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In Shakedown, Otash gloats about his misdeeds and also about having an affair with a transsexual communist named Miss Bonvillain -- which Ellroy says should be interpreted as a joke. But that's not the way Colleen sees it.
"I was stunned," she says of the novella, admitting she never finished it and wondered, " 'What can we do to stop him from taking my father's life and turning it into just a horrible fictional depiction?' It was really insulting to me. I was very aggrieved." Adds Westphal, "Real-life franchise characters like Otash come along once in a lifetime, and Colleen and I are committed to setting the record straight. Here, the truth is far more entertaining than fiction."
In an attempt to counter Ellroy's view (and perhaps anticipate an even more negative portrayal in a pilot about the private eye that Ellroy is developing for FX), Colleen and Westphal recently allowed this reporter access to several of the files and an unpublished book Otash wrote about Marilyn Monroe in which he claims he overheard Monroe having sex with JFK.
Among the highlights:
TAPING MARILYN MONROE
"Marilyn wanted a mini-phone listening device," Otash claims in the notes, adding that he spied on her even while she was paying him to install recording equipment so that she could tape her own phone calls. "You could hide it in your bra. The microphone was a wristwatch. You could also put a suction cup on the phone. Later on, she wanted a sophisticated system put in her house. We wired up her phone because it started looking stupid with a suction cup."
Otash listened in on Marilyn having sex with Kennedy when he was watching Lawford's house in Malibu, allegedly while working for Howard Hughes, who was seeking general information with which to discredit the Democrats. "When the original Lawford house was wired, Monroe was not part of the plan," Otash says in the files. "It was to find out what the Democrats were up to on behalf of Howard Hughes and Nixon. Monroe became a by-product."
The files include notes that he left for Colleen, in which he says he was conducting surveillance of Marilyn Monroe on the day she died.
“I listened to Marilyn Monroe die,” he claims in the notes, without elaborating, adding that he had taped an angry confrontation among Bobby Kennedy, Lawford and Monroe just hours before her death: “She said she was passed around like a piece of meat. It was a violent argument about their relationship and the commitment and promises he made to her. She was really screaming and they were trying to quiet her down. She’s in the bedroom and Bobby gets the pillow and he muffles her on the bed to keep the neighbors from hearing. She finally quieted down and then he was looking to get out of there.”
Otash only learned that Monroe had died when Lawford called him in the early hours of the following day and asked him to remove any incriminating evidence from her house. There is no record of what was removed, and the alleged tapes have since disappeared.
Shortly before Otash's death in 1992 at the age of 70, he told Vanity Fair: "I would have kept it quiet all my life. But all of a sudden, I'm looking at FBI files and CIA files with quotes from my investigators telling them about the work they did on my behalf. It's stupid to sit here and deny that these things are true. Yes, we did have [Lawford's house] wired. Yes, I did hear a tape of Jack Kennedy f--ing Monroe. But I don't want to get into the moans and groans of their relationship. They were having a sexual relationship -- period."
GUARDING JUDY GARLAND
One of the files also centers on Judy Garland, who hired Otash to protect her after she split from her third husband, Sid Luft, in 1963. The actress even got him to move into her Holmby Hills home, where he befriended daughter Liza Minnelli and found a hidden stash of pills. (A rep for Minnelli declined comment.)
The files elaborate on an experience he outlined in his 1976 autobiography, Investigation Hollywood: "I was shocked when I met Judy Garland the first time. She was no longer the little girl I remembered but a grown woman, puffy-faced and more than a little plump. ... I was only in Judy's house a couple of days when I realized that she was taking something. I wasn't sure if she was using narcotics or boozing it up. But she was obviously out of it most of the time."