"Screenland" - November 1969
Interview with Sheliah Wells by Marcia Borie
"She Was So Generous, So Trusting, She Never Shut Her Door To Anyone."
They tell you that Sharon Tate was involved in a sex cult. Or a drug cult. Maybe it was the hippies. Or maybe it was witchcraft. Whatever-the Sharon Tate of the headlines is a little bit lurid and very far out.
But somewhere there was a real Sharon Tate. What happened to her during her years in Hollywood? Why had she ended tragically, so grotesquely? What was Sharon Tate really like? We turned to her closest girlfriend, actress Sheliah Wells, for the answers.
We think this exclusive interview is the truest, most loving thing you'll ever read about Sharon Tate.
"Sharon Tate was my best friend. Once, we were roommates. She introduced me to my husband. She was the godmother to my baby daughter who is named for her.
"In the six years time that I knew her, she never said an unkind word about anyone.
"In all the thousands of words that have been printed about her since her death, none really told about my friend - about the Sharon Tate I knew.
"We were introduced six years ago by a man who was my agent as well as hers, Hal Gefsky. We got along so well that the first week we met we decided to try and find an apartment together. And that's how it all started - our friendship.
"The place we shared was a nice one-bedroom apartment on Clark Drive. It was tastefully decorated in early actress. And there were all these people always dropping in. Sharon really loved being hospitable.
"From the beginning, my friends used to tease me. 'How can you wake up in the morning and look at that face of hers?' It was a good question. Sharon was so over whelmingly, so incredibly beautiful that anyone not knowing her might think it took a lot to live with such a beauty. But you see that was another thing about Sharon. With all her beauty, everyone loved her. I never heard anyone say a bad word about her, not even another actress. And in this town that's not only a rarity, it's an impossibility!
"I think the greatest thing I could say about Sharon was that she was for real. I mean really for real. Like I said, I haven't heard any stories or news reports that tell about Sharon the way she really was. Even I, who loved her, find it hard to say what I mean so that she doesn't come out sounding all spun sugary. Sharon was the type of a girl who had no defenses, no pretenses, she was just herself all the time. Like if a friend said, 'Hey, that brand of toothpaste you're using is no good. It hurts the enamel.' Most people would answer back, 'Well, maybe you think so, but my dentist recommended it, so there.' You know, on the defensive. But if you said the same thing to Sharon, she'd say, 'Oh really? No kidding? Gee, bad for the enamel? Then I guess I'd better change brands.' It was this incredible talent of hers for believing everybody, for being so easily persuaded, that may have eventually done her more harm than good.
"She was so trusting, so eager to accept people as they were, so generous. Why, there were times, this past year or so, when a whole bunch of people would be at her house and she'd come up to me and say, 'Hey, I wonder who so and so is.' Just like it wasn't her house and she wasn't entitled to know. Sharon never shut her door to anyone.
"Anyway, we shared an apartment for a year. Then Sharon left. For a while she dated Jay Sebring and then she went off to Europe to make a film. She met Roman over there.
"You know something funny. I've never seen Sharon on film. I know that sounds strange but I just never did, even as close as we were - or perhaps because we were so close. It's like if a friend said to you, 'I did something yesterday and it wasn't very good, so don't tell.' If you were a close friend, you wouldn't. Well, that's how Sharon felt about her movies. Always she'd tell me, 'Oh, Sheliah, the movie I just made was so awful, don't bother going to see it.' And because I had such love and respect for
our friendship, I never did.
"As far as Sharon and her relationships with people, she always had a way of finding such goodness in others. If someone hurt her, she'd say, "Oh, Sheliah, I'm sure they didn't mean to.' She'd always make excuses for others. Sharon was just totally loving and also totally vulnerable. She was just a remarkable person, she never gave up on anybody.
"Sharon used to say that Wende Wagner and I were her two closest friends. Wende is married to Jim Mitchum. She's a darling girl. Both of us, I think, represented a kind of security and stability that Sharon never seemed to find. We were her touch with the real world. Both Wende and I make up our minds to do a thing and then go ahead and do it. But Sharon was always so easily persuaded, so vulnerable. I keep using that word but it's one that fits her so well. Vulnerable.
"There's one thing some people have wondered about. Whether or not the baby could have been saved if the police had come in time. I don't know about that, but all I can tell you is that Sharon wanted that baby more than anything else in the world. That baby belonged to her. Now he will always be with her. They will have a headstone together. It will say: Sharon Tate Polanski and Baby Son Paul Richard Polanski. Yes, they gave the baby a name. He was named Paul for Sharon's father, and Richard for Roman's father.
"As far as Sharon's marriage was concerned, all I can tell you is that Sharon and Roman were in love. They were a combination of beauty and genius. She tried so hard to please him.
