Penthouse Retrospective

by Barbara Leaming Originally Published: November, 1981

Roman Polanski

Four years ago a sex scandal involving a thirteen-year-old girl forced the famed movie director to flee to Europe. The whole story is finally told.

Penthouse Magazine - November 1981Roman Polanski’s Escape from Hollywood

Roman Polanski accepted an assignment from Vogue Hammes, a sophisticated French men’s magazine, to shoot a photo spread on little girls of the world. If was 1977, and Polanski, still unable to secure financing for Pirates, signed a development deal with Columbia Pictures to script and direct an adaptation of Lawrence Sanders’s The First Deadly Sin.

He decided to work on the scenario and gather candidates for the kiddie spread in California. While Polanski was in Paris, his friend Henri Sera reminded him of a woman Sera had introduced him to the year before in a Los Angeles bar. A minor actress, she had two daughters. Sera was dating one of them and suggested her younger sister, then 13, as a potential model. Arriving in Los Angeles, Polanski checked into the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and telephoned the woman’s home in Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley no less than 11 times. On February 13, Polanski drove his rented Mercedes to visit mother and child and make his pitch.

Ushering him into the living room, the attractive woman in her thirties told Polanski that the child was waiting in her bedroom; so they could talk. As credentials, Polanski brought the issue of the French Vogue he had guest-edited. The photos of Nastassia Kinski had an erotic undertone, but she was fully clothed — and the mother got the impression that Polanski would be photographing her child for French Vogue, an exciting prospect because of the magazine’s status and influence. But French Vogue is a fashion magazine for women, different in tone and audience from its often-erotic counterpart, Vogue Hammes. When Polanski mentioned that he was looking for an 11-year-old, the mother admitted that her daughter was 13, perhaps too old for his needs. Polanski said he would have a look anyway, and the candidate was summoned before him. Sera had been right; she was perfect. Polanski set a date, February 20, for a photographing session. Recollecting this initial meeting, the mother would hit upon an important fact: they had discussed the child’s age. Polanski knew she was 13.

A week later Polanski was back, armed with cameras and equipment. The first session took place behind the house, but when the mother asked to watch, Polanski suggested that this would “inhibit” her daughter; so she left them alone. After a few routine shots, Polanski asked the child to remove her blouse but assured her that he would crop the photos to avoid showing her “boobies,” as he called her breasts. Polanski didn’t think topless photography improper, since it is common in Europe. But the child was dubious enough not to tell her mother. As far as the woman knew, her daughter had been clothed throughout.

Another photography session with the 13-year-old was scheduled for March 10, but this time Polanski wanted to take her to the home of a friend, Victor Drey, on Mulholland Drive. Polanski turned up at Woodland Hills to pick her up and to give the mother Drey’s telephone number. A friend of the child’s was visiting, and the mother assumed that Polanski would take the two of them, but as they got ready to leave, she saw that the friend wasn’t getting into the car. She rushed over to ask what had happened. Polanski, the friend said, had told her she couldn’t come. The mother watched as Polanski and her daughter drove off together.

Later, when she dialed Drey’s number, a woman on the other end of the phone assured her that everything was all right. Other people were present, and Polanski was busy shooting pictures. As the light began to dim, Polanski decided to move to Jack Nicholson’s house, also on Mulholland Drive. Nicholson, he knew, was in Aspen, Colo., and the house was being occupied by his girlfriend, Anjelica Huston. Polanski phoned the Nicholson house and then the child’s mother, giving her the new number and assuring her that Anjelica Huston would be present.

When Polanski and his model arrived at Nicholson’s, only the caretaker, Helena Kallianotes, was there. Polanski asked for a drink, and she sent him to the refrigerator, where he found a magnum of champagne.

Later the young model would reconstruct the events that followed. She was confused about sequence and time because she and Polanski had been left alone by Miss Kallianotes and the champagne went to the 13-year-old’s head. “I don’t know how much, because I was drinking some of his, too. I just kept — I just kept drinking it for pictures and, you know.”

Polanski had begun to shoot more photos. Then he stopped and went into a bathroom. Following him, the girl saw that he had a container of pills, one of which was broken into three parts in his hand. “Is this a Quaalude?” he asked.

She said yes, telling him that she had once taken a Quaalude that she had found; it belonged to her older sister.

“Do you think I will be able to drive if I take it?” he asked. “Well, I guess I will.”

Then he swallowed it and asked her, “Do you want part?” “No… oh, okay,” she replied. The champagne and the pill disoriented her.

Polanski photographed her in Nicholson’s elaborate Jacuzzi, sometimes topless, sometimes totally nude. In a few shots she clutched glasses of champagne. Then Polanski began to take off his clothes to join her in the Jacuzzi. She was still alert enough to panic and told him they had to call her mother.

The telephone rang at the child’s Woodland Hills home, and the mother answered. “Are you all right?” she asked her daughter.

“Un-huh.”

