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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 24, 1943

It's time for another fantastic installment of the Tuesday Timeline, the day where we take a look back in on what happened on this day a number of years ago. It could be from last year, 10 years ago, or even 100 years ago. And since I started up this Tuesday Timeline feature three weeks ago, I've noticed that it seems to be a big hit with all of you who do read this blog.

So, let's not waste any time chatting too much longer. Let us get right to today's date.

January 24 was a rather interesting year as far as historical events goes. And January 24 has a sort of negative connotation associated with it. According to an MSNBC article, January 24th is officially known as the 'most depressing day of the year'! Researchers and psychologists in the United Kingdom made this claim based on a number of factors. With people still in debt from Christmas shopping, the weather being most uncooperative (at the time I'm writing this, we have a real slushy mess of snow, ice, and rain on the streets), and a distinct lack of sunshine, they claim that this makes January 24 a real downer of a day, as far as they're concerned.

That must be terrible for everyone out there who happened to be born on January 24. Some celebrities that were born on January 24 include the following;

Ray Stevens, Neil Diamond, Aaron Neville, Jools Holland, Mary Lou Retton, Matthew Lillard, Ed Helms, Tatyana Ali, Mischa Barton, and the late John Belushi.

We lost quite a few celebrities and public figures on January 24, as well. We said goodbye to Chris Penn in 2006, Thurgood Marshall in 1993, and Winston Churchill in 1965.

There were some interesting events that happened on January 24 in history. Back in 1984, Steve Jobs introduced the very first Apple Macintosh computer complete with a memorable Super Bowl commercial that aired two days prior (which you can view HERE if you're interested). Little did we know that this would be only the beginning for Apple computer products to hit the market.

January 24, 2003 marked the first day of The United States Department Of Homeland Security in operation. And, in 2009, a severe storm strikes the coast of France, killing 26 people and causing disruptions to power services and public transportation.

January 24 seems to also be a date linked with a lot of criminal activity, oddly enough. Whether it was the date that a crime occurred, or whether the date is linked to a criminal's personal life, it appears January 24 played a role.

Way back in 41 A.D., controversial Roman emperor Caligula was assassinated on January 24. One thousand nine hundred and forty-eight years later in 1989, serial killer Ted Bundy was executed in a Florida state prison. In 1993, a Turkish journalist named Ugur Mumcu was killed by a car bomb in Ankara. And, just last year, in 2011, 35 people were killed, and 180 more injured in a bombing at a Moscow airport.

And then there's today's flashback date, which happens to be linked to one of the worst criminal acts of the 1960s in Hollywood.

Today's flashback date is January 24, 1943.

That date happens to be the birthdate of young Hollywood starlet, the late Sharon Tate.

And, sadly, Sharon Tate met a demise that was too cruel for words, a life cut way too short, thanks to the actions of a serial killer and his group of followers, one summer day in 1969.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself here.

A lot of people who were born since 1969 have likely never heard of Sharon Tate. I'll admit that I didn't know who she was until I was in high school, when we did a case study on her murder for one of my classes. And after hearing what happened to her, and the aftermath surrounding her death, I figured that I would use this blog entry to talk about her short, but interesting career, so that everyone can know who she was, and how she was remembered before she became one of the most famous murder victims ever known.

As stated before, Sharon Tate was born on January 24, 1943. Had she survived, she would be sixty-nine years old today. She was born in Dallas, Texas, the eldest of three daughters. From a very early age, it became clear that Sharon was going to grow up to become a performer. She even won a pageant in the summer of 1943 when she was just six months old.

Because Sharon's father was a United States Army officer, this meant that the Tate family was forced to move across the country a lot, often without much warning. This proved to be quite difficult for Sharon to adjust to, and by the time Sharon was a teenager, she had lived in six different cities, and found it difficult to make and nurture long-lasting friendships, as she moved away so frequently.

Because of this, Sharon acted incredibly shy, and was self-conscious about herself, and that people mistakenly believed that she was aloof until they really got to know her better. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for her to fit in somewhere in the world, especially since her world kept changing at the drop of a hat.

As Sharon grew older, people commented on her natural beauty, and she decided to enter some beauty pageants throughout the early 1960s in an effort to boost her confidence. She had high hopes of entering the 'Miss Washington' beauty contest in 1960, but that same year, her father received word that he was being transferred to Italy, and the family moved to the city of Verona.

