Looking at any image of Sharon Tate, the viewer is struck not only by the symmetrical proportions of her exquisite face and her tranquil expression, but also by a latent vulnerability in her immense brown eyes and wide, warm smile. The appalling and arbitrary nature of her death has defined Sharon’s memory in popular culture since 1969, but now her murder — which shocked Hollywood and halted the frenzied momentum of the Swinging Sixties — is the least important narrative in a new exhibition that aims to restore her to her rightful place as a pop culture icon and muse for designers, artists and film-makers who are still inspired by her magnetism today.
The Sharon Tate show at the Newbridge Museum of Style Icons is one of the most intriguing exhibits in its history, spanning a collection of personal possessions, fashion and photographs that belonged to the actress and model, which were retrieved from her home by her father after her death. The items are a selection from over 100 to be auctioned by Julien’s of Hollywood on November 17, from the estate of Tate, which has been guarded by her sister Debra since 2000. The auction has been the source of acute interest from collectors, museums and the general public due to the tragic circumstances of Tate’s death on August 9, 1969, when the actress and four others were brutally murdered by the Manson Family at her home on 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, LA.
Martin Nolan, the executive Director of Julien’s, has managed many auctions in his career but has rarely seen the levels of interest generated by the Sharon Tate auction. He explains: “People are fascinated by Sharon Tate. She represented the Swinging Sixties. There was that terrible, terrible, tragic day when she was robbed from her family, from the world, but we’re not focusing on that at all. We’re focusing on 26 years of a fun life, an amazing life, that she enjoyed and we’re looking at her legacy. I think Newbridge are brave to be the first to put their hands up and say they would do it. It is a museum of ‘style icons’ and Sharon Tate was a style icon and continues to be one.”
He adds: “Debra, her younger sister, is finally letting go because she realises she can’t continue to take care of these items forever and she also wants people to be re-introduced to Sharon, to see who she was, learn more about her, see all the amazing life and fashion statements.” Debra has stated previously: “I wanted to give a flavour of the person behind the scenes — that is why I put in almost everything.”
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Sharon Tate’s death and already revived interest in her is building, prompted by the three films slated for release in 2019, about or featuring the actress. These are Michael Polish’s Tate with Kate Bosworth, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood starring Margot Robbie, and Daniel Farrand’s The Haunting of Sharon Tate, featuring Hilary Duff.
Sharon Tate was eight-and-a-half months pregnant and married to the film director Roman Polanski at the time of her death. Together they had been the epitome of cool — a cosmopolitan 1960s couple with homes in LA and London, a social circle that encompassed Hollywood, music, aristocracy and the art world, and a bohemian lifestyle that reflected a blend of Swinging London, West Coast liberalism and the hippy revolution of the era. Peter Evans the photojournalist said of them: “Cool, nomadic, talented and nicely shocking… they became part of the anti-Establishment establishment. They became rich but never regal.”
Sharon Tate was the oldest child of a military family and had the typical transitory lifestyle of a “military brat”. She was quiet and reserved as a child and teen, despite winning numerous beauty pageants. Described by her family as shy and lacking in self-confidence, she nevertheless had presence and an aura of poise and elegance.
As she matured, her striking beauty drew attention and while living in Verona, Italy, she appeared as an extra in
Actress Sharon Tate’s personal style epitomised the Swinging Sixties, but her life story was overshadowed by her brutal death, writes Rose Mary Roche