The Spahn Movie Ranch and its proprietor, George Spahn, feature heavily in the new Quentin Tarantino movie, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. However, what’s the real story? (Warning: There will be some plot spoilers in this article, although we won’t give away the big twist ending.)
Although some elements of the movie are fictional, the Spahn Movie Ranch and George Spahn really existed. In the movie, the Manson Family has taken over the ranch, which looks like the set of a dusty old Western. Brad Pitt’s fictionalized stunt double character ends up at the ranch after being drawn there by a hitchhiking flower child (played by Margaret Qualley.)
Once there, and confronted by the addled Manson Family hippies, Pitt’s character goes on a quest to find George Spahn, discovering him in a back bedroom looking out of it but otherwise not completely out of it.
Here’s what you need to know:
Spahn Did Let the Manson Family Live on His Ranch
The Spahn Movie Ranch angle is essentially true; according to Vanity Fair, Spahn’s Los Angeles-area ranch was used as a Western film set “before the genre dried up” and he did let Charles Mansion and his flower children live there.
According to Charles Manson.com, George Christian Spahn was born in 1889 in Pennsylvania and bought the Spahn Movie Ranch in 1953 after leaving a successful milk business.
Spahn moved his wife and 11 children to California, the site says. In California, Spahn made his living in livestock and children’s pony rides. He split with his wife, and ended up with a carnival worker named Ruby Pearl, according to Charles Manson.com.
He purchased the ranch with Pearl. The ranch became the set for many old Westerns, including TV shows like Bonanza and The Lone Ranger, but, according to Charles Manson.com, by the time the Manson Family arrived, Spahn was 80 and “going blind.” As the movie shows, the website claims, Manson family member Lynette Fromme had sexual relations with Spahn. However, Fromme denied this in an Oxygen channel special, saying, when asked what people got wrong, “The idea that I was having sex with this old man on the ranch … That’s a big one.”
According to IMDB, Manson “convinced Spahn to let them live on the ranch in exchange for free labor.” Oxygen reports that the Mansion Family told Spahn they would help him take care of the ranch.
Spahn was born in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. According to Oxygen, once the days of television westerns started to wane, Spahn brought in money by giving tourists horseback rides (as the movie shows.)
In the Oxygen show “Manson: The Women,” former Family Member Sandra Good described the ranch, saying, “Sitting around the ranch front, drinking coffee, watching the parade of wranglers and writers, George Spahn taking his daily walk … chickens clucking, roosters crowing, the old goat, the dog, the horses coming and going with new riders on their backs.”
An article in the Los Angeles Times described how Spahn would ride “around town in his old truck with ‘Spahn’s Movie Ranch’ on the side, driven by his ranch manager and sidekick, Ruby Pearl,” but he was seen far less after the Manson Family showed up.
Spahn died in 1974; before he did, the ranch’s buildings burned in a brush fire, it was sold to a developer, and he moved to Hollywood, the site reports.