Sharon Tate was a 1960’s actress and style icon. Ahead of the auction of her estate Newbridge Silverware sat down with Martin Nolan, Executive Director for Julien’s Auctions to discuss the exhibition and their upcoming auction.
NS: Most people know Julien’s for their Icons and Idols auctions of the past – can you tell me a bit about Sharon Tate and how you feel she fits into this company?
MN: Julien’s Auctions are known to work with all the greats in Hollywood and in Rock & Roll. We branch out into pop culture in general, which encompasses street art and now we’re building our sports department for sports legends. Sharon Tate is very special, almost niche, because she lived such a short life. She only did six movies, but her auction is more of a fashion auction than a Hollywood auction because she was a most beautiful model.
She was married to the famous Hollywood actor/director Roman Polanski and they were a power couple, like the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor duo, the Brad and Angelina Jolie, Mary Pickford/Douglas Fairbanks, at that time. She was very popular worldwide, and she really encompassed the swinging sixties, that’s what she represented. She was, I suppose, the US version of Twiggy in the UK.
She really could wear anything and make it look amazing. She loved her miniskirts and that’s very evident from this exhibition and if it was more formal, she knew how to dress for the occasion. She had the “it” factor as her sister Debra would call it, that special inner soul, that quality that you can’t learn – you just have it, it’s a natural thing.
Speaking of natural, I think it was a natural choice for the family to come to Julien’s Auctions. It’s almost 50 years since Sharon passed away, next year there’s three biopics coming out about her – the big movie of course is Quentin Tarantino’s. So that’s going to be major. In fact, the actress that’s playing Sharon (Margot Robbie) borrowed some of the jewellery from our auction to wear, it’s sort of reminding people what Sharon’s legacy is. Not focussing on the negative but focussing on all the amazing achievements that she had in her short life. So the auction is a celebration of this – to show off her fashion, the swinging sixties, the fun – her beautiful image that appeared in 250 magazines in six years, her six movies, her Golden Globe nomination, her red carpet events. It’s wonderful for Julien’s Auctions to be able to bring this collection and share it with the world.
We’re opening here at the Museum of Style Icons in Newbridge in Ireland while half of the exhibition, her more personal wardrobe, is in Santiago, Chile, at the Museo de la Moda which is the museum of fashion – and that exhibition will open on Friday. The family are really excited about the auction because we’re now sharing their sister with the world once again.
NS: You mentioned about her Golden Globe nomination in 1968 and the fact that she came from a military family – not the kind of background you’d expect for a Hollywood star. She left Europe at the age of 17 and went back to America on her own and obviously had big dreams of becoming an actress in Hollywood – what do you think she would have achieved had she lived longer?
MN: She would have been a major star. Firstly, because she had all the natural talents to be great – She had the beauty, she had the physical accoutrements, she was so amazing. She had the drive, she had the discipline of coming from a military family – her father was a colonel in the US Army and they travelled all over the world. So, she had the ambition to want to be great, she talked about taking her artistry in interviews and you can see that in some of the acting books that we have in the auction and here on exhibition. She was reading serious acting books and she always signed her name in those books, that was important to her, to make it hers and to own it and to perfect herself and you can see the improvement in her acting. Valley Of The Dolls was probably her most famous role, and for her to be nominated for a Golden Globe as Hollywood’s Most Promising Newcomer for her performance, really told us that she was going to be huge.
When I’m working with Sharon’s collection I see a lot of similarities with Marilyn Monroe because Marilyn too, was constantly striving to be better, and to be better at the craft of acting. She wasn’t happy with just being an actress, she wanted to be better and was constantly improving, really studying to become better.
NS: George Harrison said after Sharon died, “The word exquisite perfectly sums up this lady... she was smart and not taken in by the shallowness of the industry.” You mentioned Marilyn Monroe there and the similarities between them. Obviously she studied with Lee Strasberg in The Actors Studio and worked very hard and Sharon, like Marilyn was typecast a lot, even though she was only in the six movies and even made a joke of it by calling herself “sexy little me” – Apart from the obvious, Why do you think she was typecast in this way when she worked so hard to be taken seriously as an actress?
MN: I think that’s not unusual at an early stage in anyone’s career in Hollywood. I mean, it happens today, take for instance, Lady Gaga and her new movie, it’s similar, everyone is saying “Ok, she was a musician but now she’s an actress” and they’re critiquing her and watching her. So, Lady Gaga in 2018 is like Marilyn Monroe in the 1950’s and Sharon Tate in the 1960’s. It’s just how it is. It’s just how people are, we nit-pick, we want to box them in to make ourselves feel comfortable. But I think if Sharon had gone on to live a full life, she would have really been one of the greatest actresses of all time because, she had it all, and she was striving to get better. It was all there, and sadly, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and that was taken away from her, from her family, taken away from the world – we all lost.
