It began as a home invasion by the “Manson family” in the early hours of August 9, 1969. It ended in a killing spree that left seven people dead: actress Sharon Tate, writer Voyteck Frykowski, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, hair stylist Jay Sebring, student Steven Parent, and supermarket owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.
The shock waves of these crimes still reverberate today. They have also, over time, eclipsed the life of their most famous victim—a Dallas, Texas, beauty queen with Hollywood aspirations. After more than a dozen small film and television roles, Tate gained international fame with the screen adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, but The Fearless Vampire Killers marked a personal turning point, as she would marry its star and director, Roman Polanski. Tate now had a new dream: to raise a family—and she was only weeks away from giving birth the night Charles Manson’s followers murdered her.
Drawn from a wealth of rare material including detective reports, parole transcripts, Manson’s correspondence, and revealing new interviews with Tate’s friends and costars as well as surviving relatives of the murder victims, Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders gives readers a vital new perspective on one of the most notorious massacres of the twentieth century. The dark legacy of the cult phenomenon is still being explored in novels (Emma Cline’s The Girls) and TV shows (NBC’s Aquarius).
In addition to providing the first full-fledged biography of Sharon Tate, author Greg King finally gives a voice to the families of the slain, notably Tate’s mother, Doris. Her advocacy for victims’ rights was recognized during President George H. W. Bush’s 1992 “A Thousand Points of Light” ceremony. This is the true story of a star who is being rediscovered by a new generation of fans, a woman who achieved in death the fame she yearned for in life.
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Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders
By Greg King
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2000 Greg King
All rights reserved.
"The rumor mill had begun to grind," remembers Art Schultz, "hinting that someone very attractive was about to start classes at our school." That spring of 1960, even before the Tates arrived in Verona, a sense of anticipation hung in the air at Vincenza American High School. A month before her arrival, Sharon had appeared on the cover of the American military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, provocatively dressed in a bathing suit, cowboy boots and hat, sitting astride a missile. The young men whose fathers served at Aviano and Passelaqua were delighted to learn that this young beauty would soon be joining them in Verona.
Vincenza American High, catering to the children of those based at nearby United States military bases, was filled with a collection of displaced teenagers experienced in the nomadic way of life dictated by their parents' careers. Like Sharon, these young men and women were highly protective of both their feelings and friendships. As a group, however, they largely understood each other's problems — the trials of military life and the lack of stable relationships. The barriers that had perhaps separated them from others in the United States drew them together in Italy.
It was a small school. Senior classes rarely encompassed more than fifty graduates. As a result, students formed close bonds and, as one of Sharon's classmates recalls, "it was impossible for everyone not to know everyone else." The students themselves were divided into two groups: those who lived with their parents in nearby Verona, and those who boarded at the institute itself. Like most pupils, Sharon lived off base with her family, and took the train each morning to Vincenza American.
"I do remember distinctly the first day Sharon started in our school," says classmate Will Melendez. "I think I was one of the first male students to see her. I remember she was checking in at the principal's office with one of her parents. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw her! I, and every other male student in the school, went around in a daze the rest of that day. Honestly, we had never seen such a beautiful girl in our lives! I mean, the school was full of 'average-looking' and some 'good-looking' high-school girls, but this was a category way over anything we had ever seen." And Art Schultz, a handsome junior a few months younger than seventeen-year-old Sharon, remembers that she was "more beautiful than anything you could imagine. She was well-dressed and well-mannered, always immaculate in matching knit sweaters and skirts."
In spite of the drastic changes, Sharon quickly adapted to her environment. Vincenza American served both middle and high school students. Officials did their best to transplant a sense of America. While small, the school managed to front basketball, football and track teams, along with a smattering of extra-curricular clubs and field trips to Venice, Rome and the Italian Alps.
