Samantha Geimer on Polanski Rape Case: 'The Grand Jury Was Worse Than' the Crime
The 13-year-old girl assaulted in 1977 by the Oscar-winning director speaks about her frustration with the media, her advice to kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart and a movie adaptation of the case.
In 1977, Roman Polanski gave Samantha Geimer, then 13, champagne and a Quaalude and sodomized her in Jack Nicholson's house, igniting a firestorm of scandal that still burns both of them.
Now Polanski lives in France, in peril from U.S. authorities if he leaves.
"He acted inappropriately, immorally and illegally," Geimer tells The Hollywood Reporter. Does she forgive him? "Yeah, I mean, sure, of course I do. I know that seems weird to people. It doesn't seem weird to me."
So why did she publish a new memoir, The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski? Polanski already has been locked up for the crime (twice, in 1978 and 2009), paid her $500,000 (plus interest) in a legal settlement, and written her an apology ("I want you to know how sorry I am for having so affected your life … I was impressed by your integrity and your intelligence.").
"People don't know this story, and they think they do," says Geimer. "I just wanted to be honest and finally tell the truth." Her book advance was "substantial," and if it makes royalties, she says, "I don't object to that."
She does not forgive the shockingly erratic judge in the case, Laurence Rittenband. "It's just so outrageous what he did. He said about me and my mother, 'What do we have here -- a mother/daughter hooker team?' In open court!"
There was no evidence they were prostitutes. Rittenband, wrote the Los Angeles Times, "has been known to rule before hearing the evidence." Geimer had had sex once, and was poorly informed enough to refer to cunnilingus as "cuddliness" in her testimony. She was also an aspiring actress who had two callbacks for the Freaky Friday role that Jodie Foster ended up getting. Her mother was a car-commercial actress whose boss met President Nixon, who reportedly said, "That little girl who does your commercials does a good job. I'd like to meet her someday." Geimer's mom did meet Polanski at a party at a Sunset Strip club, and he invited the teenage Samantha to pose for pictures for French Vogue. Her mother asked to be at the shoot, Polanski said no, and her mother naively acquiesced. Geimer doesn't blame her, though she calls her "not the … most observant person in the world."
The rape she describes in the book (written with prizewinning THR contributor Judith Newman and Geimer's longtime lawyer Lawrence Silver) is a nightmare, creepy not because Polanski was violent but because he would not grasp that her repeated "nos" meant no, and because she was too young and stoned to exert her will. When he asked her if her first experience of oral sex felt good, she said it did -- "and that, in itself, is awful."
But what happened after her enraged mom discovered Polanski's crime and called the cops was worse yet.
"The grand jury was worse than the rape," says Geimer. "My family was trying to protect me from having my name put out there, and my mom was afraid she'd lose her biggest job. And that's how she paid her bills, her car commercials for Chevrolet."
But Judge Rittenband had no concern for fame's victims. "He cleared the next courtroom to have it set up as an entire room for foreign press for the trial of the century, and he'd be in the spotlight, holding press conferences in his chambers." Friends abandoned Geimer, whose phone "never stopped ringing," as a ghoulish press corps besieged the family. "It was all, 'She's a lying little slut, and what a horrible stage mother, she gave her to Roman.'" Geimer notes that even now, TMZ is outside her window.
Geimer feels bad about her poor judgment as a teen, and especially bad about punishing her mother for calling the cops. "I was very mean to her for a year, very angry. I didn't want to talk about it, so I treated everyone like crap. People came after me, stalking me." And now, she says, people attack her for a nuanced view about her trauma. "If you say you feel guilty, people freak out on you and say, 'It's not your fault, how can you say that?' You can't even talk about it in any terms, or everyone gets upset with you."
Geimer was relieved when Polanski pled guilty to a lesser charge than rape, unlawful sexual intercourse. "My family was just, 'Say you did it, and please let us walk away from this terrible mess.'" But the judge sent Polanski to state prison for "diagnostic study." "It was basically an illegal way to put him in jail without a way to appeal it, because he wanted to look tough," says Geimer. "Then, to look the way he thought he should look, he said, 'I'm going to sentence you to an indeterminate amount of time. So go back to jail, and I'll let you off in a few weeks.' Obviously, he couldn't be trusted. He was breaking rules and lying. You'd have to be crazy to believe him. I certainly wouldn't. And that's when Roman left."
Polanski fled the U.S. in 1978. In the much-praised 2008 doc about the case, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, deputy district attorney David Wells claimed he made suggestions to Judge Rittenband, in a way that could have been against the rules. This gave Polanski's lawyers an opening to try to get the still-standing charges dismissed. Oddly, Wells then said he had lied in the film -- he never broke the rules, he just claimed he had. Los Angeles authorities had Polanski nabbed on a visit to Switzerland, and tried to get him extradited to the U.S. Swiss authorities refused to extradite Polanski because the U.S. refused to release documents that might clear up the true history of his bizarrely irregular case.
Former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark wrote in 2009, "Knowing Wells, I wouldn’t have put it past him to have lied in the movie just to stir the pot, and get the case moving in some direction again, which was certainly accomplished … if he really did make those suggestions to the judge, I wouldn’t put it past him to fall on his sword, say he lied, and save the case."
"You're not supposed to lie!' says Geimer of Wells. "You're a lawyer. But the level of corruption and use and abuse of Roman and myself for only people's personal gain, with no consideration for any type of actual justice is, it's just, it's almost like you can't believe it really happened."
"People say, 'That should be a movie!' I don't," says Geimer. "It would be weird. I'm not opposed or not-opposed. I'm just trying to get through all these things, the book, and putting myself out there. Every day right now is a new adventure to me. So I can't get to tomorrow, let alone really seriously think about something like that."
Geimer, who wrote letters of encouragement to abduction victim Elizabeth Smart and the 16-year-old rape victim in the Steubenville, Ohio, case, hopes her book may help save somebody else.
"These things happen right now, so I don't know why everyone's so concerned about what happened to me 36 years ago," says Geimer. "If you really care, then why don't we talk about this and see if we can, like, prevent this from happening tonight."
As for her long-ago dreams of movie stardom, Geimer says, "I would think it really sucks to be famous, but funny how people want to be famous."