Sharon Tate

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Two excerpts follow from John Weaver’s 1970 Holiday profile of the Hollywood Hills in flux, written at a time when fading early-film stars were joined in the smoggy gorgeousness by newly minted rock royalty, hippie cults, motorcycle gangs, and, worst of all, clinical psychiatrists.


Each of the through canyons—Laurel, Coldwater, Benedict, Beverly Glen—has its own distinctive personality.

Laurel is Southern California’s semi-tropical version of Manhattan’s East Village. Mediter­ranean villas dating back to the first hoarse days of talking pictures are hemmed in by dilapidated shacks owned by absentee landlords. The can­yon’s natural fire hazards have been intensified of late by shaggy young nomads who turn on in the blackened ruins of burned-out mansions where Theda Bara may once have dined. The daily life of the community swirls around a small shopping center, “The Square,” which boasts the old-fashioned Canyon Country Store and a pleasant cafe, the Galleria.

Coldwater and Benedict are more sedate and affluent (their watering hole is the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel). When a newcomer to the community set out to cast his vote in the last municipal election, he was somewhat taken aback to find his polling place was a home in the $150,000-to-$200,000 class. The booths faced the pool.

“I half-expected to have my ballot served by the butler,” he recalls.

One of the most curious sights of his new surroundings, he has found, is the dawn patrol of stockbrokers and speculators who, because of the three-hour time differential between the East and West Coasts, can be seen silhouetted against the sunrise as their Cadillacs and Continentals lum­ber down the hills in time for the first ticker-tape reports from Wall Street.

To the west, near the sprawling campus of the University of California at Los Angeles, lies Beverly Glen, the friendliest of all the canyons, as tourists discover when they stop for dinner at its charming wayside inn, the Four Oaks. The Glen has the feeling of a sycamore-shaded resi­dential street in a rural college town. Associate professors and graduate students live cheek-by-­jowl with a mixed lot dominated by the profes­sions and the arts.

“The Glen defies any kind of rational analysis,” says Jack Thompson, veteran leader of its homeowner organization. “Take the houses on my street, for instance. They’re occupied by a com­puter sciences teacher, a rock singer, a furniture man, an attorney, a sprinkler equipment sales­man, an actress and a clinical psychiatrist.”

Historically, the Hills have been hospitable to the indulgence of individual tastes, no matter how bizarre, but at times one man’s life style en­croaches on his neighbor’s, as the Benedict Can­yon Association discovered when it began to get complaints from members who found themselves living downwind of a stable. In Coldwater, the neighboring canyon to the east, homeowners banded together to block Frank Sinatra’s applica­tion for a private helistop. The singer finally gave up on Los Angeles and headed for the desert.

“The air isn’t fit to breathe, so I’m clearing out,” he an­nounced in the fall of 1968, and a year later he got support from, of all places, the coroner’s office. The body of a young woman, stabbed to death, was found in the hills not far from Sinatra’s abandoned retreat. The dead girl was new to Southern California, the coroner deduced, because her lungs showed none of the ill effects of smog.


A mile-long stretch of county ter­ritory with a gamey history (it was Hollywood’s place to drink and gamble during Prohibition), the Strip has become a children’s playground where middle-aged tourists in slow-moving Gray Line buses peer out in horror at the outlandish getups of the young, many of whom have fled the same wall-to-wall certainties about soap and success to which the tourists will return, unchanged. (Mother, to Aunt Martha: “They looked half-starved, poor things. Goodness knows what they eat.” Father, to Uncle Fred: “The girls wore these little skirts up to here and blouses you could see through, and not a thing underneath, not a thing.”)

Homes in the hills above the ac­tion, once the property of men with ulcers and wall plaques attesting to their ability to peddle cars or endow­ment policies are now sprouting For Sale signs. (In the Sunday papers they are advertised as “Swinger’s Pad,” “Artist’s Retreat” and “Funky Mediterranean.”) Large areas are be­ing surrendered to motorcyclists, call girls and young couples of every known sexual persuasion (the enclave is referred to in heterosexual circles as “The Swish Alps”).

