Born on January 24, 1943 in Dallas (United States), Sharon Tate is the archetype of the American midwife that we see in television series. She is the eldest of Paul, a handsome army officer, and Doris, a lovely blonde. The beauty of the child is noticed early. At 6 months, she won the “Miss Tiny Tot of Dallas Pageant”, a competition for the most beautiful baby in town! Later, from the age of 15, her physique also allowed her to be a hostess in luxury hotels or car shows in Texas.
At 16, Sharon Tate has a dream: to make movies, and as a great actress. The teenager aims to become the “American Catherine Deneuve”, this French actress whose grace and class she admires. Sharon Tate is determined: she will carry out this project at all costs, however crazy it may be. She hitchhiked to Los Angeles (California) to audition.
A model, she is retained for television commercials: sodas, cigarettes, household appliances… She earns a little money, but is bored to death. His luck came in 1961: at the age of 22, Sharon landed a minor role in the peplum Barabbas. During the tests, the director Richard Fleischer raves: “She is superb, her beauty is breathtaking. “On the set, she caused a sensation with each of her appearances. Her partner, actor Jack Palance, tries in vain to seduce her. Raised according to a strict education, she is not an easy girl. But on the sets, when she plays her charms, men become wolves…
Newlyweds make magazine headlines
Five years later, producer Martin Ransohoff asked him to play the innkeeper’s daughter in The Vampire Ball (which was released in France in 1968), directed by a young director from Poland: a certain Roman Polanski. Sharon Tate meets him during tryouts. The director, captivated, falls madly in love with her and pays her a senseless court. Conquered by so many attentions, Sharon ends up cracking, and their idyll does not take long to panic the media of the whole world. In March 1967, the young actress unveiled nude photos, taken by the filmmaker, in the central pages of Playboy. The success of the sales is such that the magazine dedicates 1967 “Sharon Tate year”! A few months later, she played an apprentice actress in The Valley of the Dollsa performance that earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
On January 20, 1968, Sharon and Roman married in London (United Kingdom). All-Hollywood rushes to the ceremony which takes place in a town hall surrounded by 150 photographers and to the sound of psychedelic music. For the 68 generation, the couple is emblematic: they are beautiful, young and rich. They claim recklessness, sexual freedom, the use of drugs, soft or hard. Their way of life is totally in tune with the hippie movement! This disturbs many American producers, who are jealous of the insolent success of a temperamental and haughty Polanski, whose anger, megalomania and feeling of superiority annoy. Rumors are rife about the couple’s intimate life: it is rumored that Roman is a pervert who pushes his pure wife into unbridled orgies. Polanski does not care and adds to the provocation, admitting in interviews that “fidelity is unbearable to him”.
At the end of 1968, the couple, who wanted children, moved to the heights of Hollywood, at 10,050 Cielo Drive, above Beverly Hills and Bel-Air. This magnificent villa, splashed with sunshine 300 days a year, was built in 1942 for the French actress Michèle Morgan. From the garden, a panoramic view embraces the whole city, up to the sea. At the beginning of 1969, Sharon, mad with happiness, learns that she is pregnant. Alas, this much desired baby will never see the light of day…
Saturday August 9, 1969, 8:30 a.m., a bright sun rose on the superb property of Roman Polanski, overlooking Los Angeles. The housekeeper who comes to take her service notices, outside the villa, that the telephone line is cut. Strange… She has a bad feeling. As she enters the living room, she flounders, horrified, in large pools of blood. On the walls, the inscription “PIGS” (“pigs”) is written in letters of blood. She calls the police in a trembling voice: “Come, come and see this massacre…”
The climax of horror is reached
Three police officers from the Los Angeles crime squad arrive on the scene, guns drawn. What they discover is beyond comprehension: in a car, they find the body of an 18-year-old young man, his head riddled with bullets. Two other horribly mutilated corpses lie on the lawn. But the paroxysm of horror is reached in the living room: a young blond woman with a huge belly is hanged there, disembowelled by 16 stab wounds. One of her breasts was completely severed. The police, upset, understand that they are facing actress Sharon Tate, the wife of Roman Polanski. Another man lies next to her: emasculated, his head covered with a hood. This is Jay Sebring, a friend of the couple. Opposite the swimming pool, the police enter the house of the caretaker, William Garretson, who is barely waking up. The man is immediately arrested, but fairly quickly exonerated. All the patrols of the police forces of the megalopolis are warned by radio: “Absolute priority to the investigation of this appalling butchery with five atrociously tortured victims”.
