Photo Screen - June 1968

             

 

Sharon Tate - Venus on a Treadmill

She is the new Venus and she is trapped in a Dream Factory. She is the Princess of the World – yet it is a world she never made.

She is shimmering blonde over high-cheeked pale. She is a cascade of hair She is lakewater hazel eyes that sing of innocence.

She is Sharon Tate, “a name to remember,” a talent to be reckoned with,” “a goddess who’s got everything.” She’s a cotton candy angel; a teddy bear’s sweetheart. She’s an aristocrat in mangy fox-skin, a muse in ermine.

She was 16 years old and the movie star came up to her and said something like “you oughta be in pitchers” and since she had always dreamed about Hollywood, she agreed.

And that's how a star is born...

She was 16 and a mess of blondeness and innocence and the hustler-producer took one look at her and said, “Put her under contract.” 

And that's how a star is born...

Somebody told her to “stick out your boobs, Sharon” and she did. And somebody told her to take her clothes off for Playboy and she did that, too. And somebody told her to play “Jennifer” in Valley Of the Dolls

And, suddenly, she didn't have to be born. She was a star!

It was all schemed, all planned to be so. But along the way something happened that wasn’t in the schedule-Sharon, the Success Machine, fell in love. 

All of a sudden, it didn't seem so important to be a star anymore!

So she got married, to the trumpets of the stars, to the cheers of a world of her friends. And she went on a honeymoon to Paris and some wise guy grabbed her in the street. So her tiny, fragile husband defended her and the guy clobbered him but good and ran away.

And Sharon Tate realized the painful reality that she could never stop being a star!

Sharon Tate was born in Dallas, Texas, on January 24, 1943, the oldest daughter of U.S. Army Major Paul J. Tate. She lived the typical gypsy existence of an army brat for 16 years, moving from Dallas to Houston, El Paso, Tacoma, Washington, D.C., and Verona, Italy.

It was in Italy in 1959 that she met a handsome American actor named Richard Beymer who was making a film called Adventures of a Young Man.

“Richard told me ‘you oughta be in pictures’ and I believed in him,” says Sharon.  “I always had Hollywood on my mind.”

Beymer introduced her to his agent and Major Tate paid her fare to Hollywood and gave her $ 42 to see her through two weeks rent. So Sharon flew home to the U.S.

Her perfect photogenic face, quite breathtaking body and total lack of experience made her a prime candidate for TV commercials.

A cigarette manufacturer hired her. She told them she didn’t smoke but they didn’t care. They were more interested in showing her firm and fully packed dimensions.

She was inexperienced. They shot and re-shot. She puffed and re-puffed. Finally, she fainted from smoke inhalation. “I passed out from taking too many puffs,” she remembers.

She tested for all kinds of dramatic roles. One producer said, quote: “Honey, this is for a girl who’s been around. You look like a baby!”

She tested for the role of Marlon Brando’s mistress. They said, quote: “Honey, you don’t look old enough to even think of going to bed with a man.”

She tested for a part in Petticoat Junction. Super-hustler Marty Ransohoff, head of Filmways, saw her there. “Put that girl under contract,” he exclaimed. No tests, no interviews. Just like that, Sharon was on her way.

There was a top-level conference in the producer’s office. Sharon Tate, the little girl from Dallas via Rome, was going into hiding. Sharon Tate, Movie Star, was going to be manufactured.

“They said they had a plan for me. They would train me and prepare me,” she remembers. “I was immediately put into training-like a racehorse.”

Dramatics with Lee Strasberg. Singing. Dancing. Body-building. Walking. Talking. Three years went by. Sharon was completely under wraps. “I had a job to stay the way I was,” says Sharon. “They told me ‘Cream your face, Sharon…put on more eyeliner, Sharon…stick out your boobs, Sharon.’”

She moved to New York, then back to the Coast, taking a pad with actress Wende Wagner in San Pedro, Calif. Eventually, she got a regular role on The Beverly Hillbillies – as Janet Trego. But you wouldn’t have known by the scorecard “Whenever I did a role on TV, I used another name and wore a black wig,” says Sharon.

She got a role in a David Niven-Deborah Kerr picture. Then another in Tony Curtis’ Don’t Make Waves. The plan was working perfectly: train her to act, move her up slowly. She was, as one magazine put it, “the invention of wheeler-dealer Marty Ransohoff.”

Then the wheels fell out from under Ransohoff’s “Streetcar Named Success.” Sharon was signed to make a movie called (after numerous retitlings) The Fearless Vampire Killers.

The director of that movie was little Roman Polanski. The elfin, knife-nosed pole had gained international fame for his first movie, Knife in the Water, a careful intellectual study of a Polish James Dean. Later he moved to France, making an important horror movie, Repulsion, with Catherine Deneuve. From there he went to England to make Cul de Sac with Catherine’s sister, the late Françoise Dorleac. (Recently, he directed Rosemary’s Baby, with Mia Farrow, in New York)

Polanski, who was born in 1933, was the darling of the highbrow movie set, an intellectual, a powerful creative spirit. He was definitely not a “looker” like most of Saron’s co‘stars. But his spiritedly charm and unconventional looks are judged as beautiful by his friends.

The upshot of it all was that Sharon fell in love with Roman Polanski. And they began their affair.

“Roman is strong, and so true, so honest,” she said. “I don’t like glamour boys."

“I’ve learned a lot about me from being with Roman. My definition of love is being full. Complete. It makes everything lighter. Beauty is something you see. Love is something you feel.”

And Love met Roman. “He’s wise and wonderful and brilliant and he knows everything.”

