‘Variety Confidential’ Examines Roman Polanski, Fugitive Director and Convicted Rapist

Known for “Chinatown,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Pianist,” Roman Polanski is one of the most acclaimed directors in cinematic history. He is also a convicted child rapist who has faced several sexual assault allegations over the course of his career.

In “Disgraced Genius,” the fifth episode of Variety and iHeart Podcasts’ true crime podcast “Variety Confidential,” host Tracy Pattin and co-host Matt Donnelly, Variety’s senior entertainment and media writer, examine Polanski’s downfall after decades of Hollywood reverence.

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“One of the most important things to know about Polanski that modern audiences may not remember is that he represented something so exciting and new in cinema in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Donnelly explains. “It’s not just that he was a successful director, but really a celebrity in his own right for what he represented. All of that vision came with power, and I think a lot of that flash, integrity and prestige blinded many he worked with to behavior that was going on behind the scenes.”

“There are few sex scandals more infamous in Hollywood than Roman Polanski’s statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl,” Pattin says. The French Polish director, who was married to Sharon Tate, was originally arrested in August 1977 in Los Angeles for assaulting 13-year-old Samantha Gailey during a photo shoot. “Polanski gave Samantha a quaalude, a sedative that was said to be an aphrodisiac. As he photographed her topless in the jacuzzi, the pill took effect. Polanski took her into a guest bedroom where he sexually assaulted her, violating her orally, vaginally and anally,” Pattin explains. Samantha’s mother called the police after finding out what happened.

Polanski entered a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to one charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor and was sentenced to 90 days of psychiatric evaluation at a California prison. Then, after 42 days, he was released and put on probation. “Polanski was one of the most innovative and influential directors of the last century,” Pattin says. “But Polansky is arguably more famous today for his guilty plea on a statutory rape charge in 1977 than he is for winning the best director Oscar for ‘The Pianist’ in 2003.”

Donnelly adds, “At the time of Polanski’s arrest, Hollywood reacted with shock and outrage. But as time passed, attitudes began to soften. It seemed that his genius as a filmmaker outweighed this appalling behavior.”

In February 1978, on the eve of his sentencing, the French-born citizen fled Hollywood for Europe after learning that the judge intended to send him back to prison. Though an arrest warrant was issued at the time, Polanski remains a fugitive from the U.S. justice system. (Gailey later sued Polanski in 1988 and he eventually settled the suit in the ’90s.)

In September 2009, he was arrested in Switzerland at the United States’ request, but ultimately the attempt to extradite him for a trial was unsuccessful. “In 2009, dozens of Hollywood directors, producers and stars signed a petition in support of ending Polanski’s exile,” Donnelly explains. “But in recent years, more women have come forward to accuse Polanski of sexual abuse and as a result of the #MeToo movement, many of Roman’s former supporters have publicly disavowed him.”

For decades, Polanski led a relatively quiet life in France until he returned into the global spotlight in 2019 with the premiere of “An Officer and a Spy” at the Venice Film Festival, where he won the Grand Jury Prize. Shortly after, Polanski faced new allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denied.

In 2018, Polanski was removed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. However, in 2020, he went on to win best director at France’s Cesar Awards, the country’s equivalent of the Oscars. Industry outcry prompted a complete overhaul of the leadership of the awards org and the scandal sparked the birth of France’s own #MeToo movement.

When the “Academy expelled him formally, that was a major message to everyone, that whether or not you supported him then or now, Hollywood will not stand for this level of behavior,” Donnelly recalls. “… Polanski’s entire profile and sort of resume has been degraded.”

“Variety Confidential,” a six-episode series, will explore stories of sex, money and murder in the entertainment industry. The podcast dives deep into the Variety Archives, the publication’s research tool utilizing 118 years of Variety Magazine articles and reporting. Season 1, titled “The Secret History of the Casting Couch,” will detail the notorious Hollywood casting couch through the decades and draw parallels between recent sex scandals and those of the past, illustrating that sexual predation in the industry is as old as the Hollywood Hills.

“Variety Confidential,” distributed by iHeart Podcasts, is available on the iHeartRadio app,, as well as other major podcast platforms. New episodes post weekly.

“Variety Confidential” was created by Jon Ponder, Tracy Pattin, Dea Lawrence, Variety’s COO and CMO, and Steve Gaydos, Variety’s EVP of content and executive editor. Sydney Kramer, managing director and senior executive producer for the Variety Content Studio, is a producer along with Ponder and Pattin.

Citations and Sources


Geimer, Samantha, The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski, Simon & Schuster, 2014

Kiernan, Thomas, The Roman Polanski Story (aka Repulsion), Delilah/Grove Press, 1980

Sandford, Christopher. Polanski. Random House. ISBN 978-1446455562, 2007


Countryman, Eli, Kate Winslet Says Hollywood’s Regard for Woody Allen and Roman Polanski was ‘F—ing Disgraceful,’ Variety, Sept. 10, 2020,

Gray, Tim, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Gave Birth to a New Breed of Terror When It Premiered 50 Years Ago, June 12, 2018,

Keslassy, Elsa, and Maddaus, Gene, Roman Polanski’s New Accuser Reached Out to L.A. Prosecutors in Early 2017, Nov. 21, 2019,

Maddaus, Gene, Polanski’s Attorney Blasts Gloria Allred Attorney for Robin M., Variety, Aug. 15, 2017,

Nyren, Erin, LAPD Investigating Allegations Against Roman Polanski, Case Cannot Be Prosecuted, Dec. 12, 2017,

Additional Resources

Abused By Both Polanski And Media, ‘The Girl’ Moves On,,

Gunderman, Dan, Kate Winslet defends Woody Allen — ‘You put it to one side and just work with the person,’ Sept. 6, 2017,

Iorio, Paul, In a Never-Before-Published Interview, Robert Evans Talks ‘Chinatown’: ‘We Weren’t Sure If We Had a Disaster on our Hands,’ Los Angeles Magazine, Oct. 29, 2019,\

Quentin Tarantino apologizes for Polanski defense: ‘I was ignorant,’, Feb. 8, 2018,

Toobin, Jeffrey, The Celebrity Defense, The New Yorker, December 6, 2009,

Wakeman, Jessica, Roman Polanski’s Alleged Sexual Assaults: What You Need to Know, Rolling Stone, Oct. 5, 2017,


Grady, Constance,, Oct. 23, 2017,

Filmmakers demand Polanski’s release,, Sept. 29, 2009,

The Pianist,,

Signataires de la pétition pour Roman Polanski / All signing parties to Roman Polanski’s petition – SACD,, Jan. 20, 2017,

Taylor, Tom, Dying on the darkest hill: Why are so many actors happy to work with Roman Polanski?,, Feb. 1, 2023,

The Tenant,,

Wells, Rachel, Hollywood embraces Roman Polanski,, Sept. 29, 2009

Weekend of a Champion,,


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