Butchered Reputations Live On In Tate Deaths
Monday, December 22nd, 1969
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 22 – There may have been some other victims, that night when Sharon Tate and her friends were butchered.
Reputations. In the first, frantic, frightened days after the crime was discovered, it became fashionable to slander the dead. They talked about the wild parties in the house, about the drug scene, about the orgies. The implication was clear; the victims died as they lived.
Now, though, there are second thoughts. The killers, apparently, had no connection with the killed. The victims were innocent of any knowledge of why they were slain.
But it is difficult, if not impossible, to give back the reputations that were filched before. In the minds of the public, Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Voityck Frokowski and Abigail Folger (only the superinnocent victim, Stephen Parent, was spared being tarred by the slander brush) all pretty much lived so wildly that a tragedy was virtually inevitable.
One who feels this injustice particularly strongly is a man who should have been in that house that night. His name is Jerzy Kosinski. If it hadn’t been for a goof-up in the Paris airport, he would probably be dead today. And his reputation, too.
Kosinski is a distinguished Polish-American novelist. His latest book, “Steps,” won the 1969 National Book Award for fiction. He is a permanent fellow at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Conn., and author-in-residence for 1970 at Princeton.
He is also an old friend of both Frokowski and Miss Tate’s husband, director Roman Polanski.
“The slander of Frokowski,” he says, “is a second murder.”
It was Kosinski who introduced Frokowski to Gibby Folger, the coffee heiress and language student. He thought they would get along. They did.
“They were both squares,” Kosinski said.
Frokowski, reputed to have been such a drug addict, wasn’t, he insists. Kosinski says that Frokowski had been in ill health since an automobile accident in Poland damaged a kidney. The victim had been a strong man, a swimming champion, but since the accident he had lost weight.
“He couldn’t even drink coffee,” Kosinski says. “He had given up cigarettes. When his doctor prescribed drugs, he couldn’t take them. He couldn’t have taken LSD or marijuana.”
Kosinski says his friend was a man devoid of ambition or the need of money. He says if he had wanted money, he could have married Miss Folger. He was far from the fortune hunter some stories made him out to be.
Kosinski knew Sharon Tate, too, although not as well. He says he found her “a simple girl.” Polanski often told him, he says, how amazed he was that his wife “is so unlike a European girl — she cannot tell a lie.”
Kosinski knew what he meant. The author had married an American girl, too, and found that quality of complete truthfulness surprising.
“We have a saying in Poland,” he says. “‘All the honest people have vanished in the first World War.’ To us, honesty is startling.”
Kosinski was in Europe and planning a visit to Los Angeles, and he was scheduled to stay at the Polanski-Tate home. He cabled that he would arrive on Friday. But, when he left Paris, they mistakenly tagged his baggage for New York, so he stayed in New York a day to straighten that out.
The murders took place on Friday night. The police found his cable and, at first, thought his was the body in the car, instead of Parent’s.
“There is an ancient Jewish-Christian trait,” he says, “of finding fault with a murder victim. Since he died unnaturally, the presumption is that there must be something unnatural abut his life, too.”
Kosinski — and many others in Hollywood — believe that is wrong-thinking. But it may be too late to save the reputations of the four victims.
By DICK KLEINER