“You want me to come and pick you up?”

“No.”

After hanging up, the child had second thoughts and decided to fake an asthma attack — a condition from which she did not suffer — and asked Polanski to take her home, saying she was unable to breathe. Instead, he told her to go into a bedroom and lie down. She obeyed but would later say, “I can barely remember anything that happened…. I was kind of dizzy, you know, like things were kind of blurry sometimes.”

Polanski had come into the room and began kissing her. After performing cunnilingus, he penetrated her vaginally, asking her, she recalled, if she used birth-control pills and when she had last menstruated. She didn’t know how long his penis had been in her vagina, “but not a very long time.” He withdrew before ejaculating. Then Polanski penetrated her anally, climaxing in her rectum. At this point, Anjelica Huston returned and knocked at the bedroom door. Polanski got up and went to talk to her. When he returned to the bed, he tried once more to have intercourse with the child. Finally the two of them got up and dressed, going out to speak briefly with Anjelica Huston before Polanski drove the girl home.

Back in Woodland Hills, she rushed into her house, ahead of Polanski, and as she brushed past her mother, she whispered, “If he asks, tell him I have asthma” and then closed herself into her bedroom. The woman’s boyfriend and her elder daughter were in the living room, and she invited Polanski to join them. If the girl had acted strangely, Polanski was calm and controlled, offering them a look at the photos from the session in the backyard. Crude and poorly executed, the images weren’t what the mother had expected. But when she spotted the topless shots, she grew really disturbed, although she knew Polanski couldn’t publish them without a release. No one had the nerve to say anything about the poor quality of the images, and a meek attempt to get Polanski to turn over the topless shots was rebuffed. The encounter grew uncomfortable on both sides, and Polanski packed up his photos and left, after which it occurred to the mother that he had never produced a release form.

In her bedroom the girl called her 17-year-old boyfriend and told him what had gone on at Jack Nicholson’s house. The boy wasn’t sure whether to believe her, but her elder sister did, having listened to every word from the hallway. Shocked, she rushed in to tell their mother, who, when she finished listening, called her accountant, asking him to recommend a lawyer. But the lawyer he suggested wasn’t at home, and next she dialed the police. Her daughter, she told them, had been raped.

She had called the police without consulting her daughter. The officers who responded escorted the child to Parkland Hospital for an examination. The 13-year-old, it seemed, had had two prior sexual experiences, one only two weeks before.

She said that Polanski had performed oral sex upon her and then penetrated her vaginally and anally, climaxing in her rectum. No blood was found on her garments or perineum, and an anal examination turned up “no evidence of forced entry.” There was, however, indication of semen on her panties. The tests were routinely undertaken to determine two things: whether there had been sexual contact and whether force had been used. But in the case of a 13-year-old in California, force was not technically an issue, since under the law of that state a child cannot consent.

The medical examination having been completed, the girl and her mother were questioned further by police. “What about the sodomy?” the teenager was asked. The child looked puzzled. “What do you mean?” When they defined it, she seemed to understand. “Oh,” she said, “I just thought he was going in the wrong way.”

Since the accused rapist was a public figure, the district attorney’s office was called upon to monitor events. James Grodin, a young deputy district attorney, asked to question the victim alone while the mother waited outside with her boyfriend. Grodin found the girl’s manner and appearance childish. As she related her story, she burst into tears several times.

She told him that she had attempted to scream in the bedroom at Nicholson’s house, but that she was so woozy from champagne and Quaaludes that no sound came out. Grodin came away from the interview convinced that she was telling the truth. But before he ordered an arrest, he wanted to be sure that the mother knew what she was getting into and wouldn’t back out. He carefully explained to mother and child that a case involving a world-famous director in Hollywood would unleash a flood of publicity. The mother assured him that she knew what they were getting into. The mother just wanted Polanski arrested. While the warrant was being sworn out, the mother and her boyfriend conferred with the little girl and agreed to take her to McDonald’s for dinner.

The next night, as Polanski prepared to leave the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for the theater, two sets of policemen and two deputy district attorneys were waiting for him in the lobby. The number of police didn’t mean that anyone expected Polanski to resist arrest. Extra men were needed for the planned search of Jack Nicholson’s house for evidence. Deputy District Attorneys Grodin and David Wells were there to supervise the arrest. Because Polanski was a VIP, they wanted to make certain that everything was done by the book.

When Polanski emerged, accompanied by several friends, men and women, one of the policemen addressed him. “I’d like to speak with you, Mr. Polanski,” he said, identifying himself as a police officer.

“Is it going to take long?” Polanski coolly asked.

Either he suspected nothing, or he was a terrific actor. When the police said that it would take a while, the friends around Polanski grew alarmed. “Go on to the theater,” he told them, “and either I’ll join you there or I won’t.”

He was unruffled, in total control. When the friends protested, he calmly dismissed them, saying, “Go ahead. Go to the theater.” As they walked off, chattering among themselves and glancing back, Polanski turned to the policeman. “Where do you want to talk?” he asked.

