Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Roman Polanski

The Auteur

Movie poster: Knife in the Water
Movie poster: Knife in the Water

Polanski was a child of the greatest tragedies of the 20th Century. Born in France of Polish-Jewish descent in 1933, he and his family moved back to Poland in 1936 and were swept up in the horrors of the Holocaust. His mother was gassed while pregnant at Auschwitz; and his father was sent to the Mauthausen-Gusen forced-labor camp. Young Roman escaped from the Krakow Ghetto before his parents were sent to the camps, and was sheltered by Polish families, passing as a Polish Catholic.

He had gleaned only the beginnings of a formal education from his half-sister before his escape from the ghetto, and after the war got bit by the movie and acting bugs. He attended the Lodz Film School and quickly became one of Poland's rising stars. He married Barbara Kwiatkowska, an actress, for two years and landed on the cover of Time magazine for his film, Knife in the Water by the time he was 26. He was nominated for his first Oscar that year in Best Foreign Film category.

Movie poster: Rosemary's Baby
Movie poster: Rosemary's Baby

He divorced Kwiatkowska and soon after met Sharon Tate. Tate and Polanski were married in a London ceremony, with parties that went on for days. His first major Hollywood success was Rosemary's Baby — he'd been introduced to the novel by famed producer Robert Evans. Polanski was flying high when the Manson murders took place. Polanski had been in London and was due to fly back, when he got the call about the murders.

After Tate's murder, Polanski had fled to Paris and lived for three years in Italy; he was often seen dating younger and younger girls in press photos. By 1977, he had revived his career with Chinatown, again receiving critical accolades — he was considered amongst the very best directors of his time, along with Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

But everything was about to change.

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