Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Sharon Tate: Recollection" book review and Interview with Author and Tate sister, Debra Tate

Author: Debra Tate
Publication Year: 2014
Pages: 271
Publisher: Running Press
To purchase "Sharon Tate: Recollection", please visit NewSouth Books if in Australian and Running Press if in the USA.

Sharon Tate was an exceptionally rare brand of star. Not only did her image radiate with beauty and glamour, but she could light up any room she stepped into. Those who she met were instantly in awe of her grace, sensitivity and the overwhelming kindness and respect she gave everyone around her. "Sharon Tate: Recollection" by her younger sister, Debra Tate, is the book every Sharon Tate fan has been waiting for. Through many exquisite photographs and loving words by her sister and many of the people who knew her in her short life, the legacy of Sharon Tate as the star, friend and sister is perfectly preserved.

A sister's tribute to a woman who was loved by many, 'Sharon Tate: Recollection" is a coffee table book and illustrated biography. Sharon Marie Tate was born on the 24th January 1943 in Texas  and with her stunning features and natural talent, rose to film stardom and captured the hearts of many. Among her many achievements was being nominated for Most Promising Newcomer at the Golden Globe Awards in 1968. This tribute to Tate contains many never before seen photographs from her family's collection, as well as stills from both her films such as Eye of the Devil, The Fearless Vampire Killers and Valley of the Dolls, and her modelling days. These photos are accompanied throughout the book by memories many have shared about Tate, including recollections by husband, Roman Polanski (who also penned the Forward), Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins, Mia Farrow, Jane Fonda, Yul Brynner and Kirk Douglas.

"Sharon Tate: Recollection" is completely dedicated to the loving memory of Tate. Too often Sharon Tate is remembered just in association with the way she passed away. It is wonderfully refreshing in the way that this book avoids mentioning any of these details and remembers Tate for who she was in life and not the grisly details of her death.  She completed a large body of work in such a short period of time and her drive and talent made her destined for even bigger things. Tate was indeed a beautiful woman, but the book allows the reader to recognise that her beauty was by no means only skin deep. With the combination of the incredible variation of beautiful photographs and the words of praise from those who knew her, the reader gains a clear understanding of who Tate was and indeed starts to feel as though they knew her personally. While there is no mention specifically of Tate's death, there are some saddening recollections which subtly hint at what may have been and the feeling of loss many still feel with her gone. Debra's final recollection of her sister is particularly so, but also sweet and peaceful.

The choices of photographs used in the book (which were also co-edited by Debra's daughter and Sharon's niece, Arieana Tate Mussenden) are wonderful. They not only represent Tate's personality and versatility, but also just how much of a fashion icon she was and still is. Her look is as modern now as it was in the 1960's and the photographs chosen enlighten the reader to this fact. Film lovers will also enjoy stories and candid shots from behind the scenes of Tate's films.

While "Sharon Tate: Recollection" is not a traditional biography in the sense, it allows for the reader to walk alongside Tate as she grows up, finds stardom and marries the man of her dreams. It is an incredibly intimate journey which fans of Sharon Tate will be eternally grateful to Debra Tate for letting them be part of. Like Sharon, "Sharon Tate: Recollection" is eternally exquisite and mesmerising.

Photo by Roman Polanski

We at Movie Critical are extremely grateful and honoured to have been able to talk to author of "Sharon Tate: Recollection" and sister, Debra Tate. Debra currently lives in California and  continues to be an advocate for victim's rights, a cause which her mother, Doris was extremely active in during her lifetime.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions, Debra! Congratulations on such a beautiful book!

Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. I hope to come visit Australia soon.

Was putting together a book for your sister something you had always thought about doing?

Absolutely. I had always wanted to write a book about Sharon, for many reasons. Primarily, I felt it was my obligation to help preserve her considerable photographic legacy, but also to try and redefine how Sharon was remembered.

For many years she had been in the public’s consciousness because of a specific event.....and then I noticed a change. New generations began to appreciate Sharon for who she was. Fan websites started appearing, fashion blogs regularly featured her as a sixties fashion icon, and major celebrities even referenced Sharon as the style inspiration for their magazine editorials and red carpet appearances. Today she is everywhere.

The idea for the book was not to present a traditional biography, but to carefully assemble photographs and pair them with recollections from myself, Sharon's friends, co-stars and work associates, and even Sharon herself. 

There are some incredibly beautiful photos of Sharon in RECOLLECTION. Did all of the photos come from your personal collection?
No, not at all. Of course the younger photos of Sharon came from our family album, but most of the later images came from the photographers themselves. What amazed me on researching for this book was her extraordinary productivity. The immense and diverse body of work in such a relatively brief time. Sharon was photographed by some of the greats of the 20th century,  Richard Avedon, Bert Stern, David Bailey, Milton Greene, Terry O’Neill, Philippe Halsman, Shahrokh Hatami.

I think people today love Sharon for many reasons, her beauty, her sweetness, her style. There was a light about Sharon, almost a 4th dimension if you will, that transcended the limitations of photography. It is almost as if you can see into her soul and know who she was just by looking at her picture. She really captured the essence of the sixties.

