Samantha Geimer tells her side of story in Roman Polanski case
HENDERSON, Nev. — In 2009, Samantha Geimer was watching the daytime talk show “The View” from her then-home in Hawaii when the panel took up the topic of her encounter at age 13 with director Roman Polanski. Polanski had just been arrested in Switzerland, more than three decades after the day in 1977 that changed both their lives.
“It wasn’t rape-rape,” co-host Whoopi Goldberg said, setting off a firestorm of criticism. In fact, it was “rape-rape” by nearly any definition except the charge to which Polanski pleaded guilty (unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor) — the underage Geimer was drugged and verbally resistant, according to court records.
But after years of hearing other people’s theories about that day, she was amused, more than anything, by Goldberg’s choice of words. “I laughed so hard,” Geimer said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, she did not just say that.’ These days, you can’t say that. Everyone’s gonna be all over you.”
Geimer, 50 and a mother of three grown sons, has decided to tell her story herself in a memoir titled “The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski.” Her version of events may surprise those expecting a to-hell-and-back-again victim’s account. The portions of the book describing the crime are restrained; she recalls that Polanski wore ankle boots and too much cologne, that he was arrogant but not violent. She feels more wounded by what she calls the “victim industry,” the lawyers, judge and journalists who she feels sensationalized her case for their own interests.
“You shouldn’t be able to make what happened to me worse so it’s more interesting,” Geimer said. “You’re put upon to feel bad and be a victim so other people can use you as they see fit.”
This month near her Nevada home, Geimer was candid but shy, a demeanor shaped perhaps by seeing her underwear held aloft in a courtroom when she was 14. She has long held a nuanced view of what happened to her, preferring not to see herself as a tragic figure but as a woman who lived through an alarmingly common crime that happened to be committed by a famous man.
Blond, green-eyed, with a warm smile, she goes by “Sam.” When her husband, Dave, teased that she should lift her shirt during a photo shoot to promote the book, she smirked. “I think you can joke about anything,” she said later. “I’m all right. I was not all right the year after it happened ... but I’m OK now. And when you start talking about 1977, there’s a lot of things that are funny.”
One reason she thinks she is OK today is her nonjudgmental attitude toward sex, fostered in a 1970s, pre-AIDS Southern California. She said she first realized this when she learned about the case of Elizabeth Smart, a Mormon girl who was abducted in 2002 at age 14 and repeatedly raped.
“She was taught that if you’re raped, you’re devalued as a person, that it’s shameful and wrong,” Geimer said. “Nobody ever taught me that. Everyone’s like, ‘Don’t you feel guilt or shame or used or dirty? I was like, ‘No, I don’t.’ I didn’t do anything wrong. Why should I feel bad?”
It was in March 1977 that the then Samantha Gailey climbed into Polanski’s rented Mercedes for what she and her mother thought would be a magazine photo shoot. Her mother, an actress, had met Polanski at a party.
“We thought, ‘Man, I’m gonna be famous now,’” Geimer said. “We’ll get me in Vogue Paris and then maybe I’ll get a good part. One step and you’re on your way. That’s what we thought it was, a chance, my big shot.”
Instead, Polanski drove her to his friend Jack Nicholson’s Hollywood Hills home, gave her Champagne and a piece of Quaalude and, after learning that she was not on birth control, anally raped her, according to court records.
Geimer, who worked with an uncredited co-author, describes how she emotionally departed the scene during the encounter, silently wishing for Polanski to stop talking. “He holds my arms at my sides and kisses me,” she writes. “And I say, ‘No, come on,’ but between the pill and the champagne it’s like my own voice is very far away.” Later that night, after Geimer’s sister overheard her talking to an ex-boyfriend about what had happened, Geimer’s mother called the police.
Geimer said she doesn’t remember most of the next year of her life, which involved retelling the story countless times for doctors, police officers, attorneys and a grand jury. In writing that section of the book, she relied heavily on the recollections of her lawyer, Lawrence Silver, family, friends and her diaries.
The conduct of Judge Laurence Rittenband, now deceased, has long been controversial. Polanski, who in a deal pleaded guilty to only one of the six counts he was charged with, spent 42 days at Chino State Prison. When the judge backed out of a sentencing deal that he and the attorneys had agreed upon, the director fled the country.
Since then, he has lived mostly in France, avoiding countries that might extradite him. He has married and had two children and has directed 12 additional feature films, including the Oscar-winning “The Pianist.” He has complained about his treatment, as recently as this month in Vanity Fair where he called the legal case “a nightmare.”
Geimer’s teen years were a series of boyfriends and casual drug use. At age 18, she got pregnant, married and quit partying. The marriage didn’t last, but the impulse to clean up her life did. She ran a home day-care center and went to legal secretary school.
In 1988, a European magazine published pictures of her driving, going to work and kissing Dave, then her boyfriend. To escape the intrusions, she and Dave moved to Kauai, where her mother lived.
“Hawaii is a great place to be when you have something weird like this in your life,” she said. “You would be really hard-pressed to find someone who knows who Roman Polanski is. It was nice to have that ocean barrier and be around a bunch of people who couldn’t care less.”
In 1988, she filed a civil suit against Polanski, alleging sexual assault; it ultimately was settled for a six-figure sum. It took years to collect on but when she finally got the money, Geimer said, it helped with the raising of her three children, since her work as a secretary and Dave’s as a property manager were not very lucrative.
Over the years, Geimer has often defended Polanski’s right to move on with his life. When he was nominated for an Oscar for “The Pianist,” she wrote an op-ed piece for The Times arguing that his movie should be judged on its merits. She also participated in Marina Zenovich’s 2008 documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which highlighted the legal peculiarities in the case and the way the judge courted publicity, often asking reporters how they thought he should rule, for maximum public-relations benefit.
“I wish somebody would step up and say, ‘Time served, case dismissed’ and investigate the misconduct,” she said.
After watching the documentary, Polanski wrote Geimer a letter, which appears in the book. “I wanted you to know how sorry I am for having so affected your life,” he wrote.
Then in 2009, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office arranged for the director to be arrested as he arrived at the Zurich Film Festival. Geimer saw the arrest as politically motivated and a continuation of the legal maneuvering that had caused Polanski to flee in the first place. The Swiss later released him.
At the time, more than 100 artists and entertainers signed a petition calling for Polanski’s release. The crime pundits, meanwhile, focused on Geimer; legal commentator Nancy Grace called her a “weak victim” and talk show host Phil McGraw said she had “victim’s guilt.” Their chief complaint seemed to be that Geimer was not angry enough at Polanski.
“I don’t like it when people try to sensationalize what happened for their TV shows and talk about it with words like ‘gruesome’ or ‘horrific,’” Geimer said. “How can you make a living doing that to other people?”
Writing the book, Geimer said, was a way to reclaim her own story. Most of it is about the Polanski case and Geimer’s perspective on how she and others at the center of highly public crimes are exploited. She will be making talk show appearances and speaking at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills this month.
“I’m personally tired of everybody telling lies about me and about what happened,” she said. “So now I’m saying my truth.... It’s interesting to be able to do it on my own terms. My whole life has been reacting to what’s happening to me. This is a different thing for me, to just be trying to tell the story.”
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