LONDON — Roman Polanski has been awarded £50,000 ($87,000) in damages, after winning his libel action over Vanity Fair for an article that depicted him as “callously indifferent” to the memory of his murdered wife, Sharon Tate.
The London high court jury found in favor of the Oscar-winning director, who denied the magazine’s allegation that he had attempted to seduce a Scandinavian model on his way to his wife’s funeral in August 1969.
Polanski gave his evidence via a video link from Paris to avoid the risk of extradition to the United States, where he is wanted for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
“It goes without saying that, whilst the whole episode is a sad one, I am obviously pleased with the jury’s verdict today,” he said.
“Three years of my life have been interrupted — three years within which I have had no choice but to relive the horrible events of August 1969, the murders of my wife, my unborn child and my friends.
“Many untruths have been published about me, most of which I have ignored, but the allegations printed in the July 2002 edition of Vanity Fair could not go unchallenged,” he said.
Despite being awarded $87,000 in damages and interim costs of $306,000, Polanski is still likely to pay some money out of pocket, since he will have to absorb the cost of the videolink himself, estimated to be more than $500,000. This was the first time a libel claimant has been allowed to give evidence without attending court in person.
Judgment amazes editor
Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who was in court throughout the four-day trial, said the judgment was “amazing,” adding, “As a father of four children, one of them a 12-year-old daughter, I find it outrageous that this story is considered defamatory given the fact that he cannot be here because he slept with a 13-year-old girl a quarter of a century ago.”
The jury clearly disagreed with the contention of Tom Shields, counsel to Vanity Fair’s publisher Conde Nast, that Polanski had “no reputation to protect.”
It decided that not only did Polanski still have a reputation, despite his own admitted sexual history, but that Conde Nast had failed to prove the incident described in its article ever actually happened.
In an article about Elaine’s restaurant in New York, Vanity Fair said Polanski had promised Beatte Telle that he would make her “another Sharon Tate” just a couple of days after his wife’s death, when he was en route to her funeral.
The magazine later admitted that the encounter could not have taken place before the funeral, since Polanski had flown directly from London to Los Angeles, but argued it had happened just a couple of weeks later.
Harper’s editor Louis Lapham, who was the source of the anecdote, and Telle’s then-boyfriend, Edward Perlberg, recounted their memories of the alleged incident. The defense case was weakened by the fact that Telle herself was not called to testify — which the judge pointed out to the jury.
Polanski’s case was supported by testimony from Mia Farrow, who had dinner with him at Elaine’s a couple of weeks after the funeral. She reported that he was too distraught to talk of anything but his wife’s death.