The True Story Of Sharon Tate, Hollywood Starlet, And Brutalized Charles Manson Victim
Published in Jun 2021 / Updated in Jul 2021
The murder of Sharon Tate in the summer of 1969 is one of the most tragic in Hollywood’s history. The Manson “family” killed the rising star and her friends, who stayed with her during the final days of her pregnancy.
Tate, who rose to fame thanks to her unique beauty, talent, and hard work, was among the most promising stars in the industry. She started in commercials and B-list movies. But her life changed once she met the now-disgraced director, and her talent finally got Sharon the roles she deserved.
Let’s revisit Sharon Tate’s life and go through events that led to the death of the American innocence.
Growing Up as an army child
Young Sharon knew she was going to be a star.
She was Miss Tiny Tot of Dallas when she was only six months old.
The daughter of Col. Paul Tate and Doris Tate, Sharon, moved a lot with her family and managed to be beloved wherever the army would send the family.
As a teenage girl, she was already getting into the entertainment business. At 16, she was crowned Miss Richland, Washington, and later the Queen of the Tri-City Autorama in Richland.
When Sharon was 17, in 1960, the family moved to Italy, and that is where a soldier raped the future prom queen and one of the most loved actresses in the world.
Despite this dreadful assault, Sharon and her younger sisters, Debra and Patricia, strived to become independent, successful young women.
The oldest sister was always in front of the camera, and everyone who met her knew she would be a star.
Sharon Tate’s first job in the showbusiness
When Tate was 17, she got a cover for the military magazine Stars and Stripes.
Almost immediately, she was cast for an episode of The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, shot in Venice.
At 18, Tate was an extra on the movie Barabbas, starring Anthony Quinn.
A year later, Sharon was allowed to go on a date with actor Jack Palance, but that didn’t work out. Young Sharon then started dating Richard Beymer after meeting him on a film set in Verona.
It seems like the stars were aligned perfectly. Just when Sharon was out of high school, her family was relocated to San Pedro, California. Los Angeles was never closer to this striking blonde beauty.
Shy, but determined Sharon goes to Hollywood
A few years after her Hollywood career kicked off, Sharon Tate told interviewer Robert Musel:
“My parents were very strict with me. I didn’t smoke or anything. I only had just enough money to get by, and I hitchhiked a ride on a truck to the office of an agent whose name I had.”
Sharon spoke about her first and unfortunate experience in Tinseltown.
“That very first day, he sent me to the commercial cigarette job. A girl showed me how it should be done, you know, taking a deep, deep breath and look ecstatic.”
Since Sharon was not a smoker, she passed out during the filming:
“That ended my career in cigarette commercials.”
Sharon’s big break came when she was 20, in 1963.
She went to audition for the sitcom Petticoat Junction. The producer of The Beverly Hillbillies, Martin Ransohoff, head of the Filmways production studio, fell in love with her beauty.
She did a film test, and Ransohoff told Tate:
“Baby, we’re going to make you a star.”
Sharon got a seven-year contract.
A star is born
European papers already started calling young Tate the new Marilyn Monroe. Considering that Monroe died in 1962, it did not sit well with many people outside the business.
But Sharon had other things on her mind. So she moved into Hollywood Studio Club, a residence once occupied by legends: Rita Moreno, Kim Novak, and, yes, Marilyn Monroe.
Her love life was not in the papers, but we learned that she dated French actor Philippe Forquet. The couple lived together in NYC while Tate was taking acting classes from Lee Strasberg.
They got engaged, but the relationship was volatile. After Sharon ended up in a hospital, it was time to focus on her career solely.
Sharon’s career was completely in the hands of the studio. Speaking of that time, she said:
“For approximately three years, I’ve had no personal life, I guess you could call it. I’ve done nothing but study from 8 o’clock in the morning till about 6:30 at night. Then on three evenings out of every week, I went to a night class, too.”
“I had acting classes, voice, singing, bodybuilding — everything, absolutely everything. Which is necessary, you know.”
Her hard work paid off, and in 1967 Sharon Tate had four hit movies.
Sharon Tate on top of the world
With Eye of the Devil, Don’t Make Waves, The Fearless Vampire Killers, and Valley of the Dolls in 1967, it was clear: Sharon Tate is the future Queen of Hollywood.
With the adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 book Valley of The Dolls, Tate gained the admiration she worked so hard for.
And, during the filming of The Fearless Vampire Killers, she met the man of her dreams – Roman Polanski.
Italians adored her, calling her Princess Italia. She received a Golden Globe nomination and booked two significant projects. One with Dean Martin, the other with Orson Welles.
Despite the age gap and the fact the Holocaust survivor was a ladies’ man and did not want to settle down, Sharon and Roman Polanski got married.
At the time, they were among the most prominent Hollywood power couples. He just finished the classic movie Rosemary’s Baby. Ironically, this movie is about a young, beautiful couple and their lives being taken over by the satanic cult.
Despite Sharon’s devastating ending, there was a small window where the two lovers experienced true joy.
Roman Polanski on Sharon Tate
Speaking to the police, Polanski explained that he and Sharon kept it professional while filming The Fearless Vampire Killers.
She confessed her love for the director to hairstylist Jay Sebring, her then-boyfriend.
Polanski did not have that “love at first” sight feeling. Instead, he told the police:
“I thought she was quite pretty, but I wasn’t at that time very impressed.”
“But I then saw her again. I took her out. We talked a lot, you know. At that time, I was really swinging. All I was interested in was to f**k a girl and move on.”
