Actress Sharon Tate and four others were murdered by the Manson Family in 1969
Alisa Statman is writing a memoir using the Tate family's manuscripts
Statman: "[The book] been such a labor of love, I don't want to get distracted"
As convicted murder Charles Manson comes up for parole review on Wednesday, there continues to be an enduring fascination in Hollywood regarding his crimes.
The murder of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others on August 9, 1969, by members of a group known as the Manson Family left a thumbprint on American pop culture that has influenced music, movies and books.
One of the latest projects is the book “Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice,” written by a woman who has a personal tie with the story.
In March 1990, Alisa Statman was a young film director who had just been accepted into the Director’s Guild, the entertainment labor union that represents the interests of film and television directors.
To celebrate, she went house hunting and discovered there was a place for lease at 10050 Cielo Drive, which happened to be the house where the infamous murders occurred. Although it was more than two decades later, as Statman was unloading boxes, someone was filming something at the house.
“The day that I was moving in, there was a supposed producer [on the property],” said Statman, now an assistant director on “Modern Family.” “He was taking footage of some of the exterior. I just told him not to film me.”
About two weeks later, Statman said she received a letter from that producer, Bill Nelson. Nelson said he was working on a film about the Manson murders and the Tate family, that he had the blessing of Sharon Tate’s mother, Doris Tate, and asked if Statman would be interested in helping. “Being in the business and being 21 years old, I was like ‘Heck yes, I’d love to do this.’ “
From there, Statman said her life was radically altered: On a filming trip, she went with Nelson to the house of a detective who had worked on the Tate case and who had mountains of police reports, photos, “everything imaginable” piled high on a dining room table.
“Within all those pictures, I came across these two little blue boxes,” she recalled. “I opened them up and there were pictures of Sharon, Jay Sebring and Wojciech Frykowski, three of the victims. They’d obviously been taken in the last week of her life. She was extremely pregnant. Along with the slides were the negatives. And they obviously had been taken from the house, during the investigation, and never returned to the family.
“I was so angry. He’d been sitting on these photos for years. The second they left the room, I pocketed them, with the intention of returning them to whoever I could find.”
That person was Patti Tate, Sharon’s sister, and Statman said the pair went on to strike up a romantic relationship. The director said she helped Tate work on an unpublished autobiography and continued to be close to the Tate family after Patti passed away from breast cancer in 2000. Statman spent the last five years constructing “Restless Souls” using what she said are Patti’s unpublished manuscripts, along with the unpublished writings of Sharon and Patti’s late parents, Doris and P.J. Tate.
Unlike many memoirs, which are written several decades after the incidents recounted, Doris and P.J. Tate wrote their thoughts while everything that transpired was relatively fresh. The stories within, along with how Statman fell into the Tate family legacy, are yet more fodder for those who remain interested in the tragedy, 40-plus years later.
“The murders happened in the middle of the hippie movement and there was a horrible outbreak of violence in one’s home,” Statman said of the story’s endurance. “Couple that with the victims were wealthy and famous, the months and months of speculation as to who did this, only to find out that the Manson Family were right in the middle of this hippie movement. I think that scared the hell out of a lot of people.”
Manson and the Manson Family have long been weaved throughout pop culture. Musician Marilyn Manson is an obvious example of someone who was influenced by the case, as well as British rock band Kasabian, who draw their name from Manson Family member Linda Kasabian. Statman, while living at Cielo Drive, sublet her house to Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, where he recorded the group’s second album, “The Downward Spiral” in a home studio he constructed called “Le Pig.” (Sharon Tate had been hung from a rafter in her living room and the word “Pig” was written in her blood on the front door of the Los Angeles home.)
“About halfway through, I went to the house to pick up some stuff,” Statman recalled. “I was terrified by what they’d turn the house into and the bad vibes they’d brought with it. They had everything in black, there was a huge cross with blood all over it; it was just weird.” Reznor reportedly said that after meeting Patti Tate, he saw the murders from the victims’ perspective.
Manson has released albums of his own music and spoken word. TV specials about the murders have come in waves over the years and now the Tate story has started to get the biopic treatment.
Over the past two years, reports have surfaced about three films in the works, all at various stages of development and funding. “The Dead Circus,” a half fiction half nonfiction account, has Michael C. Hall and Melissa Leo attached and is being directed by Adam Davenport and written by author John Kaye.
Celebrity photographer Tyler Shields has been linked to a Tate biopic called “Eyes of a Dreamer” that reportedly has Lindsay Lohan playing Tate and Shields playing Manson.
“True Blood” star Ryan Kwanten is attached to play Manson in an upcoming film called “The Family,” reportedly written and directed by Scott Kosar (“The Machinist,” “The Amityville Horror”).
“There’s always hesitation for money to get behind the subject matter,” said Davenport, who is still trying to secure funding for “The Dead Circus.” “[But] at its root, people are fascinated by evil and the psychological underpinnings behind it.”
Whether these films come to fruition, even the idea that several different people are actively pursuing this story now is another nod to the influence of the Tate case. Statman said there has already been interest in the film rights to “Restless Souls,” but she said that for now, she’s staying put with the survivors’ words, as they told them, on page.
“I’ve gotten a few calls, but I haven’t called anyone back yet,” she said. “I want to focus on the book now. It’s been such a labor of love, I don’t want to get distracted.”