Samantha Geimer, who in 1977 was the 13 year-old who was “the girl” in the infamous Roman Polanski sexual abuse case, has finally chosen to tell the whole, sordid story in her own words in The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski. The book’s title is more apt than might first be suspected. Geimer not only endured the events of that evening so many years ago, but has had her life inextricably, unfavorably linked with the famous director ever since.
In The Girl Geimer takes a mostly unblinking look at her life and Polanski’s, and details, step-by-step, the events that led up to her being plied with champagne and part of a Quaalude, and eventually subject to multiple sex acts with Polanski against her will.
Geimer’s mom, an aspiring actress, moved her two young daughters to Los Angeles with her latest boyfriend, who got a job selling advertising for Marijuana Monthlymagazine. Welcome to 1970s L.A. Mom didn’t just want to secure acting jobs for herself, but encouraged both of her daughters to try out for parts too. One evening she met the director Roman Polanski at a party. He told her he was interested in photographing American girls for a Paris Vogue magazine spread. Excited, she invited him to meet Samantha. He came to their house and then took her on a drive to a nearby park, where they “rehearsed”: he photographed her, first clothed, and then, with a little encouragement, topless.
Geimer is able to channel her teenage self, in all its insecurities, as well as attitude. She articulates very well her resistance and fear mixed with the ambition and misplaced starstruck hopes that this “little thing” of taking her top off might lead to a big career. She of course didn’t tell her mother the little detail about taking off her shirt when she got back home. Geimer wants the reader to understand that at no time did she think there was anything sexual or untoward about the shoot with Polanski. And most importantly, that her mother had no idea, and would never have “pimped out” her daughter, an accusation that was hurled many times after the rape.
“You know, there’s something about fame. There just is. I mean, think about the kids who had sleepovers at Michael Jackson’s house and all the accusations that followed. Think about their parents. Were they bad or stupid people? No. They just wanted to believe that being famous made you good.”
Polanski came back a second time, a few weeks later, and suggested that he was ready now to do the shoot for real. Again her mother didn’t accompany them, as Polanski told her that it might make her daughter nervous, less natural. He took Geimer first to the home of actress Jacqueline Bisset, where she was offered some wine (she declined). They took a few photos and then he took her to another friend’s house – the actor Jack Nicholson, who was away from home at the time. Polanski started plying her with champagne, which now she didn’t refuse. He also gave her part of a Quaalude and photographed her in the kitchen.
“He asked me if I knew what it [the Quaalude] was. I didn’t want to seem like a stupid kid, so I said, ‘Sure.'”
Polanski then suggested she take off her clothes and get in the jacuzzi for more photographs, where he joined her. He soon moved her to the bedroom, where he proceeded to have sex with her. Geimer transmits her failing resistance as the drugs and alcohol and general atmosphere took effect. She details the sex acts, and later, the pounding on the bedroom door which helped end things – Nicholson’s girlfriend, Angelica Huston, came home early. It’s a sordid, upsetting read.
And then things really got ugly. That same evening, after he took her home, Polanski showed her mother photos from the first shoot, which included some of the topless photos. Shocked, she asked him to leave. Geimer’s sister quickly discovered the truth and helped her mother put two and two together. The police were called and the nightmare really began. Geimer’s life became a cycle of making depositions and trying to stay out of the picture as Polanski was arrested and Hollywood and the public began to take sides. Her family and lawyer tried to keep her identity secret for as long as they could. But as the story was reported (and reported and reported ad nauseum) it seemed that as many thought “the girl” was a slut or an opportunist as an innocent child. Geimer knew she had been used and abused by Polanski, but she was also angry at her mother for bringing the whole embarrassing episode into the public eye.
Geimer never apologizes for Polanski, but over the years she has had a lot of time to consider his behavior, and she ors have empathy and understanding. She proclaims she is no fan of his films –Chinatown bored her – but she writes feelingly about his youth, and persecution as a Polish Jew during WWII, and his escape from the Kraków Ghetto. How he watched his parents being taken away to concentration camps. His mother was killed in Auschwitz. His father survived Mauthausen, but they were never as close after he finally came home. He attended film school and eventually began to have success as a director. He life seemed to have finally come together when he met and married the actress Sharon Tate, who he met on the set of his film The Fearless Vampire Killers. But a year after they were married, she was brutally murdered by The Manson Family. She was eight months pregnant at the time.
Throughout the book she tries to frame the events of her life, and especially that evening, in the context of the times. She is very aware that Hollywood, especially in those days, had a taste for nymphets – with Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby (1978), Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver (1976) and Foxes (1980), and Tatum O’Neal in Little Darlings(1980).
“In the 1970s … There was something considered generally positive about erotic experience then, even in the absence of anything beyond the sex itself. The idea was that emotional growth came about through an expanded sexuality – for both the person in power and the relatively powerless. This is important to consider, because this is the cultural paradigm Roman Polanski was sopping up in 1977. As wrong as he was to do what he did, I know beyond a doubt that he didn’t look at me as one of his victims. Not everyone will understand this, but I never thought he wanted to hurt me; he wanted me to enjoy it. He was arrogant and horny. But I feel certain he was not looking to take pleasure in my pain.”
Geimer and her family accepted a plea bargain from Polanski’s lawyers to keep her name out of the public record, and most importantly, the papers. But the judge on the case, Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, seemed more interested in the reflected limelight than justice for either party, and he reneged on his original decision of probation for Polanski (after he had already served 42 days in jail) to additional potential incarceration, of up to 50 years. Not surprisingly, Polanski booked the first flight out, and sought refuge in Europe, staying in countries like France, where he could not be extradited to the U.S. And he has been exiled ever since.
But Geimer’s life didn’t settle down once Polanski was out of the picture. Every time his name might come up in the news – whether for a new film being released, or an attempt to reopen the case, she and her family would be hounded by the press. She writes unflinchingly of her teen pregnancy, drug use, and drifting aimlessly for a number of years through life, from one crisis to the next. She is not one for regrets, but admits that undeniably her life would have been different if she hadn’t taken that ride in the car with Polanski to Nicholson’s house.
The Girl is a fast and compelling read, but it doesn’t provide any easy answers. The case, even after all these years, is far from closed. Geimer points out that Polanski the artist, the director of such classic films as Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist, should be viewed separately from the horny man with a taste for young girls. Many people are able and willing to do that, but there are just as many who aren’t. Geimer, who was the victim of a rape, of sex against her will, would also hope that she would not be viewed forever as a victim. She doesn’t consider herself one. She comes across beleaguered at times, but always strong.
Samantha Geimer is married, with three sons, and splits her life between Hawaii and Nevada. For better or worse, Geimer’s and Polanski’s lives, from that evening in March 1977 forward, were forever linked. She acknowledges that Polanski has been just as much a prisoner, as pursued relentlessly by the media and misused by the U.S. criminal justice system, as she has. Strangers but not strangers, they seem to have settled their differences and found some sort of peace with one another. She may not ever be able to completely leave that night with Polanski behind her, but she has finally had the chance to tell her story, unfiltered.
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