Roman Polanski is in London when he receives a phone call from the police. He utters an animal cry, raises his eyes drowned in tears to the sky and rushes to take the plane for Los Angeles, without saying a word. The world is falling apart for the filmmaker, who has lost his wife, his future child and three of his best friends.
The next day, the atrocious news item spreads across the front pages of the newspapers. The public seems especially traumatized by the disappearance of Sharon Tate… Who could have committed such a massacre? Having discovered cocaine and cannabis in Roman Polanski’s home, the investigators first follow the trail of a settling of scores against the backdrop of drug trafficking. All the dealers in the city are then questioned. In vain.
The absence of culprits fires the imagination of journalists. The tabloids castigate Polanski, accused of having approached satanic circles a little too closely for his latest film, Rosemary’s Baby. Articles even imply that the unfortunate Sharon would have died during a black mass that went wrong… These rumors complete the devastation of the filmmaker.
But another news item will change the situation: the day after the Cielo Drive murders, in a nearby neighborhood, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca are brutally murdered. On the scene, the investigators discover a modus operandi and similar inscriptions. The investigative team connects the cases when they realize that the quotes from the second crime scene are also taken from the Beatles’ “White Album” songs.
©Everett / Bridgeman pictures
In October, yet another car theft followed by an arson triggers a police raid on Barker Ranch, a sinister slum in the greater suburbs of Los Angeles. In this open-air courtyard of miracles, the marginalized, homeless and other hippies at odds with society survive. Charles Manson is one of them, a visionary who takes himself for Satan or Jesus, depending on the day, at the head of a “Family” of eight women, all of whom wear a scarified cross on their forehead. Among the suspects taken into custody is a certain Susan Atkins, the guru’s favorite killer. The young brunette then boasts to a fellow prisoner of her participation in the murders at Sharon Tate and those of the LaBianca couple.
His followers worship Charles Manson, a 1.52 meter dwarf, but also a formidable guru in terms of a disturbing intensity. The members of the sect do not know that their leader, the son of a prostitute, is an ex-pimp who has been repeatedly convicted. He has already spent half his life in prison for various scams. Nurturing a thirst for revenge against this society he hates and convinced that the songs of the Beatles have a prophetic meaning, Charles Manson demanded that his followers commit a series of murders punctuated with barbaric rituals on famous personalities. Not so crazy, the man never participates directly in the homicides.
When questioned, Susan reveals with a laugh to the disgusted police officers the way in which she “took care” of Sharon Tate: “She implored me to leave her and her child alive. To which I replied “Bitch, I don’t give a fuck about you and your kid. You’ll die.” I stabbed her 16 times. This whole gang of fanatics is condemned to life imprisonment. Including Charles Manson, who narrowly escaped the electric chair in 1972. Never released, he died in hospital in 2017.
“Sharon was the woman of my life”
On August 13, 1969, Sharon’s funeral took place in Los Angeles County, in the presence, in particular, of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, moved to tears. As the coffin is lowered, Roman Polanski, his face distorted, lets out a shrill cry that freezes the audience. Then, lowering his head, his eyes flooded with tears, he declares in a soft voice: “I loved her and I think she loved me the same way. I lived with Sharon the most beautiful period of my existence. She was the woman of my life. Now I am left alone with my misfortune…”
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