This move proved to be of great fortune for Sharon though. Shortly after they arrived, she found that she had become a little bit of a celebrity, as a photograph of her in a bathing suit was published in 'Stars And Stripes', a military newspaper. She attended an American school in Verona while she was there, and began to form lasting friendships for the first time in her whole life thus far. It was as if coming to Italy opened up Sharon's world to wonderful things that she had never experienced before.

In 1961, Sharon and her newfound friends got word that the film 'Adventures Of A Young Man' was filming nearby. With the film boasting such big talent names as Paul Newman, Susan Strasberg, and Richard Beymer, they all decided that they had to be a part of it. And, they ended up getting their wish, albeit as background, non-speaking extras. For Sharon though, that was enough. In fact, her appearance in the movie stood out so much that Richard Beymer actually ended up dating Sharon while the film was being shot! That same year, she ended up appearing in a Pat Boone television special which was being filmed in Venice.

Sharon attempted to further her film career by moving to the United States in late 1961, but due to some health problems that her mother was experiencing, Sharon returned to Italy. But in 1962, the entire Tate family relocated to Los Angeles, California, where Sharon was promptly represented by the same agent that Richard Beymer used, Harold Gefsky. Through Gefsky, Sharon underwent a series of screen tests, and almost landed a role on the television series 'Petticoat Junction'. She did not get the role, because it was felt that she lacked the experience to be able to handle it, although she did get some bit parts on 'The Beverly Hillbillies' and 'Mr. Ed' in the meantime. The director of Filmways, Inc., Martin Ransohoff, signed Sharon to a seven-year contract, but initially kept it hush hush at the beginning. As Tate would explain in an interview given by Playboy magazine in the late 1960s, she claimed that the reason Ransohoff did this was to make sure that she was ready to deliver her best work to the audience.

Sharon's first year under contract though was incredibly frustrating though. She tried out for a role in the film 'The Cincinnati Kid', but was turned down in favour of Tuesday Weld. She also auditioned for the role of Liesl in 'The Sound Of Music', but was also unsuccessful. However, Ransohoff would end up giving her several walk-on roles on films in which he served as a producer. Those two films were 'The Americanization Of Emily' and 'The Sandpiper'. At this point, Sharon's personal life was also developing. She had a noted relationship with French actor Philippe Forquet, which ended when both of them wanted different things regarding their careers. She also began a relationship with Hollywood hair stylist Jay Sebring, but rejected his marriage proposal, stating that she wanted to make sure she had established herself as an actress first before settling down.

By 1965, Ransohoff had felt that Sharon Tate had learned enough skills from the minor roles she had to be featured in a major role in a motion picture. The movie was “Eye Of The Devil”, and it featured David Niven, Donald Pleasance, Deborah Kerr, and David Hemmings. In the movie, she played the role of Odile, a witch. She didn't have a whole lot of lines, but she had to set an ethereal tone, and had to keep in character in any instance where she was filming a scene.

And Sharon Tate nailed it.

Her co-star, David Niven, called her a great discovery, and Deborah Kerr had said that Tate could potentially be a great success if luck was on her side. Sharon had said herself that Deborah Kerr had taught her a lot about how to act just by seeing her in action. The movie was filmed in London, and initially, Jay Sebring accompanied her for the film preparations. But when Sebring had to fly back to Los Angeles, Sharon stayed behind in London. It was during this time that she ended up meeting someone who she would become very close with.

Roman Polanski.

Although they didn't exactly hit it off when they first met, Polanski, who was a film producer/director, who at the time was looking to cast his latest project, 'The Fearless Vampire Killers', which was co-produced by Ransohoff. One of the roles in the movie that he was looking to cast was the female lead. Initially, Polanski was looking for a red-headed actress to fill the role, such as actress Jill St. John. Ransohoff convinced Polanski to consider casting Sharon Tate instead. And, Sharon got the role, but had to wear a red wig for the role.

With the filming taking place in Italy, Sharon had a little advantage when she found that she could communicate with the crew in fluent Italian. But where she was succeeding with the crew, she was initially floundering with Polanski, who felt that Tate was trying his patience. It was rumoured that he had shot seventy takes for one scene alone!

