Another Reason to Dislike the French...and Hollywood. (3/24/03)

Not that anyone should expect much from Hollywood, especially not a functioning moral compass, but while Michael Mooreís antiwar comments during last nightís Oscar broadcast drew mixed cheers and boos, the entire audience gave a standing ovation to Best Director winner Roman Polanski, despite the fact that he is a convicted rapist, child molester and fugitive from justice.

Most news stories that mention this at all say he was convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a 13-year-old girl, and then fled the country before he was sentenced. Thatís bad enough, but the details are even more offensive.

The crime occurred almost exactly 26 years ago, on Thursday, March 10, 1977, at the home of Jack Nicholson, who was not there at the time. Two weeks later, a grand jury indicted Polanski on charges of giving a drug to a minor, committing a lewd act upon a person less than 14, rape of a minor, rape by use of a drug, oral copulation and sodomy, all felonies.

News stories reported that the girl was 13 and the drug was a Quaalude, washed down with champagne. Polanski was 43 at the time. Quaalude, a depressant, was a popular illicit drug of that era.

Five months later, in a deal requested by the girlís mother, Polanski pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. The mother endorsed the plea arrangement in order to spare her daughter the ordeal of what would surely have been a highly publicized trial. The court accepted the plea bargain but also ordered Polanski to undergo examination by two court-appointed psychiatrists to determine if he should be institutionalized as a "mentally disordered sex offender." The other charges were dropped. Deportation of Polanski as an undesirable alien was also discussed.

After three months of psychiatric evaluation, during which Polanski was institutionalized, sentencing was scheduled for February of 1978. The original plea arrangement had not included any specific sentence, which was up to the judge and could have been as much as 50 years. Instead of appearing for his sentencing, Polanski, a French citizen, returned home to Paris. American authorities requested his extradition, but the French authorities refused on the grounds that French citizens may not be extradited under any circumstances.

Twenty years later, in 1997, Polanskiís victim went public. Samantha Geimer gave a lot of interviews and said she forgave Polanski, although she still characterized the event as him "drugging her and raping her when she was a starstruck kid."

Polanskiís defenders note that his acclaimed film, The Pianist, contains elements of his own traumatic childhood as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Poland. Polanski was imprisoned at Auschwitz and his mother died there. In 1969, Polanskiís pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered by the Charles Manson cult.

Yes, very bad things have happened to Roman Polanski in his life. Apparently, he has always viewed the rape incident more as something bad that happened to him than as something bad he did. In defending himself against the 1977 rape charges, Polanski often claimed that Geimer was a "Lolita" who "knew all about sex and drugs." After he fled, he told a BBC reporter, "I've been tortured by this for a year and that's enough."

After Geimer went public in 1997 there was talk of a deal that would allow Polanski to return to the United States without having to serve any jail time, but nothing materialized. With the recent success of The Pianist, Geimer has surfaced again, appearing on ABCís "Good Morning America," CNNís "Larry King Live" and other media outlets, again offering forgiveness and advocating a deal. In 1990, Geimer (then identified only as "Jane Doe") filed a civil suit against Polanski. A civil judgment in Geimerís favor could have been satisfied by seizing income Polanski earns in the United States. Polanski and Geimer settled but the terms have never been revealed.

In the sports world, the debate still rages about whether Pete Rose should be forgiven for his gambling offenses, so he can be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The main argument is that the Hall of Fame should be based on his baseball achievements and everything else should be ignored. Obviously, the Academy voters and Hollywood community in general endorse a similar principle with regard to Polanski and The Pianist. Rose, of course, was never convicted of a crime and has taken his punishment, not that there was any way to avoid it. Polanski has evaded justice and continued to work unimpeded, albeit not on the soundstages of Southern California. Presumably he has plenty of money and enjoys an excellent quality of life in France.

Maybe Saddam Hussein can get off his hook by recording a hit rap album or developing a killer fudge recipe. Or maybe he can just get an apartment in Paris.

© 2003, Charles Kendrick Cowdery, All Rights Reserved.

For more details about the Polanski case visit The Roman Polanski Media Reports Archive.*

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