|Lynette Fromme (Red), during her trial, 1975.|
By JESSE GREEN
Published: May 23, 2004
INTERPRETATIONS vary as to whether Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme (rhymes with homey) intended to kill President Gerald Ford when she aimed her gun at him on Sept. 5, 1975, in Sacramento; the chamber of the .45 Colt was empty. But her larger motivation was clear. Ms. Fromme has said -- and in his libretto for ''Assassins,'' the musical he wrote with Stephen Sondheim, John Weidman has reiterated -- that she committed the crime so that Charles Manson, whose ''family'' she had joined in 1967, would appear as a witness at her trial, and thus have a worldwide platform from which to preach his apocalyptic vision.
Despite touring as a child in California with a dance group called the Westchester Lariats (they twice performed at the White House), Ms. Fromme's own family life had not been pleasant; her father, an aeronautical engineer, was by all accounts rough and tyrannical. It was after an argument with him that she met Mr. Manson on a Venice, Calif., beach. Soon she moved to Stockton, where she and several other Manson adherents set up a communal home. Though considered the alpha female of the group, Ms. Fromme was never convicted of participation in the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders that Mr. Manson directed on Aug. 9 and 10, 1969, nor in the mysterious deaths of two ''family'' members in 1972. But the assassination attempt on Mr. Ford, and her subsequent prison career, suggest that she has not repudiated her past. In 1979, she attacked a fellow inmate with the claw end of a hammer; in 1987, she escaped from a prison in West Virginia in hopes of meeting Mr. Manson again. (She was quickly recaptured.) At 55, she is now serving time at the Carswell Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth; though eligible for parole since 1985, she has consistently waived her right to a hearing.
Earlier this year, Mary Catherine Garrison, the actress who plays Ms. Fromme in the revival of ''Assassins'' at Studio 54, wrote to her at Carswell, seeking information that might help in portraying her. Ms. Fromme's responses, excerpted here with her permission, explain what it was like to be at the center of the Manson fold.
- JESSE GREEN
|Lynette Fromme, West Virginia|
March 22, 2004
Mary Catherine --
I could not tell you first hand about the Hollywood murders. I can tell you that much about any history is dependent upon the times, the movements and thoughts of the world at the time. I can tell you just a little of the world that my generation inherited -- the many benefits even beyond our parents' childhood dreams, and the deficits that kept us from fully enjoying those dreams.
The Civil Rights movement marched through the end of my childhood and enlisted me, albeit only mentally. I had traveled through the South on long bus trips with the Lariats and seen the ''Whites Only'' restrooms and drinking fountains, so when the rioting and the civil protests reached my attention as a teenager, the full weight of responsibility for slavery seemed to come with it, and a general disgust for the so-called adults and authorities who were supposed to have been taking care of things, knowing best, being the wisest.
My own home's authority figure might have put some balance into my thinking but he couldn't face his children, let alone talk to us; he couldn't face himself. (I have to say, he did the best he could and I love him for it but he never did open up. Love had been shut down in that body before I arrived.)
Right about this time the Vietnam War began threatening to take the boys of the graduating classes. At first, I didn't think about it; some guys were going to war and some were playing football, some became engineers and some, soldiers. I had seen many WWII movies about the heroes who fought and died. It was religiously recounted like the story of Christ. It was about sacrifice for the good of all. The spilling of blood, the maiming and mangling of young bodies, the accidental deaths of women and children and the elderly all unavoidable. That's the theme. . . . That's still the theme.
How many people reached rock bottom serious about protesting the war and immolated themselves? Talk about giving . . .
By then, school meant less and less to me. The experience of life seemed the only hope -- to know it before one of the stupid or stubborn adults blew it up. Our government leaders -- from my view -- treated young people's questioning with defensive contempt, no way to open up a dialogue. . . .
But I was and am not a political creature. . . . I wrote poetry and dreamed of allowing words to take me mentally and physically into experience, what I wanted most. But not, I quickly decided, the alcoholic experience and early death of my hero, Dylan Thomas. Something clear and harmonious and perfect. I had always believed in intuition and that magic and miracles were real life. It seemed that almost all young people were out on the road, maybe more so in California, where the roads had plenty of space to stretch, and residents were not as rooted. . . . I had been exploring territory since I was young, getting on a random bus that took me all the way across the city, hitchhiking to the beaches.
''The Family'' was not a name that we used, you know. We didn't call ourselves anything but ''us,'' ''the girls,'' ''the guys'' or by any number of names that sprung from significant situations. We were just likenesses that found ourselves together through various circumstances during our travels. We almost knew one another on sight. . . . By forgiving ourselves of various perceived personal imperfections and focusing instead on the land around us, we were drawn into California's beautiful natural settings, and there beside river & ocean, surrounded by conifer, cactus or oak, our brains were literally wooed & awakened by new soft & pungent scents -- and a whole array of subtle sights, sounds and feelings previously hidden from us by our own narrowness of focus. What had often seemed like a flat existence became multidimensional.
Within these settings we fell in love with the bright eyes and minds of each other. To taint that with talk about sex orgies and group gropings shuts my mind down.
March 24, 2004
Mary Catherine --
You asked how often I smoked pot. Marijuana was fairly precious when I first tried it and for me it remained that way. Two joints in one day would be an excess to me but my ''tolerance'' didn't rise. . . .
Our use, as a group, was almost always at night after dinner, when our day's work was done, the meal had been eaten, and the last of the dishes were being dried in a hurry so that whoever was in the kitchen could join the rest of the circle on the carpet or hardwood or floor-pillows in the room with the fireplace, if there was one. Then the joints (somewhere between two and six depending upon the number of people) were taken from the pocket of usually a woman who liked to roll them, the room settled down, bodies ever so slightly leaned in, and the relished and respected substance was anticipated. The matches flared and the scent reached us before the joints. There was a relaxed quiet about these moments, a catching up to ourselves (after activity), deep breathing and transcendence. We were allowing ourselves to re-tune, all odd sounds and notes refining to come together. Pretty soon the guitars came out, a flute or drum maybe, and we experimented with our vocal cords.
You asked what we wore but let me say first that our ''family'' if we must, in the old-time country way, was ''poor.'' Rich at times in resources but never in money. We didn't deal drugs but traded for them.
In those days goods were exchanged -- maybe they still are. People unsatisfied w/lives of substance-without-spirit gave away their things -- even houses and cars -- to go out on the roads or into communes. If I needed a couch or whatever, there was sure to be someone looking to unload one.
Clothes were acquired in the same way. And the surplus and secondhand stores were loaded with period clothing -- the contents of trunks and attics of elderly people who had neatly packed away all that genuine satin and velvet, those gowns and antique lace blouses and smart wool suits, and then died, with no one to give them to.
What did I wear? I dressed more for comfort but I do love costume. We wore not the sailor-wide bell bottoms; but more narrow ones, and like what's coming in, they were hip huggers. We didn't wear short tops but we wore short skirts -- I can't believe how short -- but all that was the fashion, and rarely looked at askance. We wore, specifically, rich or soft materials, nothing stiff or terribly restrictive. Gentle things (the women wore) soft to the touch. And no, we generally did not just exchange all of our clothes. Each of us probably had 3 or 4 sets of clothes at any given time that we really liked more than others. We didn't keep them apart. . . .
I'll tell you this, there were certainly no dictates about it. I've heard people say that everything in our lives was planned and orchestrated by Manson and it's just not true.
But as for what people wore -- all time-frames were in style, all sets and scenes. All the world a -- you know.