He Protected Sharon Tate Up To His Death

The story of Manson Family victim Jay Sebring

Actress Sharon Tate in the summer of 1969, with her ex-boyfriend Jay Sebring

The nephew of hairstylist Jay Sebring, one of the victims of the Manson Family Murders, is releasing a new documentary about his uncle.

“Jay Sebring: Cutting to the Truth” will be released tomorrow, September 22nd, 2020 on various streaming services. It was directed by Sebring’s nephew, Anthony DiMaria. DiMaria had few recollections of his late uncle, murdered when he was just three years old and yet the legacy of the murder has lived with him and his family since August 1969.

I thought Id use this opportunity to tell you a little bit about Jay Sebring.

Jay Sebring was born Thomas John Kummer in October 1933 in Birmingham, Alabama. One of four children born to a quiet accountant and his wife, the family relocated to the suburbs of Detroit when Jay was a child. There, the boy grew fond of cars and racing. After high school, he joined the Navy and served four years including the Korean War Conflict. Following his service, he moved to Los Angeles and changed his name (‘Sebring’ was homage to the racing circuit). In L.A., Jay enrolled in beauty school.

He became a licensed stylist and opened his first shop, on Fairfax in Hollywood. Jay Sebring was not just a barber or even a men’s hairdresser — he actually invented a new way to style men’s hair. ‘Hair architecture for men’, he called it and began to attract the most fashionable young males in Southern California. His shop had dark wood paneling and lush, exotic plants everywhere. Nowhere on the signage outside did it say anything as dull as ‘barber’ or ‘hair salon’. The sign was a bold red ankh (the Egyptian symbol for life) and Sebring’s shop was one of the first in the nation to use hand-held dryers, a recent European invention. Clients were shampooed, cut, dried and styled so their hair took on an edgy, fashion-forward look. Prices were comparable with top-end women’s stylists. Soon, the stars began to drop in.

‘’Henry Fonda would be there when I went in; there’d be starlets shampooing hair. It was the hottest place in Hollywood in the afternoon. There was gossip, coffee, pretty girls and the haircuts were damned good,” reminisced Joe Hyams, former West Coast bureau chief for The New York Herald Tribune. Sebring hired the best hairdressers, quickly earning a reputation as the stylist to the stars — at least, the ones with testosterone. He studied martial arts with Bruce Lee, raced sports cars with Paul Newman and was the only man to touch the hair of superstar Steve McQueen. It was also Sebring who gave the Lizard King, Jim Morrison of the Doors, his signature ‘Alexander the Great’-inspired cut in 1967.

Sebring even bought himself a movie-star home in Beverly Hills. 9860 Easton Drive was a Bavarian-inspired, two-story mansion boasting a grand wooden staircase and gutter spouts carved in the likenesses of silent screen legends Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolf Valentino. Sebring bought the three-bedroom home in 1963 as his star was rising. The house, built in 1927, was the honeymoon home of film bombshell Jean Harlow and her husband, German-born screenwriter Paul Bern. Harlow and Bern married in July 1932. Two months later, Bern was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at their beautiful estate.

At least three more people died at the property over the next few decades including a drowning and other suicides. Some say the property is haunted (it has been re-numbered in recent years, to keep the looky-loo’s away).

  • From The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (including quote from Joe Hyams in “Message in a Shampoo Bottle” by Mary Tannen ©August 2002 New York Times magazine)
Jay Sebring cutting the hair of film actor Paul Newman

Jay married model Bonnie ‘Cami’ Marple in 1960 but the couple divorced three years later. In November 1964, he learned about actress Sharon Tate from a mutual friend, and begged for an introduction. The couple met, began dating and fell in love.

Jay and Sharon, early in their courtship

In 1966, Jay appeared in an episode of Batman, playing a character based on himself. His relationship with Sharon was going well, with him even proposing marriage. She declined however, saying that her contract with her manager forbade marriage for several years. The couple remained close — Sharon even learned to cut hair from Jay. But allegedly, Sharon had a very disturbing dream one night, while sleeping at Jay’s home:

On one overnight stay, Sharon Tate woke during the night to see the appearance of a strange, small man at the foot of her bed. She raced down the hall to the stairway where she saw another apparition, a man with his throat slashed. Disoriented, she went back to bed, convinced she had just had a bad dream.

The home Jay Sebring owned, formerly located at 9860 Easton Drive

In 1966, Sharon traveled to England to film a role in “Eye of the Devil” with acting legends David Niven and Deborah Kerr. It was her first movie role and Sharon took the responsibility seriously. A few months later she got her next starring role in a vampire farce (1967’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers”) where she fell in love with her leading man, Polish director Roman Polanski.

Sharon then had to make the difficult call back to the States to break off things with her fiancé. Jay more than took it in stride — he accepted her decision with grace and dignity. He told her they would remain friends and they did. He even became friends with Roman, which couldn’t have been easy.

