The tragedy of Sharon Tate is, in and of itself, a Hollywood tale, telling the story of a young, promising actor who falls victim to a senseless crime. Appearing in only 11 films throughout the course of her short-lived career, Tates posthumous impact on popular culture was great, no doubt due to the public nature of her horrific death. Minor TV roles helped to elevate Tate’s prominence in the industry before Valley of the Dolls would establish her as a star alongside Patty Duke and Barbara Parkins.
Becoming a rising sex symbol in Hollywood, she would soon meet the notorious filmmaker Roman Polanski, an icon of the industry who would help bolster her identity, becoming husband and wife in the process. Upon the death of Sharon Tate in 1969, however, Polanski was unusually quick to accuse not the murderous Manson cult, but instead the martial arts and acting legend, Bruce Lee.
His suspicions went back to Lee’s rise to prominence in the industry, where martial-arts enthusiast and celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring saw Bruce Lee in a kung-fu demonstration and recommended him to producer William Dozier for a role in the ABC series, The Green Hornet. Later, once Lee was an established name, Tate invited the actor over for dinner where he predicted that she and Polanksi would “get along like a house on fire,” according to the book Bruce Lee: A Life.
Roman Polanski and Bruce Lee remained close friends, working together on multiple occasions, whilst also supporting him after the death of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, writer Voytek Frykowski and Abigail Folger at Cielo Drive in Los Angeles.
Whilst many suspects were considered before the Manson family cult was finally apprehended, Roman Polanski believed the murders were an inside job, as outlined by author Christopher Sandford in Polanski: A Biography. According to the writer, “Polanski fancied himself as a detective manqué,” as the director often wandered through LA late at night searching for clues, even spending $2,500 to analyse the handwriting of producer William Castle to see if it matched that left by the killers.
Discovering a pair of prescription glasses found at the crime scene, Polanski purchased a lens-measuring gauge, and according to Sandford, obsessively checked the spectacles of his surrounding friends. Not long after the murders, Bruce Lee told Polanski that he needed to replace his glasses as he’d lost his old pair. Suspicious, the director insisted on giving Bruce Lee a ride home, and according to the author Matthew Polly, “Very coolly, Polanski said to Bruce, ‘On the way home, we can stop at my ophthalmologist for glasses. It will be my gift to you.’ Much to Polanski’s relief … the prescriptions did not match”.
By the end of 1969, Charles Manson and five of his followers were convicted of murder, with the tale becoming a notorious turning point in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. The story was later captured and fictionalised in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by director Quentin Tarantino, a modern classic that wonderfully commemorated the life of Sharon Tate.