Private eye Fred Otash was a former Los Angeles cop and keeper of Hollywood’s deepest secrets. He died in 1992.
In 2013, Fox’s FX cable network entered into a development deal with James Ellroy for a series based on “Shakedown,” his novella based on Otash’s alleged lurid escapades. Produced by Joe Roth, Ellroy was tapped to write the pilot script. Note that Otash’s character had also made appearances in two James Ellroy novels, “The Cold Six Thousand” and “Blood’s a Rover.”
Also in 2013, as a response to Ellroy’s less than flattering fictional portrayal of her father, Colleen Otash and her business partner Manfred Westphal released several of the private detective’s secret Hollywood files to The Hollywood Reporter writer Stephen Galloway. The files filled 11 packing boxes and had been kept for 20 years in a storage locker in LA’s San Fernando Valley. Among his files was “Marilyn, The Kennedys, and Me,” his unpublished book on Marilyn Monroe’s alleged affair with President Kennedy and his brother Robert.
ABOUT FRED OTASH
Born in 1922, the burly 6-foot-2 Otash was originally from Methuen, Massachusetts. After serving in the Marine Corps, Fred Otash was a part of the LAPD until 1955, when he supposedly had a rift with Police Chief William H. Parker. He then established the Fred Otash Detective Bureau in Hollywood. One of his chief clients was Confidential Magazine, the leading scandalous tabloid of its day. He served as a freelance “fact finder,” which actually meant spying on and digging up dirt on celebrities that included Liberace, Rock Hudson, and Marilyn Monroe. Technically, he worked for Hollywood Research Incorporation, a company exclusive to Confidential Magazine.
During his career as a California-licensed and bonded detective, his clients included two major political parties as well as Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Edward G. Robinson, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, and Bette Davis, plus super-lawyers F. Lee Bailey, Jerry Giesler and Melvin Belli. Part of his professional persona was his chauffeured limousine that scoured Hollywood’s nightlife for years. Passengers in his limo often included a bevy of starlets that he called his “little sweeties.”
While on stakeout, Otash would typically use an undercover truck filled with cameras with telephoto lenses, and other surveillance equipment.
Robert Harrison started Confidential in 1952. He also started “Hollywood Research, Incorporated,” basically Fred Otash’s network of spies who gathered dirt on the rich and famous. His informants came from all walks of Hollywood life from hookers to cabdrivers to exes to has-beens and never-wases. Confidential‘s favorite celebrity topics included “outing” closeted homosexuals, exposing interracial trysts, and fighting the “Communist menace” in Hollywood.
In 1957, Confidential Magazine was sued by a large group of celebrities for $12 million (in 1950s money). While most of these lawsuits were thrown out of court because of First Amendment rights, California Attorney General Edmund “Pat” Brown (later Governor) launched a successful state-backed criminal libel suit against Harrison. This case was dubbed “The Trial of 200 Stars.” As a result, Confidential’s operations moved to New York and stayed out of California. In 1958, the magazine under Harrison folded.
Among Fred Otash’s most notorious cases was the “outing” of movie leading man Rock Hudson. In 1958, Hudson’s wife Phyllis Gates hired Otash to secretly tape-record the actor for proof of his same-sex infidelities. These recordings, allegedly transcribed by Otash, were part of the files given to The Hollywood Reporter in 2013 by daughter Colleen. An excerpt included an incriminating confession between husband and wife where Phyllis Gates said, “Your great speed with me, sexually. Are you that fast with boys?” The 32-year-old Rock Hudson then replied, “Well, it’s a physical conjunction [sic]. Boys don’t fit. So, this is why it lasts longer.”
Rock Hudson’s marriage to Phyllis Gates ended that same year. His so-called confessions were allegedly taped almost 30 years before the actor came out as gay in 1985, shortly before his death due to complications from AIDS.
Also in 1958, Lana Turner’s daughter Cheryl Crane allegedly murdered her mother’s boyfriend, gangster Johnny Stompanato. According to Otash’s secret files, Cheryl’s father Stephen Crane had hired Otash to keep a watch on his daughter. He allegedly told Otash that Stompanato had sexual intentions on the young girl.
On the night of the murder, the movie star’s high profile lawyer Jerry Giesler called Fred Otash to the scene of the crime. Otash claimed that he had arrived before the police. In a 1991 Los Angeles Magazine interview, he said: “Beverly Hills police chief Clinton Anderson once accused me of removing the knife from Stompanato’s body, wiping off Lana Turner’s fingerprints, putting on Cheryl Crane’s fingerprints and then shoving the knife back into the body. Crazy.”
According to Otash’s book, “Marilyn, The Kennedys, and Me”, billionaire Howard Hughes, a staunch Republican, hired him to secretly wire Kennedy brother-in-law Peter Lawford’s Malibu home where the President had some of his sexual rendezvouses. According to The Hollywood Reporter , Otash’s notes stated that wiring Lawford’s house “was to find out what the Democrats were up to on behalf of Howard Hughes and [Richard] Nixon. Monroe became a by-product.”
His encounters with Marilyn Monroe were an unexpected bonus. In a 1992 interview with Vanity Fair, Otash said “Yes, I did hear a tape of Jack Kennedy f-ing Monroe. But I didn’t want to get into the moans and groans of their relationship.”
Otash’s notes also stated that Marilyn herself had hired him to wire her house. One day before her death in 1962, he had allegedly recorded a violent argument between Monroe and Bobby Kennedy where she claimed that she being “passed around like a piece of meat.” Following Marilyn Monroe’s death, the alleged tapes reportedly “disappeared.” The Kennedy family has disavowed any authenticity of Fred Otash’s notes and alleged tapes.
THE END OF FRED OTASH
Not long after the demise of Confidential Magazine, California’s Bureau of Private Investigators revoked Fred Otash’s PI license. A significant reason was due to his involvement with a group of jockeys in a horse doping scandal at Santa Anita racetrack.
On the night of his death in 1992 at age 70, Fred Otash was to celebrate the completion of the first draft of his book “Marilyn, The Kennedys, and Me” at a Friar’s Club dinner. But he never made it. His friends called neighbors who found him lying face down on his kitchen floor.