Do you have a personal favourite photo you used for the book? If so, why is it your favourite?
I love so many of them, but there is a photo of Sharon laughing on page 247 that I adore. She’s at the premiere of Rosemary’s Baby at the Cannes Film Festival in 1968. I believe Mia Farrow is just off camera. Someone has obviously said or done something that really amused her and every time I look at that photo I can hear her laughter. It’s such a genuine candid moment.
The forward for RECOLLECTION is by your former brother-in-law, Roman Polanski. He must've love the idea of you putting together such a loving tribute to Sharon. What was his reaction when you first told him about the book?
When I first approached Roman about the book, he was a little reserved and asked to see a final version before committing. After I sent him the initial layouts, he saw how unique and positive the book was. A true celebration of Sharon’s life. He was very pleased and promptly sent back his beautiful foreword.
As well as Roman, many of Sharon's friends from her Hollywood days have contributed to RECOLLECTION. Was it a lengthy process in speaking to all these people or did you find everybody very willing to speak about Sharon?

Everyone was so eager to contribute.Jane Fonda, Michelle Phillips, Patty Duke, Bert Stern, Joan Collins, etc. etc. It was wonderful. A few people preferred to keep their memories of Sharon private, and of course you have to respect that.

The photos of you at Cielo Drive in the book are great! In one of them you are wearing one of Sharon's dresses. All little sisters love dressing in their older sister's clothes, but was that one of the perks of having an actress as an older sister that you got to try on some of her extremely fashionable clothes?
You know I was a total tomboy in those days. Still am to a certain degree. I loved dressing up in some of Sharon’s crazy Paco Rabanne and Rudi Gernreich outfits, but I saw them more as Halloween costumes back then (laughs). Today I’m much more appreciative. I actually still have a lot of her vintage couture.
You were only a teenager when Sharon made her way into the spotlight. Was it both exciting and surreal at the same time?

Yes and no. I was much younger than Sharon, so I could never really remember a time when everyone wasn’t making a big fuss about the way she looked. She always seemed destined for stardom – greatness if you will. She worked extraordinarily hard and had a strong work ethic, but her face certainly opened many doors. By the time she became a star it just seemed … right. 
Sharon's most popular film VALLEY OF THE DOLLS wasn't really a film for younger viewers. Did your mum let you watch many of Sharon's films when they were released?
Oh sure. I actually got to watch a little of Valley of the Dolls being filmed at the time at Fox. Truth be told, I was more interested in Planet of the Apes, which was in production at the sound stage next door. I seem to remember the first time I saw Dolls was with Sharon – at a preview screening. She looked so amazing in that film. I will say, if there was one “Sharon Tate” look that most fans seem to adore, it’s her high fashion appearance in Valley of the Dolls – the gowns, the false eyelashes, the hairpieces, the camp. That film seems to become more popular with each passing year. I loved going back to 20th Century Fox, so many years later, to explore their photo archive for the book.

Have you ever seen a film and watched the actress in it play a particular role and thought to yourself that Sharon could have played that role?

Great question ! I remember once watching A Patch of Blue, about the blind girl, and thinking Sharon would have been wonderful in that role. I always felt one of her strongest attributes as an actress was being able to elicit sympathy from an audience, not unlike Marilyn Monroe. As far as fairly recent films, years ago I saw the comedy Overboard with Goldie Hawn on late night television and it reminded me so much of Sharon. I think because she could have played both the aristocratic pampered beauty, as well as the country bumpkin. Sharon proved how great she could be in screwball comedy when she did The Wrecking Crew with Dean Martin.

From what I have read about Sharon in the past and in your book, it seems like she was extremely well liked and such a beautiful soul. She also seems like she always wanted to help other people and was extremely maternal. Are this some of the things you saw in Sharon through your eyes?

There were times when I was a little girl that I almost saw Sharon as a mother figure because of our age difference. By the time I was in my mid-teens our relationship was certainly more sisterly. She was a very maternal person, but in many ways I always felt protective of her. Despite her stardom she remained a vulnerable person, and I was very mindful of making sure she was never hurt.

In RECOLLECTION, you mention how you see Sharon everyday in your daughter, Arieana. That must be a comfort to you and make you proud as a mother and sister to see!

I am very proud of Arieana. She has a strong work ethic and a very defined sense of self. Every now and then I will see Sharon peeking out of Arieana, even in the most subtle of mannerisms. It’s sweet. Today, Arieana is a designer and we are actually collaborating on a Sharon-inspired clothing line. More to come.

You are doing such a wonderful job of carrying on the Tate legacy and following in your mother's footsteps for victims family rights. What can fans of Sharon's and of your book do to help out?

Thank you. Fans can always visit sharontate.net where I keep the world informed about Manson family parole hearings, at which times I need letters of opposition. On a more general note, look after those around you – it has a positive domino effect.

What has been the best part of your journey with RECOLLECTION so far?
Without a doubt meeting Sharon’s fans. I can’t tell you the love and warmth I feel when I meet people at book signings. It’s wonderful.


Movie Critical would like to thank Debra Tate for her time and NewSouth Books and Mouth Public Relations for their help.

Photo courtesy of Photofest

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