Like many of Quentin Tarantino's recent films, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood shouldn't be considered a true story. If you attempt to reference it in your doctoral thesis about Hollywood in the 1960s, you will fail. But Tarantino's reimagining doesn't ignore real life completely; many of the people, places, and events in the film are based on real things that actually happened. They're just mixed in with so many made-up movies, character composites, and flame-throwing that it's tough to tell exactly what is real and what is fictional.
So, before you embarrass yourself by looking up Bounty Law episodes on YouTube, we've compiled a list of the parts that actually happened so you can loudly inform everyone around you while the movie's going on.
In Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, Manson's cult hangs out at Spahn Ranch, an abandoned faux ranch where Westerns used to be filmed. It feels like it could be a made-up, too-on-the-nose metaphor for the decline of the Hollywood Western or Rick Dalton's career, but it turns out that Spahn Ranch is a real place where Manson's crew actually hung out.
Originally, shows like Bonanza and The Lone Ranger were filmed out there, but the ranch had long since fallen into a state of disrepair. The owner was blind, and it was a perfect place for Manson to move into and live cheaply without much oversight or suspicion.
Soon after Lynette Fromme moved to Venice Beach in the late 1960s, she ran into Charles Manson. She agreed to join his little cult and moved with him and several others to Spahn Ranch. And while the whole crew did some work to "earn their keep" as it were, while others were riding horses, Fromme was allegedly expected to sleep with the owner of Spahn Ranch.
In fact, she really did get the nickname "Squeaky" from George Spahn because of the noise she'd make when he touched her. So, on some level, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood portrays that bizarre relationship accurately.
Charles Manson's lone appearance in the film comes when he shows up at the gate of the Polanski residence. He claims he's looking for Terry Melcher, then gets told by Jay Sebring to leave, and he angrily storms away.
It feels like a convenient cameo to bring Manson into the movie's orbit, but the interaction actually happened... sort of. The exact configuration of people was different, but Manson had visited the property before the slayings occurred. Terry Melcher was a record producer who lived in the house before Tate, and Manson had interacted with him several times in pursuit of a record deal. When Melcher stopped returning Manson's calls, Manson spent a period of time trying to track Melcher down, and did wander into a real-life version of something likely very close to the scene in the film.
Regardless of how you feel about Bruce Lee's portrayal in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, not everything about him in the movie is made up (or, as some might argue, a dream sequence). The real Bruce Lee was actually pretty good friends with Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. In fact, the little montage where Lee trains Tate for a fight sequence that ends up being in a movie actually happened.
Lee was also (very briefly) the focus of Polanski's suspicions. Polanski found a pair of glasses left behind in his house, which police suspected might belong to one of the assailants. Shortly after that, Lee casually mentioned to Polanski that he had just lost his glasses, so Polanski "graciously" offered to take Lee to go get a new pair (and scope them out). But in the end, obviously, there was no connection there.