Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Noted Co-Author of Bugliosi Novel is Dead

Curt Gentry, 83, Co-Author of ‘Helter Skelter,’ Dies

Curt Gentry, an author and well-regarded biographer of J. Edgar Hoover who had his biggest commercial success when he teamed up with Vincent Bugliosi to write the 1974 blockbuster “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders,” died on July 10 in San Francisco. He was 83.
His brother, Pat, confirmed the death, saying Mr. Gentry had been in hospice care. No cause was given.
Mr. Gentry had written books about California history and culture when he teamed with Mr. Bugliosi, who as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles had prosecuted the Manson case, among the most sensational of the 20th century.
Mr. Manson and his followers were accused of the gruesome murders of seven people, including the actress Sharon Tate, the wife of the director Roman Polanski, over less than 48 hours in Los Angeles in August 1969.
As the prosecutor, Mr. Bugliosi was in a position to deliver an authoritative, exclusive account. He provided the facts and the documentation; Mr. Gentry, the driving narrative.
The book’s title was taken from words written in blood at one of the crime scenes, a reference to the title of a 1968 Beatles song that had resonated with Mr. Manson. He and his followers were convicted; Mr. Manson, now 79, remains in prison.
The book became one of the best-selling titles of the 1970s, helping to elevate true-crime narratives into the mainstream. In 1975, it won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for best fact crime book.
The success of “Helter Skelter,” and the royalty checks it provided, gave Mr. Gentry the time to research and write “J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets,” published in 1991.
With nearly 850 pages of text and documentation, including previously undisclosed internal documents, the book, a 15-year project, shed new light on the man who led the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years.
“Mr. Gentry has illuminated his unrelentingly harsh profile in vindictiveness and egocentricity with fresh details,” David Johnston wrote in The New York Times in 1991. “He discloses that in the attic of the Justice Department, the F.B.I. ran a school teaching agents how to conduct break-ins. In a basement ‘blue room’ Hoover entertained select aides with screenings of surveillance films and pornographic movies.”
Mr. Gentry claimed that Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan had both provided information to Hoover — Ford while he was a member of the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Reagan when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild.
Unlike some biographers, Mr. Gentry drew no conclusions about Mr. Hoover’s sexual orientation — an issue because of Hoover’s preoccupation with investigating the sex lives of others. “I could never find anything definitive,” Mr. Gentry told The Times. “He had very little human contact. He seemed to have no human feelings.”
Curtis Marsena Gentry was born in Lamar, Colo., on June 13, 1931. His father was a city clerk and his mother, who came from a long line of ranchers, worked in a bank.
Mr. Gentry was a reporter for several newspapers as a teenager and briefly attended the University of Colorado before serving in the Air Force during the Korean War. After moving to San Francisco, he graduated from San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University) and wrote freelance articles and a travel guide to the city.
In a 1964 book, “The Madams of San Francisco: An Irreverent History of the City by the Golden Gate,” he used a history of prostitution to explore the city’s social and cultural shifts since the gold rush days of the 1840s.
In 1970, Mr. Gentry collaborated with the American spy Francis Gary Powers on “Operation Overflight,” the story of how Mr. Powers was shot down in the Ural Mountains in Russia in 1960 and spent 21 months as a Russian prisoner before he was returned to the United States in a prisoner swap.
His other books include “Frame-Up” (1967), about two California union leaders who spent more than two decades in prison for a bombing that killed 10 people in San Francisco in 1916 before being pardoned; and “The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California,” a novel that predicted a devastating earthquake.
For many years, Mr. Gentry was part of a circle of writers, including Evan S. Connell, Richard Brautigan and Don Carpenter, who ate and drank together at Enrico’s restaurant in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco.
His brother is his only immediate survivor. His first wife, the former Laura Spence, died many years ago. His second marriage ended in divorce.
Correction: July 22, 2014
An obituary on Monday about the author Curt Gentry misstated the year a plane flown by the American spy Francis Gary Powers, with whom Mr. Gentry collaborated on a book, was shot down in Russia. It was 1960, not 1962.


Unknown said...

Helter Skelter

One of my all time favorite books. Along with The Amityville Horror- it is one of only two books which have ever scared me as much as a movie. This book both put me in the moment several times in an extremely uncomfortable way, and also laid out the timelines and facts in a methodical and linear manner.

The Story itself was unlike any I had ever read, and sparked a life long obsession with the times and areas associated with the plot.

For many years, on many sites,with many people- I have debated the validity of those two words as possible motive for the TLB crimes. I don't know if, at the end of the day, it was the motive or not....

I do not know if Curtis Gentry really believed it or not.

I do know that he was brought in to do a specific piece of work, and after all these years of reading and re-reading that work - I am fascinated by,frightened of, and forever grateful for- the excellent work he did...

While we kill each other over the why- we should take a moment to appreciate the job they did of telling the who, what , where, and when.

To me it doesn't get much better.

RIP Mr. Gentry

Your Favorite Saint

Becky said...

I have heard of the Tate-LaBianca murders but haven't checked out "Helter Skelter" yet. I have been reading a lot of Ann Rule since finding out that she has updated all of her books to ebook format! http://www.planetannrule.com/ The latest book I have read of hers is "The Stranger Beside Me" a haunting first look into the real life of Ted Bundy. Can't wait to read them all! I will definitely be checking out "Helter Skelter" as well!

Unknown said...

Helter Skelter was one of those unforgettable stories. What an incredible experience it must have to been have co-written the book. I didn't know about Ann Rule's website, Becky, thank you. A Stranger Beside Me is an excellent read.

Becky said...

I agree, and you are welcome!

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