The Life and Death of Sharon Tate

Updated on September 13, 2019
Jade Hassenplug profile image

I have a curiosity for humanity's darker side and I love doing research so I've combined those two things to write in depth articles.

Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate | Source

Background

Sharon Marie Tate was born on January 24, 1943, to Doris Gwendolyn and Colonel Paul James Tate. She was born in Dallas, Texas, and had two younger sisters, Debra and Patti. At just six months old, Sharon was entered into the “Miss Tiny Tots of Dallas Pageant” and won the competition. Her parents had no experience in show business and didn’t have any show business ambitions for their daughter.

Due to her father's job and work promotions, the family moved around quite often; at just 16 years old, Sharon had already lived in six different cities. Because of this, it was difficult for Sharon to make any close friends. People referred to her in her teen years as a very shy girl who had low self-esteem and lacked self-confidence. This was thought to have been due to being moved around so often and being unable to maintain friendships. She had been to at least five different schools starting at Chief Joseph Junior High School in 1955 and graduated at Vicenza American High School in Vicenza, Italy in April 1961. It was only at this American school in Italy that she found other teenagers who had the same feelings and backgrounds of moving around as she did. This is when she finally began to bond and make lasting friendships.

Sharon Tate with her younger sisters
Sharon Tate with her younger sisters | Source

Pageants and Modeling

After winning the Tots Pageant at six months old, Sharon began to enter pageants on her own when she was 16. She had begun getting complements on her beauty as she started to mature and ended up winning the title of “Miss Richland” in 1959 in Washington. She had wanted to enter and win the competition for the 1960 “Miss Washington” after winning Richland, but before she could register to enter, her father was ordered to be stationed in Italy. She was, however, able to compete for Miss Autorama and win while also being the cover girl for the 1960s edition of Stars and Stripes. She continued to model through her film career with some of the best photographers such as John Derek, Halsman, William Chappell, and Bert Stern.

16 year old Sharon winning Miss Richland
16 year old Sharon winning Miss Richland | Source

Small Roles

While still in Italy, Sharon and a few friends from her high school learned the movie Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Boy was being filmed nearby. Some of the people making the movie were Paul Newman, Susan Strasberg, and Richard Beymer. Sharon and her friends got hired as film extras for the movie, but Sharon had caught Richard Beymer’s eye. He introduced himself to her and they began dating during the production of the movie. Beymer began to encourage Sharon to pursue a career in film. Later, she was hired by Pat Boone to appear in an episode of his TV show The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom that was filmed in Venice, Italy.

Sharon got another job as an extra in the movie Barabbas later in 1961. Her appearance and attitude on the set caught the attention of Jack Palance, so he arranged a screen test for her in Rome to judge her acting talents. Unfortunately, this didn’t get her any further work.

Sharon decided after this to move back to the United States on her own, telling her parents she wanted to further her education. Her real goal was to find better film work. After just a few months, she was persuaded to return to her parents in Italy after her mother Doris had a nervous breakdown about her daughter's safety.

Her father was stationed back to the USA in 1962 to Los Angeles. Sharon decided to contact Harold Gefsky, Richard Beymer’s agent. Harold agreed to represent Sharon after their first meeting and was able to get her some small work for television commercials and magazine ads. She was in Chevrolet and Popular Cigarette ads as well as a Kelly Kalanhi Wine Girl.

Around this time when Sharon was getting acting experience in commercials, she moved into a tiny apartment with fellow actress Sheilah Wells. The pair had two single beds and two dogs in the cramped apartment, but Sharon was just happy to be in Hollywood following her dreams.

Sharon in the role of Janet Trego in the Beverly Hillbillies.
Sharon in the role of Janet Trego in the Beverly Hillbillies. | Source

Early Film Career

In 1963, Sharon was introduced to Herb Brower by Harold Gefsky. Brower then introduced Sharon to Martin Ransohoff, who was blown away by Sharon’s incredible beauty and youth. He was the director of Filmways Inc. and was determined to put her in movies and make her a star. There was one problem they faced; Sharon was under 21 and legally not able to sign a contract with Hollywood unless she was a ward of the court. They held a meeting with Sharon’s parents Paul and Doris to discuss Sharon’s future career in Hollywood. Her parents agreed to the deal and Sharon was on her way to fulfilling her dreams.

