Saturday, August 15, 2009

Back to the Garden: the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock Part One

It was forty years ago today that the single, most famous musical festival of all time began. The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, more simply known as "Woodstock," featured thirty two acts, performing everything from folk music (Joan Baez) to Hindustani classical music (Ravi Shankar) to power pop (The Who) to psychedelia (Jefferson Airplane). It would become not only the best known music festival of all time, but a seminal event in the Baby Boom generation and in the annals of rock 'n' roll as well.

The Woodstock Music & Art Fair originated with four young men, the oldest of whom was only 26 in 1969. John Roberts was an heir to the Block Drug fortune (the company that originally made Poli-Grip). Joel Rosenman was a young graduate from Yale. The two had met in 1966 and swiftly became friends. Sharing an apartment in New York City, they became business partners with the goal of becoming venture capitalists. It was in March 1968 that they took an ad out in the Wall Street Journal that read, "Young Men With Unlimited Capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions." It was this ad that attracted the attention of another pair of young men: Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang.

Artie Kornfield had been signed to a recording contract when he was only 16, and had gone onto write such songs as "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan and Dean, "The Pied Piper" by The Changin' Times (of which Kornfield was a member--the song was later covered by Crispian St. Peters), and "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" by The Cowsills, among others. When he was only 21 he became the youngest vice president at Capitol Records. He met Michael Lang in 1968 when Lang was managing the band Train. Among his achievements, Lang had co-produced the Miami Pop Festival in 1968 with Mel Lawrence. Kornfield and Lang decided to establish a state of the art recording studio near the small town of Woodstock, New York, an area where such artists as Bob Dylan, The Band, Jimi Hendrix, and Van Morrison lived. There is some disagreement as to who actually developed the idea for a music festival. Roberts and Rosenman insist that Kornfield and Lang simply wanted a party as publicity for heir proposed studio. Lang and Kornfield insist Woodstock was always planned as a music festival. Either way, they eventually planned a rock concert for around 50,000 people. It was in March 1968 that they formed Woodstock Ventures, in which each held 25%.

Of course, holding a music festival meant also finding somewhere to hold it. As the name of the festival, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, indicates, it was originally going to be held in the unincorporated village of Woodstock, New York. Despite a long history as an art colony and having been home to musicians ranging from jazz legend Thelonious Monk to Bob Dylan, Woodstock was heavily resistant to the idea of a music festival taking place there. Others sites were considered, with the 300 acre Mills Industrial Park in Walkill, New York being chosen. Its advantages were that it already had access to electricity and water. It was also zoned for concerts and cultural exhibitions, in addition to industry. The Walkill City Council gave their approval to holding a music festival there. Michael Lang was none too happy with the site, and continued to look elsewhere. There were also those in the Walkill City Council who were none too happy with the idea of 50,000 people descending upon their town.

In the meantime Woodstock Ventures set about publicising the music festival. They developed the slogan "Three Days of Peace and Music." Artist Arnold Skolnick developed the famous Woodstock image of a dove sitting on a guitar. By April 1968 ads were running in such publications as Rolling Stone and The Village Voice. By May ads were running in the more mainstream press, including The New York Times and The Times Herald-Record.

Central to Woodstock's success would be the performers. Woodstock Ventures then began seeking out the biggest performers in rock music. Many acts declined to play at Woodstock. The Doors cancelled at the last moment, perhaps due to Jim Morrison's dislike for performing big, outdoors concerts. Led Zeppelin declined, as their manager Peter Grant figured they would be viewed simply as another band on the bill. The Byrds declined as they thought that Woodstock would be no different from other music festivals (they later regretted their decision). Bob Dylan's son fell ill, so he was not able to perform. The Moody Blues decided to play in Paris instead.

Fortunately for Woodstock Ventures, they were finally able to attract big name performers, but only for what would then be considered large amounts of money. The first big act they signed was Jefferson Airplane, for the then unheard of amount of $12,000. The Who signed for $12,500. Credence Clearwater Revival signed for $11,500. In the end Woodstock Ventures spent $180,000 on performers.

While Woodstock Ventures now had several big acts lined up, it soon developed that they were in danger of losing their site for the music festival. After the ads for the festival had appeared in The New York Times and The Times Herald-Record, it became apparent to the residents of Wallkill that the Woodstock Music & Art Fair was going to be a very large, rock festival. This did not sit at all well with the small, rural town. To satisfy the locals, Woodstock Ventures had to hire Wes Pomeroy, formerly with the Department of Justice, to head security, as well as a minister, Reverand Donald Ganoung, to help with the townspeople.