"You know it's funny, but all the time we were roommates, Sharon and I never went out on a double date. Sharon liked one kind of boy, I liked another. In fact, all the time we shared an apartment Sharon never tried to fix me up on a date. Then one day, after she'd moved out, I was really surprised when she called and wanted to introduce me to someone. She had been working on a film called 'Don't Make Waves' with Robert Webber. They'd had lunch together with an actor friend, Fred Beir. Suddenly Robert and Sharon decided that Fred and I would be perfect for each other. Fred and I fell in love on our first date. We were married in January, 1967. Sharon and Roman were married a year later, in January, 1968. My baby, Amanda Tate, was born March 16, 1969. And five weeks later, Fred and I started to have serious problems.
"Although Sharon was in Europe at the time, she heard about Freddie and me. So when she came home, just three weeks before she died, Sharon called Freddie and invited him to come up to her house. He went over and she talked to him. That was Sharon. She was always going out on a limb for everyone. Everyone but herself.
"There was an ethereal quality about her. She had this thing I sometimes wished I'd had, even though I knew that eventually it might be bad for me. Do you understand? She had this kind of beauty and fragility, and you just knew she was bound to get hurt because of it. But still you couldn't help but admiring that quality in her. She was just such a special person.
"Early on the night she was murdered, my phone rang. It was Sharon. She asked me to come over. I told her I couldn't, that I was having a few people in for dinner. Then she said, 'Can I come over to your house?' I said, sure, of course, come on over. But a little while later she called and said she wasn't coming. She was too tired, she said. She'd decided just to go over to a local drive-in and get a hamburger. I told her that was silly. In the time it took her to drive to the restaurant she could come over to my place. And I asked her to spend the night. But Sharon said no. She had to do her hair. She thought she'd better stay home. She was so lonely, she said, she missed Roman and she was so tired. She decided not to come.
"The next morning my phone rang.
"It was a girlfriend of mine named Mary Ann Gordon calling. She had met Sharon and she knew how close we were. She just said, 'How are you?' But I could tell she had been crying. I said, 'I'm fine. What's the matter?' She couldn't talk. She handed the phone to her boyfriend. And he told me.
"I couldn't believe it. I just hung up and I was totally in shock.
"Fred and I went to the funeral together. When the day was over, we talked about our problems and discovered that they were nothing compared with our love for each other. Without saying it in so many words, both of us realized how precious life together was. And how precious our baby was to us. It was Sharon's death which brought us closer. It was almost as if, in death, she was telling us all how much it meant to be able to live.
"I never really stopped to think about it until now, but for the past six years so many good things have happened to me were because of my friendship with Sharon. She was always there. When I went to the hospital to have the baby, Sharon was the first person to come see me. She was so thrilled when I asked her to be the godmother and when she knew the baby's middle name was for her.
"And when I got home, Sharon sent so many things for the baby. Come, I'll show you." Sheliah took me into Amanda Tate's nursery. She pointed to the mobile over the crib, a big candy clown standing on a tiny white table, a stuffed dog. "There's just so much of Sharon here." She opened the bottom drawer of the baby's dresser and pulled out a tiny yellow-flowered outfit. She took it. 'See it has bells on it that jingle. Sharon brought that over just two weeks ago. She got it for the baby in Europe.
"The same day she brought the baby's dress, she came loaded down with swatches of fabrics. She was decorating her own baby's nursery. She wanted me to look at the colors she had picked out. She had selected red, white and blue.
"She was just so anxious that everything be right for her baby. That's all she talked about. She used to kid about it. She's say, 'Won't it be terrible if the baby is born with my brains and Roman's looks!' Then we'd giggle"
The red, white and blue nursery colors reminded this reporter of reading about the murder scene and how there was an American flag draped over Sharon's sofa. I asked about it. Sheliah nodded. "Yes, it's true, there was a flag draped over the back of the sofa. It had been there ever since Voityck and Gibby (Abigail Folger) moved in. It belonged to them. Whenever I went over to Sharon's and I'd see the flag there, I'd tell her it wasn't right. She'd nod and say she knew, but that Gibby and Voityck thought it was funny.
"That was Sharon. She knew that the others were making fun of the flag, of the establishment. She didn't go along with it, but felt she might hurt them if she took it away.
"That's what I mean about Sharon being so impressionable, so vulnerable, so easily swayed. She'd just accept people for what they were. She got involved with some very odd types because she thought she could help them. But all the while it was Sharon herself who needed the help.
"You know, in just the last few months Sharon was beginning to come into her own. She never cared about being beautiful. She never even really cared about acting. She just wanted to love and be loved. And have her baby.
"I know that if she'd lived and had the baby everything would have been different for her. Because that is what Sharon really wanted. She was just a little girl from Texas who was so incredibly beautiful that she got swept up in all of the Hollywood nonsense. But all she ever wanted was what every woman wants - a man to love and a baby of her own.
"I can't believe that the murderers knew her. To know Sharon, to really know her, was to love her. There is just no way that anyone who knew her could have hurt her so."
Sheliah picked up little Amanda Tate and walked me to the door. She hugged her baby tight. "You know, Wende Mitchum has a little baby, and I have Amanda, and all Sharon was waiting for was the day when the three of us could bring our babies up together. They would have been friends, close friends. Just like we were."