Sharon was such a unique person that Ransohoff decided to put every source they had into her career. They decided to start by putting Sharon in small roles on TV shows in disguise with a black wig and makeup. She was the secretary Janet Trego for two seasons on the Beverly Hillbillies and was in other small roles on TV shows like Mr. Ed, Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Petticoat Junction. Ransohoff threw millions into training and preparing Sharon for her big debut. He claimed it was almost impossible for a star to launch their career twice and he wanted Sharon to succeed when he launched her into stardom. Because she was so young and getting so much attention and training from Ransohoff, Sharon was dubbed the Million Dollar Baby.

Getting anxious, Sharon began pushing for more work and started to audition for roles in films like Lies! and The Sound of Music, but they felt her look was too mature for the roles and the parts were given to other actresses. In 1964, Sharon auditioned for a role in The Cincinnati Kid, but Ransohoff told her she was too timid and too inexperienced, so they gave the part to another. Ransohoff did give Sharon small roles in the two movies he was producing, The Americanization of Emily and The Sandpiper, until he found a perfect role for her in 1965.

Sharon in her role for Eye of the Devil
Sharon in her role for Eye of the Devil | Source
Sharon in her role for Eye of the Devil
Sharon in her role for Eye of the Devil | Source

Fame and Big Movie Roles

Sharon got her first major role in the movie Eye of the Devil, previously known as 13. While preparing for the role, Sharon and her current boyfriend, Jay Sebring, traveled together to London and met up with a Wiccan high priest and high priestess. Sharon’s role in the movie was as Odile, a witch with mysterious powers over a landowner. Her part didn’t have as many lines as others in the movie, but her part was crucial and her performance needed to set an ethereal tone for the whole movie. During this time, Ransohoff had been busy on a side project. This was a short documentary on Sharon called All Eyes on Sharon Tate. It was to be released the same time as Eye of the Devil and included a short interview by the movie director John Lee Thompson. Thompson mentioned his initial doubt of Sharon’s ability to perform in such a major part but later mentioned how Sharon was “tremendously exciting.” Sharon said she had learned a lot just from simply watching her costars on set and expressed her good fortune with being able to work with such professionals. Sebring left for Los Angeles on business obligations, but Sharon remained in London to explore the fashion industry and nightclubs.

In 1966, Sharon met Roman Polanski when he was directing a movie spoof of vampire films called The Fearless Vampire Killers. Ransohoff was producing the movie and had suggested Sharon for the lead role. Polanski initially was unimpressed with Sharon and the two didn’t get along. He would have much rather the role go to Jill St. John, but he agreed to do a screen test with Sharon. Sharon came onto the test set wearing a red wig. As she began to perform, Polanski began to see the character, Sarah, come to life. She got the role and worked hard to please Polanski as he was a perfectionist. Between shooting, she would do still photographs for magazines as the red-headed character Sarah. She even agreed to do a semi-nude layout as the character Sarah for a promotional part in the March 1967 Playboy magazine. Polanski himself was the one to take the photos for the magazine.
Sharon and Polanski’s relationship started to grow from professional to romantic and Sharon decided she had to end her relationship with Jay. Jay Sebring and Sharon ended the relationship on friendly terms and he even became a close friend with Polanski and Sharon. After the filming ended, Sharon flew back to the United States to start work on another movie that Ransohoff set up for her. The movie was a beach comedy called Don’t Make Waves. Sharon played the role of Malibu and wore little more than a bikini during the whole film. She surprised the cast and crew by performing her own stunts in the movie and doing such an outstanding job at them. Sharon wasn’t happy with the movie overall but she was asked to do a major campaign for Coppertone Sunscreen before the movie released. Don’t Make Waves flopped at the box office and Sharon was quoted by a reporter saying, “It’s a terrible movie.” She admitted that she often said things she shouldn't and that she’s very outspoken. She felt like these kinds of movies would limit her roles to the sexy blond and nothing more.

