Actress Elzbieta Czyzewska, who became a symbol of her generation in Poland in 1960s, died June 17 in New York of esophageal cancer. She was 72.
The frail and beautiful Czyzewska first made a name for herself in a series of dramatic roles in theater and comedy in cinema. In both media she proved capable, natural and sexy in an unforced way. She quickly became the symbol of her generation and was acting for the most important Polish directors: Wojciech Has (“Saragossa Manuscript”), Andrzej Munk (“Passenger”), Andrzej Wajda (“Everything for Sale”) or Jerzy Skolimowski, who was her first husband. Between 1960 and 1966 she appeared in nearly 30 film roles.
Her career was cut short after her second husband, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, David Halberstam, was forced to leave Poland at the end of 1960s. She followed him, with the hopes of starting a career in the U.S. After some early stage success in leading roles, including Wajda’s “The Possessed” with the then-unknown Meryl Streep in Yale Repertory Theater, her Polish accent relegated her to smaller parts, including Sidney Lumet’s “Running on Empty” and episodes of “Sex and the City” or “Damages.” For a generation of Polish filmmakers she became an example of an emigrant’s struggle to pursue artistic career abroad.
Scribe Janusz Glowacki, who knew her from film school in the 1950s, told Polish media: “Her life had everything, wonderful highs and terrible lows, gigantic success and painful failure. First she was in great demand, then she was very lonely. To describe her life would be a task for Dostoevsky.”