Sharon and Roman were married in January 1968 and then, together, moved to the Los Angeles area. They stayed for their first few months at the Chateau Marmont, then at the Summitridge home of actress Patty Duke (Sharon’s co-star in 1967’s “Valley of the Dolls”) and then in early ’69, just after Sharon learned she was expecting her first child, the couple rented the property at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon.

Roman was not thrilled with the news that his wife was expecting. As a Holocaust survivor, he viewed children as an unnecessary worry and he still enjoyed sex with other women — a habit that his wife had vowed not to force him to break but still was deeply displeased about. When Sharon told Roman about the baby, his first suggestion was that she terminate the pregnancy.

Sharon then called Jay Sebring, who listened as she talked about the state of her marriage. She told Jay that Roman had encouraged her to have an abortion. When she refused, he had a very public affair with Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas — a good friend of Sharon’s.

Sharon asked Jay if she should have an abortion and leave her husband. Jay supported Sharon, who ultimately chose to keep the baby and remain with Roman.

Roman and Sharon were both committed to separate film projects in early 1969 and while they were away, Roman’s friend Wojciech Frykowski and his American girlfriend, heiress Abigail Folger, housesat for the Polanskis. By the summer, Sharon was home and in her third trimester. She eagerly awaited Roman’s return from Europe in mid-August, and spent a lot of time with Frykowski, Gibbie (as Folger was known to close friends) and Jay.

Jay with Roman and Sharon

By the late ’60s, Sebring International was expanding with new studios in New York, San Francisco and London. But by 1969, rumors are that Jay Sebring was struggling both personally and professionally. This may have been the result of a growing addiction to cocaine — we know that he purchased a small amount of coke the afternoon before he was murdered — and his fortunes were dwindling.

Jay Sebring

Still, he had hopes of continued growth with Sebring International and asked several friends to invest in an expansion of his business (into take-home hair-care products) including Abigail Folger. She gave him at least $3700 just weeks before they were both killed.

A 1960s photograph of Jay Sebring outside his business

On Friday, August 8th, Sharon (now nearly 8-months pregnant) was home, trying to beat the heat. Gibbie and Wojciech ran errands and both returned, around the same time that Jay came to visit. The four went out for a late dinner that evening at El Coyote, a Mexican restaurant in the Valley before returning to Cielo Drive around 11pm.

Gibbie changed into a long nightgown and went into the bedroom she and Wojciech shared, and began to read.

Wojciech lay down on the living room sofa and fell asleep.

Jay and Sharon went into the bedroom. She changed into a two-piece bikini with a sheer peignoir over it, still trying to keep cool that very hot summer night. They sat on the bed, and began talking, as old friends and former lovers.

When members of the Manson Family broke into the house, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson woke Frykowski with a kick to the head. Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins went into the bedroom and, with a knife wielded in her hand, demanded that Gibbie, Sharon and Jay come to the living room.

There, Watson tied them around their necks with a rope, tossing the end over the beam in the living room. Jay protested, because the rope forced Sharon and Gibbie to stand practically on tippy-toes. “Can’t you see that she’s pregnant?” he urged Watson, who promptly shot Jay Sebring twice. Jay fell to the ground. The women screamed. Watson then walked over and stabbed Jay several times, and later kicked him repeatedly in the face.

Jay Sebring

Both Abigail and Wojciech attempted to run, and were chased across the yard by the killers, including Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel. Another woman, Linda Kasabian, watched in horror as her friends savagely slaughtered the couple. Meanwhile, Sharon was still inside, being held captive by Susan Atkins. The dead body of Jay Sebring lay on the ground near her as Watson returned to the living room and began stabbing Sharon.

Immediately after the murders, as police investigators began searching for clues (and not having any idea who had committed these heinous killings), suspicion turned to the victims. Detectives told the press about pornographic film they found at the residence, along with small amounts of drugs. Drugs were also found in Jay Sebring’s Porsche including the cocaine he’d purchased the day of his murder. Wojciech was alleged to be a drug dealer for a new drug, MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly, as we call it today).

One of the more salacious rumors was about Jay’s sex life. Apparently, according to some of his ex-girlfriends, he had a predilection for S&M (Sado-Masochism). He liked to be tied up, some claimed, and was known as a rather kinky bondage guy.

Is it true? Hard to say — there were multiple claims at the time but no way to really verify them today. More importantly, does it matter?

When reporting the facts of a crime, it is often important to report on the details of the life of the victims particularly as it pertains to (perhaps) why they were killed.

But we know now that the victims of the Manson Family were killed merely because of proximity — members of the Family had been to the home rented by Sharon and Roman and perhaps wanted to send a message to a former tenant, music producer Terry Melcher.

Certainly, Jay Sebring’s surviving family would prefer that we talk about the less salacious details of the stylist’s life. Hopefully this new documentary (which includes statements made by director Quentin Tarantino, and archival footage of such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Warren Beatty, and Dennis Hopper) allows us to see a full, three-dimensional image of the man who launched one of the most successful beauty businesses of his time.

Jay Sebring 1933–1969

You can learn more about the Manson Family and their victims by visiting MansonFamily.net.

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series. https://www.mansonfamily.net/

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