As her sister Debra stated it, “Sharon Tate was talented. She met and married the man of her dreams. She experienced impending motherhood… She achieved so much in such a brief time.” Gone too soon, the actress, model and 60s icon should be remembered for her talent and the exciting life she led rather than for her tragic death in August 1969.
Sharon’s father, a US Army officer, was transferred to Verona, Italy, where the young beauty was partially raised. The Golden Globe-nominated young star of Valley of the Dolls (1967) had been hailed one of Hollywood’s most promising newcomers by the time she reached 24. In 1967, a Playboy magazine layout featuring photos of her started with the mention “This is the year that Sharon Tate happens …”
In the mid-1960s, Martin Ransohoff, with whom she was under contract at Filmways, Inc., introduced her to Roman Polanski. Unbeknownst to both of them, they would soon become the “it” Hollywood couple of the era. In an effort to convince Polanski, who had been hired to helm Ransohoff’s production of The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), that Tate should star in the movie, the famed producer organized a dinner date in London between the Franco-Polish director and beautiful Sharon. Although they didn’t hit it off at first, not even exchanging a word during their first two dinner encounters, (Polanski originally wanted Jill St. John to star in the horror comedy), Roman and Sharon finally broke the ice when he took her to his apartment. He excused himself leaving her on her own, and stormed into the room a short while later wearing a Frankenstein mask. Visibly impressed by the scream she let out, Polanski called Ransohoff telling him she had gotten the part.
While shooting the MGM movie in England and Italy, the Polanski-Tate romance blossomed, forcing Sharon to break up her relationship with famous Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring. The latter would remain close to her and become a fixture in the couple’s circle of friends. Madly in love, Roman and Sharon would spend the next two years of their lives together between Los Angeles, New York, London and Paris, turning into one of the most celebrated couples in show business.
When Bob Evans, then head of Paramount Pictures, hired Polanski to write and direct Rosemary’s Baby (1968), based on Ira Levin’s novel, the young director relocated to Los Angeles where he and Sharon shared a beach house in Santa Monica rented by the studio. While pursuing her acting and modeling career, Sharon often visited the set of what would become Polanski’s masterpiece of the occult and one of Paramount’s biggest moneymakers of the 60s. Everyone on the lot was curious to meet the young European director put in charge of directing one of Paramount’s hot properties. Michael Caine, Otto Preminger, Elia Kazan and Tony Curtis visited the set (Curtis, not seen but heard over the phone, even landed a part in the film). Rosemary’s Baby was countlessly imitated, most notably on television by ABC Movies of the Week: Crowhaven Farm (1970), The Devil’s Daughter (1973) and Good against Evil (1977). It also spawned a string of successful 70s films dealing with the devil such as The Mephisto Waltz (1971), The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976).
Following completion of principal photography, Roman and Sharon tied the knot in London in January of 1968. Their highly publicized marriage in Chelsea was followed by a star-studded reception at the Playboy Club. In attendance: Michael Caine, Laurence Harvey (who had previously lobbied for the role of Guy Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby), Joan Collins, Barbara Parkins and Candice Bergen, to name a few. Returning to Los Angeles in February of the same year, the couple lived for two months at the Hotel Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard with Dr. Sapirstein, their little terrier named after one of the disturbing characters in Rosemary’s Baby. They subsequently rented a house on Summitridge Drive from actress Patty Duke, Sharon’s costar in Valley of the Dolls. In those days, their social life got a lot of media attention. They were often seen in public with the likes of Warren Beatty, Mia Farrow (she had become a close friend of the Polanskis on the set of Rosemary’s Baby), Steve McQueen, Peter Sellers, Joanna Pettet and Jacqueline Bisset. Sharon loved cooking and enjoyed throwing dinner parties at home with Hollywood’s crème de la crème. She even introduced Roman to Bruce Lee, whom Columbia Pictures had hired to teach her martial arts for her latest role in The Wrecking Crew (1968), an action comedy costarring Dean Martin and Elke Sommer. Bruce Lee and Polanski soon became friends.
In 1968, Roman and Sharon traveled extensively with Mia Farrow to London and Paris to promote Rosemary’s Baby. They were all seen together at the Cannes Film Festival in May and at a Frank Zappa concert in Paris later the same year. Back in Los Angeles, Sharon became pregnant and decided to rent the infamous home on Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills in early 1969. Against Polanski’s advice, the actress accepted a role in an Italian production (she spoke fluently Italian), Twelve Plus One (1969), to be shot in Europe and costarring Vittorio Gassman. At the same time, Roman started to work in London on the screenplay of The Day of The Dolphin, commissioned by United Artists, with intent on directing it with Jack Nicholson. Sharon reunited with Polanski in London and, being nearly 8 months pregnant and having decided to give birth in the United States, set out to go back to California. The day Sharon embarked on Queen Elizabeth 2 was the last time her husband actually saw her. She was murdered 3 weeks later in Los Angeles, just about 2 weeks shy of giving birth, while Roman Polanski was still in London, working on the script. Devastated by the tragedy, the director abandoned the project which would eventually be made by Mike Nichols in 1973. Polanski later described his brief time with Tate as the best years of his life.
Sharon Tate’s equally charming and lovely sister Debra released a beautiful photo tribute to her personal and professional life, Sharon Tate: Recollection, published by Running Press Publishers in 2014.