years. Although he was already plagued with the Parkinson’s disease which eventually proved fatal, he was unrelentingly cheerful and dignified, providing an unforgettable example of aging gracefully. Whenever we got together, Ferdy would always say, “Let’s have some laughs!” and that exemplified his characteristic joie de vivre. We arranged his last meeting with his old friend Christopher Lee, with whom he’d bonded over a dirty joke in the late 1940s when they were both struggling actors in London competing for the few “tall and foreign-looking” roles available.
This essay began with the notion of bringing things full circle. So I’ll end it with this chapter excerpted from The Manson File, connecting the dots between my first exposure to Ferdy Mayne in a Paris movie theater to the night in Hollywood’s Magic Castle when he casually opened the door to one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century.
Happy birthday, Ferdy, wherever you are!
Pardon Me, but Your Knife Is in My Neck
An Excerpt from Nikolas Schreck’s The Manson File: Myth and Reality of an Outlaw Shaman
In 1994, my wife and I, through circumstances completely unrelated to my research into the Manson phenomenon, befriended the Anglo-German actor Ferdinand Mayne. Then 79 years old, he could look back on a distinguished film career that dated back to the late 1940s. Despite many memorable character performances, he remained best remembered – somewhat to his chagrin – for his comic-sinister turn as the undead Count von Krolock in Polanski’s gothic fairy tale Dance of the Vampires.
One evening, we went with him for dinner and a performance at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, a gathering place for professional stage magicians. In that surreal and gaudy atmosphere of antique tricks and grand illusions, Mayne happened to relate an anecdote that would, in a circuitous fashion, end up drifting into the mysterious heart of the Cielo Drive cover-up.
While he toyed with the monocle he had worn in Dance of the Vampires, the aristocratic actor told us about a party he and his then-wife gave in their London flat in 1966. His wife whispered to him that a Polish-American producer was there.
The producer was looking for a vampire for a picture that was going to start in three months time. In this manner, Mayne was introduced to Gene Gutowski.
In the course of their conversation, they made small talk about their World War II experiences. Mayne learned that in 1945, Gutowski served as a U.S. Army officer stationed in Germany. In that capacity, Gutowski had guarded a unique Norwegian-style block house requisitioned from the Wehrmacht. It turned out that this had been Mayne’s former home, abandoned in 1938. From this coincidence, a friendship was born.
“Why don’t you come and meet Roman?” Gutowski asked.
Mayne had never heard of this Roman.
Soon, he was invited to stop by the Grosvenor Hotel on Park Lane. It was a gray and chilly afternoon. Mayne was sickly and pale at the time; he’d come down with a bad flu. In a day when central heating was a rarity, the rooms were freezing. So Mayne’s first meeting with Polanski took place with both men standing awkwardly in the hotel corridor, which was a little bit warmer than the director’s suite.
Mayne remembered thinking, “Who is this?” upon encountering “this long nose and long hair, tiny little man, didn’t look into my eyes much” who offered him a “terrible hand shake” like a “dead fish.”
Knowing that he was here to audition for the part of a vampire, Mayne attempted to dress for the role. “I could have been mistaken for the part of one of Mr. Mosley’s blackshirts,” he recalled. Nothing much occurred, Mayne remembered, but that Polanski “smelled me out for a long time … And in the end he gave me a limp hand shake and he said, ‘We will meet again. I want you to play the part.’”
Happy to have some work lined up, Mayne and his wife went off to celebrate on a vacation to the South of France which they really couldn’t afford. When Mayne showed up, tanned and healthy, at the Pinewood Studios wardrobe for his first day on the Dance of the Vampires set, Polanski saw him, and said, “My God!”
”What, what is it? What have I done?” Mayne asked.
”When I met you, you looked like a corpse,” Polanski replied. “That’s what I wanted. Now you’re coming out with me for the next four nights to the nightclub. You don’t get any sleep and see how we get rid of all that fat and sunshine.”
And so Mayne, never a nightclub type, was dragged off into the swinging London nightlife that was by then Polanski’s natural habitat. Polanski, Mayne discovered, “knew everybody” and everybody, it was apparent, was high all of the time. The actor was unwittingly thrown into the twilight zone where Sixties hedonism met organized crime – a toxic mixture which gave rise to the conditions leading to the Tate-LaBianca slayings.
