The following is from “Fallen Angels: The Lives and Untimely Deaths of Fourteen Hollywood Beauties,” by Kirk Crivello, to be published in December by Citadel Press. SHARON MARIE TATE was born on Jan. 24, 1943, in Dallas. Both her parents, Doris Gwen and Paul Tate, were natives of Houston. Her father was in the Army, and the family was shifted from post to post. In 1961, Sharon met 20th-Century Fox actor Richard Beymer, who was on location in Verona filming “Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man.” Tate was working in the crowd scenes, and Beymer encouraged the teen to try her luck in Hollywood. “I always had Hollywood in my mind,” Sharon would say. She was happy when her father was transferred to California.
On her first day back, Tate contacted Hal Gefsky, Beymer’s agent, and just five days later, she moved into the Hollywood Studio Club. Her first job was dressing up in an Irish costume for 23 Lipper Productions and handing out Kelly-Kalani Wine in Los Angeles restaurants at $25 a day for 10 days.
Gefsky took Tate to meet Herbert Browar, an assistant to Al Simon of Filmways Inc. Browar took one look at her and rushed her into the office of Martin Ransohoff, president of Filmways. Ransohoff decided to groom her for motion pictures.
Occasionally, Tate did small parts in Filmways/MGM television series, such as “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Petticoat Junction.” Ransohoff assigned her minor roles in “The Wheeler Dealers” (1963), “The Americanization of Emily” (1964) and “The Sandpiper” (1965). In September, 1965, Tate went to London to begin her first major role--in “Thirteen,” the story of a devil-worshipping cult that engages in human sacrifice. (It was released in 1967 as “Eye of the Devil.”) While the film was in production, Ransohoff introduced Tate to director Roman Polanski at a cocktail party at the Dorchester Hotel. Ransohoff was then in the pre-production phase of the youthful-looking director’s next film assignment, “The Fearless Vampire Killers.”
To accommodate his producer, Polanski cast Tate as the star of the macabre carryings-on to be filmed in England. The director found her to be “a rare combination--bright, interesting and attractive.” It wasn’t long before Tate fell in love with Roman Polanski.
Tate returned from England with her new mentor, and they rented a luxurious Santa Monica house. Commenting on Sharon’s beauty, Polanski said: “She doesn’t believe in her beauty. Once, when I was very poor in Poland, I had got some beautiful shoes, and I immediately became ashamed of them. All my friends had plain, ordinary shoes, and I was embarrassed to walk in front of them. That’s how Sharon feels about her beauty. She’s embarrassed by it.”
Tate went on to film “Valley of the Dolls.” Her final screen moments have enormous dramatic impact, considering that she would be dead within two years. Haunting close-ups linger over her lovely face in the suicide scene. Sharon’s portrait of the doomed Jennifer North is both impressive and moving. The Hollywood Reporter reported: “Sharon Tate emerges as the film’s most sympathetic character, who takes an overdose of sleeping pills when breast cancer threatens to rob her of her only means of livelihood. William Daniels’ photographic caress of her faultless face and enormous absorbent eyes is stunning.”
On Jan. 20, 1968, four days before her 25th birthday, Tate married Roman Polanski, 34, in a civil ceremony in London. The Polanskis were part of the glittery new Hollywood life, frequently at trendy nightclubs. Their friends were rich and young stars who dabbled in soft drugs, Indian mysticism and seances. “I love the new generation,” Tate told one interviewer. “They’re fascinating and they’re fun. I think the hippies are great. They just want to be left alone and they want everything to be nice and peaceful. That’s my philosophy, to live and let live. But I’m not just a hippie. I’m not just an anything.”
Tate was to film “Twelve Plus One” (1970), from the old Russian novel. The Italian-French co-production told the fable about the legatee whose fortune is in one of the 13 chairs he’s already sold. “Twelve Plus One” proved to be Tate’s final role.
In July, 1969, to Tate’s bitter disappointment, Polanski remained in London for story conferences and was unable to accompany her back to California. She was eight months pregnant when she sailed home. In Hollywood, she was spending most of her days at the house on Cielo Drive quietly making preparations for the expected baby by redecorating the nursery. Everything now centered around the baby.
Joanna Pettet and Barbara Lewis stopped by that Friday, Aug. 8, for a leisurely lunch. It was a relaxing afternoon, the women would later say, spent talking mostly about the expected baby and Polanski’s return in time for his birthday, on Aug. 18. Tate had been planning a birthday party for Polanski, who was going to be 36.
Sharon Tate was a portrait of the Hollywood goddess--flawlessly beautiful and successful. That reality soon became a nightmare, and everything she had taken for granted--security, impending motherhood and a film career--would lead to events so gruesome they would be termed “the most brutal and bizarre murders of the decade.” The world was stunned by the violent slayings.
Copyright 1988 by Kirk Crivello.