Only in Hollywood can Roman Polanski be a convicted felon and an Oscar winner.
The (in)famous filmmaker was honored at the 75th Annual Academy Awards Sunday night, winning the Best Director trophy for his harrowing semiautobiographical Holocaust drama, The Pianist. But he wasn't on hand to collect his first statuette, since he's a fugitive for having sex with a 13-year-old girl more than 25 years ago.
On Monday, the 69-year-old Polanski, who currently lives in exile in France, released his belated thank-you speech.
"I am deeply moved to be rewarded for the work which relates to the events so close to my own life, the events that led me to comprehend that art can transform pain. I believe this still holds true today," said Polanski in a statement released through his Los Angeles-based publicist. "My most heartfelt thanks to the members of the Academy for this wonderful award."
Polanski didn't dare set foot in town for fear of being nabbed by California authorities. (Oscar host Steve Martin played the Polanski card for laughs during his opening monologue. "Look, there's Roman Polanski," said Martin as he pointed out various celebs in attendance. "Quick, get him!") Instead, presenter Harrison Ford, who starred in Polanski's 1987 film Frantic, accepted the award on the director's behalf.
Polanski's win represented possibly the biggest jaw-dropping moment of the ceremony, as he upset the sentimental favorite, Gangs of New York helmer Martin Scorsese, and the force behind the night's top award-grabber, Chicago's Rob Marshall.
Between the Oscar and the resulting standing ovation (which included Scorsese), it seems Hollywood is willing to forgive the on-the-lam director, even if authorities have refused. Indeed, The Pianist, which won last year's Cannes Film Festival, was second to Chicago with three awards, including another upset, star Adrien Brody for Best Actor.
The French-born filmmaker is no stranger to tragedy and personal failure. As a boy, he escaped the Nazi occupation of Poland (though his mother was killed at Auschwitz), and, in 1969, his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered at the hands of the Manson family.
Then in 1978, at the age of 42, Polanski was arrested on charges that he drugged and raped 13-year-old Samantha Geimer. He pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, and as part of the plea deal approved by prosecutors and the girls' family, would have spent just 90 days behind bars.
But the presiding judge vowed to sentence him up to 50 years in the slammer, and Polanski fled to France.E! News Live has the
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At the time, Polanski was considered one of Hollywood's top moviemakers, having racked up three Oscar nominations, two for Best Director (Tess and Chinatown) and another for Adapted Screenplay (Rosemary's Baby).
While Polanski has admitted his crime, and Geimer said she had no objections to him returning to the States, negotiations between his reps and prosecutors to allow him to return have gone nowhere.
Perhaps paving the way to Polanski's Oscar was Geimer herself. In an editorial last month in the Los Angeles Times, Geimer asked Oscar voters not to punish Polanski for his personal failings but to recognize his work based on its merits.
"I don't really have any hard feelings toward him, or any sympathy either," Geimer, now 39 and happily living in Hawaii, wrote. "But I believe that Mr. Polanski and his film should be honored according to the quality of the work. What he does for a living and how good he is at doing it have nothing to do with me or what he did to me."
Geimer's piece, coupled by top awards from the British Academy Awards, the French Césars and the National Society of Film Critics, seemed to give The Pianist late momentum, with some pundits predicting it could topple Chicago.
Not even the graphic court documents turned up by the Smoking Gun recounting how Polanski allegedly seduced Geimer in a hot tub and fed her Quaaludes after a photo shoot at Jack Nicholson's house, could derail the late push. (Reps at the Smoking Gun adamantly denied suggestions that the court papers were planted by rivals out to stymie The Pianist's late run.)
Despite his crime, Polanski the artist certainly had plenty of supporters at last night's Academy Awards, including Pianist scribe Ronald Harwood, who dedicated his Oscar to the filmmaker.
"Roman Polanski deserves this," said Harwood upon accepting the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. "He's a great director and a wonderful colleague."
Also showing his appreciation was Brody, who thanked Polanski for giving him the "role of my life."
The director may also want to send a bouquet to his old pal, Nicholson, who had been championing The Pianist and Brody, despite Nicholson also being nominated this year in the same category.
The Academy says Polanski's due to receive his Oscar in the mail any day now.