“Your girlfriend’s dead.”
That’s what Randy’s Mom announced to us on August 10, 1969 –with an odd smile, yet. It was about 11:00 a.m., a Saturday morning, and I was hanging out in Randy’s bedroom listening to his latest LPs (probably something by Joan Baez or Diana Ross). I had just graduated from High School and Randy was already in college. We had been best friends since 1967, and it was the kind of friendship where we completed each other’s sentences and never had a disagreement of any kind because our interests and souls were so in tune. Mainly, we were interested in movies, not only in the current releases but in the stars and the industry that made them. A new exciting crop of stars was rising, too, celebrities who seemed much more hip and in tune with the sixties – stars like Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow – and we were fascinated by them. Directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese were just beginning their careers and even then were remaking “the movies” as we knew them. It was all so incredibly exciting. In particular there were Roman Polanski and his amazingly beautiful wife, Sharon Tate.
Randy and I followed their lives intensely. He was such a film genius, and, for me, she was the only woman who could equal Elizabeth Taylor in beauty. We became so immersed in their glamor and bits of gossip that this was why, on August 10, 1969, Randy’s mother came to announce her terrible message.
We were in total shock, and instantly turned on the television. News reports only said that something had happened in the Benedict Canyon area of the Hollywood Hills, and that five people were dead. We immediately thought that it could only have occurred because of a gas leak or a landslide…maybe a fire.
But then the details of the Manson Family’s butchery came out. There were three horrible events that had occurred in rapid succession that turned me into an adult, i.e. they had stripped away the myths I was currently telling myself – how a second brother in the Kennedy family could be assassinated; that a school mate from my high school could be killed in Viet Nam just weeks after we had graduated, and that a pregnant woman, a movie star, could be stabbed to death in her own living room. Somehow, I truly believed that pregnant women had special guardian angels, that no one could ever be so perverted as to kill a woman who was within two weeks of giving birth.
I grew up fast that summer. So did Randy.
All of these scenes have been going through my head, replayed over and over, as I read “Restless Souls”, a compendium of unfinished biographies written by Doris Tate, Sharon’s lioness of a mother, Paul Tate, the steely army intelligence colonel (who was just a trifle bit weird), and Pattie Tate, the little sister who was only twelve when Sharon was murdered. Apparently the Tates were compelled to write their own stories so that other victim’s families might take heart from their courage, or to simply correct the record. For it turns out that there was another phantom victim in all the tragedy, and that was Sharon’s own reputation. She had participated in Black Masses and orgies, and downed immense quantities of drugs, or so screamed the headlines. The Polanski’s were little better than wealthy hippies, it was said, who let anyone into their home at any hour, just so they could partake in sex games devised by the diminutive Polanski, the maker of weird horror films, and his depraved wife. Somehow Sharon Tate had to be blamed for her own murder. As always, there was something very comforting in conspiracy theories; that somehow the victims had brought their own demise on themselves.
Until now, none of the Tate family’s stories ever saw the light of day; they had been laid aside, probably too painful to finish. Instead they have been compiled – not too cleanly – into one volume, juxtaposed and heavily edited, by writer Alysa Statman and Patti Tate’s daughter, Brie. The result is mesmerizing, if not literary.
Like a rock thrown into a pond, making waves that keep on going and going, washing over distant parts of the pond far removed from the initial turbulence, the crime at Cielo Drive had horrible consequences for everyone concerned. For three years Doris told herself that Sharon was merely away making a movie in Europe. Paul Tate went underground in an ineffective search for Sharon’s killers, then became a recluse that haunted his own family. Patti Tate grew into a scared and shivering adult, convinced that the remnants of the Manson family were out to kill her, too. (Breast cancer killed her instead – another tragedy for that unfortunate family.)
From August 10th until their deaths many years later, Sharon’s murder continued to haunt, bedevil and ruin her family’s peace. Doris ultimately fought back by founding several Victims Family Rights groups, becoming the fierce advocate of her dead daughter, and ensuring that the beasts who had murdered her stayed in prison. “That old bitch” is what the Manson followers called her, and the sobriquet became the greatest joy of her life. But for all of that you can’t forget her anguished cry at Sharon’s coffin – “This can’t be the end!”
There is not much comfort in this book. You do get glimpses, however, that in her mere 26 years of life Sharon had packed a lot of living into it. She was destined for major stardom, yet seemed coolly detached from the entertainment business, far more interested in being a wife and mother. Polanski, whose own mother had been murdered in a concentration camp, had just come around to believing enough in the goodness of life to finally have the courage to welcome a child into the world. And then August 9th happened. He would go on to continuously voice the belief that had he been there that night (he was in London) he could have somehow averted the cataclysm.
The book leaves you with the question about who is luckier – the slain victim or the loved ones who lived on with such gruesome images playing in their head? Instead of “Restless Souls” the book could just as easily have been called “Blighted Lives.”
Do I recommend this book? Yes. Did I like it? Find it well-written? Not particularly. But it was indeed fascinating, even though I found myself unable to read it for long stretches of time.