The policeman responded that they had a warrant to search Polanski’s room and suggested that they go there. Eyeing the cops and deputy district attorneys, Polanski asked whether it was necessary for everyone to go up as a group. These were obviously cops, and Polanski wanted to avoid unnecessary gossip. The police agreed to split into two groups. As they walked toward the elevators, one of the police saw Polanski lift his hand to put something in his mouth. He grabbed Polanski’s wrist and took a Quaalude from his palm, the same drug that the child claimed he had given her.

In his room Polanski acted like a host, inviting them to sit down. His face was expressionless, his manner polite. He had not yet asked for any explanation. Only now, with the door closed behind them and Polanski seated in an overstuffed easy chair, did he broach the subject. “What’s this all about?” he asked. “You know what we’re here for,” one of the men replied.

Meanwhile, Grodin had spotted a selection of photos and slides scattered upon the dresser as if someone had been casually viewing them. On inspection, he saw that they all treated a single subject: young girls. “That’s what we’re here for,” Grodin said, indicating the cluttered dresser top. “We had a report from a young girl that you photographed. She reported that you raped her yesterday.”

Polanski began to cross and uncross his legs.

Asked for his side of the story, Polanski inquired, “Are you going to arrest me whether I say anything or not?” But without waiting for the officer’s response, Polanski smiled — for the first time. “Okay, here it is,” he said and denied everything. The drugs, the rape, the sodomy. Nothing untoward had happened, he claimed. Grodin told Polanski they wanted him to accompany them for the search of Nicholson’s house.

They proceeded to Mulholland Drive, where an electric gate barred access to the compound, which comprised three houses owned by Marlon Brando, the middle one rented by Nicholson. There was no response to the buzzer, although Polanski insisted that the maid must be there. “That’s okay,” he added. “I know how to get to the other side.” At that, he leaped up and over the gate. “Oh, my God, where’s he going?” muttered one of the police while another followed Polanski over the gate. By then Polanski was on the other side, pushing a button to release the lock to the electric gate.

After much banging on Nicholson’s door, Anjelica Huston finally responded, visibly annoyed at the commotion and unfriendly toward Polanski. It seemed that she had quarreled with Nicholson and was packing her bags to leave when the cops turned up to search the premises. Interviewed privately in the kitchen, she said that Polanski was a “freak.” It seemed obvious that she was trying to make sure that no one associated Nicholson or her with Polanski. Recounting her return to the house the night before, she said that she had walked about, calling “Roman, Roman, where are you?” until he responded from the bedroom near the pool.

“We’re down here!” he shouted. When she opened the door, she found them “going at it.” Polanski got up and walked over, naked from the waist down. “We’ll be out in a few minutes,” he said. About 20 minutes later, the girl emerged, hastily dressed and clearly a little woozy.

“Are you okay?” Huston asked her.

“Yeah, I’m okay, but I want to go right home.”

Huston and Polanski talked, and then she turned back to the girl and asked again, “Are you okay?”

She replied by asking to go home. “Roman,” Huston asked, “are you going to take her home?” He said that he would and left with the child and his equipment. Telling the story in the kitchen, Huston seemed “really pissed that this had happened” — according to the law-enforcement officer who interviewed her.

Meanwhile, a cop had discovered a large container of hashish in a drawer in Nicholson’s bedroom. Then, in Huston’s purse, he found cocaine and announced he would have to “dust for fingerprints.” But Huston stopped him. “I’ll save you the trouble, because it’s my stuff.” Now Anjelica Huston, too, would have to be taken downtown for booking. Eventually, she was released on her own recognizance.

But Polanski was detained and became increasingly nervous. “Is this going to take long?” he repeated over and over. “Look,” Grodin finally said, “you’ve got to realize that this is a very serious thing. It’s going to take a long time.” Finally Polanski was booked on suspicion of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl and was released on $2,500 bail.

Polanski’s personal crisis infected his professional life when a decision was made at Columbia “not to go forward” with him as director of The First Deadly Sin. Polanski had been depending on the deal, and its cancellation caused him serious financial problems. He was paying top dollar for his highly regarded lawyer, Douglas Dalton, but knew that he could not afford to economize on his defense.

The prosecution of the Polanski case was assigned to a young Mormon, Roger Gunson, known as one of the straightest men in the district attorney’s office. When a 21-member Los Angeles County grand jury convened to hear secret testimony, included among the witnesses were the mother, the alleged victim, and the 17- year-old boy whom she had phoned and first told about the rape. Gunson was worried about the boy and the impression he would make on the grand jury. Although the girl’s morals were not legally at issue in the case, any sentiment against her could undermine her credibility. Potentially, the admission of prior sexual experience could destroy the case even though, technically, such prior experience had no bearing on the present case. Gunson hadn’t interviewed the boy before his grand-jury testimony and didn’t know what he looked like. Unable to pick out a likely-looking 17-year-old in the waiting room the morning of the hearing, Gunson inquired and was told, “It’s the young-looking one.” The prosecutor was then introduced to the witness, a quiet boy, who looked no more than 12. Gunson was relieved, for the boy’s childish appearance would deflate the threat that the victim’s “prior sexual experience” with him presented.

