The Fixer: Moguls, Mobsters, Movie Stars and Marilyn

Image of The Fixer: Moguls, Mobsters, Movie Stars, and Marilyn
Release Date: 
April 16, 2024
Grand Central Publishing
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“The Fixer is a fascinating read that is almost like looking in someone’s medicine cabinet—you know you’re not supposed to but curiosity gets the better of you.”

Sir Francis Bacon is largely credited with saying scienta potential est. “Knowledge is power.” He anticipated, by about three centuries, Fred Otash, an ex-Marine-turned-cop-turned-private-detective-turned-fixer-and-keeper-of-secrets in mid-20th century Hollywood. In The Fixer: Moguls, Mobsters, Movie Stars, and Marilyn, authors Josh Young and Manfred Westphal uncover secrets long held . . . well, secret, and they shed light on some of the most tantalizing scandals of Hollywood’s golden age.

Author Westphal, as a young development director at Warner Brothers, first met Otash in 1990 when his mother introduced him to the charming, yet mysterious, man who lived in her condominium building. “[Y]ou need to hear his stories,” she told him. Turns out she was right. He little dreamed at the time that Otash would open his file of closely held secrets, some of which seemed to exist only in Hollywood legend.

Ex-Marine Otash first arrived in Los Angeles in 1945, after the end of World War II, in search of a job. His background in the Marines made him a natural fit for the Los Angeles Police Department. There, his eyes were opened to a key truth that would shape his future: “[W]hat he didn’t know about the relationship between the Hollywood mogul, organized crime, and his brothers in blue might hurt him.” And so he made it a point to “know.”

Over the next decade, as Otash’s “life began to intersect with Hollywood’s rising and established stars,” his exploits as a street cop led him to a network of contacts and information. He gathered knowledge and banked favors, which he would later call in as needed, that fueled his reputation as “Hollywood’s King of the Snoops,” as he was dubbed by the National Enquirer.

To hearken back to Sir Francis Bacon: Knowledge is power. And never was there a truer example, at least not in Hollywood, of that aphorism than Fred Otash.

After a decade on the police force, and a potentially career-limiting feud with police chief William Parker, he resigned as a cop and opened the Fred Otash Detective Bureau. What might have seemed rash was tempered by the fact that he started with two high-powered attorney clients: Jerry Geisler, lawyer to the stars, and the flamboyant Melvin Belli.

Utilizing state-of-the-art surveillance equipment and techniques—so-called “creative surveillance”—of dubious legality, to say the least, his bank accounts of knowledge and favors, which he had opened as a street cop, grew exponentially. As his reputation spread, a company called Hollywood Research, Inc. hired him as fact-checker for the magazine it fronted for: Confidential.

Together, they were a virtual Frankenstein’s monster of information that could be used both offensively and defensively. The authors write: “Otash and Confidential magazine were made for each other. Each was astutely attuned to the times and unafraid to confront or disrupt the business-as-usual Hollywood establishment. In movie parlance, they were perfect casting.”

Otash had become the quintessential “fixer,” and stories of his “fixes” are mesmerizing. Stars and scandals he fixed include damage control for Clark Gable, who “dumped” his first wife to marry another woman; the “arranged” marriage of Rock Hudson to cover up his homosexuality; sanitizing the death scene of Johnny Stompanato, cohort of mobster Mickey Cohen, at Lana Turner’s apartment to cover up the whodunit of his killing; Judy Garland’s troubled private life; and for the kicker, a scandalous triumvirate of Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedys (Jack and Bobby), and gangster Carlos Marcello.

The Fixer is a fascinating read that is almost like looking in someone’s medicine cabinet—you know you’re not supposed to but curiosity gets the better of you. At least here, someone else opened the cabinet door for you. That someone even explains what you’re looking at, which seems to give it a stamp of approval. After all, you’re not an active participant in the snooping, but there is still a faintly voyeuristic feel to it. A guilty pleasure.

And you’re not about to turn away. Still, maybe some secrets are better left kept secret.