Under the contract of Paramount Pictures, Polanski returned to the United States to start directing and writing Rosemary’s Baby. Polanski had hoped Sharon would take on the lead role but felt that his romantic relationship it would be inappropriate for him to make the suggestion himself. Later on, Sharon was signed to play a lead role in the film Valley of the Dolls. She was not happy with this as she felt the book and movie script were trashy and that it was just another role she got because of her beauty and not her acting talent. Sharon was playing the role of Jennifer North. Her costars were Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins, and Judy Garland, who would later be replaced by Susan Hayward for arriving to set late one too many times. The set for Valley of the Dolls was an unpleasant one as Patty and Barbara were constantly arguing over positions. Director Mark Robson would also belittle the lead actresses but seemed to have it out for Sharon. He would treat her like an air-headed foolish girl when she was not. The movie was released in November of 1967 and became more of a comedy that now has been remade several times and has its own fan club.

Marriage to Polanski

In late 1967 Sharon moved in with Polanski in his London home. They were a hot item for magazines and newspapers and had been called the Groovy Couple of the Year. The couples home was the hip place to be and they were often spotted out on the town with friends such as Peter Sellers, Mia Farrow and Warren Beatty. In January 1968 Roman Polanski proposed to Sharon in London. Sharon said yes and immediately started preparing for the wedding. The couple got married in London just 19 days after the proposal and they dressed in the highest fashion of the time and had a sort of ‘Rich Hippie’ wedding.

It was said that Polanski wanted a more open marriage due to his promiscuity but Sharon wanted a traditional one. He reminded Sharon that she promised not to force him to change for her though she had confided in a close friend that they had an arrangement. He would lie to her and she would pretend to believe him to keep a happy marriage. Polanski eventually talked Sharon into ending her professional relationship with Martin Ransohoff and so she did. They agreed she would give him 25% of her earnings for the next 4 years for breaking the contract prematurely.

The couple eventually moved back to LA and had to live in a hotel for a couple of months while they worked out the details to lease Patty Duke’s home on Summit Ridge Drive. They began hanging out and socializing more with a wide range of high-end movie stars and other big names in the film industry. Some of the people in their group included Joan Collins, Jane Fonda, Steve McQueen, and even Jim Morrison. A few close friends from Planski’s youth was Abigail Folger the coffee heiress and Wojciech Frykowski.

The Polanski’s home was often filled with strangers and Sharon felt the atmosphere of it was just the free spirit of the time. One of Sharon’s close friends Leslie Caron said she was afraid for Sharon and called the Polanski’s too trusting.

At the end of 1968 Sharon became pregnant and the couple decided to move to a new home on February 15, 1969. They moved to 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. The house was previously owned by some of their close friends and Sharon had always loved the house. When she saw it was available she was ecstatic. The couple continued to host large parties and had unusual strangers enter and leave their home.

Sharon and Roman's wedding
Sharon and Roman's wedding | Source

Her Last Movies

One of Sharon’s last roles was in the comedy The Wrecking Crew and had started filming in the Summer of 1968. Once again she had performed all of her own stunts and was even trained by the famous Bruce Lee for some of the martial arts moves in the movie. She played the role of Freya Carlson who was an accident-prone spy.

That year Sharon was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance in the Valley of the Dolls. She was being labeled as a promising newcomer in the world of Hollywood films. She felt her career was finally beginning to accelerate and she was going to make it as the next big star.

In 1969, Sharon decided to undertake the comedy Twelve Plus One as her next project. Her main motivation was being able to have Orson Wells as a co-star. In March she flew to Italy to start on the filming while Polanski went to London to start work on his next project. After the filming was done she went to London to be with Polanski. They stayed in London together and did some family photos such as opening baby shower gifts and other domestic moments for magazines. Sharon left to go back to LA on July 20, 1969, with Polanski staying in London until August 12 in time for the birth. Polanski had asked his friends Folger and Frykowski to stay with Sharon and keep her company and safe until he could return.

Sharon's character on The Wrecking Crew
Sharon's character on The Wrecking Crew | Source

Murdered

August 8, 1969, was just any other day for Sharon. Being only two weeks from her due date, she had invited her friends Joanna Pettet and Barbara Lewis for lunch and conversation. She expressed her sadness in the delay of Romans return from London. Later that day she received two calls, one from her husband and another from her younger sister, Debora. Debora has asked if she and their other sister Patti could spend the night at Sharon’s house but she declined saying they could stay some other time.