At the hearing Gunson surprised some observers by quizzing the girl about her prior sexual activities. He later disclosed two strategic reasons. First, he raised the issue of the girl’s sexual activities in order to obviate any subsequent claims by the defense that might lead to another hearing. Second, Gunson felt that the information the girl would reveal would help her case by countering any rumors there might be of extreme promiscuity.

Another source close to the prosecution revealed that Gunson was concerned about the results of the medical examination at Parkland Hospital that had turned up no evidence of vaginal or anal damage. In a case of rape involving a 13-year-old, a juror might expect damage; so by revealing that she wasn’t a virgin, Gunson would make such expectations irrelevant.

After a day of listening and deliberating, the grand jury handed down a six-count indictment, each count a felony:

  • Count I, “furnishing a controlled substance to a minor”;
  • Count II, committing “a lewd and lascivious act” on a child, a 13-year-old girl;
  • Count III, “unlawful sexual intercourse”;
  • Count IV, “rape by use of drugs,” including Quaalude and alcohol;
  • Count V, “perversion… copulating the mouth of him … with the sexual organ” of the child;
  • Count VI, “sodomy.”

If convicted on all six counts, Polanski would face up to 50 years in prison.

Assigned to the case was Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband. The proceedings were moved from the downtown courthouse to the so-called celebrity court in Santa Monica.

Polanski moved out of the Beverly Wilshire and into the Chateau Marmont Hotel, where he and Sharon Tate had first lived together after their marriage. Shortly after his arrest he had made a deposit on the purchase of a house in Hollywood Hills, on Rising Glen Road, but the sale fell through. In need of money, Polanski signed a development deal with Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, who was now operating out of Beverly Hills. Polanski was to script and direct a remake of Hurricane, the John Ford classic. De Laurentiis had attempted to acquire Polanski’s services before, offering him the direction of King Kong. But Polanski had turned the project down, telling friends that he couldn’t work up too much interest in a monkey.

Working again, Polanski appeared in court rarely, when motions had to be made in the pretrial hearings. His French passport hadn’t been lifted, because it seemed unlikely that someone who had just accepted a contract to direct a multi-million-dollar movie was going to disappear. With the court’s permission, Polanski was able to travel abroad, even making a trip to Bora Bora to scout locations. But Polanski was depressed and insecure. The rape charges had made him a pariah to some people, who seemed frightened in his presence and steered away from him.

Polanski insisted to friends that he had dated the mother of the 13-year-old, and that the mother had turned him in out of jealousy over his interest in her daughter. He had done nothing wrong, he claimed — at least not by adult European standards. Friends circulated stories about Polanski’s having been set up — either by mother or by daughter.

‘“I have never hidden from myself my love of young girls, naturally, they are the most beautiful. Now simply I will say that I love very young women.” -Polanski to Paris Match’

After a series of postponements and motions, both sides put out feelers concerning possible plea bargaining. But these early attempts failed. The problem remained for Polanski: if he were convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, which the charges involved, he faced the threat of being deported. Because his work as a director necessitated his having access to Hollywood, deportation was something he wished to avoid at all costs.

Dalton had sought to question the girl and to have her psychiatrically evaluated on the chance that she had imagined it all. He also moved to have her panties inspected, claiming that the semen found there might not be Polanski’s. These defense motions were denied. Discovering that the press had gotten wind of the failed plea-bargaining attempts, Dalton was concerned, because he didn’t want the public thinking that Polanski might be willing to admit any guilt in the case. He tried to get Judge Rittenband to issue a gag order forbidding public comment on the case. An alert reporter, Richard Brenneman, learned of the gag order attempt and wrote a story about it in the local Santa Monica paper, after which, citing the public’s right to know, Rittenband denied Dalton’s request.

After many postponements, a trial date was set: August 9, the eighth anniversary of Sharon Tate’s murder. Gunson and the district attorney’s office had accumulated substantial evidence against Polanski, but the girl’s family — which included her mother, her adoptive father, and her sister — grew increasingly hesitant about having her testify in open court. In the months since the arrest, they had recoiled at public speculation even while her identity was secret. Although most reporters honored the agreement to suppress her name until the trial, there were exceptions. Within days reporters knew who she was and where she lived, and some turned up at her school to question her classmates, while others staked out her house. One freelance photographer, using a telephoto lens, took a picture of the girl and her mother sitting in a car. He sold the photo for $500. Another photographer snapped a picture of the girl standing in the school yard with a group of friends.