As work progressed on the film though, Polanski ended up changing his view on Sharon, and began to praise her performances, which in turn caused Sharon's confidence levels to rise. Eventually, Sharon and Roman Polanski began to date each other, and would eventually get married in 1968.

But Sharon was still struggling in her career, and it was becoming clear that people just weren't taking her seriously as an actress. Shortly after wrapping up 'The Fearless Vampire Killers', she took on a role in the 1967 film 'Don't Make Waves'. Although it was technically Sharon's third project, it was the first one to be released in theaters. Reportedly, Sharon was very unhappy about being in the film, and the film itself bombed at the box office. The film was heavily promoted though, using cardboard cutouts of Sharon Tate in a bathing suit, as well as an advertising campaign for Coppertone based on the movie, and while the film itself was panned, critics did say that they found Sharon's presence to be engaging.

Later on in the year, she won the role of Jennifer North in the movie adaptation of the popular book 'Valley Of The Dolls', a role in which Sharon had great affinity for. The character of Jennifer North was one who was admired only for her body, and given her past experiences with 'Don't Make Waves', I can see how Sharon could sympathize with her character. Sure enough, there were instances of this in the media, as well as how she was treated during the filming. Although director Mark Robson was critical of all the actresses in the movie, he seemed to focus most of his criticism towards Sharon, and Patty Duke (who also starred in the movie) defended Sharon, saying that the director constantly treated Sharon as if she were stupid, and she really was anything but. Magazines had described Sharon Tate as being 'hopelessly stupid and vain'. When word got out about Sharon having a nude scene in the film, the media jumped all over her. Yet, Sharon defended her nude scene, by telling a journalist who asked her about it the following;

“I have no qualms about it at all. I don't see any difference between being stark naked or fully dressed – if it's part of the job and it's done with meaning and intention. I honestly don't understand the big fuss made over nudity and sex in films. It's silly. On TV, the children can watch people murdering each other, which is a very unnatural thing, but can't watch two people in the very natural process of making love. Now, that really doesn't make any sense, does it?”

Not bad for an actress who was constantly deemed 'stupid' by the press, don't you think?

Although the movie itself was critically panned, some critics actually praised Sharon Tate's performance, even though they feared that she would never be taken seriously as an actress. And if anything, Sharon formed a friendship with the other actresses in the film, so she ended up getting something out of filming it. She was even nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in the film, and was now being described as a promising newcomer.

She was also beginning to get more involved with her husband's film projects as well. Although she was not cast in the film 'Rosemary's Baby' (the part instead went to Mia Farrow), she did play an extra in one scene, and visited the set quite often during filming. Although the Polanski/Tate marriage wasn't without its problems, and Sharon grew frustrated over her husband having random affairs with other women. But she stuck with the marriage, believing that as they matured, he would change his ways. Around this time, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate were getting into the party scene, and they would often host lavish parties at their home where the biggest names in Hollywood at the time would gather. Some criticized the couple for seemingly letting any random stranger into their home, as some of them looked rather shady and sketchy, but they took no heed to the warnings.

They probably should have listened.

By 1969, it seemed as though life was going very well for Sharon. Having two more film projects under her belt, and expecting her first child with Polanski, due in August of 1969, life couldn't be better. She had just finished doing a photo shoot and interview with 'Queen' magazine, and she was doing publicity interviews for her newest film projects. What was interesting was that during one of these interviews, she was asked by a journalist if she believed in fate. Her response?

“Certainly. My whole life has been decided by fate. I think something more powerful than we are decides our fates for us. I know one thing – I've never planned anything that ever happened to me.”

This was a statement that would prove to be quite tragic, for just a few weeks after that, something unimaginable happened to Sharon Tate. When the dust settled, nothing would ever be the same.

It was August 8, 1969. Sharon had flown back home to California alone, as Polanski was held up in London. She was just two weeks from giving birth to her child, and entertained a couple of friends for lunch. That evening, she went out to dinner at a trendy restaurant, El Coyote, with her longtime friend Jay Sebring, actor Wojciech Frykowski, and his companion, coffee heiress Abigail Folger. They returned to the Polanski-Tate residence that evening.

It would be the last night they would ever see.