Sharon, Abigail, Wojciech, and Jay, went out to eat for dinner at El Coyote Cafe and returned to the Polanski residence around 10:30 Pm. Just shortly after midnight a four members of the Manson Family broke in and slaughtered Sharon and her friends. They had no mercy on them or Sharon as she begged them to spare her baby. Contrary to the rumors, her unborn baby was not removed from her by the murderers he died from lack of oxygen after Sharon was dead.

The bodies of Sharon, Abigail, Wojciech, and Jay were found by their housekeeper Winifred Chapman. When police arrived they found an additional victim who had been shot sitting in a car in the Polanski’s driveway. He was later identified as Steven Parent. Steven was visiting the properties caretaker William Garretson who lived in the guest house. Police took Garretson to the station for questioning as he was the lone survivor on the property.

The guest house is a short distance from the main house and is generally out of sight. When questioned as a suspect he claimed Parent had visited him that night but left shortly after 11:30 pm. He stated he knew nothing about the murders and had nothing to offer the police to help them in their investigation. He was later let go and deemed no longer a suspect.

The police informed Roman Polanski of the incident and he flew back to LA and was questioned by the police as well. On Wednesday August 13 Sharon was laid to rest in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City CA. She was berried with her son, Paul Richard Polanski in her arms. The other victim's funerals were on the same day only hours apart so mutual friends and family could be present for all of them.

Sharon and Pauls grave. She was berried next to her mother, Doris.
Sharon and Pauls grave. She was berried next to her mother, Doris. | Source

Harmfull Rumors

There had been a few rumors going around about Sharon Tate after the murders. They were tasteless and slanderous claims from the media and tabloids. Some media outlets had taken photos from her work in movies and made claim Sharon was into satanic worship and black magic but these are simply untrue.

More slander from the press and society at that time claimed the group of victims had been abusing drugs and participating in sex parties. This is also unfounded and simply untrue. Close friends will deny these statements until their last breath. There was no proof of them doing such things at the house on the night of the murder or otherwise.

Sharon Tate was described by all who met her as a smart, sweet and kind soul who worked hard and made you feel like you mattered. She was a great actress and a wonderful person all around.

Misleading Movies

One particular movie that has gotten a lot of hate and backlash was the Haunting of Sharon Tate. This movie was poorly written, directed and just in bad taste overall. It seemingly makes a mockery of what happened on that dreadful night and spins it into some cheap thriller horror movie. Even worse was the fact that Sharon’s family explicitly asked them not to make the movie.

The Manson Family Massacre that came out in August is just as bad as the Haunting one. This one looks to be from the killer’s perspective and the way it is portrayed seems to be disregarding the victim’s families and using the dead’s last moments as pure shock entertainment. This movie also has a very poor rating and angry reviews.

The one movie that twists the story of Sharon Tate’s murder is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. This movie might be historically incorrect but it’s done in a positive light. It’s done the right way in that it still shows respect to the victims of the crime and their families. It doesn’t slander their names, it shows a more happy ending. It shows what everybody wanted to happen instead of what did happen. I won’t go into spoilers as it is a new movie but it was done very tastefully and has gotten a lot of praise.

Margot Robbie playing Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Margot Robbie playing Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Despite a rich life and pursuing her dreams, Sharon Tate will forever be associated with the monster Charles Manson. She deserves better than this. She is more than the grotesque movies that have been made to fantasize her murder and the murder of her friends. We need to remember Sharon Tate as the smart and beautiful actress that she was. Not just the victim of a merciless killer.

Questions & Answers

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      • Rachel M Johnson profile image

        Rachel M Johnson 

        6 weeks ago

        That was a very well-written article! I learned a lot I did not know, great job!

      • profile image

        Jacqueline G Rozell 

        6 weeks ago

        I remember the news accounts of what happened to her, though I was very young at the time. She was so beautiful in the way of young stars of that day. The entire nation was horrified that they would murder a nine month pregnant woman, but what they attempted to do to the baby was something so radical it was emotionally unacceptable to the psyche. In the world of today, it wouldn't raise an eyebrow.

      • Helan Woods profile image

        Helan Woods 

        6 weeks ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

        Wow...that was full of information i didn't even know! Nicely done! Keep it up.

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