Lawrence Silver, the lawyer for the girl and her family, realized that her rapid physical development would pose a major problem should she be called to testify — another reason for keeping her out of court. He watched as his client grew taller by the week. What he had first perceived as two little “bumps”— as he called them — were now “clearly identifiable breasts.” This might affect a jury’s attitude, particularly with Polanski sitting in the courtroom looking boyish and small. In March, the 13-year-old girl was taller than her attacker; by August she would tower over him. The one hope that the prosecution had for counteracting her budding development was the set of photographs Polanski had taken, showing her appearance at the time. The prosecution would point out, however, that no matter what the girl’s appearance — then or now — she had still been only 13, and Polanski knew it. Any other considerations were legally irrelevant.

Anjelica Huston had agreed to testify for the prosecution if the district attorney’s office would drop the drug charges against her. Gunson’s case was strong. There were photos of the little girl sprawled in a Jacuzzi as she sipped champagne. There were semen-stained panties. And there was Huston’s promised testimony. Still, Gunson wanted the girl on the stand as a willing, not a reluctant, witness. Her family had now begun putting real pressure on the district attorney’s office for a plea-bargaining agreement. But there was an immediate obstacle to this: the district attorney, John Van de Kamp, had made it public policy that no plea bargaining be considered unless it concerned the most serious of the charges leveled against a defendant. Polanski faced very serious charges and was unwilling to plead to the most serious.

Gunson was not happy about accepting a plea bargain: he believed in his case and wanted to go to trial, provided that the girl and her mother would testify. Sources close to him later said that he had wanted to drop the whole thing if the victim wouldn’t take the stand. It was evident, though, that Polanski was too public a figure for this to be possible.

Both sides reluctantly pressed to win the best terms they could. In the course of plea-bargaining negotiations, Dalton twice privately repeated an offer whereby, as part of the rehabilitation process, Polanski would voluntarily found and fund a theater-arts school for disadvantaged children, where he would also teach. “That would be a nifty place for a child molester!” grumbled a member of the prosecution team. Dalton’s offer wasn’t taken up.

By early August, however, a plea-bargain had been arranged. On August 8, the day before the scheduled start of his trial, Polanski appeared in Santa Monica court to change his plea to guilty on a single charge: the least serious one of the six original counts, “unlawful sexual intercourse.” He had not wanted to plead guilty to any of them, and even this count could result in his deportation, but Dalton had convinced him that he must compromise.

Gunson wasn’t happy either. The girl’s family threatened not to appear if Polanski’s plea was not accepted. Gunson went into court determined that the girl’s story would not be forgotten or tossed aside. He had made up his mind that Polanski would not be able to walk out of the courtroom and say afterward that he hadn’t done anything. It had to be made clear that Polanski had ravished the child and had admitted it publicly. For this reason, the conditions under which Polanski’s guilty plea was accepted were unusual. First, he was required to enter the plea under oath — an unusual step — specifying precisely to what he pleaded guilty. Gunson wanted no ambiguity. So, after taking the oath, Polanski stood before Judge Rittenband and said, “I had sex with a female person, not my wife, under the age of eighteen. She was the complaining witness.”

When he had finished, Gunson read Polanski a long list of questions, each of which he answered. “On March 10, 1977,” asked Gunson, “the day you had intercourse with the complaining witness, how old did you believe her to be?” “I understand she was thirteen,” Polanski said. “Did you know she was thirteen years of age then?” Gunson continued. “Yes.” Polanski also said he knew that his plea of guilty carried a possible sentence of 1 to 50 years in state prison and that he could be deported.

‘“I want to be at peace with myself… I wanted to be judged fairly, without hysteria. For this affair to be finished. Let me live my life.” — Polanski to Paris Match’

Silver, the family’s lawyer, read a three-page letter to the judge, expressing the family’s wishes that the court accept Polanski’s plea and their hope that he would not be incarcerated. Both Silver and the prosecution team knew that this was a calculated risk, for the letter might create a suspicion that the girl was afraid to appear publicly because she was lying. “My primary concern,” said Silver, “is the present and future well-being of the girl and her family. Up to this point, the identity of my clients has been protected from public exposure. Fearful that the child would be stigmatized by the case, the family had decided that the guilty plea by the defendant was a sufficient act of contrition.

The district attorney’s office was determined that it would not appear as if Polanski was getting special treatment because he was famous. Given the fact that Van de Kamp’s office was accepting a plea to a lesser charge, in violation of its declared policy, a statement was issued outlining the reasons for making this exception — and making it clear that no sentencing deal had been included in the agreement to accept the plea: “Should we prosecute the defendant to the fullest degree,” asked the DA’s office, “yet victimize the 13-year-old girl through the mass of publicity and exposure which we all know this trial would bring, and which would conceivably follow her for the rest of her life?”

In his more detailed official recommendation, Van de Kamp cited fears that scandal and publicity would further aggravate the traumatic effect the young victim had already suffered.