Naturally, Woodstock Ventures wanted a movie made of the festival. They had some difficulty interesting the major studios in such a project. In 1968 the film Monterey Pop, made about the music festival of the same name, had bombed at the box office. Fortunately, Artie Kornfield was finally able to interest Warner Brothers executive Fred Weintraub, who gave Kornfield $100,000 to make the film. Michael Wadleigh, a cinematographer on indie films, was set to direct the documentary.

While Woodstock Ventures already had the performers in place, arrangements for the sound system made, and plans for the documentary film in place, the town of Wallkill became increasingly hostile to the idea of the festival. From the beginning, residents had complained about the festival to Howard Mills, owner of the Mills Industrial Park. Eventually, he began getting threatening calls (sadly, the culprits were never caught). It was on July, 15, 1969 that the Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals put an end to Woodstock being held at the Mills Industrial Park. It seemed that two weeks earlier the Wallkill city council had passed a law forbidding any gathering of more than 5,000 people. The city denied that the ordnance was meant to kill the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

With only weeks to go before the Woodstock Music & Art Fair was scheduled, Woodstock Ventures had to find another site fast. Fortunately, they found one in the form of Max Yasgur's dairy farm near Bethel, New York. Max Yasgur was the last person many would expect to be associated with the counterculture. He was a hard working, honest man who was nearly fifty years old. It was perhaps because of his integrity that he saw what the people of Wallkill had done to Woodstock Ventures as an injustice. Although initially hesitant, he offered a cleared alfalfa field for the festival's use. He was paid $75,000 for the use of his field. Ultimately, Woodstock Ventures would have to pay another $25,000 for the use of land surrounding that of Yasgur.

As might be expected, there was resistance from the city of Bethel, despite Max Yasgur's reputation in the community. Many in Bethel shared the same fears that the people of Wallkill had. A petition circulated around the town against the festival received over 800 signatures. Allegedly, one prominent resident of Bethel even tried to solicit a bribe from Woodstock Ventures to see that the festival took place. It was at this point that Max Yasgur became more than the festival's landlord; he became its champion. Despite threats of boycotts of his milk products, Yasgur fought to insure the Woodstock Music & Art Fair would take place. He quieted the fears of those Bethel residents he could and ignored the rest. Eventually his respect for the people behind Woodstock became such that he appeared before the gathered festival goers himself with the opening words, "I am a farmer...," making his now famous speech in which he hailed the festival as a triumph. In the end, Max Yasgur, the hard working farmer from Sullivan County, had become a champion of the counterculture.

While there were those in Bethel, New York who were opposed to the festival, this was hardly true of the entire town. Then President of the Bethel Businessman's Association, Ken Van Loan thought the Woodstock Music & Art Fair could provide a much needed boost to the local economy. In fact, the Bethel Businessman's Association voted on July 28, 1969 to support the festival. While there were those who opposed the festival, it seems that the town of Bethel, New York was altogether much more receptive to the idea than Wallkill had been.

Regardless of how the town of Bethel, New York felt, by August the Woodstock Art & Music Fair had become inevitable. At that point even it seemed that even its promoters could not stop it. In fact, it seems likely that even the promoters were not prepared for what ultimately unfolded. While two weeks before the festival 180,000 tickets had already been sold, it seemed that many, many more people would be in attendance. Cars began arriving at the site of Woodstock as early as August 12. By Thursday afternoon, there were 25,000 people there. And more were coming. A full 24 hours before the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was set to begin, a traffic jam had developed on Route 17B leading to the site. At times the traffic jam extended as far as twenty miles. Many simply abandoned their cars. The traffic jam prevented a few people who had wanted to attend the festival from doing so. It also made it very difficult for anyone to get out of Bethel, New York.

The traffic jam was as much of a headache for Woodstock Ventures as it was the festival goers and the residents of Bethel. In order to get both artists and much needed supplies to the site, the festival's promoters had to rely on helicopters. In fact, the traffic jam would even force a change in the Woodstock Music & Art Fair's bill. Psychedelic band Sweetwater were the first artists set to perform at the festival. Unfortunately, the traffic jam caused them to be late. Very late. Folk guitarist Richie Havens went on first instead, playing for a full three hours.

