LONDON: Renowned Franco-Polish director and film maker Roman Polanski won the libel he filed against Vanity Fair over an article alleging he had attempted to seduce a Scandinavian “beauty” in New York as he was leaving for the funeral of his eight-month pregnant wife Sharon Tate, who was murdered in August 1969.
A jury in London’s high court on Friday awarded him 50,000 pounds in damages.
The trial, extending over a week, saw sensational revelations of the 71-year-old director’s sexual escapades during the Sixties and a courtroom drama when at one point, giving evidence over a video link, the director wept. There was a history element too, a sort of a precedent in legal formalities, when he became the first to sue through the video link from another country, France, where he is residing now. The trial was permitted after the House of Lords ruled that he should not be denied access to justice despite his self-imposed exile since 1978. Polanski also got costs estimated at 1.5 million pounds.
The director may have faced extradition if he had appeared in a London court as he is wanted by the U.S. legal enforcers in connection with a sex crime admitted by him involving a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He had fled the U.S. in 1978 and cannot be extradited from France.
Immediately after the verdict, Polanski said in a statement from his Paris home: “It goes without saying that, whilst the whole episode is a sad one, I am obviously pleased with the jury’s verdict today.
“Three years of my life have been interrupted. Three years within which I have had no choice but to relive the horrible events of August 1969, the murder of my wife, my unborn child and my friends.
“The memory of my late wife Sharon Tate was at the forefront of my mind in bringing this action.” Tate was stabbed by the Charles Manson “family”.
Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair’s editor, expressed surprise over the jury decision. He said it is “outrageous that this story is considered defamatory given the fact that Mr. Polanski cannot be here because he slept with a 13-year-old girl a quarter of a century ago.
“Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how the wheels of British justice move. I wish Mr. Polanski well.”
Polanski had admitted having sex with a woman four weeks after Tate’s murder and seeking solace in sex with teenaged girls from a finishing school in Gstaad, Switzerland later.
Polanski’s private life was the focus of attention for much of the trial, with Vanity Fair attempting to persuade the jury that he was perfectly capable of “callous indifference” to Tate’s memory and had no reputation to hurt in the first place.
His lawyer John Kelsey-Fry argued that Polanski was clearly distraught at the time of his wife’s murder.
Vanity Fair had accused Polanski of propositioning a woman on the way to the funeral, but conceded it did not happen on the way to the funeral but two weeks later. It alleged he had told the woman “I’ll make you the next Sharon Tate”.
Actress Mia Farrow, deposing for the director, said the incident never happened.
Winning the Oscar for his movie The Pianist in 2003, Polanski had listed a string of sexual conquests that began within a month of the death of Tate, 26. But he said it is an “abominable lie” on the part of the magazine to claim that, at a dinner at Elaine’s Restaurant in New York while he was en route to Tate’s funeral in Los Angeles, he had used her memory as a “tool of seduction”.
Polanski has now been married for 17 years to his third wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner.