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Fred Otash

Fred Otash, a private investigator in Hollywood, California, talks to Wallace about his work for Confidential Magazine, morality, informers, and invasion of privacy.

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Guest: Fred Otash

WALLACE: (LOSS OF AUDIO) My name is Mike Wallace. The cigarette is Philip Morris.


WALLACE: Tonight we go after the story of a private detective who helps Confidential Magazine pry into the lives of Hollywood stars; you see him behind me, he's Fred Otash, an ex-cop, now one of the highest paid private detectives in the United States.

If you are curious to know the methods, the morality, and the economics of a detective who works with Confidential, if you'd like to hear his answer to the charge that Confidential, is a smut sheet, and if you want to know what Fred Otash thinks personally of the nine million people who read Confidential, we'll go after those stories in just a moment.

My guest's opinions are not necessarily mine, the station's, or my sponsor's Philip Morris Incorporated; but whether you agree or disagree we feel that none will deny the right of these views to be broadcast.


And now to our story. Private detective Fred Otash, is one of the chief investigators for Confidential Magazine, which is now involved in the most lurid court trial in Hollywood history. Tonight we are going to try to find out about Fred Otash, his past and present, and why he works for Confidential and what he thinks of other people who do.

Fred, first of all I'd like to re-establish the ground rules, or re-state the ground rules, which you and I have established before we went on the air. Number one, no names of Hollywood actors or actresses will be mentioned during the next twenty-five minutes. Number two, we are not going to be talking about the litigation, the trial that is now taking place in California, right?

OTASH: Correct.

WALLACE: Time Magazine, Fred... July 11th, 1955, called Confidential Magazine “success in the sewer.” Last week the New York Daily Mirror, called Confidential's publisher Bob Harrison a scandal monger. Yet, in effect, you work for him. As one of Confidential's chief investigators how much are you paid for your job, Fred?

OTASH: Well Mike, I want to clarify something, I... I don't work for Confidential Magazine.

WALLACE: You work for Hollywood Research Incorporated, correct?

OTASH: I work for Hollywood Research Incorporated...

WALLACE: Which does business directly with and exclusively for Confidential.

OTASH: Well, I don't think that is a very fair remark, the court hasn't established that as yet. Er...

WALLACE: But you're not suggesting they work for somebody else?

OTASH: Well, I don't know. I don't know that much about their business, whether they work for somebody else or not, or if they sell stories for anybody else. I would say that one of their main sources of business is Confidential Magazine.

WALLACE: Uh-uh... let's put it this way Fred, you are qualified to talk about the subject, which I have been talking about up to now?

OTASH: Mike, I'm qualified to talk... yes.

WALLACE: All right, all right. How much do you get paid? For the work you do for Confidential?

OTASH: Well the work I do for Hollywood Research, er... it may... I would say, twenty, maybe twenty-five thousand a year.

WALLACE: According to an article in the National Enquirer, August 18th by John J. Miller, you masterminded the subpoena serving for Bob Harrison for the California trial. That in effect is true.

OTASH: True.

WALLACE: You charged twenty-five thousand dollars for that?

OTASH: No, I haven't submitted a bill as yet to, er... Arthur Carl, the lawyer for, er... Hollywood Research as yet. Uh... It will be a big... it will be a sizeable bill because we got a lot of background investigation on various issues, the... that is... that will be brought up at the court. And, er... I had a whole army of men out there serving the subpoenas. So my bill may be that large, er...

WALLACE: But you haven't decided yet.

OTASH: It will be, er... it will probably be fairly close to that.

WALLACE: I understand your total income for the last couple of years has been about a hundred thousand dollars a year as a private detective, right?

OTASH: Well, (CLEARS THROAT) that's fairly close. Of course, Mike, you have to realize, I work for about a hundred law firms all over the world.

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

OTASH: And, er... Hollywood Research is one of my very small accounts.

WALLACE: One of your very small accounts?

OTASH: Yes, uh-huh. I would say.

WALLACE: Well, if you're going to make twenty-five thousand odd, er... and...

OTASH: Well...

WALLACE: ...your income is about a hundred thousand dollars a year, it's a fair sized account; but we won't argue about that, I think we have more interesting stuff to talk about. Aside from the money, Fred, what other reason do you have for working for Confidential? What satisfaction, if any, do you get out of working for them?

OTASH: I get no personal satisfaction. I, er... I've no axe to grind with anyone that is exposed in an exposé magazine. I get an assignment to do a certain job, and I do a certain job.

WALLACE: Pure and simple a job.

OTASH: That's all... to me...

WALLACE: No personal satisfaction whatsoever?

OTASH: To me it's a job. I... er... I look at it very objectively, er... and I try to determine if the facts and the items are true.

WALLACE: Well, that's what I'd like to know. What specifically do you do for Confidential?

OTASH: Well now, that all depends on the type of story that has to be verified, you see. Er... I'll try to think of something real fast hypothetically. Er... if er... some girl sells her story... (CLEARS THROAT) she said she dated a movie star that is married, and er... (CLEARS THROAT) she said that

"At the time I was dating him, he and I, were making a picture together, er... on a certain movie lot and his wife was in Europe. And er... we went to such and such a location, he came to my apartment and spent a couple of evenings there with me."

Well, in that... in that... in that order, one would establish if he was making a picture at that time, if she was working on that picture, er... if his wife was in Europe; and we would try to verify with the neighbors or friends or associates if they ever saw him leaving and entering her apartment.

WALLACE: In other words, you just...

OTASH: I just...

WALLACE: ...you just want the facts.

OTASH: That's right, the true facts.

WALLACE: Last March, Fred, you testified in California before a State Legislative Committee, the Craft Committee, about how you investigated a certain film actress and a man who is now married to her, remember?

OTASH: I recall.

WALLACE: According to a New York newspaper you testified that your men -- and these are the newspaper's words -- quote... "Used cameras with telephoto lenses and special equipment for taking photographs in the dark and neither the actress nor her boyfriend knew they were being observed..." End quote, correct?

OTASH: Well, (CLEARS THROAT) Here we are talking about exposé magazines, er...

WALLACE: We're naming no names.

OTASH: That's wrong, yeah, but that... that's wrong. The newspapers have a tendency to slant a story to their advantage. Anyway that's not true. Number one, we did take the pictures at night, the pictures were taken, and they were taken from a hill...

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

OTASH: that overlooked this home.

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

OTASH: And they were taken (CLEARS THROAT) with some of the equipment that I own...

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

OTASH: ...and were taken with a telephoto lens, and er...

WALLACE: All right, so essentially the story is true, they were unaware of the pictures.

OTASH: That's right.

WALLACE: All I want to ask is, how do you justify invading people's privacy like that?

OTASH: Well, I feel this way, if you can see it or hear it, you are not invading any privacy.

WALLACE: Now, er... are you taking...

OTASH: If you can see...

WALLACE: The... Fred Otash point of view.

OTASH: This... this is my point of view. I'm a... I am a detective; I'm licensed and bonded to the State of California. And er... being a detective, we work many divorce cases, which, er... in effect, are the same as this particular situation you were talking about.

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

OTASH: You see. So, when I wanted to verify if this item is true, I look at it just as if I'm working a divorce case, to see if a man or a woman are committing adultery, er... either on his wife, or she on her husband, you see?

WALLACE: So, as far as you are concerned, again, it's just a job and you don't feel that it is an invasion of privacy? Let's say, that... let's talk about, not about legality here Fred, but about morality.

When a thing like that is done, for the reasons that you do it, when you take intimate pictures with long distance lenses, when you deal with informers, as you have said that you do, how do you square that with yourself, I'm talking now, with just plain human decency, Fred?

OTASH: Well, (CLEARS THROAT) that's a pretty hard question to answer. I... I look at the thing through a different set of eyes probably Mike, than you would, or maybe a reader. Er... being a private detective is a dirty job.

There is no two ways about it, because you're always dabbing into the life of an individual, whether he is accused of being a thief or... or accused of committing adultery, or whatever the charge may be. And being in this business, and I've been in this business as an investigator about fifteen years including time on the Police Department

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

OTASH: ...I just take it in stride. Now, (CLEARS THROAT) there are a certain type of cases that I prefer working. I don't prefer working, er... for the Hollywood Research. That isn't what I would call, a case that I could home with, go home at night and feel completely relaxed, like I'd done someone some good.

WALLACE: Yes, but you... but you take any case that pays you money, is that not so?

OTASH: Well, certainly that...

WALLACE: Any case at all.

OTASH: Well, no, not any case. Now, I won't take a case for... I won't take a case for... er... a member of the Communist Party, or, a communist, I sort of draw the line there.

WALLACE: I see. But aside from a member of the Communist Party or that kind of a case, you take any case at all. Let me... let me ask, and again this is a purely personal question, not a legal but a moral question to you Fred Otash.

OTASH: All right. All right.

WALLACE: You say, I gather, that you do not develop these stories; you just check the facts on these stories.

OTASH: That's correct.

WALLACE: What... what do you think of the people who are directly responsible for these stories, the call girls, the spurned lovers, the paid informers who do supply the information for the articles, do you think that they are not just a little bit contemptible?

OTASH: (CLEARS THROAT) Well, I think they are kiss-and-tellers, and I don't think that anyone basically likes a kiss-and-teller, Mike. I, er...

WALLACE: So you don't have any respect for them?

OTASH: (CLEARS THROAT) I don't have too much respect for any form of informer, and I think that any police officer in the United States will say that the person they disrespect the most would be an informer.

WALLACE: Well then, how in the world do you square, an... a... again I can't understand... you don't feel dirty yourself dealing with these people?

OTASH: Well, I don't... I don't deal with, necessarily with the informer, Mike. I may deal with people who have witnessed certain things, you see, like that particular story you and I were talking about, prior to that. Er... er... these two individuals had been noted by neighbors, you see.

Well, you can't very well say a neighbor is an informer, because, er... they give a statement pertain to certain situations, that existed, you see. But, I'm... I think you're talking about a professional informer, as far as press is concerned. I would like to go into that for a minute.

And I say this in all honesty, and I'm not actually in the... and, I'm not... I'm not protecting Confidential or, believe me I'm not... because to me, as I said, they're just an account. (CLEARS THROAT) I have dealt with very, very few prostitutes pertaining to my verification of items for Hollywood Research.

WALLACE: What's that again?

OTASH: I have dealt with very, very few prostitutes pertaining to verification of items for Hollywood Research.

WALLACE: Uh-huh. You've never informed yourself?

OTASH: No, I've never have, no. If I did, I'd be in jail.

WALLACE: You'd be in jail, for informing?

OTASH: Certainly, certainly. If I ever violated the confidence of a client, none of them...

WALLACE: Well, I'm not talking about a... client... clients. Now, wait just a second...

OTASH: Oh, oh, you mean my personal life?

WALLACE: Yes. For instance, you...

OTASH: Oh no! No.

WALLACE: ...you've admitted publicly, Fred, that you'd kept company with a certain film actress during 1954. Subsequently, Confidential published a story about that girl. Would you be prepared, Fred, to swear in a court of law that you never furnished Confidential or anyone else with affidavits or material for any story about her.

OTASH: I have already, before the Craft Committee. And I'm prepared to in front of the present session right now.

WALLACE: So, you don't really think much about... think much of the informers?

OTASH: I... I personally wouldn't do it. No, I wouldn't do it.

WALLACE: Fred, these stories that are published in Confidential, what can they possibly do, except hurt, embarrass, possibly destroy the lives of the people who were written about.

OTASH: I wish we could mention names, but were not going to...

WALLACE: That's correct.

OTASH: ...because we decided not to, but Mike, I have very many, many good friends in the movie industry that are actors and actresses.

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

OTASH: And, I would like to say this in all honesty that they enjoy the items that are written about them, and I could...

WALLACE: You say they, you mean they all...

OTASH: The movie stars enjoy. Now, the only time an exposé item will hurt a movie star is if he or she are sexual deviates. That's when they will be hurt, because ninety-nine percent of the people of the United States look down upon that type of person.