The sheer number of people attending Woodstock would also create another sort of problem. It was only on Friday morning that Michael Lang realised there were no ticket booths. While there were to be ticket booths in place, the traffic jam made it far too difficult to put them in position. Without the ticket booths in place, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair made no money whatsoever. In effect, it became the biggest free concert of all time. This was complicated by Abbie Hoffman and the Youth International Party (the "Yippies"), who had set up what they called "Movement City." There the Yippies and other left leaning groups could distribute literature and hold workshops. Among other things, Hoffman urged festival goers not to pay for tickets! Allegedly the anarchist collective Up Against the Wall Mother******* cut the fence at Woodstock to further encourage people to attend for free. As it was, the sheer number of people who attended Woodstock made it impossible for anyone to collect tickets. There were simply too many people.

Indeed, complaints about the large number of people gathered at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair even reached Governor Nelson Rockefeller. John Roberts and Joel Rosenman were even receptive to the site being declared a disaster area; such a declaration would limit the liability of Woodstock Ventures in lawsuits. In the end, it was decided that declaring Woodstock a disaster area would not be a good idea. It would mean bringing in the National Guard, opening up the possibility of armed confrontation, not something desirable only a year after the debacle of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Additional security was provided in the form of 20 Rockland County deputies mounted on horseback. Security was already being provided by Wavy Gravy and his fellow members of the Hog Farm Collective, as well as a few New York City police officers. The NYPD had warned officers that anyone taking part in the festival would be subject to censure. For that reason, nearly every NYPD officer who worked security at Woodstock did so under an assumed name.

The sheer numbers of people gathered at Woodstock would also give Sullivan County a chance to show what good people lived there. When residents of the county heard that there was not enough food at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, members of the Monticello Community Jewish Centre set to work making sandwiches, using 200 loaves of bread, 40 pounds of cold cuts, and two gallons of pickles. Not only food, but medical supplies and physicians were flown in by helicopter.

In the end, around 500,000 people would attend the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. Woodstock Ventures had only expected 200,000. With a half million people in attendance, in conditions that would be less than desirable, one would have expected catastrophic consequences. Amazingly enough, none came to pass. The Woodstock Music & Art Fair would unfold without any incidents of violence, let alone a riot.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Late, Great Les Paul

Les Paul, the virtuoso guitarist and technical innovator, died today at the age of 94. The cause was complications from pneumonia. Paul may have developed the first solid body, electric guitar (independently Leo Fender was working on his own solid body, electric guitar at the time).

Les Paul was born Lester William Polsfuss on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. As a child his piano teacher wrote to his mother that young Lester would never learn music. Defying his piano teacher's prediction, Paul had learned harmonica, guitar, and banjo by the time he was in his teens. In fact, Paul built his first electrically amplified guitar when he was only ten years old, by opening the back of an acoustic guitar and putting the pickup from a cannibalised Victrola inside.

He began his career playing professionally and semi-professionally as a country music guitarist at age 13. When he was 17 he was playing with Rube Tronson's Texas Cowboys. It was not long afterwards that he dropped out of school to pursue music as a career. He joined Wolverton's Radio Band on KMOX in St. Louis, before moving onto WLS and later WJJD, where he led the house band, in Chicago. It was in 1936 that Les Paul's first records released, one under his stage name of Rhubarb Red, the other as an accompanist for blues singer Georgia White. It was also in 1936 that he formed the Les Paul Trio and moved to New York City. He became a regular on Fred Waring’s radio show from 1938 to 1941.

It was around 1940 or 1941 that Les Paul invented his electric guitar. It was that year that he created "The Log," a wooden board with a guitar neck, with strings and two pickups attached. It is believed to be the first solid body electric guitar, or at least one of the first solid body electric guitars. Because of its unusual appearance, Paul hid The Log within the body of a standard looking guitar.