NS: The clothing included in the auction epitomises the 1960’s flower power / hippy style, which Sharon embodied. Did you find most of the items to be designer clothing or did she buy her clothes off the rack?
MN: No, the amazing thing about it is that she was involved in the design and her sister Debra, who is 11 years younger, used to make Sharon’s clothes. She worked with designers like Alba – Alba made her wedding dress and her dress for the Golden Globes red carpet. Alba was like a seamstress/couture designer but was small, she wasn’t a big label or brand.
NS: Not like Gucci?
MN: Exactly. Not like the big brand names but Sharon was comfortable in herself to sit and work with someone like Alba, who was a new up and coming designer in Hollywood. Alba was very specialised working on a personal level and taking the client’s input on-board.
NS: So, it was very much Sharon’s style?
MN: Yes, Sharon’s style, and she liked that. She liked that she could sit in (on the design process). Now, she wore Dior – she wore that beautiful Dior dress on the red carpet at Leicester Square in London in 1966 with Roman Polanski for the Cul de Sac premiere. She wore a Betsy Johnson dress when she attended the premiere for The Fearless Vampire Killers in Paris. But then, very simple, there’s not a lot of fuss about any of the clothes she wore, either the maxi or the mini, because she had the natural beauty to bring her clothes to life and to show off something like a mini dress, you know, another person would wear it and you would think it was so plain but she made it look so elegant.
NS: Did you find it hard to locate photos of her wearing the items?
MN: Jennifer, our fashion/costume specialist worked very closely with the family who have their own photograph archive, with a lot of photographs and approximately 250 photoshoots for magazines in those six years. We’ve created a beautiful catalogue which includes many of the photos because we want this to celebrate her life, we want this to be her legacy. You know, the whole world focuses on the dark one day in her life that took her away from us and we want to focus on the 26 years when she was a beautiful, young, free spirited, up and coming, amazing actress.
The George Harrison quote is very fitting and we have that in our catalogue, but we have quotes from Yule Brenner, Dean Martin and all of the famous people of that time, who were so in love with her and so devastated when she was taken away from us.
NS: There seems to be a lot of confusion amongst Sharon’s fans about what of her belongings her family kept and how it was split amongst her family and her husband – could you clarify for fans out there; what of her belongings are included?
MN: So, that’s a great question, after Sharon passed away, her father went to the house and gathered up everything. Roman Polanski was so devastated by the tragedy to his family that he really had to shut that all away. He let them take everything. He knows about this auction, Debra still talks to him – he was her brother in law, he was married to her sister and while it’s sort of hard for him because it brings it all up again, he is in no way coveting anything, and he understands that the time…
NS: The time has come to let it go…
MN: Yes, the time has come to let it go. For Debra, she’s cared for everything so lovingly. Being eleven years younger than Sharon, her big sister was almost like a mother figure to her. They were very good friends, so, she’s kept it for as long as possible – there was an incident where a couple of pieces were stolen and it made Debra realise that it’s not really safe.
NS: That’s a big weight to carry around for 50 years…
MN: Exactly! This has been so amazing and a liberating process for Debra. It’s cathartic for her to finally let go. She has worked so closely with us, she came to our warehouse so many times, had so many meetings with Jennifer to ensure that we got it right. You know, that we understood the message from the family and that we understood what they were trying to achieve, and we were all on the same page, and that has been a wonderful project for us to work on, and we fell in love with Sharon Tate all over again.
NS: Finally, I have found, Sharon seems to have universal appeal. When you look at fanbases of other female Hollywood icons there appears to be great competition between them – yet everybody seems to like Sharon – Why do you think this is?
MN: There was no scandal with her, she had no agenda, she was bubbly, fun loving, striving for success, with a discipline and the ambition to do great things. If you look at all the outfits she wore, she was the embodiment of fun, fun and the free spirit of the 1960’s. Remember they were coming off two World Wars. World War II finished in the 1940’s and by the 1950’s people were still very uniform and grey. Everything was in scarce supply and then the 1960’s came and it was miniskirts, colour, Woodstock and flower power. She just embraced it all, took it on board and lived life and that’s what people see.
Her appeal is international, we have had catalogue orders from countries we’ve never had orders from, like Lithuania and Estonia. That’s what amazes me, when I look at all the orders coming in and I think her family is going to be so happy with this whole thing because we’ve re-introduced her to the world. This exhibition here in Newbridge, the one in Chile, the exhibition we’re going to do in Los Angeles is going to be phenomenal. The catalogue is beautiful, it’s a celebration of a short life, but a full life and that’s what we want to achieve.
“Sharon Tate, Beauty, Icon” is on display at Newbridge Silverware’s Museum of Style Icons from 8th – 25th October. Tickets cost €7 for an adult and €5 for students and senior citizens. Children under 12 go free with a paying adult.