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Fred Otash; Colorful Hollywood Private Eye and Author

October 08, 1992|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fred Otash, legendary Hollywood vice cop and private eye once known affectionately as "Mr. O," has died at the age of 70.

The colorful Otash, who had just completed a book titled "Marilyn, Kennedy and Me" about the death of Marilyn Monroe, died Monday in his West Hollywood home of natural causes. A heavy smoker, he had been troubled for the last decade with emphysema and high blood pressure.

Otash kept silent for decades about his activities on Aug. 5, 1962, the night of Monroe's mysterious suicide. But in 1985, he told the Los Angeles Times that actor Peter Lawford had hurriedly hired him that midnight to "do anything to remove anything incriminating" to the actor's brothers-in-law, President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Both Kennedys had been rumored to have romantic liaisons with Monroe.

Otash told The Times he had never discussed his activities publicly because "I didn't see any purpose of getting involved. . . . I'm not being paid. I'm not writing a book. I'm not making a point. If I wanted to capitalize on my relationship in this matter, I would have written my own book."

He did write the book--30 years after the actress died. Her death remains the subject of controversy and speculation, although authorities determined that she died of a self-administered drug overdose.

Aside from Lawford and other Kennedys, Otash's clients included entertainers Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Edward G. Robinson, Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Bette Davis, well-known lawyers such as F. Lee Bailey, Jerry Geisler and Melvin Belli, and both major political parties.

Otash prowled Hollywood by night in a chauffeured Cadillac full of women he called "little sweeties," and much like a fictional private eye conjured up by Raymond Chandler, drank a quart of Scotch and smoked four packs of cigarettes a day.

When Otash worked on the wrong side of the law, his career as a detective ended.

In 1959, he was convicted of conspiracy to dope a horse at Santa Anita racetrack. The felony conviction was later downgraded to a misdemeanor and eventually expunged from his record, and he only served a suspended sentence. But his license was suspended by the California Department of Professional and Vocational Standards.

Otash, who had come so far from the rough-edged poverty of his youth in Massachusetts, when he was thrown out of high school for fighting, returned to the East Coast. He practiced for a year as a private investigator in New York and eventually wrote his first book, "Hollywood Confidential."

Otash later became head of security for the Hazel Bishop Co. and its subsidiary, Lilly Dache. The company moved him to Miami and he told The Times he was happy to have nothing more to do with "adultery, child neglect, prostitution and those things. . . ."

He was manager of the Hollywood Palladium in the 1970s and 1980s.

Otash is survived by his daughter, Colleen Otash, and three sisters, Evelyn Abisalih, Grace Steiner and Lila Merhige.

Services are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Old North Church, Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

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