Editor recalls Polanski's 'vulgar' seduction technique
20/07/2005 - 14:19:36
A New York editor told the British High Court today of Roman Polanski’s “tasteless and vulgar” romancing of a beautiful Scandinavian model just after his wife’s brutal murder.
Lewis Lapham, who has been editor of Harper’s Magazine for 25 years, was the source of the anecdote at the centre of the film director’s libel case against Conde Nast over a July 2002 Vanity Fair article.
It said that in the aftermath of 26-year-old Sharon Tate’s death in August 1969, at the hand of Charles Manson’s “Family”, Polanski made sexual advances to a “Swedish beauty” in Elaine’s restaurant in New York, “inundating her with his Polish charm”.
It recounted Lapham, as saying: “Fascinated by his performance, I watched as he slid his hand inside her thigh and began a long honeyed spiel which ended with the promise ‘And I will make another Sharon Tate out of you’.”
Polanski’s QC, John Kelsey-Fry, said the article meant that after the death of his wife and unborn child, Polanski went “on the pull” and exploited her name as a “tool of seduction”.
Polanski, backed up by actress Mia Farrow, says the incident never happened.
Lapham, at 70 a year younger than Polanski, told Mr Justice Eady and a London jury that he went to Elaine’s, a haunt of those in the “Seven Lively Arts”, three times a week in the 1960s.
He met his fiend, Wall Street financier Edward Perlberg and his girlfriend, Beatte Telle, a model with the Ford Agency.
“She was a very lovely girl. She was a fashion model from one of the Scandinavian countries and a very calm, pleasant, attractive woman”.
Lapham said he had never met Polanski but knew about him as the Tate killing was the major news story that month.
He had known Abigail Folger, one of the four friends who died with Tate, since she was two, as his mother was her godmother.
He said that he recalled Polanski’s entrance at 10.30pm or 11pm that evening “imposing a hushed silence upon the company in the restaurant”.
“As I said it’s a very noisy bustley place used to celebrity, very rarely reduced to shock and awe, and it was that kind of feeling which greeted Mr Polanski’s arrival because of his notoriety, because of the horrific circumstances of his wife’s murder and the general sympathy for a man having suffered that sorrow.”
He was sitting between Mr Perlberg and Miss Telle, at his customary No 4 - “Writers table” – when Polanski pulled up a chair between himself and the model.
“He began to talk to her in a forward way. He began to praise her beauty and speak to her – romance her.
“At one point he had his hand on her leg and said to her ‘I can put you in movies. I can make you the next Sharon Tate’.
“He meant it as a compliment. He was attempting to impress her, wanting to express his admiration for her looks.
“I was impressed by the remark, not only because it was tasteless and vulgar but because it was a cliché.
“I didn’t speak to Mr Polanski. I had no conversation with him – he wasn’t interested in me.”
Sometime after that, he added, Mr Perlberg and his girlfriend left the restaurant and he assumed that Polanski joined friends at another table.
Lapham confirmed he was source of the contentious passage in the article which was written by AE Hochner, “a very well regarded author in the US and authorised biographer of Ernest Hemingway”.
Earlier, the magazine’s QC, Tom Shields, said it was for the jury to decide what motive Lapham and Mr Perlberg – who were not Conde Nast employees and who had come from America to give evidence on oath – might have had to make up their story.
Polanski gave his evidence on videolink from Paris because of possible extradition from the UK following his flight from the US after his 1977 guilty plea to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.
The magazine, which says its article was substantially true, now accepts that the incident did not happen when Polanski was on his way back to Hollywood for Miss Tate’s funeral but says it occurred about two weeks later.
It claims that, even if its defence fails, Polanski should not receive any damages as his reputation had already been affected by his 1977 conviction and libertine past.
July 20 (Bloomberg) -- Conde Nast Publications Inc. opened its defense of a libel lawsuit by Roman Polanski with testimony from a magazine editor who said he was struck by the director's ``tasteless and vulgar'' comments to a young Norwegian model.
Polanski, 71, is suing Conde Nast at the High Court in London over an article printed by its Vanity Fair magazine, which reported that the film director tried to seduce the woman at a New York restaurant on the way to the burial of his wife, Sharon Tate. Tate was brutally murdered by followers of cult leader Charles Manson in August 1969.
Polanski ``had his hand on her leg and said to her `I can put you in movies. I can make you the next Sharon Tate,''' Lewis Lapham, the editor of New York-based Harper's magazine and the source for Vanity Fair's description of the incident, told the court. ``I was impressed by the remark not only because it was tasteless and vulgar, but also because it was a cliche.''
Polanski, whose films include ``The Pianist,'' says the article is an ``abominable lie'' and an affront to his honor and the memory of his late wife. He testified this week via video link from Paris, where he lives, out of concern he could be extradited to the U.S. if he enters the U.K. Polanski left the U.S. after pleading guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Tate, an actress, and four of her friends were murdered by members of Manson's ``family'' in Bel Air, California while Polanski was in London. Tate was about eight months pregnant at the time. Manson, 70, was convicted of murder in 1971 and is still imprisoned at Corcoran State Prison in California.
Lapham, 70, today testified that he was dining with a friend, Edward Perlberg, and Perlberg's ``attractive'' girlfriend Beatte Telle at Elaine's restaurant on New York's Upper East Side in late August 1969, when Polanski entered the room, inspiring a ``hushed silence'' among the diners.
Polanski pulled a chair up to Lapham's table and began to talk to Telle ``in a forward way, began to praise her beauty, to romance her,'' Lapham said.
He also told the court that he accepts that the article, published in July 2002, incorrectly reported that the alleged incident happened while Polanski was traveling to Tate's funeral and that some of the wording in the piece, such as describing Polanski's approach as a ``long, honeyed spiel,'' was chosen by its author, journalist AE Hotchner.
Vanity Fair has claimed that the ``guts'' of the allegation are true and that the incident occurred within three weeks of Tate's murder. Graydon Carter, the magazine's editor, has been in court for the proceedings.
Perlberg, 66, supported Lapham's account of their evening at Elaine's, testifying that Telle told him in a taxi ride on the way home from the restaurant that the director had told her to come to Hollywood and he would ``make another Sharon Tate out of her.''
``I thought this was generally creepy,'' Perlberg told the court. ``We ended up agreeing that he had behaved improperly.''
Telle is not a witness for either side in the proceedings.
Much of the earlier evidence in the case has focused on Polanski's admitted ``laissez-faire'' attitude toward sex and his relationships with other women.
Polanski has testified that he and Tate, who married in 1968, didn't have an exclusive relationship and that he had casual sex with multiple women while they were together. He also said that he slept with someone about four weeks after her death. Still, the couple had a ``very happy marriage,'' he said.
Actress Mia Farrow, who was dining with Polanski at Elaine's on the evening in question, yesterday backed his version of events, testifying that the director was too distraught to talk about anything but the murder of his wife and unborn child.
Lapham, the editor of Harper's since 1971, said that he had known one of the women murdered by the Manson family along with Tate, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, since she was around two years old.
The case, which opened on July 18, is scheduled to conclude this week.