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The real story behind Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a cinematically beautiful piece of film, obviously. We’ve come to expect nothing less of Tarantino, a man who’s made his fortune dragging old-school Hollywood style, screaming and swearing, into the twenty-first century. However, some members of the audience have been leaving Once feeling a little confused. Yes – it was undoubtedly beautiful, and yes – the star-studded cast was fantastic. But was there some giant jigsaw piece missing in the plot?

Well, as the film is a twist on history, if you don’t know the original story – yes, there was.

Quentin Tarantino on the set of 'Once Upon a Time In Hollywood' on the Burbank Boulevard on October 6, 2018 in Burbank, California.
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Quentin Tarantino on the set of 'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood'

Who was the real Sharon Tate?

Often you’ll see Sharon Tate written about as if she were the ‘it’ girl of her era but, sadly, that’s not true. Her career was on the rise. She’d worked on some big-name projects like Valley of The Dolls, but she was never the star of the show. She’d married a celebrity, director Roman Polanski, which had garnered her an upgrade in star-status but she was still able to walk the streets with a fair level of anonymity.

Normally, when an actress like Margot Robbie plays a real-world character, you can’t help but think they’ve had a revisionist-history upgrade in looks (don’t we all wish that Margot Robbie would play us in a biopic?). In this case, Margot Robbie was perfectly cast. Both she and Sharon Tate have that ‘stop and stare’ beauty that most mere mortals can never achieve.

However, in the sixties, Sharon Tate was one of many beauties in Hollywood. And with no career-defining role, at the age of 26, she was thrust into the spotlight for an entirely new reason: for being the Manson family’s most famous victim.

Sharon Tate, Actress and Model, aged 22 years old, pictured at her apartment in Belgravia, London, Friday 15th October 1965.
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Sharon Tate, aged 22-years-old, pictured at her apartment in Belgravia, London

The Manson Family

In the film, there were a few ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ mentions of “Charlie. Charlie (played by Damon Herriman of Justified) even graces the screen for a grand ten seconds while lost in a street. It takes a beginners-level knowledge of the Manson family to realise that this is, in fact, Charles Manson, failed musician and famed cult-leader. Unsurprisingly, some Once viewers would not be able to spot Manson in a line-up of one, so this cameo was thoroughly lost on them.

Left: Everett Collection Inc // Right: Glenn Francis

Charles Manson pictured on March 6, 1970 // Damon Herriman at the 'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood' premier

Tarrantino opts out of the obvious narrative of ‘Charles Manson The Cult Leader’ and shows us the numerous “dirty hippies” that make up what is known as The Manson Family instead. The portrayal is fairly accurate, ‘The Family’ was comprised of roughly one hundred hygiene-deficient, dumpster-diving youths who lived on Spahn Movie Ranch – predominantly middle-class teenage girls who’d run away from home. They saw Charles Manson as a Jesus-like deity, hanging on his every word. They were also frequent users of LSD, which probably made Manson’s out-there beliefs a little easier to visualise.

Leslie Van Houton, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, part of Manson Family, during murder trial, 8/6/70. Courtesy: CSU
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Manson Family members Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel during their murder trial

What did Charles Manson believe? 

In his youth, Charles Manson studied religions and self-help books. It wasn’t the teachings or theories he was looking at, but rather the skills different leaders used to control their audiences. He used these learnings to later become a master of manipulation, convincing people to follow him and join his hippie ‘family’.

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L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, which Charles Manson studied in his youth

A lot of people struggle to conflate the ‘hippie’ side of Manson with the ‘racist cult-leader’ side. Make no mistake, Manson was at his heart of hearts a racist who hated women. There should be no romanticising this, no thinking of him as ‘counter-culture hero’ – he was a wolf in hippies clothing. His big goal in life? Start a race war. Not very ‘free love’.

He called the upcoming race war ‘Helter Skelter’, named after a song on The Beatles’ White Album which he claimed foretold the battle between black and white people.


The difference between Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and the real Manson murders

(Spoiler alert: skip this section if you don’t want to know the ending of the film)

In the film, the Manson family break into the home of fiction character Rick Dalton (Leonardo di Caprio), where he is blind-drunk with friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The friends go on to murder each Manson Family member in a uniquely grizzly way while very-pregnant neighbour, Sharon Tate, listens to the piano with friends at home. The ending in Tarantino’s story is a happy one, leaving Tate and company alive and well.

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (2019) directed and written by Quentin Tarantino and starring Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth a TV actor and Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, his stunt double.
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Brad Pitt and Leonardo di Caprio’s characters in 'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood' are both fictional

In reality, the nearest neighbours of 10050 Cielo Drive were 100 yards away; and with no flamethrower-wielding drunkard to reroute history, Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Voityck Frokowski, and Abigail Folger met their lethal fates.

If Roman Polanski wasn’t a convicted paedophile wanted by the American government, one would feel sorry for him having to see this alternate reality where his wife and unborn child are not senselessly killed. But…let’s not shed any tears for the criminal (who continues to live a prosperous life directing films in France).

Roman Polanski Film Director with his wife Sharon Tate at their wedding
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Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate at their wedding

Why did the Manson Family kill Sharon Tate?

One thing you have to take into account when contemplating these vicious attacks is that the people who designed them were on a considerable amount of drugs. These were also neither the first nor the last murders committed by the Manson Family.

Members of the family had previously killed two people over separate unrelated issues. They were paranoid that they would be caught for these murders, so they conceived their grand master plan: they would kill more people, and frame the black-rights activist group, the Black Panthers, in the hopes that it would kickstart the race war that they were so eagerly awaiting.

Black Panther Party members show their support for leader Huey Newton at the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, California. H
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The Manson family hoped that the Black Panthers would be blamed for their crimes, and a race war would ensue

But why, specifically, Sharon Tate?

It wasn’t the actress that the family had an issue with, but rather her address. Yes, as nonsensical as it sounds – Charles Manson had a disagreement with the previous inhabitant of the house, music-producer Terry Melcher who had refused to sign Manson as a musician. Even though Manson knew Melcher no longer lived there, he’d come to see the property itself as the symbol for everything wrong with Hollywood and the music industry.

Candice Bergen actress with Terry Melcher son of Doris Day leaving London for a holiday in Los Angeles
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Terry Melcher, the previous tenant of 10050 Cielo Drive, pictured with actress Candice Bergen

Where are the Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Manson Family murderers now?

Tex Watson has ‘found God’ and is spending life in prison, where he has fathered four children, got married and subsequently divorced.

Tex Watson
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Tex Watson

Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins got married on September 2, 1981, to self-described millionaire Donald Lee Baisure. He turned out not to be a millionaire at all and had been married 35 times already. She had the marriage annulled. At the age of 61, she died in prison of natural causes.

. English: Mugshot taken of Susan Atkins, taken 16 February 2001 . Taken on 16 February 2001. California Department of Corrections 61 Susan atkins
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Susan Atkins

Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel has the honour of being the longest-serving female inmate in the state’s correctional system.

‘Flower girl’, who jumps in the car and runs away in the film, is set to be based on Linda Kasabian who was the watch-out for two of the Manson family murders. She was the prosecution’s key witness against Charles Manson calling him “the devil, not this wonderful man that I was led to believe”.

Jan. 6, 2012 - Patricia Dianne Krenwinkel . Sharon Tate murder.(Credit Image: A© Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com)
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Patricia Krenwinkel

Charles Manson was not present at the murders, but still spent the rest of his life in prison, where he passed away in 2017.

Charles Manson mass murderer of 6 people including Sharon Tate
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Charles Manson