‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’ Fact Check: Did the Manson Family Give Horseback Riding Tours?

TheWrap takes a look at whether the Manson family really killed time by giving trail tours

Last Updated: August 1, 2019 @ 7:14 AM

(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven’t seen Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.”)

In Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” we get a glimpse into the lives of the Manson family, including what TV shows they liked to watch (“FBI”), and their tranquil days offering riding tours around Spahn Movie Ranch.

Wait: Did members of Charles Manson’s cult really take people on horseback trail tours?

Yes. Yes, they did.

Vincent Bugliosi, author of “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders” and prosecutor in the 1970 trial of Charles Manson, said the horses were “the main business” of the ranch. George Spahn let the Manson family live on his ranch, rent-free, in exchange for labor and helping out with the horse-riding business, according to David J. Krajicek’s book, “Charles Manson: The Man Who Murdered the Sixties.” 

Former Manson family member Dianne Lake, who was 14 at the time she followed Manson, told HISTORY that the family members would care for the horses, and occasionally rent them out for rides.

Even Tarantino himself at a Cannes Film Festival press conference in May talked about the Manson’s passion for the activity.

“Look, they’re creepy — no two, three, four ways about it,” he said of the Manson clan. “But even though there’s a sinisterness you see in the Spahn Ranch scene, I also wanted to show what their day-to-day life was like.

“So you see Lulu and Tex giving horse rides. And it turned out that the family members were really great at that. They were very, very personable, and good at leading rides through the canyon.” He paused. “I actually went horseback riding at 6 years old with my mom and dad. I don’t know if we went to Spahn Ranch. I like to think that we did.” A shrug. “We probably went to Griffith Park, but I like to think that we went to Spahn Ranch.”

“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” focuses on fictional characters played by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. But Pitt’s Cliff Booth and DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton move through a version of 1969 Hollywood that finds them crossing paths with Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate and with members of the Manson family, who would murder Tate and others in August of that year.

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