Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Vintage Article and Interview with Sharon Tate & More Tragedy to Add to Polanski's Life

Lately, I have been trying to contact people who knew Sharon but lately everyone has been busy.  So I decided to find some vintage interviews with Sharon.  Hopefully, they will all be new.  I do not remember seeing this article before. (Please excuse the headline):

Sharon Stalked by Death on Screen and Off  by Norma Lee Browning

Chicago Tribune August 17, 1969

Hollywood--I remember it as if it were yesterday--the day I met Sharon Tate.  She was standing beside a swimming pool on a high cliffsite overlooking Malibu Beach clad in a beige mini-bikini that almost matched her olive skin coloring and emphazised her voluptuously statuesque figure.

It was the location for a movie called "Don't Make Waves."  And it didn't.  It bombed.  But it wasn't Sharon Tate's fault.

Sharon had appeared on the Hollywood scene seemingly out of nowhere to share top billing with Tony Curtis and Claudia Cardinale in the movie, which was a Marty Ransohoff production.  Miss Cardinale is quite a dish herself, but it was Miss Tate, the newcomer, who was drawing the stares--and through no deliberate effort on her part.  She wasn't flirting or flaunting.  She seemed quiet, reserved, intent on her work. 

Then, at lunch break, I met her lunch in her trailor dressing room.  Facing her at close range across the small dinette table, I was impressed but also surprised at the astonishing beauty on her face.   It was a delicate, fragile beauty; her long ash blonde hair, her enormous hazel eyes and thick dark lashes gave her an ethereal look that somehow didn't fit her bikini-sexpot image. 

She had a slow smile, and there was a wistfulness about her when she talked.  "People are calling me an instant star," she said.  "But it really isn't true.  Mr. Ransohoff discovered me three years ago.  He's been grooming me for stardom.  You know, the Cinderella bit, like in the old Hollywood days. 

"I always wanted to be an actress but my parents disapproved.  People kept telling me I should be in movies and I really wanted to.  But I never thought it would happen to me the way it did."

The way it happened was fast.  Despite her parents disapproval, she sneaked out one day and auditioned for a small part in a Ransohoff TV Series called "Petticoat Junction" when the great man himself walked by.  And just like that he signed her to a seven year contract. 

 Ransohoff molded the young inexperienced girl to fit the sexpot image he had in mind.  Sharon had no choice but to go along with the producer who wanted to play god his way--even though it cost him half a million dollars. 

After 30 months of training, he shipped her off to London to star in a disaster, "13" with Deborah Kerr and David Niven.  And when I met her, he has just whistled her back to "Waves," another flop.

The last scene I watched at Malibu involved Sharon and Tony Curtis doing a dangerous sky diving scene into the swimming pool.  Sharon insisted on doing the stunt herself instead of a stunt girl.  There was one take when something went amiss; Sharon got trapped under water and almost didn't come up. There was slight panic on the set.  First aid was summoned.  Sharon was fished out.  She was O. K.--and she still insisted on doing the rest of the takes herself instead of using a stunt girl.  I remember thinking then, Wow!  That girl's got guts!

The next time I saw Sharon was during the maiden cruise of the M. V. Princess Italia, where a series of special previews of "Valley of the Dolls" was held all the way from Venice, Italy, via Acapulco to Los Angeles.  In "Dolls," as everyone knows by now, Sharon played the role of Jennifer, a sex goddess who was basically lonely beneath all the glamour, who for awhile, was reduced to doing nude movies to support an invalid husband and who had a tragic death at the end. 

I asked Sharon how she felt about being a part of such a controversial movie.  "I think Jennifer had soul," she said. "I thought she was the most interesting character in both the film and the book.  There are many Jennifers in the world."

And I remember thinking that Sharon reminded me a little of Jennifer.

It was only a few months after the cruise that Sharon came to my home in Bel Air for a photo interview session.  She was now Mrs. Roman Polanski which complicated her life a lot.  She still had two years left on her contract with Ransohoff.  He had given her as a loan out to 20th Century Fox for "Dolls," who wasn't on speaking terms with Polanski.  The two had a falling out over a monster (in more ways than one) movie that the Polish boy wonder had directed for Ransohoff.  It was called "The Vampire Killers" and it starred Sharon.  In fact, that's the movie that brought Sharon and Polanski together.  When Ransohoff whacked 20 minutes off the picture without telling Polanski, the little director was livid.  Some say it was Polanski who convinced Sharon to get rid of the sexpot image that Ransohoff had built.

A few months later word quietly got around that Sharon had bought the remainder of her contract from Ransohoff for an estimated $200,000.  And the week after Columbia announced her as one of Dean Martin's co-stars in "The Wrecking Crew," a Matt Helm picture.  That one came and went too.  If you happened to see it, you know that Sharon played a beautiful, sexy babe who eventually get killed *(See note below).  But insiders said that the only reason Sharon took the role was to get the loot to start repaying Ransohoff.  And they said that Polanski was calling the shots now.

"Roman is such a beautiful, mad human being," she told me.  "Sometimes things are difficult, sometimes good.  But it makes life twice as interesting."

The Polanskis returned to Europe this year.  Sharon made a movie in Rome with Vittorio Gassman and Polanski was working on the script for his next movie, "The Day of the Dolphin."  Word came back from Rome that the Italians adored Sharon.  Then we heard that Sharon and Roman were expecting a baby in September.  And the latest rumors were they were having marriage problems because Polanski had straying eyes.

