Entertainment

A cult murdered this Richland beauty queen. Sharon Tate is featured in a new Hollywood film

The latest Quentin Tarantino flick has its usual cast of Hollywood’s leading men.

But for longtime Tri-Citians and film buffs, the star power is Sharon Tate — a portrayal of the slain actress.

Tate is one of the leading characters in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” a mostly fictional movie interspersed with a handful of real legends, including Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee.

It is set in Los Angeles in the late ‘60s, a decade after Tate attended high school in Richland and aspired to be the next Miss Washington.

Those dreams ended when Tate’s father was transferred from Camp Hanford to Italy, and the teenager again had to pick up and move schools.

The beauty queen eventually made it onto the big screen, but Tate’s rise to stardom was cut short with her brutal death by Charles Manson’s disciples on Aug. 9, 1969.

Tate, 26 at the time, was married to film director Roman Polanski and was 8 1/2 months pregnant with her first child, a boy.

She was one of five killed that night at the couple’s Benedict Canyon home.

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Five victims were slain the night of Aug. 9, 1969 at the Benedict Canyon Estate of Roman Polanski. From left, Voityck Frykowski, Sharon Tate, Stephen Parent, Jay Sebring, and Abigail Folger. The next night, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, a wealthy couple who lived across town, were stabbed to death in their home. Thirty years later, the ghosts of the Tate-La Bianca murders will not rest. The Charles Manson cult that carried them out haunts the Internet and a new generation is oddly fixated on the nation’s most bizarre and notorious killings. (AP Photo/File) AP Photo AP

While “Once Upon a Time” is about a fading TV star and his stunt double — played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, Tarantino wrote Tate into one of the storylines of his ninth film.

The movie has an all-star ensemble cast, including Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Kurt Russell and Luke Perry in his final role before his sudden death in March.

Tate, portrayed by Australian actress Margot Robbie, is the next-door neighbor of DiCaprio’s character. She lives on Cielo Drive, just as the real-life Tate did 50 years ago.

But instead of focusing on the actress’ murder by the Manson family, Tarantino chose to highlight her life and promising film career.

Growing up in Richland

The Tate family moved to Richland when the dad, Paul Tate, was assigned to Camp Hanford to work in Army intelligence.

Sharon Tate attended Chief Joseph Junior High from 1955 to 1958, and then Columbia High School (now Richland High) from September 1958 to October 1959.

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Sharon Tate, 16, was crowned Miss Richland in 1959.

She was named Miss Autorama in the Tri-Cities in 1958, and Miss Richland for Atomic Frontier Days in 1959. But the 16-year-old had to abdicate her title just two weeks later when her father received orders to be stationed overseas.

The family later returned to the United States, and Tate’s first acting role was as a secretary on TV’s “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Her first starring role was as Jane in the film “Tarzan.” Her filmography also includes “Valley of the Dolls,” “Eye of the Devil,” “The Wrecking Crew” and “The Fearless Vampire Killers.” The latter was directed by Polanski.

Tarantino told Deadline in a recent interview that he wanted moviegoers to just be with Tate for a day and see her living life.

“You know, I’m so moved by Sharon in the movie and at conjuring her up. ... Unfortunately she’s a woman who has been defined by the tragedy of her death. While not making the Sharon Tate story, I wanted to explore who she was, the person,” he said. “In doing research on her she sounds almost too good to be true from everybody who knew her. ... She just seems to be one of those too sweet for this world kind of person.”

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Sharon Tate was crowned Miss Autorama in Tri-Cities in 1958 while still in high school Tri-City Herald archive

“I got very infatuated with her, just the person she was, as I was learning about her,” he added. “So I thought it would both be touching and pleasurable and also sad and melancholy to just spend a little time with her, just existing.”

The movie is now showing at the Fairchild Cinemas in Pasco, Richland and Moses Lake and at AMC CLASSIC Kennewick 12.

Debra Tate, the only surviving family member, reportedly gave her blessing to “Once Upon a Time” and liked what she saw while on set for production.

In interactions with her followers on Twitter, Debra Tate said she doesn’t think people will be disappointed with the movie.

When one person inquired about the notoriously violent Tarantino’s handling of the murders, she replied: “I guess you’re just going to have to go see in the film. ... I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

Debra Tate lent a pair of her older sister’s earrings and a ring to Robbie for the filming. She has said the intent was to have a piece of the late actress with Robbie.

A victims advocate and author of Sharon Tate: Recollection, Debra Tate has worked to introduce the pop icon to a new generation while also fighting to keep her killers behind bars.

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She’s said her sister “would have influenced an entire generation had her life not been taken from her ... really from us.”

Robbie, in an interview with Variety, said she felt confident she could take on the role of Sharon Tate from the moment she read the script.

“It was very evident the take that Quentin had in portraying her. And it was evident to me by the way that he wrote her that he adored her and he was charmed by her, and he has memories of watching her films when he was 7 years old and just being utterly delighted,” Robbie said. “That kind of seeped into his writing. I could feel that when I read it.”

She continued, “Obviously the film is based on two fictional characters, but Sharon’s presence throughout is a nice way, I think, to give her a chance for people to really appreciate the life she lived as opposed to remember her for her death.”

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.
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