Before sentencing, Rittenband would have to secure various recommendations, including those of a team of psychiatrists which would be appointed to determine whether or not Polanski was “a mentally disordered sex offender.” If the psychiatrists ruled that Polanski was mentally deranged, he could be committed to a state hospital for treatment and forced to register afterward as a sex offender. Once the psychiatrists’ reports came in, they would be included in a comprehensive report prepared by a probation officer, a crucial factor in Rittenband’s decision on the sentence.

Polanski’s legal team went in to plea-bargaining negotiations determined about one thing: as a condition of their client’s pleading guilty, they wanted a guarantee that Polanski would not be assigned to the female probation officer who would normally have handled the case. If Polanski was to be observed and a lengthy account written of him, they did not want a woman to do the job. The prosecution accepted this request, and the task of composing the probation report was turned over to a man named Irwin Gold.

In the end, Polanski did not deny that he had had sexual intercourse with the little girl. But he was angry about being accused of rape. His predilection for youth was well known. Surely this was not the first time he had been sexually involved with a young girl. He felt that he was being persecuted and persecution was a nightmare he had done nothing to deserve. But no matter how physically developed or how available they are, the very young are legally off limits in our society. A child cannot consent to perform sexual acts, for she cannot make decisions with the authority of an adult.

Since the probation report would affect Polanski’s fate, he worked on his probation officer, Irwin Gold, for whom he painted a picture of a tragic past, a compliant girl, and remorse for anything he might have done wrong. Polanski had stepped in front of a camera before and knew how to act a part. As the probation report shows, he managed to win Gold’s sympathy — as well as that of the court-appointed psychiatrists. It is a testimonial to Polanski’s ability to manipulate a situation that the probation report was so favorable to him.

Gold began with a capsule narrative of Polanski’s troubled life, sketching wartime Poland, self-imposed exile from communism, and the Manson murders. Mention of two head injuries — in a Krakow bunker and in an automobile accident — led Gold to comment: “Although defendant has been under abnormal periods of stress throughout his life, he has never sought psychiatric or other professional assistance, implying that any psychiatric care could, conceivably, interfere with the creative process.”

After detailing the allegations, the report moved to Polanski’s confession. Now, for the first time, Polanski offered his version of what had happened on Mulholland Drive, stressing the 13-year-old’s initiative. More than just a compliant partner, the child was almost a seductress. In Polanski’s narrative she began to assume control in the car: “She mentioned that she liked champagne…. She once got drunk at her father’s house…. She talked about sex…. She said she first had sex at eight with a kid down the street and later her boyfriend.”

Inside Nicholson’s house the little girl had taken “her blouse off.” Although he didn’t mention the child’s being groggy with alcohol and drugs, he suggested that he had been worried about his own condition. Having been drinking, he now claimed, he feared taking a Quaalude. He denied any “actual offer” of drugs to the girl but did corroborate her having claimed to be asthmatic. The faked asthma attack posed a problem for Polanski’s story, since he claimed the child had been a “willing” partner; so he quickly cut away from it: “I heard a car coming. I was apprehensive. Some maniacs used to come to the compound.”

This veiled allusion to his own prior victimization preceded the point in the story where he “told her to rest in the bedroom.” The montage of the “maniacs” and the bedroom scene made Polanski a more sympathetic character. As to what went on inside the bedroom, he was strategically laconic: “I went to the bedroom. She never objected.” The sole information offered is that he “withdrew before climax,” another well-calculated detail. What happened between her consent and his withdrawal was simple: “The whole thing was very spontaneous. It was not planned.”

The girl had told a different story to the grand jury, to the district attorneys, and even to Gold — but from this moment, it was Polanski’s version that would determine the probation officer’s conclusions. A groggy 13-year-old who didn’t know the word sodomy was no match for this brilliant actor, director, and screenwriter. Gold wrote:

“During the subsequent interview with the defendant, he expressed great remorse regarding any possible effect the present offense might have had upon the victim. He expressed great pity and compassion for her, stating that he knew the legal proceedings have been extremely difficult for her. He stated that because of the many tragedies that he himself has known in his own life, he feels great empathy for a young person in distress.”

This passage registered events not explicit in it: the impassioned exchange between Gold and Polanski as the defendant recounted how often he had been kicked in life. “Haven’t you kicked someone, Roman?” asked Gold — at which Polanski broke down and wept. This moment, sources indicate, was the turning point for the probation officer, who became unusually involved in the case, fascinated by the possibility of comprehending and socializing with Roman Polanski as no one had done before.