Les Paul was draughted in 1941. He served in the Armed Forces Radio Service, where he played with such singers as Kate Smith and Rudy Vallee, among others. After leaving the service, Paul took a job at NBC Radio in Los Angeles as a staff musician. The Les Paul Trio toured with the Andrews Sisters, Nat King Cole, and Bing Crosby. It was Crosby who told Paul that he should build his own recording studio. Paul then built his own studio in his garage. It was there that Paul made some of his biggest innovations to recording. He learned that in changing the speed of a recording, he could alter the very nature of that recording. He also invented the recording technique of multi-tracking, through recording a track, then recording himself playing along with that track. He used his multi-tracking technique on the song "Lover (When You're Near Me)," on which Les Paul played every single instrument. It was the first time multi-tracking was used on a song. By the late Fifties, Paul would invent the first eight track, multitrack recorder. Les Paul also developed the technique of reverb, used to great effect by many rock artists over the years.

It was in 1947 that Les Paul partnered with Colleen Summers, a former singer with Gene Autry's band, re-naming her "Mary Ford (a name he simply got out of a phone book). The two would marry in 1949. It was in 1950 that Les Paul and Mary Ford would have their first hits, the biggest of which may have been "How High the Moon." "How High the Moon" took full advantage of Paul's multitracking techniques, with Ford's vocal double tracked so that she was essentially singing harmony with herself. It was also in 1950 that the radio show The Les Paul Show, debuted. It featured Les Paul himself, Mary Ford, and rhythm guitarist Eddie Stapleton. The radio show was recorded in the home of Les Paul and Mary Ford. A syndicated version of the show, Les Paul and Mary Ford at Home, which ran for seven years in the Fifties. It was also recorded in the home of Les Paul and Mary Ford. The two divorced in 1964.

It was in the early Fifties that Gibson Guitar Corporation asked Les Paul to design the Les Paul guitar. The first Les Paul guitars went on sale in 1952, and variants have been sold ever since. According to Gibson, the Les Paul Standard has not changed since 1958. Over the years the Les Paul guitar has been used by such artists as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, and many others.

Les Paul continued to record albums throughout the years, including two albums with Chet Atkins and his final album, American Made, World Played (which included appearances by Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Joe Perry, Keith Richards, and Sting). He performed regularly at jazz festivals throughout the Eighties. In 1983 he started playing weekly at Fat Tuesday's, a jazz club in New York City. When Fat Tuesday's closed in 1995, he started playing weekly at Iridium. He made his last performance there in June.

An argument could be made that Les Paul was the most influential guitarist of all time. It is not simply that he was a guitar virtuoso, but that he perhaps innovated more recording techniques than any other human being in history. Besides the solid body, electric guitar, he also developed multitracking, overdubbing, multitrack tape recorders, and reverb. Because of this there is no recording artist alive who does not owe a debt of gratitude to Les Paul. That he was also an incredible guitar player made him that much more great.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Folk Singer Mike Seeger Passes On

Folk singer and music historian Mike Seeger passed on August 7 at the age of 75. He was the half brother of folk singer Pete Seeger. The cause was multiple myeloma.

Mike Seeger was born on August 15, 1933 in New York City. His parents were ethnomusicologist and composer Charles Seeger and his mother modernist composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. In 1936 the Seeger family moved to Washington D.C., after Charles Seeger took a position within Roosevelt's Work Progress Administration. As a child Mike Seeger was exposed to such personages as Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, John and Alan Lomax, and others. At age 18 Seeger started teaching himself various stringed instruments. At 20, like much of the Seeger family, Mike Seeger began recording songs by traditional musician on a tape recorder.

It was in 1958 that Mike Seeger founded the New Lost City Ramblers with John Cohen, and Tom Paley. The New Lost City Ramblers would be pivotal in the revival of old-time music in the United States. Alongside fellow folk group The Kingston Trio, they are also the longest running music group which still performed. Over the years they would release nearly thirty albums. Mike Seeger also recorded separately from The New Lost City Ramblers, releasing several albums on his own.

Mike Seeger was also discovered various folk musicians. Among them were Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten (best known for the song "Freight Train") and bluegrass performer Hazel Dickens, . He also persuaded old time music performer Lesley Riddle to come out of retirement in 1965. It was also in the same decade that he reunited the McGee Brothers.

Through both performing and recording the songs of traditional musicians, Mike Seeger was pivotal in the folk music revival of the late Fifties and early Sixties. He could play a number of different instruments, including guitar, fiddle, banjo, harmonica, dulcimer, mandolin, and mouth harp. He influenced several musicians, including Bob Dylan.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Devil's Business: The Murder of Sharon Tate

The summer of 1969 is a pivotal one in my childhood. It is from that summer, when I was only six years old, from which I have my first clear memories of celebrities dying. The first was Judy Garland, with whom I was familiar from The Wizard of Oz (in fact, I thought she was still only 16 years old). She died on June 22, 1969. The second was Sharon Tate.