In that frenetic world of the Ad Lib, Victor Lownes’ Playboy Club, and other hip hotspots, Polanski introduced the then fiftyish actor to the three things Mayne recalled as summing up the Sixties scene he was a stranger to: “The Beatles, The Stones, The Drugs.”
Mayne found the rock stars convivial company. He was less impressed by what the omnipresent dope did to the minds of those he encountered. Among the partygoers Mayne met during this enforced method clubbing exercise was Sharon Tate. What Mayne remembered most vividly about their first meeting was that the actress wasn’t wearing any panties, and that she made no effort to conceal that fact. He was struck by her “sweetness” and lack of pretense, rare among actresses. But also by her vulnerability and naivete among a crowd that Mayne found unpleasantly “predatory.”
Particularly “creepy” in this regard was a Canadian friend of Polanski’s who the actor met during this nightclub crawl.
His name was Iain Quarrier. Mayne recalled Quarrier as a central supplier of the chemicals, mostly acid, that kept the scene soaring at its stratospheric level.
And due to this meeting, Mayne said, he “wasn’t at all surprised” when he learned of Sharon’s death two years later.
The sheer amount of drugs being consumed, he said, and the “dreadful people” who had been around Sharon when he first met her in London, Mayne felt, had given him an intimation of something ugly to come. The shadow of what he sensed in London, he was adamant, later fell over Los Angeles. Mayne continued his tale, undistracted by the loud drunken chatter of other Magic Castle guests seated around us.
When he returned to the Vampires set, suitably unslept and sickly-looking again, Mayne found that Polanski had cast Iain Quarrier in the part of Count von Krolock’s homosexual son, Herbert.
Mayne, a disciplined professional, was irritated to see that Quarrier not only couldn’t act, but that he used the set to conduct his drug trade. In fact, it was Mayne’s impression that that was why the “sycophant” was there. He recalled that Quarrier couldn’t handle the quasi-Transylvanian accent Polanski had in mind for his character. In the end, Polanski was forced to have all of Quarrier’s flubbed lines overdubbed by a Polish actor.
“And later, of course,” Mayne said casually, “Iain went from holding court in Chelsea and ended up right in the middle of that whole business.”
“What whole business?” I asked.
As if he was simply repeating common knowledge, Mayne went on to say that Quarrier’s drug dealing had something to do with the circumstances of Sharon’s death. And that the Canadian had “up and disappeared” because of what he knew.
After all, Mayne added, Quarrier was caught up with “those ghastly people in Roman’s house.” At first, judging from the force of his revulsion, I thought he must mean the murderers.
But it turned out that he meant Sebring and Frykowski.
Who, he made clear, were well-known to many in Polanski’s then-circle of friends as having invited the killers into the house that night. From the matter-of-fact way in which Mayne asserted this, it was obvious that this wasn’t some eccentric theory of his. He absolutely believed it to be true.
Could he explain what he meant in any more detail?
He said that these were things that he had heard shortly after the murders from associates of the Polanskis. He shrugged, and said that was all he really knew. That and that what had been printed in the press at the time had almost no relation to the facts. He gave us the impression that what he had said was an open secret in certain circles. An unspoken but recognized fact of life that one knew but didn’t discuss.
Much like a family skeleton in the closet which no relative would speak of to strangers.
I was reminded of how much the closed world of Hollywood secrecy resembles the underworld’s enforced code of silence. I soon came to learn that that’s because there is no substantial difference between Hollywood and the underworld.
What made Mayne’s remarks different from the scores of conspiracy theories about the case I’d encountered before in the course of my research?
For one thing, Mayne had no ax to grind nor score to settle. It was clear that he genuinely admired Polanski as an artist. He had continued to work for him as recently as 1985 in the ill-fated Pirates, in which he played a dying buccaneer.
Furthermore, Mayne was speaking not out of malice but out of his lingering sorrow about what had happened to his former colleague and friend Tate. Also, he had not the slightest interest in the case; he even seemed to be unaware of just how radically what he had said differed from the official story.
It so happened, he said just as casually, that there was someone who happened to be visiting Los Angeles that week who knew much more about “that business” than he did. He provided us with a name and phone number. I will call this person X.
When we met, X spoke with equal candor. A direct witness to the immediate aftermath of the Cielo Drive murders, and on friendly terms with the Polanskis and their August ‘69 houseguests, this source confirmed without hesitation that what Mayne said was true to the best of his knowledge. “