In the course of the “mentally disordered sex offender proceedings,” Polanski became the object of psychiatric scrutiny and was deemed to be neither mentally ill nor sexually deviant. One psychiatrist even remarked on his “good judgment” — an odd assessment in a rape case. Accepting Polanski’s account, as Gold had, the psychiatrist characterized the offense as “an isolated instance of transient poor judgment and loss of normal inhibitions in circumstances of intimacy and collaboration in creative work.” Compassionate with regard to Polanski, the psychiatrist scored the mother’s “permissiveness and knowledge of circumstances.” Even the rape victim herself was called to account for her “physical maturity and willingness and provocativeness,” as if the child were to be blamed for her physical appearance, her natural endowments. In this light the psychiatrist commended Polanski for his “lack of coercion” as well as for “his solicitude concerning pregnancy.” He felt that Polanski was unlikely to “reoffend” and saw no need for psychiatric treatment.

‘“She talked about sex…” said Polanski. “She said she first had sex at eight with a boy down the street and later her boyfriend.””

Finally, Gold concluded his findings with all the authority of an observer sanctioned by law to interpret what he had seen. He recommended probation, on the basis of Polanski’s assertion “that the act was not premeditated, that it was spontaneous.” He noted that Polanski showed “sincere remorse” and that he was a foreigner with different “manners and mores.” Gold wrote: “It is believed that incalculable emotional damage could result from incarcerating the defendant, whose own life has been a seemingly unending series of punishments.” This was the victimizer as victim: a role Polanski had played to the hilt.

Despite these recommendations, Judge Rittenband was against probation for Polanski. Having once stated that “sometimes trying to diagnose a psychiatric condition is like trying to get a black cat on a dark night, in a coal cellar,” Rittenband didn’t place much stock in the psychiatric reports — and thought the entire probation report the worst “whitewash” he had ever seen. If Gold and the psychiatrists had been convinced by Polanski, Rittenband was not.

On September 16, Rittenband called the principals in the case to his chambers. There he laid out his decision, which would be announced publicly on September 19. He informed Defense Attorney Dalton, Prosecutor Gunson, and Probation Officer Gold that he planned to send Polanski to the state facility at Chino for 90 days, ostensibly for more extensive diagnosis, but in fact, the judge intimated he would consider this as the defendant’s entire punishment. Both Gunson and Gold objected, reminding the judge that Chino was supposed to be used solely for diagnostic purposes, not punishment. Rittenband refused to be swayed, insisting that Polanski would be safer at the state prison than in county jail. At this point the central — but unspoken — issue in the case wasn’t jail but deportation. This was what Dalton had fought to avoid and what the judge seemed increasingly determined to ensure. If Rittenband couldn’t deport Polanski — that was the province of the Department of Immigration and Naturalization — he could make deportation virtually inevitable. A term in state prison rather than the county jail would help provide a sufficient ground on which the Immigration authorities could move.

Rittenband told Dalton that he would grant a 90-day stay to allow Polanski to complete Hurricane. He was unwilling to announce a longer stay because of public reaction, but — instructing all present to keep quiet about it — the judge said that he would be willing to come back to court at the end of the first 90 days and grant additional time. Finally, Rittenband issued a set of instructions for the court session on September 19. Dalton was to argue for probation; Gunson was to ask for imprisonment. Then Rittenband would rule, sending Polanski to Chino for “diagnosis.”

On September 19, Dalton rose in court and addressed Rittenband. He stressed two points. First, he contended that, rather than gaining Polanski preferential treatment, his celebrity was leading to his being treated with “extra animus.” Dalton attempted to limit the consideration of the court to the single charge of unlawful sexual intercourse — one that he tried to make seem as benign as possible. Painfully trying to differentiate unlawful sexual intercourse from rape, he remarked that “this particular offense doesn’t have the connotation of rape” — a misleading contention if one examines the California criminal law, in which the two are explicitly linked.

Conscious of the threat of deportation, Dalton stated that he wished to “remind” the court that “this is not a crime that is malum in se” (“evil in itself”). Whether or not a crime is malum in se is one of the criteria for determining whether moral turpitude is involved, and if Polanski was convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, he would be immediately subject to deportation.

Having cited the probation and psychiatric reports, Dalton asserted that Polanski “is a criminal only by accident; that there are many complex social and psychological factors that were involved in this situational event which otherwise was a complete departure from his normal mode of conduct.” Avoiding mention of alcohol or Quaaludes, the defense suggested the child’s consent. By denying that unlawful sexual intercourse was rape, Dalton implied that the difference involved consent.

Next to address the court, Prosecutor Gunson strenuously objected to Dalton’s remarks. While not reminding the defense that consent in a case involving a child is immaterial, Gunson recalled that there had been factors that would have rendered consent difficult if not impossible: the champagne and the Quaaludes. Gunson said that he had been particularly disturbed by the implication in both the probation report and the psychiatric evaluations that “the sexual activities occurred naturally and mutually.” Testimony offered by the girl to the grand jury had indicated otherwise. Gunson argued that far from being an unfortunate accident, there were signs “that this is more than a normal course of action, a situational event. It appears that it was almost planned.” Thus Gunson urged that the defendant be sentenced to time in custody.