The Strip has become a buffer zone between the hippie communes of Laurel Canyon and the marble resting places of moneylenders and paving contractors who look down on Bev­erly Hills from the majestic heights of Trousdale Estates. The Beverly Hills border separates young swing­ers who are making out from elderly plastics who have it made.

The two generations live side by side in the high-priced side streets off Coldwater and Benedict Canyons, where Charlton Heston works out in the pool of his stone fortress and Harold Lloyd plays golf on a multi­million-dollar estate a brisk canter from Tom Mix’s old spread. Valen­tino tried to win back his second wife by sinking a borrowed fortune in a hillside place where, he said, he wanted his friends “to remember me as permanently fixed on a set at last.” His Falcon’s Lair, now the property of Doris Duke, is a short walk from the Benedict Canyon estate where Sharon Tate, three friends and a young passerby were slaughtered last August.

The separate worlds of Benedict Canyon and the Sunset Strip coexisted on Sharon Tate’s rented estate. The international film crowd bounded up Cielo Drive in sports cars to groove in the main house (“In my house there were parties where people smoked pot,” Miss Tate’s husband said after­wards. “I was not at a Hollywood party where someone did not smoke pot”).

“The poshest homes on the quiet­est lanes of all of the better canyons are often as not, symbolically, board­ing houses, whose leases or titles are written in a kind of quick-fading ink,” Charles Champlin, the Los Angeles Times entertainment editor, wrote after the tragedy. “They are way-stations on the way up or down, in or out.”

“The stars move out,” a Beverly Hills realtor once remarked to a New York Times reporter, “and the den­tists and psychiatrists move in.”•

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In this post, I used some 1971 photos of Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson playing LPs at his Mulholland Drive house, which were taken by the legendary Los Angeles photojournalist Julian Wasser, who is the Weegee of the West, sure, but also a thing all his own, ably adapting to shifting scenes, from street to crime to Hollywood. Wasser just published a book of his work, The Way We Were. Three more of his images follow.

Roman Polanski.

Roman Polanski, 1969

From “Photo Ops,” Dana Goodyear’s excellent W piece:

Wasser’s first real camera was a Contax, which his father gave him when he was a junior in high school in the 1950s. He got himself a scanning radio and tuned in to the frequency used by the police. The first pictures he sold, while still a student at Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker school in Washington, D.C., were of crime scenes. “Crime’s exciting, and it sells,” he says. He got a gig at the Associated Press and met Arthur Fellig, the legendary photographer known as Weegee. “He came in plugging some film,” Wasser continues. “He was my hero.” From Weegee, he learned to use a Speed Graphic. “He was this real gruff, tough, down-to-earth guy, the epitome of a hard-nosed photographer, a street guy on the level of the cops he worked with. He used to beat them to the crime scene.”

That sensibility—an instinct for drama and the decisive moment, the dab of beauty with a smear of grit—put Wasser in the way of news. He was at the Ambassador Hotel the night Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, and was with the crowd watching as Richard Ramirez, the infamous Night Stalker, was taken into custody by police. In 1969, three days after the actress Sharon Tate was murdered, Wasser, on assignment from Life, went to the crime scene on Cielo Drive with Tate’s husband, Roman Polanski, a pair of detectives, and a celebrity psychic searching for vibrational clues. (The Manson family hadn’t yet been named as suspects.) Wasser took a picture of Polanski, crouched and grim-faced beside a door smudged with fingerprint dust, where the word pig had been written in Tate’s blood. “I felt so bad for Polanski and for being there photographing it,” Wasser remembers. “He was just shattered.” The psychic, meanwhile, stole Wasser’s Polaroids and sold them to the tabs. Later, during the case brought against Polanski for having sex with a minor at Nicholson’s house on Mulholland, Wasser photographed the judge.•

Bernard Cornfeld, mutual-fund manager, and friends, 1974.

From Cornfield’s 1995 New York Times obituary by Diana B. Henriques:

Born in Istanbul in August 1927, Bernard Cornfeld was the son of a Romanian actor who moved his family to the United States in the early 1930’s. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn and Brooklyn College. By 1954, he had become a mutual fund salesman, entering the industry just as mutual funds were experiencing their first strong surge of growth since the stock market crash of 1929.