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

OTASH: But if they're normal healthy-thinking people, a man that goes out and dates a woman or a woman who goes out and dates a man, er... and whatever they do together is not abnormal, and is not looked down upon by he people of the United States.

WALLACE: It is not looked down?


WALLACE: That is your understanding at least?

OTASH: Well, I think that is... I think that's the general understanding of the average American citizen that has a healthy mind.

WALLACE: What's that again?

OTASH: I think that's a normal understanding of the American, of the average American citizen who has a healthy mind.

WALLACE: A married man or a married woman who indulges in extramarital affairs and it is, and it is...

OTASH: Well...

WALLACE: ...brought out to the public. Wait a second... But, the average American says, "Well, it's a normal healthy manifestation, and it doesn't do any harm." You believe that?

OTASH: No, I didn't say married people. I said, all the items that are written about...

WALLACE: Well, certainly your Confidential writes about a lot of married people, Fred.

OTASH: Well, Mike, there is a lot of adultery committed in the world.

WALLACE: What has that got to do with the question that I put to you?

OTASH: Well, I mean that adultery is sort of a common thing in the United States, Mike.

WALLACE: Therefore?

OTASH: Well, therefore, I see nothing bad about, er...

WALLACE: Do you see anything bad about adultery?

OTASH: No, actually I don't. I don't see, too much... too bad about adultery. I think more people would commit it if the opportunity was available, or if they had the nerve to.

WALLACE: Well, this is your call. Ed Sullivan, er... Fred, wrote the following in his syndicated column on August 19th, of this year.

He said, "TV Networks are in a terrific tail spin over the Hollywood mess which is smearing everyone named. Automatically everyone named becomes a controversial case seriously affecting employment." Now, he seems to feel that it can hurt people's careers, that's diametrically opposed to what you suggest.

OTASH: Well, I wonder if... (CLEARS THROAT), I'm not going to push in Mr. Sullivan's opinion... I think that he's a very brilliant man, but I wonder if he's talked to movie stars themselves.

WALLACE: I dare say that Ed Sullivan talks to movie stars from time to time; he didn't make this up out of the whole cloth.

OTASH: Well, I think we talked to two different types of movie stars then, because I, as I say, I know many of them personally.

WALLACE: Well, there... I bet that you've said a good deal, when you say that you've possibly talked to two different kinds of movie stars.

OTASH: That could be.

WALLACE: As George Murphy pointed out, when we talked to him this week, he's been married for thirty-one years, has two children, is President of the Motion Picture Industry Council, he said to us, "Hollywood is no less moral than any other community. You always hear about the same few names involved in scandal, but you'll see more big stars at a Parent-Teacher's Association meeting at the Beverly Hills Grammar School than at night-clubs and theaters." You think that's a fairly accurate statement by George Murphy?

OTASH: It's fairly accurate, er... in this respect, I don't blame Hollywood or the people in the movie industry, for the things that go on in Hollywood. We have to remember that Hollywood is a melting pot of the United States, and every pretty girl who wins a beauty contest or handsome boy who wins an award for doing a play in school, all come out to Hollywood to get that big break.

Now they get there, and they find out that it just isn't that easy to get into the movie industry, and all the... and the jobs aren't as easy to get in other fields out there.

So they, in a sense, and I mean this very seriously, in a sense have... are determined that they are going to get close to either an actor or an actress, and this is their goal, and this is how they operate, and they... and some succeed, and some don't.

WALLACE: Do you believe... do you believe really that an actor or actress without talent is going to be able to barter his or her morals for a job in pictures and stay in pictures on that basis, Fred?

OTASH: I'm not... I'm not saying that they succeed in becoming stars, but the temptation of having beautiful women available to the movie stars and handsome men available to the movie actresses, er... (CLEARS THROAT) is very common out there.

So, therefore, it's... it is easier for someone who is a movie star to get involved with a very handsome man or a very pretty girl, because they are available and these kids make themselves available to them, and it is a great temptation.