My memories of Sharon Tate's death are much less clear than those of Judy Garland's death. In fact, I only remember that most of the adults around me were discussing the murder of an actress and several others by some cult in California. This is not to say that I was not aware of who Sharon Tate was. I was much too young to have seen any of her movies, but I did know her as secretary Janet Trego on The Beverly Hillbillies. In fact, as Janet Trego, Sharon Tate numbered among the crushes of my early childhood.

As I grew older the details of that horrible night on August 9, 1969 became clearer to me. The murders were the work of one Charles Manson and members of his commune/cult of personality known as The Family. I also learned that Sharon Tate was much more than Miss Trego on The Beverly Hillbillies, as I actually saw many of her films. When in my teens I read the book Helter Skelter, about the murders and the ensuing trial, by Vincent Bugliosi, the man who prosecuted Manson and his Family, and writer Curt Gentry. It was the most horrifying book I have ever read. Much of its imagery would haunt me for years. This was not simply due to the sheer gruesomeness of the crimes, but the fact that one of my childhood crushes, Sharon Tate, had been one of the victims.

Sadly, it is as a victim of Charles Manson for which Sharon Tate is best remembered and not her career as an actress. In 1969, while pregnant with her first child (with husband Roman Polanski), her career was only beginning. She had already appeared in major parts in films such as The Fearless Vampire Killers, Valley of the Dolls, and The Wrecking Crew. She was very much an actress whose star was on the rise.

Sharon Tate was born on January 24, 1943 in Dallas, Texas. Her father was a military officer, so her family moved frequently. By the time she was sixteen she had already lived in several different cities. While young she had an interest in psychiatry, but destiny would lead her elsewhere. It was while her father was stationed in Italy that Tate would be drawn into acting. The movie Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man was being filmed in Verona. Sharon Tate was hired as an extra on the film, on which she met actor Richard Beymer. It was Beymer who advised her to go into acting. She would also appear as an extra in the movie Barrabas.

It was in 1962 that Sharon Tate moved to Los Angeles with the intent of pursuing a career in film. She got in touch with Hal Gefsky, the agent to actor Richard Beymer. Gefsky managed to find her work in television commercials, such as those for Chevrolet and Santa Fe cigarettes. She also continued modelling, appearing in print ads. Eventually Tate was cast in the role of Billie Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction, although she would never play the part. Martin Ransohoff, the founder and head of Filmways, Inc. (the company which not only produced Petticoat Junction, but the hit The Beverly Hillbillies as well) thought that bigger things were in Tate's future than being a regular on a sitcom. Sharon Tate was signed to a seven year contract with the company and Ransohoff started grooming her for stardom. She was given training in acting, speech, and dancing. She was also given the recurring role of Janet Trego on The Beverly Hillbillies.

While still playing Miss Trego, Sharon Tate made guest appearances on both Mr. Ed and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. Ransohoff proceeded with Tate's career slowly, not wanting to launch her as a star until she was ready. Tate herself wanted bigger roles than her recurring role on The Beverly Hillbillies and guest appearances on television shows. Ransohoff then sought out the proper vehicle with which to begin Tate's rise to stardom. She was cast in the part of Christian Rudd in The Cincinnati Kid (1965), but was replaced after only a few days by Tuesday Weld. She tried out for the role of Liesl in The Sound of Music, but did not get it as it was thought she looked too old for the part. At last she was cast in a small but significant part in the horror movie Eye of the Devil, released in 1966.

It was in 1966 that Martin Ransohoff was producing a horror movie spoof to be directed by Roman Polanski, fresh from his success with Repulsion. For the role of Sarah, Polanski had wanted to cast Jill St. John, but Ransohoff insisted he should cast Sharon Tate instead. Polanski agreed only after Tate made a screen test, in which she wore a red haired wig. While Polanski would become frustrated with the then inexperienced Sharon Tate, the two eventually grew closer as the film progressed. A romance bloomed between the two. The Fearless Vampire Killers (AKA Dance of the Vampires) would become Tate's first major film role.

