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Sharon Tate

  Sharon Tate is always present in my mind and in my heart. She’s as present as if she was sitting here. The impression she made on me was so exquisite and real, and there we were, making Valley of the Dolls, which was anything but real. To this day, when I see or hear that someone else’s name is “Sharon,” my mind goes right to Sharon Tate. Luckily, it doesn’t go to that hideous place where unfortunately most people go where they think of her death, rather than her life. My mind goes to that woman who, when we were on the Princess Cruise virgin voyage where they premiered Valley of the Dolls, would go with me and hide by sitting on the floor and playing cards. We would also often say to each other, “How are we going to get out of here?” since we didn’t want to talk to any press about the dreadful film we’d just made.

            Sharon was a nymph. She definitely had that twinkle. One can tell she was a good actress because she didn’t have that twinkle in the part she played in Valley of the Dolls. Instead, she went to her ultimate vulnerable place for that role. Sharon was bawdy in life. If there was some fun to be had or harmless trouble to get into, she was first in line.

            Sharon was so glamorous. She was always going somewhere, including going off to Paris, and then she got married to Roman Polanski in London, whom I really didn’t know. Sharon and I would go out to lunch occasionally in Beverly Hills when she was on this side of the pond, and you could hear the laughter from our table all over the restaurant.

            The first time I recall meeting Sharon was on the set of Valley of the Dolls in New York, as we started shooting there before moving film production to Los Angeles. My recollection of the first scene we did together is that my hair is pulled back really tight and I have on a leotard and am singing. The camera then pulls back and Sharon, wearing this insane headdress while balancing down a flight of stairs, could be seen. We tried to figure out how much that headdress weighed and it had to be a good 25 pounds or more. She did have the best posture, but director Mark Robson made Sharon film that scene over and over and over again, and it was exactly the same every time. He didn’t say, “Could you hold your hands a different way this time?” In my interpretation, he just wanted to watch her dwindle and get tired. There finally came a point where it was obvious to everyone that there was no need to do take twenty-seven and we finished that portion of the scene. And this wound up being the first time we knew we were going to be naughty buddies on the set. I went up to her and said in the colorful words I often used back then, “That fucking bastard!” I had had it with Robson by then. Sharon didn’t say anything bad about Robson, but she did roll those gorgeous eyes and say, “I got so tired, but I wasn’t going to complain and fall on my sword.” It was at this moment I knew I had a connection with her.

            I don’t know why people do this, and I don’t think we do it as much anymore, but because Sharon was blonde and so otherworldly beautiful, people assumed she was stupid, which hurt her feelings. Sharon was smart enough to know that’s what many people thought of her. The woman I knew was a very smart one.

            Mark Robson’s behavior was inexplicable. I believe I’ve said this sometime before, but Sharon was shooting a scene where she walked from the backyard to the swimming pool. Robson told Sharon she was to enter on a certain line, which is nothing unusual. Then, he told her she was to sit on a certain word, unbutton her top button on another word, and so on until the jacket was open. What was that all about? What does it matter when the button was open? It’s not as if they were shooting some sex scene where he wanted her beautiful breasts revealed at a certain time. He just tortured her with it. “No, no, Sharon. Not like that! I told you, the first button should be on the word ‘the’!” This went on for well over an hour. Again, her inner strength would not allow him to see that she was humiliated, but we were all humiliated for her. I don’t know what he thought he was proving, because he was the only one who wound up looking like an asshole.

            Finally, Robson printed one of the takes and then of course she had to match it again in a close-up. But we went off around the back of the house where we were shooting, and she wouldn’t cry because she was such a pro and didn’t want to mess up her makeup. She asked me what she did wrong, as she assumed it was she who had the problem. I told her nothing was wrong with her, but that the man doesn’t have a clue as to what he was doing. I told her he just wanted to make the pretty girl look stupid. That helped reinforce for her what she already knew. She never retaliated, but she never gave him what he wanted, which I believe was to make Sharon cry or have a tantrum on the set. I am the one who gave him that.

            We were all mortified as to how our director was treating Sharon. Actors are low on the totem pole; we’re chicken shits. It has to really be something dangerous before we will speak up about it. Sometime later on, Sharon told me that she was afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, and that was why she didn’t speak up. This could get her into trouble sometimes. I am sure, during those conversations with her, she was thinking back about her time on the set of Valley of the Dolls, but there might have been other situations in her life, as well. People don’t like ugly people, and they don’t like pretty people, and when you couple beauty with intelligence, you have a big firecracker.

            Sharon rarely looked at her face in a mirror. She must have known she didn’t have to.  However, just before a shot, she would use a small mirror and check just her lips and make sure they were okay. I would usually look for a split second, for the same reason. Often I would get mascara under my eye, because back then when I smiled my cheeks came up very far. There are makeup people to do touchups, but I felt it was my responsibility since I was the one making it do that. Our co-star, Barbara Parkins, was the best at fixing her makeup. Barbara knew what she was looking for, and what she was looking at, and it didn’t make her self-conscious. If I had looked for longer than a second or two, it would have made me very self-conscious and interfered with the work. Most makeup people, who worked with me, if they are still alive, would tell you that I almost never looked in the mirror. Now, I try not to look into the mirror because of other things!

            A few years after we finished Valley of the Dolls, Sharon got pregnant. She was thrilled and glowed brighter than any pregnant lady I ever saw, probably because she started out glowing. We made plans for baby showers and stuff like that, but we never talked about baby names. We felt that anything baby-sized was adorable. We shopped for the baby and of course, she kept all of her doctor appointments and took great care of herself.