WALLACE: Fred, you have, to some extent anyway, presented a defense of your work on the machinery behind Confidential... but there's something we haven't really explored yet, and that is the readership of scandal magazines. I mentioned before, well let's say... no I didn't mention before. I interviewed you last week as you remember for a newspaper column, correct?

OTASH: Correct.

WALLACE: And for the record, for the recording machine in full view, you said the following about Confidential, you said, "A magazine of this type must have a lot of appeal to the public, it sells three to four million copies, that's proof that people of the United States are scandal-minded and they want to read this kind of junk, so they go out and buy this kind of magazine. There is a demand for it." You said that, right?


WALLACE: In a moment I'd like to know why you called the articles in Confidential "Junk", and I'd like to know your personal opinion of the scandal-minded people who read it. And we'll get the answer to that question in just one minute.


WALLACE: Now then, Fred Otash, last week, speaking about Confidential, you said... "It sells three to four million copies, that's proof people in the United States are scandal-minded and they want to read this kind of junk, so they go out and buy this kind of magazine." Now, why do you call these articles junk?

OTASH: Well, (CLEARS THROAT) when I say junk, I don't necessarily mean Confidential, I mean any exposé magazine, and junk is a, more or less a... common word with me. Er... I personally don't read exposé magazines. Er... I read the Reader's Digest, and things of that type which I enjoy reading. Er... (CLEARS THROAT) So, that's my opinion, to me this is the type of magazine that I'm, personally, not interested in reading.

WALLACE: I get you.

OTASH: I don't buy it.

WALLACE: In your book, it's junk.

OTASH: Well, that's my opinion.

WALLACE: Uh-huh. All right, and you said... you said Confidential is bought by three million people who are scandal-minded, it's read by an estimated nine million people. I've heard that you estimate that, er... twenty million people read Confidential each issue.

Therefore, twenty million people or nine million people, depending upon your figures, are interested in reading this kind of junk. What... what do you personally think of these scandal-minded people, the people who read Confidential?

OTASH: Well, number one, they sell four million. And they have about twenty million readers, I think that that's the average. And when I say junk, (CLEARS THROAT) I mean this, and what I think of the people. The newspapers (CLEARS THROAT) have made a big play of this thing, I've had... I've had... must've had fifty reporters call me and say,

"Fred, give me something that I can use, something that's got sex in it, and something that's different, and something that's this and something that's that," they want something to expose.

Even the papers are this way, they are making a big play out of this trial, they're not printing the true facts of the trial, they are printing a slanted story. Now, this is what the people want to read. They've proven that to me, by saying...

WALLACE: Well, this we understand. What do you think of the people who read it? You say you don't, what do you think of those who do? That's all I want to know.

OTASH: Well, I... I have no opinion of the people who read it. There is a market for this type of magazine...

WALLACE: Okay. All right. You have no opinion. You said it.


WALLACE: Now let's find out just a little bit more about Fred Otash before we finish. Last night, here in New York, you were on the Barry Grey Radio Show, and you said that a man has to have clean record to get a license to be a private detective. Correct?

OTASH: Correct.

WALLACE: From 1945 to '55 you were a member of the Los Angeles Police Force.

OTASH: Correct.

WALLACE: Is it, or is it not, true that on about April 19th, 1948, you were suspended for sixty days for neglect to duty and general unfitness for associating with people of questionable character?

OTASH: No, that's not true. I was suspended... (CHUCKLES) That's very funny.


OTASH: I had told you about that before, but... no, that's not true. I was suspended for watching some very big businessmen and friends of mine, shooting dice. And I...

WALLACE: Were you shooting dice along with them?

OTASH: Er... can I take the Fifth Amendment? (CHUCKLES) Anyway...

WALLACE: Were you in uniform when you were shooting dice with them?

OTASH: (CHUCKLES) I was in uniform. I was watching them shoot dice, and the game got raided by the vice squad. We have a very fine vice squad in Holly... in Los Angeles.

WALLACE: I know.

OTASH: And they got raided, and er... I was tried in front of the Police Trial Board, and I was found guilty of neglect to duty; in other words, I should have put these men in jail for shooting dice.

