SHARON TATE - ‘60s SEX GODDESS IN PRINT
My memories of the murders of Sharon Tate and the others in the summer of 1969 are foggy, being 14 at the time and more concerned with rock ‘n’ roll and the counterculture phenomena going on, which the Manson case sort of put the kabosh on. The long-haired hippie image that Manson projected at the time of his arrest confused a lot of people on the left and helped them to come to the conclusion that it was the establishment blaming the hippies––which Manson later said he was not––for the slaughter in Los Angeles. Manson was held up as a martyr by some on the extreme left who portrayed him on a cross, and others who actually celebrated the slaughter of the “pigs” declaring 1969 "The Year of the Fork."
My memory of the events kicked in with the arrest of those concerned and the publications that came out shortly thereafter. I certainly remembered the "Tate Gallery" layout in the March 1967 issue of Playboy––having just gone through puberty around that time––but that was the extent of my familiarity with her (I didn't see The Fearless Vampire Killers until a few years later on TV).
Three publications I do distinctly remember were the first instant book on the murders––The Killing of Sharon Tate by Lawrence Schiller––the cover of which I vividly remember looking at in my Jr. High School homeroom on the desktop of a fellow student, as it had Manson’s piercing eyes staring out at the reader; then the infamous cover of the Dec. 19, 1969 issue of Life magazine, which contained the first article I actually read on the case at the time; and the third publication was Rolling Stone #61 that used Manson as coverboy and had an extensive article on the case.
One incident that brought the whole thing closer to home, literally, was the surrender of Linda Kasabian in Concord, New Hampshire––her home state and my home town––Concord being the state capitol, she went there from Nashua to surrender herself to the authorities.
Kasabian was summarily shipped back to L.A. to be charged in the murders and eventually testified for the prosecution in exchange for immunity from the charges against her.
Kasabian, having hitchhiked across the country, ended up at the Spahn Ranch and a part of the murder crew on both nights of slaughter, although she didn’t participate in the murders.
Sharon Tate though remains more or less a mystery for those of us that did not know her, even in light of all the books and media coverage that her murder precipitated. A recent book about her life and murder––Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders by Greg King––helped put certain aspects of her personality into focus, but didn’t completely shatter her aura of mystery.
This is what led me to search for the magazines and tabloids she had been featured in. Sharon Tate could be found in small items in movie and TV related magazines as early as 1963, such as in the November 1963 issue of TV Radio Mirror where Max Baer––who played the character “Jethro” on The Beverly Hillbillies––and Sharon were pictured together.
While she was alive the magazines she was featured in were movie, TV, gossip, and scandal mags, but after her sensational murder, the true crime detective mags and sleazy tabloids started to feature her posthumously.
Reading through this material I inevitably came across the occasional quote by Sharon, or an article about her––published while she was alive––that in some eerie way foreshadowed her fate or in some way related to it in hindsight. Even certain photos of her seemed to take on a new meaning after her murder, for instance the photo in the March 1967 issue of Playboy mentioned above. Where that sort of weirdness presented itself I made note of it in the book.
Sharon Tate had classic beauty, flooring both men and women who would encounter her in person for the first time. This of course gave her career its start and ultimately took its toll, as Hollywood came to think of her as just another pretty face. She was one of the few American “sex goddesses” of the sixties along with the just as mesmerizing Racquel Welch, another classic beauty. Both of whom battled to be taken as serious actresses. Racquel Welch was more or less successful with her battle, Sharon Tate gave it up to become a wife and mother, first and foremost.
Some of the other concerns of the day in the Hollywood gossip mags––which can be found throughout the mags listed below––were the murder of William Lennon the father of the famous singing Lennon Sisters, Teddy Kennedy and Chappaquiddick, the Lawerence Welk Show scandals, Mia Farrow, Elvis, Glen Campbell, etc.
Before, as well as after Sharon Tate’s murder, numerous magazines from Europe, Mexico and South America featured her on their covers, especially in the last days of August 1969. Tate’s early movies having been made and released in Europe got her more magazine coverage there than was the case in America. The American mags that concerned themselves with her murder generally didn’t put her picture on the cover––or if they did it was as a small inset––as they seemed more concerned with the murder of William Lennon which took place only two days after the Tate murders. The major interest in the Lennon Sisters can be attributed to the fact that they “grew up on TV” in front of America and were a more well known popular act––via The Lawrence Welk Show––than was the little known Sharon Tate at the time.
Polanski being a European director had more notoriety there from his early films and married Sharon in London in 1968. In more than one of the mags listed below interviewers stated that upon meeting Tate they got the feeling that she was European, to the extent that they expected her to have a foreign accent when she spoke. Her father, Paul Tate, having been an Army Intelligence officer, afforded Sharon the opportunity to attend high school in Italy, and her views on marriage and fidelity were admittedly more European, whether she was just parroting Polanski’s views or not. Sharon was also intimidated by the intellect of some of her husbands friends and acquaintances so she was quiet around them which made her seem aloof to some.
Reading these articles and looking at the photos gives one a more complete understanding of the of the way in which the people involved were seen by the public through the eye of the media at the time––as rich, jaded, jet-setting hippies who would do most anything for a new thrill. The articles, that were written before Susan Atkins’ spilling-of-the-beans, are particularly interesting for their wealth of misinformation, rumor, innuendo, speculation and the fear that they helped spread through Hollywood’s hip community like the plague.
In Eye magazine’s January 1969 issue (v2 #1) there was a two page feature called “Who I’d Like To Be In My Next Life” which had twelve luminaries in their respective fields give short quotes on exactly that.
The twelve included Sly Stone, Peter Townsend, Ravi Shankar, Andy Warhol, Arthur C. Clarke, Roy Lichtenstein, Jacqueline Susann and Sharon Tate among others. Tate’s response to the query was as follows:
“I’d like to be a fairy princess––a little golden doll with gossamer wings, in a voile dress, adorned with bright, shiny things. I see that as something totally pure and beautiful. Everything that’s realistic has some sort of ugliness in it. Even a flower is ugly when it wilts, a bird when it seeks its prey, the ocean when it becomes violent. I’m very sensitive to ugly situations. I’m quick to read people, and I pick up if someone’s reacting to me as just a sexy blonde. At times like that, I freeze. I can be very alone at a party, on the set, or in general, if I’m not in harmony with things around me.”