Obituary: Gene Gutowski, film producer

Multi-talented Holocaust survivor. Picture: AP

Multi-talented Holocaust survivor. Picture: AP

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Born Witold Bardach on 26 July, 1925, in Lwow, Poland (now Lviv in Ukraine). Died: 10 May, 2016 ,aged 90.

Gene Gutowski, a Polish-American Holocaust survivor who was the producer of three films by director Roman Polanski in the 1960s and reunited with him decades later for the Oscar-winning Holocaust drama The Pianist, has died.

The Gutowski-Polanski collaboration in the 1960s resulted in the 1965 psychological horror film “Repulsion,” starring French actress Catherine Deneuve, followed by “Cul-de-Sac” (1966) and “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967), films that brought Polanski to Hollywood.

Gutowski was the son of an assimilated Jewish family in eastern Poland but saw his youth shattered by the Second World War and the loss of his family in the Holocaust. Immediately after the war he worked for US military intelligence hunting Nazis in post-war 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, with six wives and many lovers along the way, a life story he told in a memoir, With Balls and Chutzpah: A Story of Survival.

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.

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 26 July, 1925, in Lwow, Poland (today Lviv in Ukraine). After his mother was sent to the death camp of Belzec, young Witold made his way to Warsaw alone and struggled to survive by passing as an “Aryan”.For a time Gutowski worked for the Luftwaffe at Warsaw’s Okecie airport, stealing radio transmitters for the Polish underground. When he was being hunted by the Nazis, he was given shelter by his Polish girlfriend’s mother. She provided him with the documents of a worker, Eugeniusz Gutowski, who had died in an accident.

After making a name for himself as Gene Gutowski he never considered returning to his original name, though the youngest of his three sons, Adam, eventually took it.

After the1960s, Gutowski and Polanski parted ways professionally but remained friends. They eventually got together again to make the 2002 film The Pianist.He said makingthe movie, which won three Oscars, was “a personal catharsis”.

He is survived by wife Joanna Smaga-Gutowska, his companion of 16 years; sons Andrew Gutowski, an architect; Alexander Waugh, a yacht captain and Adam Bardach, and four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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