The Myth and the Legend: The Story of Roman Polanski
Tragic. Brilliant. Sexual predator. Master of the silver screen. There are many ways to describe the enigma and mystery that is Roman Polanski and the only thing that is certain when describing this individual is that he will always strike a chord is the mind of people across the globe.
There are many things you may know about Roman Polanski. You probably heard about his acclaimed career in directing films and you may know of his involvement his recent arrest in Zurich, Switzerland. You may also know that Polanski lost Sharon Tate, who was a famed actress in the 60’s at the hands of the Manson Family but what you don’t know may surprise you.
Before his rise to fame, Roman Polanski had a tough existence. Born in 1933 in France to parents who were Agnostics, he was a Polish-Jew, an ethnic group which was terrorized during this time period after Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany. The Polanski’s were forced into the Krakow Ghetto along with thousands of other Polish Jews. With his father barely surviving and his mother perishing in a concentration camp, Polanski escaped the ghetto with the help of Polish Roman Catholic families and for a time during his youth was a devout Catholic. After the war, Polanski and his father were reunited and remained on good terms until his father’s death in 1984 after succumbing to a bout of cancer.
A young Polanski would love the field of acting and become a force in Poland at a very young age. The first feature-length film by Polanski entitled “Knife in the Water” was the first significant Polish film after World War II that did not have a war theme. “Knife in the Water” was named the Best Foreign Film in 1963 earning a young Polanski his first Academy Award and laid the groundwork for his move to France, England and eventually the United States.
In 1968, Polanski hit it big with his controversial film “Rosemary’s Baby”. Rosemary’s Baby was based on a recent bestseller by Ira Levin, the film centered on an innocent young woman from Nebraska who is impregnated by the devil after her husband makes a deal with Satan in exchange for a successful career. Rosemary’s Baby was the most controversial film of its time but controversy would follow Polanski off of the Silver Screen and tragically invade his world.
“The Sharon Tate Tragedy”
The year was 1969. Polanski was married to the beautiful actress Sharon Tate. Tate’s blond locks and beautiful eyes captivated America and she was on her way to becoming a beloved and admired actress. This would all change on August 9, 1969. Instead of being remembered for her work as an actress, Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski would be linked to one of the most publicized killers of his generation, Charles Manson.
Manson had what was depicted as the “Manson Family” and Sharon Tate and several of her friends were the targets of these killers. Manson Family members killed Tate and a group of friends at the Polanski mansion. Tate was 8 and a half months pregnant, Polanski was at his home in London during the time of the murders. Questions would be raised but Polanski would never recover form the tragedy and would describe his years with Tate as the happiest of his life. After the death of Sharon Tate, Polanski was reinforced in his belief that religious faith was something for the weak.
After the murder of his wife Sharon Tate, Polanski grew dark in his film making and his behavior started to raise many eyebrows across Hollywood. This all came to a head in 1977 when a 44 year-old Polanski was embroiled in a sex scandal with 13-year-old Samantha Gailey. Polanski was photographing the young girl when he was the guest editor of Vogue and things grew out of hand. Polanski and his lawyers cut a plea bargain and he pled guilty to the charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Polanski would report to China State Prison for a 42-day evaluation period after which he was released.
While all expected Polanski to get only probation for the charge, an alleged conversation with LA Deputy District Attorney David Wells revealed that the judge in the case was considering sending Polanski to prison and order him deported. Fearful of imprisonment, Polanski fled the United States. This fleeing would follow Polanski the rest of his life.
On September 26, 2009, Polanski was arrested by Swiss police at the Zurich Airport while trying to enter Switzerland when hoping to attend the Zurich Film Festival to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award. United States officials decided to have him arrested due to his warrant which was outstanding from 1978.
In reaction to the arrest, foreign ministers of both France and Poland have urged Switzerland to release Polanski who hold dual citizenship in both countries. Samantha Gailey, now in her 40’s has asked that the world move on. Gailey thinks what Polanski did was wrong but he has paid for his mistake.
People across the world admire and despise Roman Polanski. What he did to the 13 year-old Samantha Gailey was unforgivable. However, when one looks at the life and career of Roman Polanski, there is a great deal of room to feel animosity and sadness for this brilliant and tortured man. From escaping the ghetto’s of Poland to finding and losing religion and the tragedy of losing the love of his life and crossing the line with a 13 year-old child, Roman Polanski deserves our hostility and our empathy. With that being said, I’m not sure if putting a 75 year-old man behind prison bars for a case that was plea bargained over 30 years ago is truly justice.