Sharon Tate's role in the sex comedy Don't Make Waves would be even more important. She played one of the women romanced by Tony Curtis's character in the film. Tate also became important in the promotion of the film. Several publicity photos for Don't Make Waves featured Tate. In association with the promotion of the film, she was also featured in ads for Coppertone sun tan lotion. Despite all the publicity, Tate was not particularly happy with how Martin Ransohoff was handling her career. She feared that if she did not get better parts, she might well be typecast in the role of blonde bombshell, playing characters not unlike the one she played in Don't Make Waves. She sometimes regarded her beauty as a detriment to her career rather than an asset.

Tate's next movie would not particularly assuage her fears. She was cast in the role of Jennifer North in the movie adaptation of Valley of the Dolls. Valley of the Dolls was a runaway best seller by author Jacqueline Susann--in fact, it was the fastest selling novel of all time for many years. That having been said, Tate not only thought the novel was trashy, but that the movie was as well. The movie itself would be a hit at the box office, but it was also pummelled by critics. In the end it would be regarded as a prime example of Sixties camp. Tate's fears about the film appear to have been well grounded.

Regardless, by the end of 1967 Sharon Tate had four films (Eye of the Devil, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Don't Make Waves, and Valley of the Dolls) to her credit. It was in March of that year that Playboy said of 1967, "This is the year that Sharon Tate happens..." Indeed, while Valley of the Dolls was ravaged by critics, Tate actually received some good notices from critics. What is more the public had at last taken notice of her. It was just as her star was ready to rise that Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski were married on January 20, 1968.

Despite being married to a critically acclaimed director, Sharon Tate wanted to achieve stardom on her own merit. It was because of this that she asked Martin Ransohoff to release her from her contract to Filmways Inc. Ransonoff only agreed on the basis that he receive 25% of her earnings for the next four years. Although the terms were less than desirable, Tate accepted them as it would give her control over her career. Her first film after ending her contract with Martin Ransohoff would be The Wrecking Crew, the fourth and last film featuring Dean Martin as superspy Matt Helm. It was Tate's first comedic role. The Wrecking Crew received uniformly bad reviews upon its release, although Tate received some good remarks from critics on her role. In his review in The New York Times, the only good thing Vincent Canby had to say about the movie was about Tate, "the only nice thing..." in the film. The Hollywood Reporter also gave Tate good marks for her performance.

While many of her films had received bad notices, by 1968 Sharon Tate was believed by many to be Hollywood's next big star. In The Motion Picture Herald's annual poll, Tate came in second only to Lynn Redgrave as the "Star of Tomorrow." She was also nominated for the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer - Female for her role in Valley of the Dolls (she lost to to Katharine Ross for The Graduate) and nominated for the Laurel Award for Female New Face. With her role ready to take off, she took a part in the film 12 + 1 (based on the Russian novel The Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov. It was at this point she learned she was pregnant. It was because of this that she and Roman Polanski sought a larger home, finding it at 10050 Cielo Drive, the former residence of music producer and son of Doris Day, Terry Melcher. Although pregnant and sick much of the time, Tate proceeded with filming 12 + 1 in Europe. She returned to the United States late in the summer of 1969.

It was on the evening of August 8, 1969 that Sharon Tate entertained her friends, Folgers Coffee heir Abigail Folger, actor/writer Wojciech Frykowski, and hair stylist Jay Sebring. Unfortunately, it was also that night that Charles Mason ordered members of his Family to go to "...that house where Melcher used to live..." and to kill everyone there. Charles Manson had met music producer Terry Melcher through Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys. An aspiring musician, Charles Manson had even auditioned for Melcher, who then refused to sign him to a contract. When Manson's violent tendencies became all too clear, both Dennis Wilson and Terry Melcher severed ties with him.

By the time Manson's followers had arrived at 10050 Cielo Drive, it was midnight and the date was August 9, 1969. As the slaughter commenced, when confronted by Frykowski, Manson's right hand man, Tex Watson, simply replied, "I am the devil, and I'm here to do the devil's business." The murders were among the most horrific that the city of Los Angeles had ever seen. Sharon Tate herself, only two weeks from giving birth, was stabbed sixteen times. She was only 26. The murders would dominate the news for weeks to come. The following night Manson's followers murdered Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, although at the time the media made no connection between the two crimes.