The following morning, August 9, the bodies of Tate, Sebring, Frykowski, and Folger were found. All four had been murdered. Stabbed to death. Sharon Tate had been stabbed sixteen times. Her unborn child also died. Outside the home, 18-year-old, Steven Parent was also found dead inside a car parked nearby.

Sharon Tate was just twenty-six years old. Her unborn child was named Paul Richard Polanski, and the two were buried in the same casket. Her husband took the murder especially hard, and given all the problems that Polanski had in his later life, it would probably be safe to assume that he never really got over her death.

The killers were identified three months after the murders took place when a prisoner named Susan Atkins (who was in prison for a car theft incident) was bragging about how she had a hand in the murder of Sharon Tate to other inmates. Shortly after this incident, the names of the other perpetrators were named. Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Linda Kasabian...all three of them were named as accomplices in the murders, themselves part of a commune started up by their leader.

Charles Manson.

Atkins also confessed to having a hand in the murders of Reno and Rosemary LaBianca, which took place one day after the Sharon Tate murder, and implicated another one of Charles Manson's accomplices, Leslie Van Houten.

Through testimony given by each of the people suspected in the murders, police were able to piece together how the crime went about. The details were later made public in the book 'Helter Skelter: The True Story Of The Manson Murders'.

Steven Parent was collateral damage, having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was killed first. Kasabian was ordered by Manson to stand outside the house while the others broke in. The group gathered the four people inside the house together and kept them prisoner inside the living room. Watson ordered everyone to lie down on their stomachs. At this point, Sebring attempted to make the group understand that Sharon was pregnant, and he begged them to leave her and her baby be. Unfortunately for Sebring, this plea went unheard, and Watson shot Sebring first. In the commotion, Folger and Frykowski managed to break free, and tried to escape the house, but both of them were overtaken and killed before they got far. Sharon Tate was the last one left alive, and reports were that she begged the group to let her live long enough so that she could give birth. But Sharon's pleas went unheard, and she was the final one to die at the hands of the Manson family.

The end result was that almost everyone involved in the Sharon Tate murders were sentenced to life sentences in prison. Only Linda Kasabian managed to avoid a lengthy jail time due to her taking a deal of 'immunity from prosecution' in exchange for her testimony. The others were sent to prison, where they all remain today. Susan Atkins died in September 2009.

This was the story of a woman born sixty-nine years ago. A woman who wanted to be a star and was well on her way to becoming one. A woman whose spotlight was dimmed way before her time.

It's been years since Sharon Tate was brutally murdered in her home. Looking back on the work that she did in her short career, film critics now describe Tate as potentially becoming a gifted comedienne. And while 'Don't Make Waves' may have been critically panned at the time of its release, it now is considered to be the film where Sharon Tate truly shone as an actress. Even 'Valley Of The Dolls' is regarded as a cult classic.

And, Sharon Tate's death also had a significant impact on how trials were conducted in the state of California, as thanks to the work of her surviving family members, the families of murder victims were able to have a voice at parole hearings. Sharon's death, as tragic as it was, helped bring about change, and brought forth new rights for victims.

It's hard to say whether Sharon Tate would have become as big of a success in Hollywood as Mia Farrow, Patty Duke, or Jane Fonda. I think it's entirely possible that had she lived, she might have had a brilliant career. She very well could have won dozens of awards for film projects. Sadly, her star was one that burned out way too soon. Although, given how hard her family has worked to keep her memory alive, maybe Sharon Tate left behind a legacy after perhaps far more important than having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

This was the story of Sharon Tate. Born January 24, 1943.

1 comment:

  1. January 24, 1943, saw Cincinnati and a number of other localities in the region record their hottest January temperature on record.

    Powerful Föhn winds driven far away by a huge storm in Southern California (Hoegee Camp, fifteen miles inland from Los Angeles, had seen a whopping thirty-six inches of rain in the two previous days) drove over the eastern plains and gradually become hotter. At Cincinnati the temperature reached 77˚F or 25˚C – a full 39˚F or 22˚C above the normal maximum and only 2˚F shy of Ohio’s all-time January record.

    It must be confusing to get shorts weather when it’s normally freezing or thereabouts! Cincinnati returned to a more seasonal 24˚F (minus 5˚C) in just two days!