Sharon knew about Polanski’s reputation, but she still wanted to pursue a relationship with him.
During their first date, she told him about the rape. And it seems that her honest, sweet nature was irresistible to Polanski.
He finally fell in love with her, as he told the police:
“She was so sweet and so lovely that I didn’t believe it, you know. I’d had bad experiences, and I didn’t believe people like that existed….She was fantastic. She loved me.”
It was not a monogamous relationship on his side, as Polanski confessed:
“I said, ‘You know how I am; I screw around.’ And she said, ‘I don’t want to change you.’ She was ready to do everything, just to be with me. She was a fu**ing angel. She was a unique character who I’ll never meet again in my life.”
Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski married in London on January 20th, 1968.
By the end of the year, Sharon was pregnant. She said about her relationship with Polanski:
“I guess I kind of live in a fairy tale world. We have a good arrangement; Roman lies, and I pretend to believe him.”
Some of her friends believe that she is waiting to tell her husband she was pregnant after it was too late for her to get an abortion. But, the only person who knows the truth is not here.
Sharon and Polanski moving to 10050 Cielo Drive
In February 1969, the couple moved into 10050 Cielo Drive. Their mansion was situated in the Benedict Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Beverly Hills.
It seemed like a dream home, but it already had a dark secret.
The previous tenant, Terry Melcher, had already met Charles Manson, an upcoming singer-songwriter. He was not impressed.
While Tate and Polanski were in Europe in March 1969, Polanski’s friend Wojciech Frykowski and his girlfriend Abigail Folger, heiress to the Folger coffee fortune, moved into the house. Tate returned in July on a cruise ship due to her advanced pregnancy.
Polanski was working on a film in London, and the plan was to have his friends with Sharon until he comes home for the birth of their child.
Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, and Sharon Tate went to dinner at El Coyote Café on August 8th. This would be their last meal.
The slaughtering in the summer of ’69
Charles Manson ordered Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian to break in and invade the house 10050 Cielo Drive.
The cult leader and failed musician told them to “totally destroy everyone in that house, as gruesome as you can. Make it a real nice murder, just as bad as you’ve ever seen. And get all their money.”
Five people were killed in the most brutal way possible. And Sharon begged one of the young women to save her baby. They didn’t.
Housekeeper Winifred Chapman discovered butchered bodies in the morning.
Sharon, her three friends, and a friend of the home’s caretaker, 18-year-old Steven Parent, were massacred.
Charles “Tex” Watson told one of his victims:
“I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.”
Each murder was different yet equally gruesome. Tate was stabbed to death, then hanged.
One of the killers, Atkins, took a tissue and used Tate’s blood mixed with the blood of her unborn baby to write “PIG” on the front door.
Hunt for the murderers
Roman Polanski’s friend and manager William Tennant called him in London. He told the director:
“Roman, there’s been a disaster in a house… Your house.”
“Sharon is dead, and Voytek and Gibby and Jay.”
Tennant was also the one who identified the bodies. Polanski still didn’t know what exactly happened, suspecting fire.
The first suspect was the housekeeper, Garretson. But as the police searched the house, they found drugs.
This is when the police concluded it was a drug deal gone bad.
Folger had 2.4 mg of MDA in her system, while Frykowski had .6 mg in his. It was the swinging 60s, and everyone was on something.
Sharon used LSD in the past, but as her husband said, she stopped:
“During her pregnancy, there was no question. She was so in love with her pregnancy she would do nothing. I’d pour a glass of wine, and she wouldn’t touch it.”
While the director was not a suspect, many people thought he was responsible. He was blamed for making Rosemary’s Baby, for not being a faithful husband, or not being there for his pregnant wife.
Despite what one might think about the director now, surviving Holocaust, losing friends and family, then losing his wife and unborn child while being accused of being the Devil was beyond painful.
It took several months for the world to find out what happened on that doomed night.
Helter Skelter and Manson family arrests
Charles Manson was a cult leader. His “family” were primarily runaways.
Manson turned them into Helter Skelter – a race that would serve as a rebirth to society.
The killers had murdered Leno and Rosemary LaBianca one day after murdering Tate and her friends.
They were caught in December but escaped capital punishment.
Sharon Tate and her son were buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California, on August 13th.
Warren Beatty, Kirk Douglas, Peter Sellers, Steve McQueen, and Mamas and the Papas singer Michelle Phillips attended the funeral. Mia Farrow was too upset to come.
Six days later, Polanski held a press conference. He called his late wife “beautiful” and a “good person,” adding,
“The last few years I spent with her were the only time of true happiness in my life.”
The aftermath of Sharon Tate’s murder
Sharon’s mother Doris spent the rest of her life as a public advocate for victims’ rights.
Her sister Debra made sure to keep the killers behind bars.
Manson, Atkins, Watson, Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten were initially sentenced to death, but due to changes in California’s law, they are spending their lives in jail.
Atkins died in prison of natural causes in 2009.
Manson died in 2017. During his stay in prison, he made music, wrote books. But, apart from selling his “art,” Mason became a twisted icon of a fallen generation.
Once upon a time in Hollywood
Five decades after the murders, people are still talking about them. And Hollywood is still making money from this unimaginable tragedy.
In 2018, Quentin Tarantino revisited Cielo Drive in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Sharon, her baby, and her friends represent the end of innocence.
Though Old Hollywood was never as wholesome as we thought, these murders killed a dream. Because Sharon Tate, despite all her troubles, had a wonderful life ahead of her. She was living the American dream.
But when she was brutally killed, that dream died too.