SHE WAS NOT ONLY THE APOTHEOSIS of Texas beauty but also a poster girl for Southern charm, which made the manner of her death all the more dreadful. Her Valley of the Dolls co-star Patty Duke called her “a gentle, gentle creature” and added, “I was crazy about her, and I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t.” But Sharon Tate was destined to find more fame as a murder victim than as a movie star; she was brutally killed thirty years ago by members of the Manson family, and the crime horrified the world. In a chilling coincidence, one of her killers, Charles “Tex” Watson, hailed from her home state; after participating in the murder of the actress and her unborn child, he married and fathered four children while in prison, where he remains today.
She was born Sharon Marie Tate in Dallas on January 24, 1943. At six months she was named Miss Tiny Tot of Dallas, the first of many beauty titles. She attended high school near Vicenza, Italy, where her father, an Army officer, had been transferred. In Rome in 1961 she snagged her first professional gig, as an extra in Barabbas.
The next year, she moved to Hollywood, where she studied with acting coach Lee Strasberg. She landed guest spots on Mr. Ed and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and for two seasons played one of Mr. Drysdale’s secretaries on The Beverly Hillbillies. She lost the role of Billie Jo on Petticoat Junction because she had posed for Playboy.
Her films include The Sandpiper, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; The Wheeler Dealers, with James Garner; and The Wrecking Crew, with Dean Martin. Her depiction of a beach babe in the Tony Curtis comedy Don’t Make Waves allegedly inspired the creation of Mattel’s Malibu Barbie. Her most famous movie, however, was Valley of the Dolls, in which she played a pill-popping actress who feared she was valued only for her beauty—something the real-life actress understood.
In 1968 she married Polish director Roman Polanski, who had cast her in The Fearless Vampire Killers, a campy horror spoof. The couple assumed the lease on the house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles. On August 9, 1969, while Polanski was out of town, Tate, then eight months pregnant, was at home with guests Jay Sebring, a popular hairstylist; Voytek Frykowski, a friend of Polanski’s; and Abigail Folger, a coffee heiress. Shortly after midnight, three members of the Manson family broke in and savagely stabbed and shot them all, as well as a teenage boy who had stopped by.
Tate was 26 when she died. She is buried in Culver City, California.