Sharon Tate's sister shares 'Recollection'

Sharon Tate in

Sharon Tate in "Valley of the Dolls.'

Liz Braun, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:54 PM ET

In the middle of an intense conversation about her late sister, Sharon Tate, author Debra Tate is suddenly interrupted by a loud, sharp whistling noise.

After a shocked pause, Tate says, "I have very big birds," and she starts laughing.

"That was one of them."

Turns out Tate is heavily involved with wildlife conservation, including the rescue of large birds — raptors, eagles, hawks and owls — around her ranch in California. We're just relieved to hear she can still laugh.

Debra Tate, now 61, was 16 when her older sister Sharon was killed by followers of convicted murderer Charles Manson.

The infamous Tate-LaBianca murders are shocking by any measure, but in 1969 they were seen as unprecedented — a violent, senseless killing spree that paralyzed the Hollywood community and left the entire nation in shock and disbelief.

With school mass shootings now a regular occurrence, it's almost impossible to convey the profound effect those murders had on the general consciousness in that earlier time. They have remained in the public eye for 45 years.

The ongoing damage to the victims' families and loved ones is incalculable.

Details of Sharon Tate's death eventually obscured anything else in her life, an imbalance Debra Tate hopes to correct with Sharon Tate: Recollection. The book celebrates Sharon Tate's brief, beautiful, successful life.

There has been, says Debra Tate, a resurgence of interest lately in her sister.

"History and fashion are cyclical," says the author, "and everything old becomes new again. The '60s and '70s are back in style." As Tate points out, various young celebrities today emulate her sister's style, "So I think it's just a natural occurrence that Sharon's time has come back around. She was a breaking artist, one of the youngest and most innovative representatives of that period's style."

She adds, "Sharon didn't really get a chance to mature in her art and her craft or in her gift as a humanitarian… I thought this might be a good time to reach out."

Besides illustrating her sister's extraordinary beauty, Sharon Tate: Recollection offers a look at the actress' sunny personality. Sharon Tate was, from all accounts, a very special woman — kind and generous, and loved by everyone who knew her.

One of the things that helped develop character in her family, says the author, was the fact that their father, Paul Tate, was a military man. They moved every three years or so, and the Tate children were taught to cherish their friendships and develop their humanitarian side.

"You have to develop your friendships very quickly and cultivate things, as you know that unfortunately, you're going to have to leave them behind," Tate says.

"It gives you a depth and a perspective I don't think other people get until they're much older in life. One side benefit of that is that it made us extremely close as a family. You did realize very young that you were going to have to leave all your friends behind every few years, so family is the only thing in one's life that's consistent."

That family never really recovered from the death of Sharon Tate. The youngest sister, Patti Tate, who died at 42 of breast cancer, once described coping with her sister's death as learning to live with a gaping wound. Not surprisingly, mother Doris retreated into a years-long depression, only emerging when the possibility of parole for one of her daughter's killers gave her focus and a cause to work on. Doris Tate went on to devote the rest of her life to victims' rights and to counselling victims of violent crime, but for almost a decade prior to that, Debra and Patti, who was 11 at the time of the murder, had to cope more or less alone.

"I stepped up as best I could," says Debra Tate, "and took over the duty of finishing school and running the household, making sure my little sister had what she needed — lunch money, clean laundry and so forth. As well as doing all of the emotional things, dealing with all of that that went along with the murder."

Both younger sisters somehow found the strength to move forward and create lives for themselves. Tate became a teacher, a model and Hollywood makeup artist.

"I had lot of very deep, internal talks with myself," she says of her survival.

"There was no trauma psychology in place then… it was a step by step, day by day, introspective look at myself, trying to talk myself into some kind of balance, between the dark road one could go down, or trying to keep life going."

Tate's adult daughter, designer Arieana Tate Mussenden, was involved with the creation of Sharon Tate: Recollection; response to the book has prompted the two women to create a line of clothing inspired by the late actress and her style.

Sharon Tate, says her sister, "Was almost perfect. She was truly as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. She was truly unaware — well, no, actually, she was very aware of how attractive she was!" Tate laughs again. "But that was not important. We believed, through mother and the way she raised us, that it was much more important to develop ourselves as human beings.

"Sharon was real."

'Sharon Tate: Recollection' reviewed

In the summer of 1969, this much was certain in Sharon Tate's life: The best was yet to come.

The stunning actress and model was 26 and a rising star — she'd had good reviews in films such as Fearless Vampire Killers and Valley Of The Dolls — and she and husband Roman Polanski were expecting their first child. She was a beloved daughter, sister, wife and friend; personally and professionally, everything was unfolding as it should. Her life was blossoming.

Everything that was good and hopeful in Tate's life, before those details were overshadowed by the circumstances of her death, is captured in Sharon Tate: Recollection, a book written by her younger sister, Debra Tate.

This is a gorgeous coffee-table book, a love letter full of pictures and brief essays from those who knew Tate best. The book includes family photos, movie stills and professional modelling shots, many of which will be new to readers. Personal memories of Tate are written by friends and admirers such as Jane Fonda, Mia Farrow, Warren Beatty, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon and Dominick Dunne, among many others.

Roman Polanski contributed a foreword to the book.

Tate was a style icon, an 'it' girl of her generation, and an extraordinary beauty. She was featured in Vogue and Bazaar and her picture was taken by all the top fashion photographers. This is a woman who won her first beauty contest at the age of six months.

But that beauty was more than just skin-deep.

Tate is described by all as a gentle, thoughtful woman and a supportive and loving friend; her flawless character is the real revelation of Sharon Tate: Recollection.

"Being in Sharon's presence, was being enveloped in grace," writes Patty Duke, Tate's co-star in Valley of the Dolls. "Her inner beauty superseded her outer beauty, if you can imagine."

Debra Tate put this book together to remind people of who Tate was before her life was eclipsed by her tragic death, 45 years ago.

Sharon Tate: Recollection is a joyous celebration of the actress' life. It's also a hugely nostalgic walk down memory lane for anyone who experienced the 'swinging '60s.' Can a book be described as bursting with life? This one is.

Note: Debra Tate continues to fight any chance at parole for her sister's killers, and is currently concerned about the possible parole of Bruce Davis, a convicted killer Tate describes as having been involved in the planning of Sharon Tate's death. She calls Davis the smartest of the Manson family and says it was Davis, not Tex Watson, who often called the shots.

The last time there was a parole recommendation for Davis in 2012, L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey urged Governor Jerry Brown to reverse the panel's decision to grant Davis freedom — claiming the prisoner had neither insight nor genuine remorse. Brown indeed vetoed the decision.

But now the parole issue is once again in Governor Brown's hands, and the decision review period is almost up.

In Tate's opinion, Davis is more dangerous than ever. "I sit in the room just feet away from these people," she says of the parole process. "If they were rehabilitated, I would give them a chance… but they have not changed one bit. They are just as dangerous today, perhaps more dangerous, because they are a lot more organized and still in contact with one another."

Those interested in protesting parole for Davis should write to California Governor Jerry Brown, and can do so through sharontate.net.


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