WALLACE: All right. Is it not true that in July and in December of 1954, six years later, you were charged with neglect to duty and that before a police board of inquiry could rule on your case, you resigned?.

OTASH: That's not true. That is not true. Your investigators did a bad job.

WALLACE: If I were to say the word 'supermarket' to you, would that refresh your memory?

OTASH: Oh, now, I was not... I was not suspended and I was not under any investigation, I did a TV show.

WALLACE: Were you charged with neglect to duty? I didn't said you were suspended.

OTASH: No, I was never charged with anything.

WALLACE: You weren't? Would you say, whatever you may say about your record as a police officer, do you think the Los Angeles Police Department was sorry to see you go?

OTASH: No. I don't know, I have a lot friends in the Los Angeles Police Department. I don't think they were sorry to see me go.

WALLACE: You don't think so.

OTASH: No, I don't think so.

WALLACE: I understand that in certain circles in Los Angeles, as a policeman, you earned yourself the title 'Gestapo Otash' How come?

OTASH: Well, I used to give those commies a bad time when I walked the beat down on Prisoners' Square.

WALLACE: What do you mean by bad time?

OTASH: Well, we have certain laws that are in the book about speech-making, citing rights, and, (CLEARS THROAT) certain sections in which you are allowed to gather and make a... give a speech, and allowed to gather and listen; and I took advantage of those sections in the code and I broke up these various conferences, and...

WALLACE: Forcefully?

OTASH: If necessary, I did, I...

WALLACE: Bat a few heads?

OTASH: No, I've never done that. Well, I have... I have batted a few heads but not particularly in this kind of a situation.

WALLACE: All right. I understand, then why Gestapo Otash.

OTASH: And, the people who called me Gestapo was The Daily Worker and The People's World.

WALLACE: A couple of newspapers got you. Right now you share an apartment with a member of the Los Angeles Police Department?

OTASH: I did.

WALLACE: You did? You don't any longer?


WALLACE: Did he ever supply you with information for your work?

OTASH: Not at any time.

WALLACE: Have you ever paid any policeman for information on a Confidential story or any other story?

OTASH: Never at any time.

WALLACE: Have you, Fred, ever had any telephone conversation with another private detective, about getting information out of the files of a California State legislative hearing into the activities of private detectives?

OTASH: If I ever had...? Would you repeat that for a moment?

WALLACE: Have you ever had any telephone conversation -- we've just got about thirty seconds -- with another private detective about getting information out of the files of the California State legislative hearing into the activities of private detectives?

OTASH: Nope, but...

WALLACE: Are you aware that a Los Angeles newspaperman claims to have a recording of that conversation?

OTASH: Well, if he has it, I think he should produce it. That's all I have to say.

WALLACE: Fred, I thank you for coming three thousand miles to talk to us tonight, to explain a little bit about your job and what goes on with it.

OTASH: Thank you very much for having me, Mike.

WALLACE: Men like Fred Otash and Bob Harrison have been accused of pedaling scandal at the expense of others, and they have borne the brunt of attacks, from the press, the clergy, and private citizens. But, whatever we may think of Fred Otash, good or bad, must also apply, in some measure at least, to the nine million or, he says, twenty million Americans who keep him in business by reading Confidential Magazine.


Next week we go after the story of an eighty-eight year old rebel who has been hailed by some as the greatest architect of the twentieth century, and damned by others for his scathing criticism of organized Christianity, capitalism and American culture and morals. You see him behind me, he's Frank Lloyd Wright, a revolutionary in his life as well as in his art.

If you're curious to know what plans Mr. Wright now has for his mile-high skyscraper, as well as the dream-house that he's been asked to plan for Marilyn Monroe, if you'd like to hear what he thinks of the average man and of certain extraordinary men like Charlie Chaplin and Douglas McArthur, and if you want to know how Frank Lloyd Wright answers the charge that he is, quote "A pompous windbag" unquote, we'll go after these stories next Sunday.

Till then, for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace. Good night.

ANNCR: The Mike Wallace Interview is brought to you by Philip Morris Incorporated, the Quality House.

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