For perhaps the first time in her life, Sharon allowed herself the normal friendships which most girls her age took for granted. In time, she became more boisterous, more sure of herself. On the surface, at least, Sharon had no problem fitting in with her classmates. She was, according to one, "quite a normal and charming fellow student." "My first impression of Sharon," remembers classmate Howard Miller, "was that she was a beautiful person, and I don't mean in the physical sense of the word beauty. She was easy to get to know and share a friendship with." Within her group of friends, she had something of a reputation for leading the way in practical jokes, pushing the limits of acceptable behavior. "If miniskirts had come in then, I'd have worn the shortest one," Sharon later joked.
Perhaps surprisingly, Sharon's female classmates also welcomed this addition to their circle. The petty jealousy common among teenagers was replaced by curiosity over Sharon's accomplishments. Classmate Sheila Boyle Plank recalls the fascination with Sharon's participation in beauty pageants: "It was just incredible to us," she says. "We were like sponges, and she was very reticent to share anything that featured her or made her stand out."
"I do remember having gym class with her," recalls Elizabeth Gedwed Stroup, who was four years younger than Sharon, "and even then, was in awe of her beauty, carriage, and confidence. She was very popular. Since most of us were under-developed physically, her perfect form was something we dreamed of being. I do remember she was nice to me which isn't always a characteristic upper classmen cultivate."
Others commented on Sharon's genuine thoughtfulness. "Never did I ever sense any conceit or arrogance," recalls Sheila Boyle Plank. "In fact, she always went out of her way to make everyone feel positive and valued. She was very beautiful in the physical sense, but seemed to be more focused on being a nice person."
Her popularity with her classmates was rewarded at Vincenza American. She joined the Library Club, working several hours there each day. She assisted Librarian John Demos by shelving books and helping classmates with research projects. She also joined Student Council for the fall semester, helping to plan activities and field trips.
The school's football team, the Vincenza Cougars, played area leagues. Sharon became one of five cheerleaders, following the team to Naples and nearby cities where, clad in her white skirt and gold sweater, she helped shout her classmates on to victory. "She was a great cheerleader," says Sheila Boyle Plank, "very flexible, very limber. The rest of us were all kind of cranking it up, and Sharon would get out there and just make it look like magic."
At Vincenza's Homecoming Dance, on 5 November, 1960, members of the Cougars voted her queen. Sharon was genuinely surprised and took the stage attired in a pink-satin-and-chiffon gown and long white gloves, and was duly crowned with a small tiara. The following spring, she became queen of her senior prom.
"There were really two Sharons," says Art Schultz, "a very public one, and a private one." While she was ready and eager to join her friends, she rarely opened up, and was often happier to remain on her own. Many of her fellow students at Vicenza American saw only the cautious and withdrawn beauty. "I always experienced Sharon as being somehow in a 'different-place' than we were as seventeen or eighteen-year-old high-school kids," recalls Will Melendez. "But I think this might even have been a burden for her, that she already was somehow on a path to 'stardom' while we other 'mortals' were just walking around on the ground. The beautiful smile was maybe also a defense, and a way of hiding her own insecurities."
For all of her social accomplishments, Sharon characterized herself at Vincenza as "a lone wolf, and I feel I enlarged my horizons by not being preoccupied with being part of the pack. I have always tried not to be a rubber stamp of my environment."
During her time in Italy, Sharon read a great deal. Her greatest passion was psychiatry, and, for a time, she considered becoming a therapist. Academic standards at Vicenza American proved something of a challenge for Sharon. "I thought Sharon was an intelligent person who knew what she wanted out of life," says Howard Miller. "She was bright," agrees Art Schultz, "but not brainy, and she had a lot of trouble with her classes. She wasn't a bad student, but she didn't seem to care. She just wanted to get through her homework and have it done."
Schultz often accompanied Sharon on the train back to Verona to study and have dinner at her house. Although he liked Doris Tate very much, he recalled that Sharon's father was something of an unnerving presence. "I was on the approved list," he says, "but even so, P. J. [Paul Tate] rarely said more than a word or two to me. While Doris was warm and friendly, P. J. was stern, a real loner."
