Scenes That I Love: Cliff Booth Beats Up Clem Grogan in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood


Today is Quentin Tarantino’s 59 birthday.  In order to celebrate the occasion, here’s Brad Pitt beating up a hippie.

This scene, of course, is from my favorite Tarantino film, 2019’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.  While some may say that Cliff goes overboard on the hippie, you should understand that this is no ordinary hippie.  This hippie is meant to be Steve “Clem” Grogan, a real-life member of the Manson Family who, in 1969, murdered an actor and stuntman named Donald “Shorty” Shea.  Shea, who worked on the Spahn Rannch, had apparently once taken Grogan under his wing but, when it was decided the Shea knew too much about Manson’s crimes and that he was a threat to Manson’s control of ranch owner George Spahn, the order apparently went out that Shea had to die.  While Manson, Grogan and Manson’s second-in-command, Bruce Davis, were the only three people convicted of Shea’s murder, it’s felt that they were probably aided by Tex Watson (played by Austin Butler in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood).  In real life, Grogan was sentenced to death for Shea’s murder, though his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, with the judge reportedly saying that Grogan was obviously too stupid and too stoned to decide to murder Shea on his own.

The 18 year-old Grogan was a high school drop out and was also nicknamed Scramblehead, due to even the members of the Manson Family considering him to be abnormally dumb.  Grogan, reportedly, wrecked several cars, including one owned by Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys and, shortly before the murders, he was arrested for exposing himself.  That said, it’s also been suggested that Grogan was never as dumb as he pretended to be.  According to Ed Sanders’s book, The Family, Grogan did turn his life around once he was locked far away from the rest of the Family and free from Manson’s influence.  A model prisoner, he eventually led the police to the location of Shea’s body and he was paroled in 1985.  To date, he is the only one of the Manson murderers to have been released from prison.  (Bruce Davis, who was also convicted of killing Shea, has been ruled suitable for parole six times over the past ten years but, each time, the decision has been overturned by California’s governor.  He was mostly recently ruled suitable for parole on January 22nd of this year but Governor Newsom has yet to announce whether he will be blocking the decision.)  Grogan is 69 years old now and, as of a few years ago, he was working as a musician in the Los Angeles area.  Regardless of whether Clem Grogan turned his life around or not, considering what happened to Shorty Shea, it does seem appropriate that Once Upon A Time In Hollywood sees Clem getting his ass kicked by a stuntman.

In fact, Cliff’s entire visit to the Spahn Ranch is one of the best moments in Tarantino’s entire filmography.  It plays out like a combination of a horror flick and a western and there’s just enough odd humor tossed in to keep the audience especially nervous.  Given just how creepy the entire sequence is, there’s something very cathartic about Cliff’s refusal to play any games with Clem and the other hippies.  Cliff’s refusal to even let Clem wipe the blood off his face feels especially satisfying, in an odd sort of way.

Anyway, a happy birthday to Quentin Tarantino!  Last year, I observed Tarantino’s birthday by ranking all of his film, in order from worst to best.  You check that out by clicking here!

One response to “Scenes That I Love: Cliff Booth Beats Up Clem Grogan in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

  1. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review: 3/22/21 — 3/28/21 | Through the Shattered Lens

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