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Today’s Legend of the Week is none other than Roman Polanski. Although not known for making comedies, he’s just directed his first comedy Carnage, starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christopher Waltz and John C. Reilly.
5 Facts About Roman Polanski
1- Roman Polanski committed his infamous crime at Jack Nicholson’s house
The first thing you didn’t know about Roman Polanski is that the crime that got him in so much trouble occurred in one of Hollywood’s most famous homes.
Roman Polanski’s legal troubles in the U.S. began in 1977, during the second of two photo shoots involving 13-year-old Samantha Geimer, an aspiring model who was to appear in the French edition of Vogue for men, for which Polanski had been asked to serve as guest editor. The two had already shot one day’s worth of film — during which, according to Geimer, Polanski had asked the girl to change into another outfit in front of him — and were finishing up the second day’s shoot, which was taking place at the Mulholland Drive home of Jack Nicholson, next door to Marlon Brando. Polanski sexually assaulted Geimer at Nicholson’s home, and that crime kept him out of the U.S. for the next three decades.
2- Roman Polanski directed four Oscar-nominated performances
Although Roman Polanski has a reputation for being a diminutive, even Napoleonic director on the set (he is believed to be no taller than 5′ 5″), the bottom line is that he gets the most out of his actors. He has directed four actors in performances that have earned them Oscar nominations: Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby), Jack Nicholson (Chinatown), Faye Dunaway (Chinatown), and Adrien Brody (The Pianist).
Of the four, only Gordon and Brody actually won the Academy Award.
3- Roman Polanski escaped being sent to Auschwitz
Another thing you didn’t know about Roman Polanski is how close he came to being killed — twice.
Born in Paris in 1933, Roman Polanski was just three years old when his family moved to Krakow in Poland and eventually found themselves imprisoned in the infamous Krakow ghetto, where the Nazis had herded thousands upon thousands of the city’s population prior to sending them to concentration camps (Polanski brought much of the horror of the Krakow ghetto to life in his renowned 2002 film The Pianist). His father, who encouraged his young son to escape the ghetto through some cut wires before the Nazis began clearing it out, survived his time in the camps, but not his mother; she died at Auschwitz.
Later, when Charles Manson dictated to his “family” that they should enter the home on 10050 Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills and murder everyone inside, they found Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate (who was eight months pregnant) and four others and proceeded to viciously murder them all. Polanski was in London at the time and he has called his absence from the house that night one of the biggest regrets of his life.
4- Roman Polanski made British legal history
In 2004, Roman Polanski brought a libel suit against Vanity Fair for publishing a story by A.E. Hotchner in 2002 in which a young woman claimed that the famed director attempted to seduce her around the time of the funeral for his murdered wife Sharon Tate. Because he was unable to actually attend the trial as a claimant in the libel case because of the extradition treaty between the UK and the U.S., Polanski fought for — and was granted — the ability to testify by way of a video link, making him the first person in English legal history to do so. For his efforts, Polanski won the case and was awarded £50,000 by the British courts.
Although much has been made about Roman Polanski’s inability to return to the U.S. following his plea deal involving statutory rape charges, the truth of the matter is that Polanski had only made two films domestically: the first was the horror classic Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, which the Guardian calls “almost unwatchably disturbing,” and the second was the film that is still considered his ultimate masterpiece, 1974’s Chinatown. When he won the Oscar for Best Director for 2002’s The Pianist, one of Polanski’s former lead actors, Harrison Ford (1988’s Frantic) is said to have hand-delivered the award to him in France.
5- Roman Polanski judged a Miss Universe pageant
The last thing you didn’t know about Roman Polanski is that he was a judge in a historically significant Miss Universe pageant.
Although Polanski’s parents were believed to be agnostics, Polanski’s father was raised a Polish Jew and his mother was Roman Catholic. At the 1976 Miss Universe pageant held in Hong Kong, Polanski was one of 10 judges — on a panel that included former NFL player Fred Williamson and former Bond Girl Britt Ekland — who chose Rina Messinger as Miss Universe 1976, the first Israeli woman ever to win the competition.
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