And love didn’t necessarily mean marriage: “When I love, I love…I won’t marry for a long time…I’ll give up acting the second I’m married…I believe a wife must immerse herself completely in her husband and family and that’s what I intend to do. Few women can handle marriage and a career successfully at the same time.”

Her frankness shocked Hollywood: “I would never marry just to be respectable…It’s just a legal piece of paper and a lovely financial set-up I’ve learned great happiness from being with Roman that I didn’t have before. Why would I want to ruin a perfect affair by turning it into a mediocre marriage for society’s sake.”

Then Valley of the Dolls happened-and with it, the climax of Sharon’s misery. In the movie, Sharon played a Marilyn Monroe-type superstar whose tragedy-riddled life ends in suicide. “Jennifer North,” the character she played, was another of those magnificent “cuts of meat” who comes into Hollywood an innocent, fragile beauty – only to become a tortured, abused derelict.

Sharon had many things in common with Jennifer. Both were acutely conscious of the value their bodies held in the flesh commerce of Hollywood both were innocents both were involved with European “art” filmmakers.

“I am like Jennifer,” says Sharon, “because she is relatively simple, a victim of circumstances beyond her control. But I have more confidence in myself…”

“I’m so afraid of hurting other people’s feelings I don’t speak out when I should. I get into big messes that way,” she once said.

But beyond Jennifer, Sharon was also developing amazing similarities to Marilyn Monroe, the actress on whom the character of “Jennifer” is rumored to be based.

‘Both Marilyn and Jennifer were the “Beautiful Blondes” of their day. Both had astonishing figures. Both were treated very badly by those producers who exploited their sex appeal for the moviegoers. Both posed nude before they gained stardom. Both rejected their “dumb blonde” images to marry intellectuals.

“I will never be another Marilyn Monroe,” Sharon says now. “But I had to do what they wanted, at first.”

And they, meaning the money men, wanted her to be a well-trained sex symbol with a vacuum for a head. Sharon was tortured by their demeaning attitude towards her.

The facts are undeniable.  She is 5’51/2”. She weighs 120 pounds. She measures 35-23-34. she has a face that is the most popular magazine cover decoration in Europe-where beauty abounds.

But that’s not enough for Sharon. “they see me as a dolly in a bikini, jumping up and down on a trampolin,” she said of her producers

“It’s not that I think I’m a sexpot …I don’t have voluptuous sips and I’m not heavy-chested,” she said.

She sought privacy and anonymity by the sea: “I love it on the beach-it gives me a kind of freedom. I don’t have to be a sex symbol or a movie star.

“Beauty is only a look. It has nothing to do with what I’m like inside…I won’t play any more dumb blondes,” she insisted

she began to pont up her physical flaws. She told friends about the scars on her face, especially the noticeable mark near her left eye. It was done by corrugated tin when she was very young. “I’m very proud of it, it’s me,” she said.

She began to speak out strongly, to display her mind: “All American men are neurotic. All they care about is having sex.” In Valley of the Dolls, she had been filmed while pretending to make love to a man in bed in a “dirty” foreign movie. “Why should I be ashamed?” she said. “You see people murdering each other every day on TV, but you never see them making love-and love is certainly more beautiful.”

During all this time, she was becoming a bigger and bigger star. Her pictures were being released one on top of the other. People were noticing her-and liking what they saw.

Meanwhile, Roman and Sharon continued on their silent, non-public ways. They hung out on beaches (away from the “Hollywood phoniness,” as Sharon puts it), in bars with “guys in jeans,” in Paris, and “London where “guys walk down King’s Road with cowboys hats and rhinestones.”

Just as Sharon was becoming deeply and inextricably a star, she was falling as deeply and inextricably in love.

“I can’t play games,” she said. “I have friends, older women, who tell me I’m foolish to let Roman know how deeply I care for him…Well, foolish I am!”

says Barbara Parkins: “I like Sharon and Roman… They do everything they want and don’t care what anybody says.”

An, all of a sudden, really not knowing why, Roman and Sharon decided to get married in London. They had a huge party and flew to Paris for their honeymoon.

Now she has to make the decision-and it really isn’t hers alone to make. She’s as much a part of the machinery of Hollywood now as she is Mrs. Roman Polanski. And all her pre-marital vows to quit the business when she married have to be reexamined.

If she needed a reminder that things were going to be different from now on in, she got a very unpleasant one in Paris during the honeymoon. A passerby made a grab for her mini-skirted little body and Roman threw his own into the breach. Result: the assailant got away and Roman’s face was bandaged for several days afterwards.

So that’s where Sharon Tate is today. A blonde Venus who has found both success and love…who really wants only the love but is committed to the success.

“Sometimes,” she says ruefully, “I think it would be better to be a sex symbol, because at least I would know where I was…But I’d lose my mind!”

She came to Hollywood wanting to be a “light comedienne like Carole Lombard.” That was all gaudy and fluffy. Today, she patterns herself around more unconventional women, like Greta Garbo and Faye Dunaway (”Dunaway! She’s a woman!”).

“I’d like to be an American Catherine Deneuve. She plays beautiful, sensitive, deep parts with a little bit of intelligence behind them,” she says.

Maybe that’s the happy medium. If Sharon can get off the Hollywood treadmill, if she and Roman can work together professionally to produce quality films, if she can prove to others what she has proved to herself-that there is a head above her body-then she will have achieved true happiness and satisfaction-without escaping from her responsibilities.

Sharon puts it very beautifully: “I still have this teddy bear I’ve had since I was three…and all my old boxes-valentine boxes, cigar boxes, all kinds of boxes. I just won’t give them up it’s like if I give them up, I’ve given in to being a movie star.”

By Johnny Columbus

        

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