This is a great article written by Peter Evans who knew both Sharon and Roman.
Sufferings of the great seducer
Sufferings of the great seducer
He may have been an obsessive womaniser, but morality drove Polanski into a libel suit, says Peter Evans
July 24, 2005
‘Deep down I regard myself as a moral man,” the film director Roman Polanski once told me. “But morality is too boring unless you also have a capacity for recklessness in your makeup; morality is only bearable if people believe that it could fly out of the window at any moment. Perhaps that is why I always sleep with the windows open.”
It is this deliberate sense of provocation, this risqué, self-incriminating humour, that has got the diminutive 71-year-old into so much trouble down the years — and led him to the High Court in London last week to sue Vanity Fair, the glossy US magazine, for libel. In July 2002 it had printed a “quite monstrous” allegation about how he had attempted to seduce the Scandinavian model Beatte Telle on his way to the funeral of Sharon Tate, his eight-month-pregnant wife who was murdered by the Charles Manson “family” in 1969.
The murder was a cause celebre then and remains one of America’s most notorious crimes. The sense of shock and grief at her killing, and the murder of four of her friends who were partying at the Polanski’s Bel Air home (Polanski was in Europe), sent shock waves through Hollywood in that last year of the Swinging Sixties.
Nobody was more shocked than Polanski.
A few weeks earlier I had had dinner with him and Tate at Mario and Franco’s Tiberio restaurant in London. The following day Tate was to fly to Los Angeles, where she was to have the baby, while Polanski headed for Paris to discuss a new movie. They were the Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford of their time. Cool, nomadic, talented and nicely shocking. I had written a profile of them for Goodbye Baby & Amen, the book I had written on London in the Sixties, with pictures by David Bailey.
Tate wanted to know what I had written; I told her that she would have to wait until the book was published that December. Bailey had photographed them in a fond embrace, both naked to the waist. It was a daring picture for its time, and Polanski’s idea.
“Anyone who is interested in the history of the Sixties and the permissive society must consider the Polanskis,” I had written. “They knew very well the excitement, the miseries, the happiness and the fear of the times.”
They helped to demolish the Hollywood image of what movie stardom was about. They had pursued the panaceas of the era from marijuana to LSD and knew the score. Polanski took three trips, two of them bad. Tate said that it had “opened the world to me. I was like a very tight knot, too embarrassed to dance, to speak even. But I could never touch it again. Now I think it would destroy me”.
There was an honesty that was almost naive about them. Together they believed they were challenging the citadels of censorship and cant. From Poland — his mother had died in Auschwitz — Polanski was especially sensitive about a person’s right to freedom.
Tate wanted to be like him. “I wish I had the tolerance to let everybody have complete freedom,” she said. “To be able to take a man home and make love and enjoy it without some lurking puritanical guilt interrupting the pleasure . . . Mentally it’s what I want, but emotionally it is more difficult to take.”
If she was under her husband’s spell, it was where she wanted to be. It was also plain that Polanski was totally in love with his wife.
It is also true that he was, and would always be, as unfaithful to her as she would never be unfaithful to him. Yet it was a happy marriage. “We have a good arrangement,” Tate once told me solemnly. “Roman lies to me and I pretend to believe him.”
Laurence Harvey, the actor, told me the night after Tate was murdered: “This could destroy Roman. Marriage vows mean nothing to him but few men have adored a woman as much as he adored Sharon.”
The truth was, Polanski loved seducing women — air stewardesses, actresses, models, pretty waitresses — but he loved Tate. He loved her beauty, her American style, her sense of fun and enthusiasm for life and her eagerness to follow his lead. His power over women was something others had noticed; Kenneth Tynan, the critic, saw in Polanski’s films this ability to “impose” his will on others.
He saw nothing wrong in making love in the afternoon to a woman he had just met — although “making love” is a term he would have considered dishonest — and going home to Tate that evening. “She is the best wife and the best lover a man could ever have,” he told a friend, explaining his decision to become a father in the summer of 1969. This moral dichotomy was, and probably still is, at the root of his perplexing personality. He once told me that he had never deceived a woman in his life; women are too good at deceiving themselves, he said.
There is no doubt that Polanski, a puckish-looking man with a quick smile and a quicker mind, has always known how to get a woman into bed — and never regretted doing so. It is a trait that many people condemn although their criticism never bothered him. “I do what I do, I don’t have time for what others think,” he said. “If my honesty upsets some people, that is their problem, not mine.”
In court last week extracts were played from a lie-detector test that Polanski gave to police after his wife’s murder. He had been asked if he had since dated any airline stewardesses. “Not dated, I have seen a couple,” he replied. “I would not call it dating.” Asked if he had “taken them to lunch or something like that”, he answered bluntly: “I f***** them.”
Yet I was not surprised when he decided, against all apparent odds and all rational reason, to sue Vanity Fair for suggesting that he had tried to seduce a woman en route to Tate’s funeral. For according to his own curious code of honour, it was not his reputation that he was defending: it was the integrity of his memory of Tate.
Only those close to Polanski at the time understand how distraught he was at his wife’s death. In court Mia Farrow, who starred in his biggest commercial success, Rosemary’s Baby, a film about the resonance of evil, testified to his frame of mind the night he allegedly tried to seduce Telle in Elaine’s, a fashionable New York restaurant, only days after Tate and their unborn son were murdered.
“Of this I can be sure — of his frame of mind when we were there, of what we talked about, of his utter sense of loss, of despair and bewilderment and shock and love — a love that he had lost,” said Farrow. John Kelsey-Fry, his QC, spoke of his “utter grief . . . a man unravelled with grief”.
In 1978, nine years after her death and at the peak of his success following the acclaim of Chinatown, he jumped bail and fled abroad from the charge of having seduced a 13-year-old girl. He has never returned. Now living in Paris and remarried, he won the right to give evidence via video link because of his fear that setting foot in London could result in extradition to the United States. They have not always been happy years or even successful ones. But it is hard to feel pity for a man who has no self-pity, a man who is as cynical and driven as Polanski.
I do feel we should try to understand why he was compelled to put himself through the wringer of an English court of law where his morals would be exposed for all the world to witness. His morals — judged by ordinary standards — were, he knew only too well, going into court, where he was most vulnerable and where Tom Shields, QC, counsel for the magazine, would go for him hard.
And he did. “This law knows of no rules — only violations of civilised conduct which, it appears, can be readily excused,” Shields told the court. “As to whether Mr Polanski’s reputation is capable of being damaged, sadly, we would say, it is beyond repair.” Moreover, Polanski should not receive damages because his reputation had been ruined by his promiscuous past. It must have been painful even for Polanski to hear the truth about his promiscuous past expressed so brutally and frankly. But he did not flinch, at least not outwardly. For this, he knew, was the story of his life. A life he had always lived by his own rules.
“The thing you have to know about me is that I am a survivor first — a film-maker second,” I remember him telling me that night he, Tate and I had dinner, not long before her murder.
He has won his case and he is walking away with £50,000, but the money was never the point. As he said in a statement after Friday’s verdict, “The memory of my late wife Sharon Tate was at the forefront of my mind in bringing this action.”
Cynics may doubt this. Those who know him know that he was speaking nothing but the truth.