            I want to go on record saying that this woman treasured this pregnancy and this child. She did not drink, nor did she smoke or drop acid. She didn’t do any of those things. This baby was the mark she was going to make on the world. She didn’t care about how many movies she was in or about how beautiful or how glamorous she was, or even how many magazine covers she was on. This baby was her be all and end all. It makes me very angry when people speculate that she didn’t take care of herself during the time of her pregnancy, and I have no idea what the people around her were doing at this time, nor do I care.

            Before her pregnancy, Sharon and I would sometimes meet up a couple of times a week, and she would often come to my house on Summit Ridge Drive in Beverly Hills. It was the house I shared with my then-husband, Harry Falk. She fell in love with that house. Eventually, I went off to make the film Me, Natalie (1969), in New York, and she moved into that house. During production of Me, Natalie, Harry and I split up. We didn’t get the formal divorce until quite some time later, but we weren’t together anymore. Regardless of my marital state, Sharon wasn’t moving out of that house and it was a perfect place for her. It sat on a rise in Beverly Hills and it overlooked both the city and nature, and down a level from the house was a pool made from real rock. She loved, in the privacy of that yard, to swim naked.

            As I understood it, Roman and Sharon were going to either lease or buy the Summit Ridge Drive house. Harry and Roman took care all of the mechanisms of that. I was quite manic while I was in New York, but from what I remember, the next thing I knew, Sharon and Roman weren’t going to take the house. This really bothered me, as I wanted her to have the beautiful rooms in that house for herself. I didn’t know Roman, but I felt he also could have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of living there. I believe what happened was that, at the last minute, Harry had raised the asking price for the house, and Harry and Roman got into an argument, and they wound up not taking the house. Somehow, Sharon and Roman heard about this house on Cielo Drive, which was another canyon over from my house, and that’s where they went. I haven’t read a lot about the aftermath that occurred in that house on Cielo Drive because it makes me vomit. I don’t go there unless I have to.

            An interesting tidbit is that Sharon loved Winnie Chapman, my housekeeper, so when she moved she asked if it was okay if she shared Winnie with me. Of course, we had the decency to ask Winnie, as well. “Oh yes, Miss Patty. I love Miss Sharon.” She was going to help her when the baby came, and I moved into an apartment in the ritzy Sierra Towers in West Hollywood after the split from Harry. I pretty much withdrew from everybody. I had cut a wide swath of questionable behavior. I did not do drugs because I was too afraid. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong with me, but I knew there was something. I feared that if I did any of those street drugs I might go away and never come back. Although I didn’t do drugs, I did drink.

            In August of 1969, I recall having a sore throat and going to the doctor where I received a diagnosis of strep throat. Although I was somewhat withdrawn at this time, I would still go out with Sharon occasionally. One night, she and some friends all went out to have dinner and then go to this place called The Factory, which was a posh club where you had to be a member, and we’d usually go there to shoot pool and dance. As I understand it, that is what they had planned on doing that fateful evening. I don’t believe they wound up at The Factory after dinner, but instead went back to Sharon’s home. Sharon had called me and asked if I’d like to come out with them, but I declined because of the strep throat and told her I didn’t want to get her or the baby, with whom she was still pregnant, sick.

            You would have to build a stadium to fit all the people in who said they were supposed to be there that night. I don’t care if people think I’m making it up, but that’s how it happened for me. It wasn’t unusual for Sharon to ask me out.

            Even though I was sick, I wound up drinking quite a bit that night and was pretty hungover the following morning. When the phone rang, waking me, I was barely able to lift my head. I believe it was Gene Kirkwood, whom I was sort of dating at the time, who called and said, “Sharon is dead.” I can remember having that sensation that I was dreaming and it was obviously a nightmare. I didn’t have the wherewithal to ask, “What? Where? When? How?” TV news was not quite as on the minute as it is now. I called around to other friends. This was about noon, so I got filled in as to what happened, with what little anybody knew at that time. All I could think was, “Why, God? Why wasn’t she in the Summit Ridge house she was going to buy from me?” The whole world would have been different if Sharon had had another address.

            I can only go so far in imagining the scene, and then I get this kind of block. It was sweet, fragile Winnie who found them. When she came to my place later in the week, Winnie still did her job, but she told me more about what she saw than I had ever wanted to know. Winnie finally had to quit. Her life became nothing but police interviews. The woman constantly had to go to the Police Department to tell what she saw and what she found. Winnie was even smaller than me and more fragile.

            I hope that Sharon’s sister Debra’s new book about Sharon does really well, because she has captured the real Sharon in it, not just by the beautiful photos, but the narrative that goes along with them. She certainly couldn’t have worked harder to highlight the Sharon that we knew, not the Sharon that her killers and the media helped create. Sharon was not a drug-ridden, sleep-around lady. This was as gracious a lady as Grace Kelly or anybody else in that stratum that we think of as precious.

            I am a grandma today, and Sharon probably would have been, as well. I’m sure we’d piss and moan about getting old, but her physical attributes were not important to her. Maybe because she had them, she didn’t get upset about them, but that wasn’t where she lived. I have said this before, and other people have said it, and it can be cloying, but Sharon’s true beauty was on the inside. God just gave her a pretty outside because she deserved it.




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