Having heard Dalton and Gunson state their positions for the public record, Rittenband was ready to rule:

“Although the prosecutrix was not an inexperienced girl, this of course is not a license to the defendant, a man of the world, in his forties, to engage in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with her. The law was designed for the protection of females under the age of eighteen years, and it is no defense to such a charge that the female might not have resisted the act.”

As indicated in advance, Rittenband ordered Polanski to Chino for 90 days of diagnostic testing, and at Dalton’s request, a 90-day stay was granted, allowing Polanski to continue work on Hurricane before reporting to prison.

When Polanski left the courtroom, major misunderstandings remained. What was the purpose of the stay at Chino and its relation to the final sentence? The judge had privately agreed that the only time Polanski would have to serve was that required for the diagnostic study — however long that took to complete. This was what Dalton assured Polanski. But Rittenband expected the diagnostic study to last the full 90 days, and if it didn’t, he would insist that any remaining time be served.

Although Rittenband granted a stay so that Polanski could work on his new film, the judge had been disturbed because the director had signed the contract to direct Hurricane, implying confidence on his part that he would get off scot-free or at worst be given probation. Now Rittenband grew increasingly agitated by what he perceived as Polanski’s blase public demeanor. The arrival of then-16-year-old Nastassia Kinski to visit Polanski infuriated the judge, despite the director’s claim that she was there for professional reasons and had brought her mother as chaperone. To the judge, this man facing rape charges was acting in a contemptuous manner when he publicly flaunted his relationship with yet another teenager.

“A group of friends gave Polanski a going-away party. He was anxious about prison and the possibility of being raped himself because of his small size.”

But the decisive provocation came just ten days after sentencing when the Santa Monica Evening Outlook published a photograph of Polanski in Munich, seated with several lovely women at a table covered with beer steins.

Enraged, Rittenband announced that he was going to send Polanski to jail immediately. Dalton was asked to get Polanski back to Santa Monica for a hearing on October 21. But Polanski had already left Munich for Tahiti, where an airline strike caused him to miss the court date in California. The hearing was rescheduled, and on October 24 Polanski and his producer, Dino De Laurentiis, informed the court that the director had been in Munich on business. De Laurentiis said that he had been unable to visit the German distributor himself and had asked Polanski to represent him. At the hearing Polanski was also questioned about Nastassia Kinski. He claimed that although she had visited him in California and Munich, it had always been in the company of a chaperone. Finally, Rittenband agreed to permit Polanski to remain free, but it was obvious he would grant no further stays as originally indicated.

Polanski was due to report to Chino on December 19, but to avoid the crush of reporters, the court permitted him to arrive three days early. The night before he left, a group of friends, including Kenneth Tynan and Jack Nicholson, gave Polanski a going-away party. He was understandably depressed and ill-tempered, anxious about prison and the possibility of being raped himself because of his small size.

The diagnostic tests took 42 days to complete, during which Polanski was incarcerated with fellow inmates whom he described as “the scum of society.” Meanwhile, De Laurentiis announced that Polanski wouldn’t be directing Hurricane. His status was too uncertain to be bankable.

On January 27, Polanski was released from prison. Badly shaken by the experience, he left assuming that at least he had now completed all of the time he would have to serve behind bars. But on January 30 Rittenband called Gunson and Dalton to his chambers in preparation for the final sentence on February 1 and informed them that it was his intention to send Polanski back to prison for an additional 48 days-to make his incarceration total 90 days. Worse still, Rittenband indicated that he would consent to the 48-day limit only if Polanski would agree to deport himself voluntarily upon release. Otherwise, he would leave him in jail.

There was a second meeting the following day. By now even Gunson was in disaccord with the judge, arguing that Rittenband should sentence Polanski to 90 days in the county jail — with credit for time already served — rather than send him to state prison if he insisted on the additional 48 days. The judge refused, as Dalton later recalled, arguing that “the appearance of a state prison sentence must be maintained for the press.” Gunson felt that hard as he had fought for time in prison for Polanski, a commitment had been made to the defendant for one sort of sentence and that it should be kept. But nothing swayed Rittenband, who was determined to force Polanski’s deportation.

Apprised of Rittenband’s decision, Polanski drove to the Los Angeles airport and booked the last remaining seat, a first-class ticket, on British Airways flight number 598 to London, which departed at 5:57 P.M. and arrived in London the next morning, at 11:40 A.M. London time. Due in Rittenband’s courtroom that day, Polanski called Dalton and said not to expect him there. He had had enough. Why serve additional time if he was going to be deported anyway?

Months after Polanski’s flight, when the question of his possible return was raised with the U.S. Department of Immigration, an officer pointed out that Polanski’s return was no longer entirely up to him — even if he was willing to serve additional time in prison. As a foreign national who had pleaded guilty to a felony charge, now that he was outside the country, he could be denied a visa should he attempt to return.

We did triple-check and the story did in fact sort of end en medius res. As of this publication (November, 2021) Polanski has not returned to the United States, although he tried to get his 1977 case dismissed just a few years ago.