In 1956, he moved to Paris, planning to sell shares of popular American mutual funds, chiefly the Dreyfus Fund, to Americans living abroad. Using his trademark recruiting challenge — “Do you sincerely want to be rich?” — he built Investors Overseas Services. At its peak, it was a far-flung organization that included a vast and intensely loyal sales force, a secretive Swiss bank, an insurance unit, real estate interests and a stable of offshore investment funds operating beyond the reach of any single country’s securities laws.

By 1970, his company had pumped millions of overseas dollars into the American mutual fund industry, initially through its aggressive sales force and then through Mr. Cornfeld’s trailblazing Fund of Funds, an offshore fund that invested in other mutual funds’ shares.

Mr. Cornfeld gave now-famous money managers like Fred Alger their start by selecting them to run funds owned by the Fund of Funds, which at its peak had more than $450 million invested in American mutual funds.

He also acquired enough financial power over American mutual funds and skirted close enough to the edges of Federal securities laws to attract the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which in 1965 accused him and his company of violating American securities laws.

In 1967, the company settled the commission’s complaint by agreeing to wind up or sell all its American operations. The Fund of Funds also agreed to buy no more than 3 percent of any American mutual fund, the limit imposed by Federal mutual fund law.

After leaving the American market, Mr. Cornfeld continued to live lavishly, and his financial empire appeared strong until early 1970, when it suddenly disclosed that it was short of cash and had substantially overestimated its 1969 profits.•

Farrah Fawcett, 1976.

Farrah Fawcett, 1976.

The opening of “Super-Powered Love,” Lois Armstrong’s 1976 People article:

It would take a network in a ratings crisis to create a six million dollar man, with one telescopic-zoom eye and three nuclear-powered prosthetic limbs—the role Lee Majors plays so stoically on ABC every Sunday night. But, still mercifully, only God can make a Farrah Fawcett-Majors, as Lee’s offscreen wife calls herself. “She’s so gorgeous,” Majors glows, “she’s like a little girl. So cute, so beautiful inside, you wanna…” His natural reticence stifles further elaboration. The whole preposterousness of his series and its success (it shot from the Nielsen cellar last season to No. 5) may also have gotten to his brain and consciousness—which never were exactly “bionic.”

Farrah’s looks are indeed breath-stopping, and her own career is rocketing in commercials (Noxzema, Wella Balsam, Ultra-Brite); TV (as David Janssen’s girl next door on Harry O plus a starring part in a pilot); and film (playing with Michael York in the upcoming Logan’s Run). So, when queried about having children, Farrah replies, yes, but not for a couple of years, and Lee quips, “We already have bids from people who would like to have pick of the litter.”

In the meantime, Majors has begat, if nothing else, a spin-off series premiering Jan. 14 that he calls The Bionic Rip-Off—the official ABC title is The Bionic Woman. Lee’s dubiousness owes to the fear that the new show could dilute the Six Million Dollar Man ratings already perhaps in jeopardy. Part of Majors’ rise can be attributed to this fall’s plop from favor of his CBS competition, Cher, but she is almost certain to make at least a one-week Nielsen rebound next month among viewers curious to see the return of ex-husband Sonny, not to mention the TV premiere of her now gravid midriff. Lee may also begrudge the sweeter contract the bionic female, actress Lindsay Wagner, has chivied out of Universal. She, unlike Majors, negotiated a sizable share of any merchandising royalties—Six Million Dollar Man dolls were supposedly the hottest item in toy biz at Christmas, and he barely collected a pittance. Lindsay was also guaranteed five feature films—which could rankle Lee, because he blames his TV stereotyping for thwarting his own movie career.

Majors, 36, professes to be less threatened by his wife’s sudden stardom at 28—as long as it doesn’t interfere with her cooking his nightly supper.•

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Here’s an oddity: In 1991, Doris Tate, mother of actress Sharon Tate who was among those murdered by the Manson Family, appeared on To Tell the Truth hosted by Alex Trebek. The elder Tate became a campaigner for the rights of crime victims. This short-lived iteration of the venerable game show, which had a harder, more provocative edge than such fare usually has, provided a platform for Tate’s work. She passed away the following year as a result of a brain tumor. Begins at the 8:18 mark.

