Roman Polanski Biography

Roman Polanski photo

Born: August 18, 1933


Date of Birth: August 18, 1933

Roman Polanski was born in France to Polish parents, but three years later, the family returned to Krakow, Poland. After World War II broke out, his Jewish parents were both taken to concentration camps. His mother, four months pregnant with her second child, was killed soon after in a gas chamber in Auschwitz.

Roman lived with various Catholic families who hid the boy from the Nazis. His father survived the war and the two were reunited in 1945. Roman became interested in acting and appeared in several films before going to the Lodz Film School to learn filmmaking. At school, he made several short films, including Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958), which won several international awards. At about this time, Polanski met and married his first wife, actress Barbara Lass. Soon after, he wrote and directed his first feature-length film, an erotic thriller called Knife in the Water (1962). It was a big success for the young director, winning the FIPRESCI Award at the Venice Film Festival and even being nominated for a BAFTA award and an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Polanski then moved to France, where he befriended screenwriter Gerard Brach. The two formed a long-time friendship, becoming collaborators on many films. Two of their early films, Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-sac (1966), both England-language films filmed in England, won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Polanski's success made it possible for him to move to Hollywood, where his first film was The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), which he co-wrote and directed. He also acted in the film, alongside actress Sharon Tate, who would go on to become Polanski's second wife. His second Hollywood feature, Rosemary's Baby (1968), was a huge hit that went on to win several awards. Polanski, who not only directed, but wrote the screenplay himself from Ira Levin's novel, was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar. The film solidified his success and he became a respected director within Hollywood.

On August 9, 1969, his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family, a cult of young people led by Charles Manson. She was at home with four guests when the murderers broke in and killed everyone in the house, smearing blood all over the walls.

According to an article on by Judith Reisman, Polanski wasn't in America at the time because his wife objected to him seducing little "girls in their marriage bed." The article goes on to say he "sold pictures of his naked wife to Playboy" and that when Sharon was pregnant, Polanski was no longer attracted to her. He was partying in London and planned to go back after the baby's birth, reportedly saying, "Then maybe I could go back and find Sharon the way she used to be."

After flying back to the States following the murders, Polanski posed in front of the home where his wife had been killed. He charged Life $5,000 for the photo, then returned to Europe for several years, where he directed a screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth (1971), featuring a British cast.

He eventually returned to the United States several years later and his film, Chinatown (1974), starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, was nominated for 11 Academy Awards as well as 11 BAFTA awards. Polanski won the BAFTA for Best Direction. His career was flourishing, but in 1977, Polanski was charged with raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl at his good friend Nicholson's house. He was convicted in 1978 and fled America to avoid prison.

His biographer, Thomas Kiernan, wrote of the crime in his book, The Roman Polanski Story. He stated that Polanski convinced the 13-year-old to drink champagne, even though she told him when she had it before, she'd become violently ill. The director assured her that French champagne "could never hurt you." After drinking a glass to placate him, "she felt her lungs beginning to constrict."

Polanski gave her a tablet, telling her it would "counter the effects of the champagne." The police report reads: "[D]utifully, the girl swallowed the tablet." He didn't "tell her that the tablet was not an antiasthma pill but a high-potency [illegal] Quaalude from his own pocket The girl was in a deep champagne-Quaalude daze slipping into unconsciousness. She was shivering and ashen and weeping 'I'm sick. I want to go home."

At one point, Polanski feared she was going to die, but he waited and when she didn't, he later admitted that he raped and sodomized her.

In a 1979 interview with Martin Amis for Tatler magazine, Polanki said: "When I was being driven to the police station from the hotel, the car radio was already talking about it ... I couldn't believe ... I thought, you know, I was going to wake up from it. I realize[d], if I have killed somebody, it wouldn't have had so much appeal for the press, you see? But ... f---ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f---young girls. Juries want to f---young girls-everyone wants to f---young girls!" He was once also quoted as saying, "Normal love isn't interesting. I assure you that it's incredibly boring."

Polanski had another international success with Tess (1979), starring 20-year-old Nastassja Kinski, with whom he had an intimate relationship. The film received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Director for Polanski, but not surprisingly, he didn't show up at the awards ceremony in Los Angeles. In 2003, he won the Best Director Oscar for The Pianist (2002). Harrison Ford accepted the award on his behalf.

Polanski continued to work, albeit sporadically. In 1989, he married his third wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, who was 23 at the time — a full 33 years younger. They have two children, Morgane and Elvis. On September 26, 2009 he was caught by authorities in Switzerland for extradition to the U.S. but later freed.

In 2010, British actress Charlotte Lewis told the media Polanski had sexually assaulted her four years after fleeing the U.S. “He just said very coldly, ‘If you’re not a big enough girl to have sex with me, you’re not big enough to do the screen test. I must sleep with every actress that I work with, that’s how I get to know them, how I mold them.'"


Venus in Fur (2013)
Carnage (2011)
The Ghost Writer (2010)
Oliver Twist (2005)
The Pianist (2002)
The Ninth Gate (2000)
Death and the Maiden (1994)
Bitter Moon (1992)
Frantic (1988)
Pirates (1986)
Tess (1979)
Le Locataire (1976)
Chinatown (1974)
What? (1973)
Macbeth (1971)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
The Fearless Vampire Killlers (1967)
Cul-de-sac (1966)
Repulsion (1965)
Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (1964)
Ssaki (1962)
Knife in the Water (1963)
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