Housewarming Party From Hell

Sharon Tate celebrated her ‘House of Love’ with Hollywood friends

Sharon Tate was newly married to director Roman Polanski. She died a year and a half later, while 8-months pregnant with her first child.

Actress Sharon Tate married Polish film director Roman Polanski on January 20, 1968 in London. The couple honeymooned in the Swiss Alps and then flew to Los Angeles where they spent several months staying at the Chateau Marmont and then in June, they moved into a home on Summitridge Drive in the South Beverly Park neighborhood of Beverly Hills, then owned by Sharon’s Valley of the Dolls co-star Patty Duke. At the start of 1969, Sharon learned she was pregnant with her first child. Roman was also in talks to direct a new film adaptation and he would be spending time that coming season in Europe. With Sharon’s pregnancy, he wanted her to have a stable home base.

They asked Patty Duke if they could purchase the Summitridge home, and her husband Harry Falk turned them down. So Roman and Sharon decided to go house-hunting.

Photograph of Sharon and Roman at Summitridge by Peter Bruchmann

Real estate agent Elaine Young (then wife of actor Gig Young) met with the couple and drove them around town during the month of January, showing them rental houses. Sharon was most smitten by the house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. Cielo had just been vacated by Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher. The property was listed for $1200 a month and was valued at $200,000 ($1,400,000M in today’s market).

With a new lease just inked, Sharon committed to one more film project (12+1 which would later be renamed Thirteen Chairs) which would also take to her Europe. The plan was to make this her final film before having her baby and taking at least a couple years off to focus on her family. Some of Sharon’s friends believed that she’d fall so in love with her baby that she’d never want to return to Hollywood.

As Sharon and Roman prepared to move into their new home, property owner Rudi Altobelli moved into the guest house. He too would be spending most of the year traveling, and he later hired a young man as property manager to keep an eye on things and to care for his three dogs.

On February 12, 1969, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate signed the lease at Cielo. The newlyweds moved in three days later.

Sharon and her Yorkie Prudence at Cielo Drive

The following is excerpted from The Manson Family: More to the Story

10050 Cielo Drive was a three-acre property in Benedict Canyon, a luxury neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills, zip-coded ‘Bel Air’. Built in 1942 by architect Robert Byrd, a pioneer of the California indoor/outdoor home typified by beamed ceilings, Dutch doors and rustic details, the house was constructed for French actress Michele Morgan. The living room featured a stone fireplace and half-loft. There was a swimming pool and guest house just past the master bedroom. 10050 sat at the end of a cul-de-sac, bordered by thick pines and flowering cherry trees. It was the kind of lush California canyon terrain where you could look out but few of your neighbors could see in.

On March 15th, Sharon and Roman threw a housewarming party. Approximately one hundred guests came, including Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Peter Fonda, his sister Jane and her husband Roger Vadim, Nancy Sinatra and Tony Curtis. Three members of the Mamas and the Papas were there, and other friends of the Polanski’s, including Jay Sebring.

During the party, an uninvited guest named Pic Dawson caused an altercation when he stepped on Sharon’s foot. Dawson (full name Harrison Pickens Dawson III) was with Mamas and Papas singer Cass Elliot and two others (Tom Harrigan and Ben Carruthers). Dawson’s careless behavior got him and his male friends thrown out by Roman and Polanski’s manager, Bill Tennant.

Pic Dawson was the son of a State Department official who lived with Cass, his best friend. He was a drug dealer connected to the Los Angeles film and music scene. Dawson dealt drugs, independently, to two of the murder victims at Cielo Drive and was named by several people as a chief suspect during the investigation. Harrigan and Carruthers, both from Toronto, were also drug dealers looking to expand distribution of MDMA into the Los Angeles market.

According to a biography of Roman Polanski, his manager “would later tell the police that this individual and his friends had returned to the residence at regular intervals over the next four months, apparently in a bid to sell drugs.”[1]

The day after the party, Roman flew to Rio de Janeiro. He was beginning work on the script for Day of the Dolphin, a film he was hired to write and direct. Dolphin was an adaptation of a science-fiction thriller published the year before.

With Sharon pregnant, Roman was apprehensive about leaving her alone while he was gone. He asked his friend Wojciech Frykowski and Wojciech’s girlfriend Abigail Folger, to stay with Sharon while he was away. Frykowski and Folger attended the housewarming party where Wojciech also spoke with Harrigan and Carruthers about their MDMA connections. They were introduced through Cass, Wojciech and Abigail’s neighbor.

At a party in New York City (1967) Frykowski was introduced by author Jerzy Kosinski to socialite Abigail Folger. Although neither spoke the other’s language, they found a common tongue in French. Wojciech moved into Abigail’s apartment while she worked at the Gotham Book Mart, a New York literary landmark.

In the spring of 1968, Gibbie and Wojciech drove cross-country to California. They rented a home at 2774 Woodstock Road in Laurel Canyon, across the street from Mama Cass. Wojciech wrote poetry and took odd jobs in construction and on film sets but mostly lived off the money Abigail received each month from her wealthy father.

In Los Angeles, Abigail registered as a volunteer social worker for the County Welfare Department. She then threw her efforts into the political campaign of council member Tom Bradley, who was running for mayor. She was devoting much of her time to helping others, and quickly burning out as a result. Her drug use, along with Wojciech’s, began to escalate. When Bradley, who was black, lost the election thanks to a nasty and racially charged smear campaign, Abigail was despondent. It was during Bradley’s campaign that Roman asked the couple to stay with Sharon, at their home.

On March 16, Sharon drove her husband to the airport, then returned home to help settle in their houseguests. It didn’t take long for Gibbie and Sharon to bond. There were times when Wojciech tried Sharon’s patience, but there was real affection and friendship between the two women.

Charlie did not know that Terry Melcher had moved out of Cielo Drive. On March 23rd, he went to Benedict Canyon looking for the producer.

(excerpt continues below…)

Manson encountered Sharon’s friend, photographer Sharokh Hatami, who was staging the area near the pool for some shots he intended to take. Sharon was inside the house with Gibbie, Wojciech and Jay Sebring. When Charlie asked for Terry Melcher, Hatami didn’t recognize the name and waved him further down the path toward the guest house. He told Charlie to check with the property owner.

Sharon leans out the window of the balcony at Cielo Drive

Manson knocked at the door of the guest house and Ruby Altobelli answered. He was upset that Charlie had showed up there, told him that Melcher no longer lived at Cielo, and asked him to please leave. Voices were raised. Finally, Manson understood that the producer no longer lived at the property and he began walking back the way he came — from the guest house toward the pool, in front of the house and out to the main drive. At some point, Sharon and her guests looked outside from the living room window and saw a small, dark, very angry man stomping away.

The four were standing in the very same room where, just five months later, they’d be gathered together by members of Manson’s cult and the killing would begin.

But the day after Charlie’s surprise visit to Cielo Drive, Sharon flew overseas for her film commitment and Rudy Altobelli traveled with her to Rome. During the flight she asked him whether that ‘creepy-looking guy’ had come back!

She saw the man who would orchestrate her murder and he left her with a disturbing impression, although she had no idea just how diabolical he was. — Full excerpt from The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications (including the following quote: [1] Polanski: A biography by Christopher Sandford ©2008 St. Martin’s Press)

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series.

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