In the wake of Sharon Tate's murder, both Valley of the Dolls and The Fearless Vampire Killers were re-released and did quite well at the box office. Strangely enough, some elements of the media would actually attack the character of Sharon Tate and her guests. The tabloids would even go so far as to make false claims about orgies taking place at Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate's residence. Those who knew her (actresses Mia Farrow and Patty Duke among them) were swift to come to Tate's defence. At a press conference Roman Polanski would rail against reporters for their treatment of Sharon Tate following her death.

The Los Angeles Police Department was initially baffled by the murders. In fact, as of August 12, 1969, they had ruled out any links between the murders of Tate and her guest and the murders of the LaBiancas. It was not until December that members of Manson's Family would be arrested for the murders of Sharon Tate and her guests. It would be later that month that the link with the LaBianca murders would be established.

It was on October 7, 1970 that Sharon Tate's final film, 12 + 1, made its debut in Italy. The film was released in the United States on May 1, 1970. Although the film received only a lukewarm review from Variety, Sharon Tate received good marks for her performance.

The trial of Charles Manson and his followers involved in the Tate and LaBianca murders began on June 15, 1970. On January 25, 1971 Manson and his followers were found guilty. It was on April 19, 1971 that they were sentenced to death. It would be in February 1972 that this would be reduced to life in prison when the California Supreme Court temporarily abolished the death penalty. While the death penalty would eventually be re-established in California, that decision did not affect Manson or his cohorts.

Unfortunately, Charles Manson is now more famous than his most famous victim, Sharon Tate. In fact, with the exception of Jack the Ripper, no other murderer has ever had the impact on pop culture which Manson has. Short of Adolph Hitler he may well be the most notorious man of the 20th century. The murders which Manson orchestrated were so grisly, his plot so horrific, that they could not help but become a part of the collective unconscious. Helter Skelter would become the best selling true crime book of all time. There would be films, ranging from documentaries to movies about Manson and the murders. Sickeningly, even some of Charles Manson's songs have been recorded. In effect Charles Manson has become the symbol of evil for our era.

It is then a sad fact that Sharon Tate is perhaps better known as a victim of Charles Manson and his Family than she is for her career as an actress. This certainly should not be the case. While Sharon Tate never really received a chance to fully display her talent, it was readily apparent that she had plenty of it. Even when the films in which she appeared (Valley of the Dolls, The Wrecking Crew, and so on) were less than stellar. Sharon Tate would shine. In her role of Jennifer North in Valley of the Dolls, Sharon Tate was the only actress in that film to come out looking good. Had it not been for her performance as Freya Carlson in The Wrecking Crew, that film may well have been unbearable. Sharon Tate clearly had talent. If not yet a star, Sharon Tate was certainly poised to become one.

It should be noted that not only was Sharon Tate a talented actress, but from all reports she was one of the sweetest, kindest people ever to work in acting. Her friend Sheila Wells once said of Tate, "In the six years that I knew her, she never said an unkind word about anyone." Her co-star on Valley of the Dolls said of Sharon Tate and her role in that film, "Everybody was competitive with everybody on the set. The only one that I felt was above it was Sharon Tate, the sweetest, purest, most open spirit." Tate was active in charities, such as fund raisers for the Los Angeles Theatre of the Deaf.

Sharon Tate would have her own impact on pop culture and even beyond, quite separate from her grisly death. The Fearless Vampire Killers would become a popular cult film. Although critically savaged on its release, Valley of the Dolls would become a camp classic. Although Mattel has never issued an official statement, rumours have persisted over the years that Malibu Barbie was inspired by Sharon Tate's part as Malibu in Don't Make Waves. Curiously, when the doll first came out in 1971, her swimsuit was the same colour as the one Tate had worn in the movie. Her character from The Wrecking Crew, Freya Carlson, inspired the character of Felicity Shagwell in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Currently there is a campaign for Sharon Tate to posthumously receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

When most people think of Sharon Tate today, it is often her gruesome death that comes to mind. She is perhaps better known as a victim of Charles Manson than she is as an actress. To me this is a grave miscarriage of justice. As for myself, when I think of Sharon Tate, I think of her as Janet Trego, the prettiest secretary at the Commerce Bank of Beverly Hills, or as secret agent Freya Carlson in The Wrecking Crew. The simple fact is that Sharon Tate was so much more than the most famous victim of Charles Manson. She was a kind, gentle person with considerable talent who could well have been a major star had she not been murdered. While it is impossible that her name will ever be separated from that of the man who orchestrated her murder, I hope that one day she will be remembered for the talented actress she actually was.