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For better or for worse: Sharon Tate's legacy on cinema

The story of Sharon Tate is one that has gone down in the bleak history of Hollywood, chartering the rise and tragic fall of a young, promising talent. 

Despite having appeared in only eleven films throughout the course of her life, with many of those appearances being only minor roles, Tates impact on popular culture was great. Born in Dallas, Texas, in 1943, Tate moved to Washington and Italy before settling in L.A and taking an uncredited role in 1961s Barabbas. Taking popular TV roles in Mister Ed and The Beverly Hillbillies, Tate grew to popularity through the 1960s, starring in her most iconic role in Valley of the Dolls alongside Patty Duke and Barbara Parkins. 

The role would help her to become a rising sex symbol of Hollywood, appearing in a Playboy photoshoot where she would be shot by filmmaker Roman Polanski, Tate’s future husband. Associating herself with Hollywood’s finest up and coming talents, Sharon Tate looked and acted like a film star, with the house she shared with Polanski on Cielo Drive renowned for glamorous contemporary parties featuring the likes of filmmakers, artists and musicians. 

Tate and her associates represented a brand new, counter-cultural identity to Hollywood’s classical golden age, an idea explored by Quentin Tarantino in his 2019 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which depicts Hollywood’s transition into the contemporary fold as well as Sharon Tate’s shocking death. In 1969, Tate was murdered by several members of the Manson family cult in her home whilst she was heavily pregnant. Sending shockwaves through the industry and 1960s media, Tate’s death represented a shift in Hollywood ideals, and unfortunately, her legacy became defined by her death and not her promising career. 

Aged only 26 when she was killed, it’s important to note that Sharon Tate was still very young and vulnerable to the tests, challenges and spotlight that fame can bring. Her rise to prominence was certainly gathering great speed, but by the time of her death, she wasn’t a household name, nor was she a particularly noteworthy actress. The loss of Sharon Tate can undoubtedly be representative of the denial of the Hollywood dream, as she had not yet reached the heights of industry stardom. 

As such, unfortunately, it is to little surprise that her death at the hands of the Manson cult, and marriage to the famous (if undeniably problematic) filmmaker Roman Polanski remains, to many, as her lasting legacy. It may be Quentin Tarantino’s most commendable triumph then to commemorate her life in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and redefine her not as a victim, but as one of Hollywood’s most charming rising stars. Speaking to SirusXM’s The Jess Cagle Showthe filmmaker stated, “I think it’s horrible that she’s been defined by her murder”. 

Continuing, Tarantino noted, “One of the things that I can say about the film that I am absolutely proud of, because of the movie, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case anymore. I don’t think she is defined by her victim status”. 

Helped by Tarantino’s depiction of the actress in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, the life of Sharon Tate can be immortalised for the right reasons, not as a victim of a senseless crime, but as an enthusiastic spark of life and symbol of Hollywood’s 1960s popularity. 

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