Sharon herself, Schultz remembers, always seemed on edge when her father was at home. "P. J. traveled a lot with his job in military intelligence," he says. "When he was away, Sharon was a different person. I used to go into her bedroom, and we would rub each other's backs, and study, and she was very relaxed. Doris trusted me completely. But when Paul was home, Sharon often met me at the door, with her purse in her hand, and suggested that we go study elsewhere. She told me she just didn't like to be home a lot when her dad was around because he was so stern, and it was all business, all study."
From her very first day at Vincenza American High School, Sharon impressed her classmates with her appearance. Unfortunately, according to Jim Wilson, the Dependent Schools' Officer, this appearance was also cause for considerable worry among school officials. "She was a beautiful lady, but her penchant for wearing tight-fitting sweaters and skirts caused difficulties," he recalls. One of her teachers made unwelcome advances, and school authorities were forced to discipline him privately.
The incident resulted in some whispering at the school, and there was much speculation regarding Sharon's sexual experiences. "There was quite a bit of talk as to whether or not she really was a virgin," recalls Art Schultz. "The general consensus was that she was, because she seemed so innocent." Sharon was taken completely by surprise at the advances and whispers, such was her naivété.
Sharon began an innocent, schoolgirl romance with a young soldier who was posted to Passelaqua. Although her father disapproved at first, the Tates grew to like the young man. When his duties kept him at the base, Sharon might agree to an evening out with one of his fellow soldiers.
It was on one such date that Sharon was raped. Deeply ashamed, embarrassed and hurt, she made no attempt to report the crime. Instead, she sacrificed her personal feelings for the sake of her father. "Sharon wouldn't have mentioned the rape," says Art Schultz, "because she wouldn't want to bring dishonor to her father, whose entire career was built on respectability."
Sharon was traumatized by the rape, but it was a turmoil which she carefully hid from those around her. Outwardly, at least, there was little change. She was good-natured and gentle, at once approachable and distant, carefree and contemplative. But her sense of self-worth had been damaged. For Sharon the situation was hopeless. Shame prevented her from turning to her parents; even had she confided in them, she was different now. Her innocence had been stolen.
Sharon cut herself off from those around her, seeking escape from her troubled world. Although she regularly joined friends on tours of nearby Palladian villas, art museums in Venice and Roman ruins in the hills around Verona, she was preoccupied, searching for a direction which had thus eluded her.
It was during one of these trips that Sharon and her friends stumbled upon a local movie set. The American production was filming Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man, starring Paul Newman, Richard Beymer and Susan Strasberg, daughter of famed acting coach Lee Strasberg. One shot called for a crowd scene, and the milling teenagers from Vincenza were asked to help fill out the frame.
During a break in shooting, the actors mingled with the teenagers, signing autographs. "Dick Beymer," recalls friend Skip Ward, "was looking at the crowd, and saw this incredibly sexy young Italian woman standing about. He went over to talk to her and found out that she was American. In a few minutes, he'd invited her to join the cast for lunch." Beymer was taken with Sharon's beauty, and arranged to meet her later for a date. Quickly, the pair became inseparable. Eventually, he suggested that Sharon consider a career in the movies. Beymer gave her the name and telephone number of his agent in Hollywood. He told her that, if she was interested, she should contact him when she returned to the States.
For the time being, however, the idea remained only that. Then, on a tour of Venice in the spring of 1961, Sharon and her friends happened on popular singer-actor Pat Boone, filming a special for ABC Television in America. Boone recalls: "Sharon Tate was hovering on the edge of the crowd and introduced herself. She seemed like a typical teenage girl with stars in her eyes, attractive but not breathtaking, and I just really didn't think that she would ever make it to Hollywood. Not because she didn't look good enough, I just thought a daughter of a guy in the service in Italy was a long way from Hollywood."
Sharon apparently spoke with Boone's choreographer, who arranged for her to have a brief audition. In the end, she was awarded a spot as an extra, although the role was so insubstantial that Boone himself cannot remember her participation. He and his wife Shirley did speak with Sharon at some length, however, about the prospect of a career in Hollywood, and recalls that she seemed "excited."
