Fifty Years After The Manson Murders, Sharon Tate Still Remains In The Spotlight

Abhishek Srivastava - 59 weeks ago

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is about the friendship between an out-of-luck TV actor and his stunt double, both trying to achieve success in a cut throat world of Hollywood. The plot by Tarantino has the Manson family murder as its backdrop and also features Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie), one of the victims of the Manson family murder, prominently in the film. Not much is known about the actress save she was briefly married to director Roman Polanski and was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1968 for Most Promising Newcomer – Female. The Film Hashery digs deep into the life of Sharon Tate.

(Tony Curtis and Sharon Tate in a still from Don't Make Waves)

Actress Sharon Tate died when she was only 26 and at the time of her murder was eight and half months pregnant. A promising career was cut short tragically, just as the world had seen the death of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe before her. Sharon Tate was born Sharon Marie and because of her father’s military career had a varied schooling in Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, El Paso and Texas. At the age of 15, along with her parents, she moved to Washington. While her father was posted at Hanford, without informing her parents, she sent her entry and eventually won the Miss Richland, Washington beauty contest. The title of Miss Autorama soon followed. In 1959, after her father was promoted to the rank of Captain, the family had to move to Verona, Italy as her father was assigned a task within the European Task Force. It took some time for her to adjust to a different environment but her time in Italy brought her close to books. She developed a taste in reading, with a special affinity towards psychology, and even contemplated becoming a therapist. Soon, romance blossomed with a young soldier which ended in a date rape. For the sake of her father, a deeply embarrassed Sharon, did not report the crime.  The ghastly incident left her traumatized and her social behavior took a beating. 

It was during a trip with her friends to a local movie set in Verona, the acting bug bit her. The film was Adventures of a Young Man and Paul Newman, Richard Beymer and Susan Strasberg were lead actors of the film. It was during the lunch break that Richard Beymer spotted this sexy young Italian standing in the crowd. The conversation later revealed that she was an American and soon the two decided to meet for a date. Later, it was Beymer who suggested that she think of a career in Hollywood. He gave her the name, address and phone number of his agent and instructed her to get in touch with him once she was in America. She ensured that word spread in the region of Verona that she was available for any work for any production filming in that area. 

(Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate in a still from Dance of the Vampires)

In 1961, Sharon landed her first acting opportunity when she was signed for the Anthony Quinn starrer Barrabas. It was a role without any dialogues. During the shooting of the film she also chanced upon a meeting with actor Jack Palance, (nominated thrice for Academy Award and won for City Slickers in 1992) who arranged for Sharon to travel to Rome for a screen test. By this time the idea of becoming an actress had firmly rooted in her mindset. Her father was firmly opposed to the idea of Sharon making a career in showbiz but it was her mother who supported her. According to Greg King, the author of Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders, “Doris (her mother) conspired with her daughter to further her opportunities. While she did not necessarily push Sharon against her wishes, Doris Tate had always viewed her daughter’s exceptional looks as a means to an end, whether as a beauty contestant or an actress.”

In 1962, the Tate family finally returned to America. Once there, she quickly resumed her correspondence with Beymer. Soon an appointment was made with Harold Gefsky, Beymer’s agent. It is said that after the meeting, Gefsky was so taken aback with Sharon’s beauty that he had no clue what to do with her. According to him, she was too pretty for Hollywood. Gefsky helped her land commercials for Cheverlot and Santa Fe cigarettes. Despite pumping in effort, Gefsky could not help land Sharon any major project. In a state of dissatisfaction, he called his close friend, Herbert Browar, and suggested that he sign her for one of his projects. Browar at that time was associated with Filmways, Inc. – a production house. Browar’s efforts bore fruit and soon Sharon signed a seven-year contract with the company, which she later regretted. 

(Patty Duke, Sharon Tate, and Barbara Parkins in Valley of the Dolls)

Martin Ransohoff, chairman of Filmways Inc., in 1963 arranged for Sharon’s admission to Lee Strasberg’s acting school. At the school she found herself crumbling under pressure and the intimidation was so much that she had no option but to leave the school after few weeks. During this period, she met Phillippe Forquet, a French actor, and soon got engaged. It was a relationship that should not have happened because of Forquet’s ill temper. Opportunity came knocking in 1963, when Sharon gave a screen test for Sam Peckinpah’s The Cincinnati Kid. Sharon gave her screen test along with Steve McQueen but Peckinpah had his own reservation and believed that her lack of experience will show on the screen. 

Sharon met director Roman Polanski on the set of The Fearless Vampire Killer and eventually got married on 20th January, 1968 in London. It was in July of 1969 that a heavily pregnant Sharon left London for her house in LA. Polanski was overseeing a new project and work demanded him to be in London. Before Sharon’s departure to London, Polanski instructed a small set of people to take care of her. Polanski was all set to return to London on 12th August – just before the scheduled birth of the baby. On the night of 9th August, she was stabbed 16 times and four other members were ghastly killed by members of the Manson family. Paul Richard Polanski, Sharon Tate’s and Roman Polanski’s (mentioned on Sharon’s tombstone) unborn child, died 20 minutes after the death of her mother. 

(Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate just after their marriage in 1968)

It's ironical that Sharon searched for fame all her life, and just when she managed it all after the release of Valley of the Dolls, it was soon taken away. For the past five decades she has always been in the news - not for her histrionics but something else. Fifty years since she died, the actress who once lightened up the screen is now the subject for as many as three films – Margot Robbie in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Hilary Duff in The Haunting of Sharon Tate and Grace Van Dien in Charlie Says. Sharon would have never approved of it.


Sharon Tate / Valley of the Dolls / Margot Robbie / Once Upon a Time in Hollywood / Beauty Pageant / Academy Award / Golden Globes

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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