Sharon Tate was born on January 24, 1943, in Dallas, Texas. An Army brat, Tate had lived in 6 different cities by the age of 16. Because of this constant upheaval as well as natural shyness, she found it hard to make close friendships.
In 1959 she won a beauty pageant as “Miss Richland (Washington)”, but her family moved to Italy before she could compete for “Miss Washington” her family moved to Italy.
Starting Out In Italy
After finishing high school in Vicenza, Italy in 1961 Tate was cast as an extra in Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man starring Paul Newman and Richard Beymer. During production, Tate dated Beymer who encouraged her to begin a career in acting.
That same year she was cast as an extra in Barabbas starring Jack Palance. He noticed her and arranged a screen test for her in Rome. This led to no further roles.
Beginning Hollywood Roles
In 1962 Tate moved to Los Angeles to try to make it as an actress. She contacted Harold Gefsky, who was also Richard Beymer’s agent. Upon meeting Tate, Gefsky agreed to represent her.
The following year Gefsky got her a 7-year contract with Filmways Inc., which produced shows including Mr. Ed and The Beverly Hillbillies. Martin Ransohoff thought she lacked confidence so he started Tate with small roles on his shows.
“Mr. Ransohoff didn’t want the audience to see me till I was ready.”
In 1963 she got engaged to French actor Philippe Forquet but ended the relationship the following year. She then began to date Jay Sebring, a Hollywood hairstylist. During this time she lost out on starring roles in both The Cincinnati Kid and the Sound of Music.
Tate finally got a starring role in 1966’s Eye of the Devil, which was shot in England and France in the fall of 1965. Tate said of starring in a movie with legendary actors David Niven and Deborah Kerr.
“Of course I was nervous but I was flattered rather than intimidated because everybody put me at such ease. They are such pros. You don’t see their technique but when you are surrounded by the best it brings out the best in you.”
Although Jay Sebring accompanied her for the filming of the movie, he left prior to completion. Tate remained in London after completion to enjoy the cool fashions and rock culture that consumed the city.
Tate’s next movie role was in The Fearless Vampire Killers co-starring and directed by Roman Polanski. Shot in Italy, Tate’s ability to speak Italian fluently was useful during filming.
Although the couple didn’t get along initially, Tate and Polanski began a relationship and moved in together after filming concluded. Sebring visited their apartment in London and became close friends with the couple despite his past relationship with Tate.
Back in Hollywood Tate played opposite Tony Curtis in Don’t Make Waves. Tate played “Malibu, Queen of the Surf” and wore a bikini for almost the entire movie. She didn’t like the movie or the role at all.
Next, Tate was cast as one of the leads in Valley of the Dolls which co-starred Patty Duke and Barbara Parkins. This would be Tate’s biggest box office success with a worldwide gross of over $50,0000,000.
After completing Valley of the Dolls Tate moved back to London to be with Polanski. They were married on January 20, 1968. Tate wanted a traditional marriage, but Polanski wanted to sleep with anything that moved. Tate knew this and agreed to marry him anyway hoping he would eventually be faithful.
The pair soon moved back to Hollywood and became the hottest couple in town rubbing elbows with the likes of Warren Beatty, Jim Morrison, Henry Fonda, Peter Fonda, Steve McQueen, and Mia Farrow.
The Polanskis had a free attitude during this time and didn’t lock the doors to their home or care who entered. Friends were concerned by their reckless and carefree attitudes. Within a year this behavior would lead to tragic fatalities at their home.
Tate began to train with Bruce Lee in order to prepare for her role in The Wrecking Crew starring Dean Martin as the spy character, Matt Helm. She performed all of her own stunts in the movie and Martin enjoyed working with her so much he wanted to co-star with her again.
Next, she would travel to Italy to work with Orson Welles in The Thirteenth Chair. This would be her last performance.
On August 9, 1969, Tate was stabbed 16 times in her home. She was 38 weeks pregnant. 4 other people were also murdered, including Sebring.
A month later members of the Manson Family were arrested. They claimed responsibility for the murders.