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Three years before she was killed in one of the most shocking mass murders in American history–one that essentially ended an attempt at a new openness, a new sense of community–Sharon Tate was her bright, beautiful self while being interviewed by Merv Griffin on location in London.

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Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate discussing shifting mores with Hugh Hefner on Playboy After Dark, July 1968.

13 months later:

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From “Manson: An Oral History,” Los Angeles Magazine‘s 2009 recollection of the man behind the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, which rocked Hollywood and shocked a nation:

Bill Gleason, Los Angeles County deputy sheriff assigned to probe auto thefts. He is 77 and retired.

Charles Manson and some of his group just showed up at the Spahn Ranch and started living in the movie sets. Most of the buildings were false fronts, but they made them into rooms. I thought they were just a bunch of hippies, but we started getting reports that members of the Straight Satans, a motorcycle gang from Venice, were going to the ranch on weekends and partying. The word was that they were trading drugs for sex with the women there. Some of the women were runaway juveniles who provided Manson with cash and credit cards stolen from their homes. We also had reports that members of the group were shooting a machine gun. The Manson people were also stealing and building dune buggies and driving them onto adjoining properties, creating a nuisance. A couple of nights before the raid, we hiked into the ranch and found a stolen, brand-new 1969 Ford and a stolen Volkswagen. That was the main basis for our search warrant—to recover these vehicles and try to identify who stole them.

I really didn’t pay much attention to Manson. We’d already taken most of the adults out, and everyone was saying, “Where’s Charlie.” He was hiding under one of the buildings. The deputies had to go in and forcibly remove him. I arrested them one week after the Tate murders, but none of them said anything. Everybody just sat there.”

“The Family” is arrested, December 2, 1969. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who is interviewed in this report. tried to assassinate President Ford in 1975.

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Sharon Tate in "Eye of the Devil."

It was in 1968, though it seems a million lifetimes ago that Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate wed in London. He dressed in mod fashion and she in a wedding dress miniskirt. Michael Caine, Candice Bergen and Joan Collins were guests. It was the year before Tate was murdered in Los Angeles by the Manson family and about a decade before Polanski’s fall from grace. British Pathé was on the scene to make a newsreel about the nuptials. View it here.

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I presented an excerpt some time back from Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion’s great collection of reportage about life in California during the 1960s and 1970s. Now I offer a passage from The White Album, her other incisive non-fiction book about that place and time. From the title piece, this excerpt concerns the Tate-LaBianca murders perpetrated by the Manson Family in 1969, which caused the L.A.’s open minds and open doors to be locked shut. To read Didion tell it, those horrific killings were an almost inevitable shattering of a city of glass. An excerpt:

“We play ‘Lay Lady Lay’ on the record player, and ‘Suzanne.’ We went down to Melrose Avenue to see the Flying Burritos. There was a jasmine vine grown over the verandah of the big house in Franklin Avenue, and in the evenings the smell of jasmine came in through all the open doors and windows. I made a bouillabaisse for people who did not eat meat. I imagined that my own life was simple and sweet, and sometimes it was, but there were odd things going around town. There were rumors. There were stories. Everything was unmentionable but nothing was unimaginable. The mystical flirtation with the idea of  ‘sin’–this sense that it was possible to go ‘too far,’ and that many people were doing it–was very much with us in Los Angeles in 1968 and 1969. A demented and seductive vortical tension was building in the community. The jitters were setting in. I recall a time when the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full. On August 9, 1969, I was sitting in the shallow end of my sister-in-law’s swimming pool in Beverly Hills when she received a telephone call from a friend who had just heard about the murders at Sharon Tate Polanski’s house on Cielo Drive. The phone rang many times during the next hour. These early reports were garbled and contradictory. One caller would say hoods, the next would say chains. There were twenty dead, no, twelve, ten, eighteen. Black masses were imagined, and bad trips were blamed. I remember all of the day’s misinformation very clearly, and I also remember this, and wish I did not: I remember that no one was surprised.”

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