Jul 16, 2014

Book Review--Sharon Tate: Recollection

Sharon Tate: Recollection
Debra Tate
Running Press, 2014

Sharon had real talent. She was going to be a big star.
-Deborah Kerr

She had the world at her feet, but never lost touch with who she was, or became blasé about how fortunate she had become. The superficiality of the movie world didn't fool her one bit.
-Claudia Cardinale

I've often wondered what Sharon Tate would have accomplished had she lived longer than 26 years. She was blessed with the most remarkable gifts: jaw dropping beauty, a kindness of heart that gave her useful vulnerability as an actress, and a laid back skill for comedy that brought a wry sparkle to movies like The Wrecking Crew (1966), one of her last screen appearances.

In Sharon Tate: Recollection, the actress's sister Debra has compiled a collection of photos and memories from those who knew her, while adding her own fond reminisces about her famous sibling. It's a much-needed tribute.

It's always frustrated me that the events of Tate's death have so thoroughly overshadowed what she accomplished in the years before. The blossoming actress made an enduring impact, primarily as one of the great beauties of her generation and as a bold fashion influence, but also for her remarkably pure perspective on life and dynamic screen presence.

Recollection is essentially a coffee table book, dominated by photographs. Most of them are from the years Tate was famous, though there's a healthy collection of shots from her childhood. Beautiful even as a baby, she won her first beauty contest while still in diapers. The early photos are of a happy, close military family. These previously unpublished photos, and the memories of those who knew her as a child were fascinating to explore.

Later photos are mix of stills, publicity shots and public appearances, with a sprinkling of private pics. There's also a good gallery of Tate's magazine covers and lots of posters. Many of these are presented beautifully, with lots of full-page images and a clean, simple design.

My only complaint was that several images were arranged so that they spread from a full-page image across to half of the adjoining page. In almost every case where this format was used, I would have rather have seen an uninterrupted image on a full page than a larger, broken one.

The text is light, though poignant. It's presented in an extra large font, which balances nicely with the images. About half of the quotes in Recollection are already widely disseminated across the web and other media. Many are thoughts from people who are now gone, most of all Sharon, but also her mother, costars like Orson Welles and David Niven and admiring friends including Truman Capote and George Harrison. As familiar as some of these sentiments were, I did enjoy seeing them compiled this way.

There were also several short recollections written specially for the book, among them thoughts from friends Jane Fonda, Joan Collins and former costars Patty Duke and Lee Grant. Tate's husband Roman Polanski also contributes a short, bittersweet foreword. It's touching, and at the same time almost tedious, how similar a lot of these memories are. Clearly Tate didn't put a mask on for anyone, because their recollections of a gorgeous, gentle and intelligent woman almost seem to have been agreed upon.

It is that openness and sensitivity that had set Tate on the road to great success. Maybe she looked perfect in a bikini, but she was always more than a body. That she was beginning to transcend that so early in her career is astonishing. In its images and essays, Recollection captures all these facets of Tate, crediting her for how she focused on her craft and the unique way she approached a brutal industry.

As joyful as it can be, Recollection is a tearjerker. There's no way to avoid it. The loss of Sharon Tate is too great. It is impossible not to wonder what could have been. Still, it is above all else a celebration, and one I enjoyed very much.

Many thanks to Running Press for providing a copy of the book for review.

This is a great interview with Tate, in which she is promoting her first film, The Eye of the Devil (1966). You get a great sense of her intelligence and charisma:

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