A 1967 article about Sharon Tate in Playboy began, "This is the year that Sharon Tate happens ..." and it very nearly was, her time cut short by Charles Manson’s “family”. Her name is now sadly synonymous with his. But Manson is dead and Tate’s name should finally be freed and remembered for what she did for victim’s rights.
At 6 months old she won her first beauty pageant, going on to win many more in her teens, she would later be described as one of Hollywood's most promising newcomers, “Sharon had everything Marilyn Monroe had - and more.”
Any young girl’s dream is to be spotted in a crowd and that’s what happened with Sharon, it was actor Richard Beymer that told her to pursue an acting career and throughout the ‘60s she made a name for herself modelling and in small television roles before breaking into film.
She was praised for her turn in 1967s Valley of the Dolls, even gaining a Golden Globe nomination, by the start of ‘68 she was married to one of the biggest directors at the time, Roman Polanski. This grew her social group to include the most successful people in the industry from Warren Beatty to Joan Collins, Warren later putting up thousands of his own money to catch Tate’s killers. The most beautiful woman in Hollywood, a career under her belt and about to give birth to an influential directors child, Sharon was a rising star.
9th August 1969, Sharon, her unborn child, celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski and his girlfriend and heir to the Folger coffee fortune, Abigail Folger, were all brutally murdered by the Manson family inside Sharon and Roman’s home.
but in 1972, this was overturned when California abolished the death penalty, all were then given life sentences and made eligible for parole.
Sharon’s mother, Doris, battled with depression after her daughter's death, but it was learning that one of Sharon’s killers had gathered 900 signatures for her parole hearing that got Doris out of her depression. She then started a campaign for victims rights that would become Sharon’s legacy and gained 350,000 countersignatures to deny killer Leslie Van Houten’s parole.
Doris Tate helped introduce Proposition 8, the Victims Rights Bill, passed in 1982. This allows victim’s impact statements to be heard during violent attackers sentencing.
In 1984 Doris became the first person in California to make one of these statements at Tex Watson’s parole hearing, "I feel that Sharon has to be represented in that hearing room. If they're (the killers) pleading for their lives, then I have to be there representing her."
Addressing Tex, she said: "What mercy, sir, did you show my daughter when she was begging for her life? What mercy did you show my daughter when she said, 'Give me two weeks to have my baby and then you can kill me'? ... When will Sharon come up for parole? Will these seven victims and possibly more walk out of their graves if you get paroled? You cannot be trusted."
Thanks in part to Doris, all 50 states now allow victims to speak. The unconscious woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner in 2015 got to stand up in court and read him a letter, thanks to Doris and that first victim statement, she was allowed to directly address her attacker and explain the impact his actions had on her. The legacy of Sharon has given victims a voice, no longer faceless and secondary to the story of the perpetrator, thanks to the Tate family, victims everywhere can have their say and face their attackers.
Doris died in 1992 but her daughters Patti and Debra continued on her work. In 1995, the Doris Tate Crime Victims Foundation was established with the aim of providing assistance to victims and their families.
Since 1997 Debra has attended the parole hearings of every member of the Manson family currently imprisoned for the murders. To this day they are still appealing for parole and Debra still seeks signatures to let the parole board know that the public does not want these people released.
It is nearing the 50th anniversary of Sharon and her friend's murders, but it is important to remember them now for greater things than a mad man’s actions. So when you hear the name Tate, think of her movies, think of her family and think of the amazing way the justice system has been transformed and the millions of people who now have a voice.
“You can’t make sense out of the innocent slaughter of Sharon and the other victims, the most that I, or any person touched by violence, can hope for is acceptance of the pain. You never forget it, not even with the passage of time. But, if, in my work, I can help transform Sharon’s legacy from murder victim to a symbol for victims’ rights, I will have accomplished what I set out to do.” - Doris Tate.