Sharon Tate was a soft-spoken, sensitive girl--the kind of girl who was easily molded by the two strong men in her life, Ransohoff and Polanski.  She was said to be virtually enslaved by Polanski, who exerted a Svengali-like influence on her. 

And both onscreen and off her life seemed to be uncommonly stalked by death.  She had two by barely visible small scars, on her cheek and her forehead, reminders of two car accidents in which she narrowly missed death. 

There was often a sad, farway look in those big, big eyes of hers. 

We'll never know if Sharon Tate would have become the real actress that she wanted to be.  She was never given the chance--not by Hollywood producers nor by life.

*Note:  Sharon did not die in "The Wrecking Crew."  As a matter of fact, the filmmakers were so happy with her that they wanted to make another Matt Helm picture with her called "The Ravengers."

In addition, I thought the scar on her cheek came from a accident when she was a child. 

As an interesting sideline to this article, there is a photo (sorry it is one of those very grainy black and white photos that you can barely make out) in the report showing Sharon setting on the terrace of Norma Lee Brownings home.  Apparently, the photo shoot was done by none other than her husband, Russell Ogg, who has since passed away.   Browning herself passed away at 86, in Palm Springs, Calif., after being hospitalized with pneumonia in 2001.

However, the husband and wife team did write a very interesting account of Ogg's problems with severe diabetes.  The book is called "He Saw a Hummingbird."  Here is an overview:

Despite severe diabetes, Russell Ogg was a successful photographer who traveled worldwide with his wife, journalist Norma Lee Browning. He's always been able to cope with anything, but when diabetes began to rob him of his sight, "it was like a violinist losing his fingers."

When Norma Lee saw him sitting day after day on the patio of their home in Palm Springs, slumped in despair, his sightless eyes fixed on nothing, she too became depressed. But a miracle was about to happen.

Then suddenly a red hummingbird appeared that changed their lives.

Norma Lee frankly describes her doubts and the errors she made in identifying the birds her husband tried to photograph. She also concludes, from her close observation of the hummers, that "the experts" are wrong on many counts.

But the miracle that provides the heart-warming conclusion to this unusual story involves Russell Ogg's eyesight. His sight improved. His eye doctor said he saw better than it was possible for him to see. "There is no way to explain medically how he does it ... his photographs tell us something about the magnificence of man."

His inspiring story is a testament to human courage and hope.

More on Polanski as this writer shows by saying: "No matter what happens with his case, it is certain Polanski will, once again, not be able to avoid traumatic events."  See the full article here:

Roman’s holiday inevitably coming to a close

By Christopher Byars

Academy Award-winning film director Roman Polanski has had a turbulent life, and that’s not considering the last 31 years he has been living as a fugitive of California state law.

Polanski’s troubles started long before he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and subsequently fled the United States a year later to live in exile in France. He’s had to endure many traumatic events, including his mother’s death at the hands of the Nazis, his escape from a concentration camp and the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by the Manson Family in 1969.

The director, whose films include Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby was finally arrested in Zurich, Switzerland on Sept. 26 for unlawful sex with a minor — a criminal charge he admitted to years ago — while on his way to attend an award ceremony.

It appears now, after his prolonged arrest, that Polanski may indeed come face-to-face with the trouble he has been avoiding for decades; he may be extradited to Los Angeles, where he will face charges of statutory rape.

In the years since the rape took place, the victim, Samantha Geimer, reached a private settlement with the director and vocalized her wishes that all charges against Polanski be dropped.

This stipulation, as well as the time period in which the director has been living and working as a fugitive, has prompted quite a debate over exactly how Polanski’s case should be handled. As a result, the director has many supporters, but also a great deal who oppose him.

Several prominent Hollywood figures such as Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein have all aligned in protest, which includes the signing of a petition that states, “Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision.”

Hollywood is not the only outlet expressing concern and support for Polanski. Members of the French and Polish governments have also made their defense of the director quite prominent. Polanski’s colleagues and admirers have stressed the notion of his arrest as a deliberate attack on the artist that should, after more than 30 years, be put to rest.

The director’s opposition certainly does not have the overwhelming star power that his defense does, but it is making just as much noise as Polanski’s supporters.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which issued the warrant for Polanski’s arrest, as well as many feminist groups and several Hollywood players — most of who have stayed somewhat silent in their opinions — are among many who seek justice for the crime Polanski committed years ago.

Many believe the overall debate merely concerns the treatment of Polanski now and during the last 30 years, with no regard for the crime he committed. The crime itself has been taken aside to make room for the director’s reputation and presence around the world. It is this very fact that many who oppose Polanski find utterly disturbing.

While Hollywood and other European filmmakers believe the charges to be nothing more than “a so-called crime,” according to Weinstein, many others believe the director’s possible acquittal to be a blatant disregard of moral values and established laws.

The basic concern: How far can celebrities go to avoid legal incrimination? Many see a dismissal of Polanski’s charges as a solidification of the power of celebrity.

The troubling part is that this heated debated may be difficult to put to rest. The US Department of Justice has up to 60 days to request an extradition and, if Polanski refuses, the legal proceedings could easily continue for months.

He has continued to direct films, most notably 2002’s The Pianist, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director. He did not attend the ceremony, but still received a modest-sized standing ovation.

He also has a new film in production, but its future, like Polanski’s, is also now very uncertain.

As one side asks why now, after 30 years, others express satisfaction for an arrest finally taking place. No matter what happens with his case, it is certain Polanski will, once again, not be able to avoid traumatic events.

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