"We were as usual cautionary," Boone says, "we didn't say to her, as I usually do to kids, particularly girls, forget it, do something else, unless you can't possibly help it, because it's rough for girls. But in this case since I didn't think she'd be in Hollywood anyway, we gave her what I thought was practical advice about staying in an all-girl dormitory type thing, getting with a good agent and being on guard against the leeches and such."
Boone wasn't convinced that Sharon was serious. A thoughtful, religious man, he was cynical about the business in which he had gained fame, and worried about the effect such a career would have on others, especially an impressionable young woman. "I can count only two or three females in show business I've ever known," he says, "who had been able to combine success in a career with keeping a family together. One or the other suffers and it's usually the family and the personal esteem and the things that are really important."
For Sharon, however, a career in acting seemed to provide a desperately-needed escape, a boost to her fragile self-esteem. With her pervasive shyness and quiet, soft-spoken demeanor, she did not exactly fit the traditional mold of a fame-hungry Hollywood starlet. The rape had changed her. She was injured, hurt, seeking any comfort to erase her pain. Sharon sensed that acting offered a chance to go beyond herself, to create a different environment from her everyday existence. She abandoned her fleeting plan to become a psychiatrist and threw all of her effort into becoming an actress.
To this end, she let it be known that she was always available for extra work on any production filming in the Verona area. At the time, American companies regularly did location work in the region, and sought out extras from the United States Army Base nearby to avoid the language and union problems of hiring Italian actors. Sharon clearly wanted to get more experience. While Doris Tate was enthusiastic, Sharon's father was less certain. Requests for extras were funneled through Passelaqua's Public Information Officer, a Captain De Angelo, who in turn would relay the information to the Tate household. When De Angelo rang to ask if Sharon was available for work, Doris Tate later recalled, Paul often refused to pass the messages to their daughter.
In the spring of 1961, an announcement appeared in the Vincenza American High student newspaper, asking for extras to work on a production being filmed nearby. The movie was Barrabas, a lengthy Biblical epic starring Anthony Quinn and Jack Palance. Sharon and two other Vinceza students were given small, non-speaking roles in the motion picture. "We had a wonderful time," recalls Sheila Boyle Plank. "It was a ball. We got all dressed up like patricians, we would wait, and we'd all get called in to this part of the arena, and we'd sit there and we'd be told to stand up and do a thumbs down."
Sharon was fascinated by the frenzied activity, and hovered on the fringe of the set, where she attracted the attention of Jack Palance. Although Barrabas was Sharon's first film, Palance recognized her potential. Like Richard Beymer, he spoke to her at length of a possible career in motion pictures. But Palance went a step further: he arranged for Sharon to travel to Rome for a screen test. Accompanied by her mother — and against the wishes of her father — she duly kept the appointment. She gained no additional work as a result, but, in the space of a few months, she had been quickly drawn to the idea of working as an actress.
Excerpted from Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders by Greg King. Copyright © 2000 Greg King. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
- Cover Page
- 2•California Girls
- 5•Eye of the Devil
- 7•Fearless Vampire Killers
- 8•The Beautiful People
- 9•Don’t Make Waves
- 10•Valley of the Dolls
- 11•All Eyes on Sharon Tate
- 12•The Imperfect Couple
- 14•A Troubled Marriage
- 15•Cielo Drive
- 17•The Hippie Messiah
- 18•Beginnings of the Family
- 19•Wilson and Melcher
- 20•Spahn Ranch
- 21•The White Album
- 22•The Storm Builds
- 24•Thirteen Chairs
- 25•Voytek and Gibby
- 26•Sharon Alone
- 27•The Last Day
- 28•“Now Is the Time for Helter Skelter”
- 29•Cease to Exist
- 30•“That’s How the Day Went … Hell”
- 31•The Second Night
- 32•“You Wouldn’t Believe How Weird Those People Were”
- 33•The Investigation
- 34•The Trials
- 35•The End of the Manson Family
- 36•“I Will Fight As Long As I Am Alive.”
- 37•“I Promised My Mom Before She Died That I Would Continue On…”
- Image Gallery
- Source Notes
- Author’s Note
- About the Author
- Copyright Page