Roman Polanski was off the hook — for the moment. At a preliminary sentencing hearing on Sept. 19, 1977, after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, the 44-year-old Polish director of Chinatown was ordered to undergo psychiatric observation. A man of dazzling talent and kinky reputation, Polanski had been arrested in February when the mother of a 13-year-old girl claimed he had drugged and raped her daughter, an aspiring model he had taken to Jack Nicholson’s L.A. home to photograph for French Vogue.
Friends rushed to Polanski’s defense, citing his tragedy-riddled life. His mother had died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. His pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family in 1969. Mia Farrow, star of his 1968 film, Rosemary’s Baby, wrote the judge in Polanski’s defense, calling him ”a brave and brilliant man.” Apparently swayed, Judge Laurence J. Rittenband delayed the sentencing for three months so Polanski could direct the movie Hurricane.
Then it all came apart. Polanski flew not to the Hurricane set in Tahiti but to Munich, where he was photographed at an Oktoberfest beer hall surrounded by young women. The picture infuriated Rittenband. After Polanski’s stint in Tahiti, he returned in December for 42 days of psychiatric testing in Chino, Calif., and was released to face final sentencing on Feb. 2, 1978. But, convinced that the judge was now biased against him, Polanski fled to Paris, where he has since resided as a fugitive.
Polanski has spent the past 15 years making a handful of movies (Tess, Frantic) and dating a series of young actresses, one of whom, Emmanuelle Seigner, he married in 1989. In his 1984 autobiography, Roman, he shrugged off the morals charge as the result of ”a moment’s unthinking lust,” albeit one that ”jeopardized… my future in the country that mattered most to me.” Unless a deal is reached, he may never return to this country.
Time Capsule: September 19, 1977
Roger Moore was back as James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me, and Happy Days were here again on TV. The Thorn Birds flew to the top of the best-seller list, and the Emotions’ ”Best of My Love” was the No. 1 song.