Gene Gutowski, the Polish-American Holocaust survivor and a close associate of celebrated director Roman Polanski who produced three of his films in the 1960s, has died. The producer, who reunited with Polanski decades later for the Oscar-winning Holocaust drama The Pianist, was 90. Gutowski’s son, Adam Bardach, told The Associated Press that his father died of pneumonia on Tuesday at a hospital in Warsaw.
The Gutowski-Polanski collaboration in the 1960s resulted in the 1965 psychological horror film Repulsion, starring French actor Catherine Deneuve, followed by Cul-de-Sac (1966) and The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), films that brought Polanski to Hollywood.
Watch the trailer of The Pianist here:
Years later Polanski credited Gutowski with launching his international career, calling him “one of the most important figures in my existence”. Gutowski was the son of a cultured and assimilated Jewish family in eastern Poland but saw his youth shattered by World War II and the loss of his family in the Holocaust.
Immediately after the war he worked for US military intelligence hunting Nazis in postwar Germany, and emigrated to the United States in 1947. A talented artist and sculptor, Gutowski worked as a fashion illustrator in New York before he took up film production. He led a jet-setting playboy lifestyle for many years that took him across Europe, to Hollywood and the Virgin Islands, with six wives and many lovers along the way, a life story he tells in a memoir, With Balls and Chutzpah: A Story of Survival.
For several years he was also was a consultant to Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. Following the fall of communism in eastern Europe he returned to Poland, spending his latter years in Warsaw.
Gutowski and Polanski met in 1963, shortly after Polanski had made his breakthrough film, Knife in the Water, a Polish-language production that gained him acclaim and an Oscar nomination but still no eager supporters for his next film.
At the time Polanski was 30 and lived in France, speaking no English. Gutowski, who was living in London, was hugely impressed by the talent of his fellow Pole and persuaded him to go to London and make a film in English, pushing for something “shocking” that would test the limits of the censors. The result was Repulsion.
Gutowski was born Witold Bardach on July 26, 1925 in Lwow, Poland (today Lviv in Ukraine). He came from a family of lawyers, doctors, concert pianists and army officers, a family so assimilated that they celebrated Easter and Christmas and never attended synagogue.