International success … Roman Polanski in London in 1969, the same year his wife Sharon Tate was murdered in LA.
International success … Roman Polanski in London in 1969, the same year his wife Sharon Tate was murdered in LA. Photo: Getty Images
September 27, 2009. at 8.15am the phone rang. It was my friend Dawn.
"I have to tell you something, and you have to wake up and be ready," she said. I was instantly awake. I knew something bad had happened to her.
Maybe extreme youth was some sort of life force he felt he needed. 
"Roman Polanski got arrested."
"I was a kid, barely developed" … a modelling shot of Samantha Giemer, aged 13.
"I was a kid, barely developed" … a modelling shot of Samantha Giemer, aged 13. Photo: Scope Features
Oh, God. This wasn't her bad news. This was my bad news. No. No freakin' way. I can't do this again.
"Sam? Did you hear what I said?"
"Shit shit shit shit, what the f..."
"I never felt, 'poor me'" … Samantha Geimer, now aged 50.
"I never felt, 'poor me'" … Samantha Geimer, now aged 50. Photo: courtesy of Simon & Schuster
"They arrested him in Switzerland," Dawn said. "I just heard it on the news."
Sickness, panic. Need my family. Need my mother. Need a Xanax.
Roman Polanski's arrest was, in a sense, my arrest. Because I am that 13-year-old girl. It's all such ancient history, you might say. After all, it's 2013: he's 80, I'm 50. I have a great husband, great kids, a great life. But just about everyone who lived through or read about this sordid chapter in Hollywood history had an opinion about the renowned director and the girl he was accused of drugging, raping, and sodomising - me.
Opinions on the Polanski case go something like this: he was a vile paedophile whose power allowed him to escape the long arm of the law, after he fled to Europe to avoid sentencing in the United States. Or: he was a troubled man whose own horrific past did not allow him to gauge the difference between a child and a young woman. (Not only had the Polish-Jewish director survived the Holocaust, but in 1969 his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered.) And the girl? She was an innocent victim. Or, no: she was a cunning Lolita. Or, perhaps most commonly: she was a reluctant but ultimately willing player in the crazy ambitions of her stage mother, who wanted her little girl to be a star. Who was the predator? Who was the prey? We were all suspect.
When I met Polanski in February 1977, I had seen Chinatown and didn't like it. I thought it was both brutal and boring. My mother and my stepfather, Bob, despite being in the business, weren't exactly film historians but they knew Polanski was powerful and famous and could do things for all of us. In other words, they were pretty much like every other unsophisticated aspiring actor in Hollywood.
My sister, Kim, was dating a guy named Henri Sera, a minor film producer, who called to say Roman was interviewing young American girls for a photo shoot that he was in the process of doing for Vogue Paris. I was asked if he could come and see me, and I said yes.
Polanski sat down in the living room and explained what he wanted to do. A French edition of Vogue magazine was looking to do a story on the differences between American girls and French girls, and he needed to find the right American girls.
He showed my mother and Bob a beautiful spread he'd done with Nastassja Kinski in the Seychelles for a summer issue of Vogue Paris. Whether or not he was having a sexual relationship with Kinski then, when she was still 14, is a matter open to debate, but he did shortly thereafter. What isn't debatable is that she was so exquisite in the photos she took your breath away. She also seemed so sultry, so knowingly sexual.
And then there was me, a 13-year-old kid in jeans and sneakers, barely developed. I was by all accounts a very pleasant but unexceptional-looking girl. My eyes suggested no particular mystery. I had a roundish face, a slightly pug nose and lips that were cherry red without the benefit of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers. My hair was short, and I wasn't quite pulling off the feathered Valley Girl cut. My voice was surprisingly husky - not Cathy Moriarty sexy, just husky. No one could ever say that I slinked into a room. I sort of galumphed.
I still marvel that he didn't turn on his heel and walk out the door. But maybe beauty wasn't always the point for Polanski. Maybe for a man who had lived through what no one should ever have to live through, and survived, extreme youth was some sort of life force he felt he needed.
Yet, I really didn't have any sense that he was checking me out. This was boring. I wanted out. I introduced Roman to my cockatiel, which failed to charm him, and then exited to my room, my record player, and the over-the-top theatricality of Aerosmith.
A few days later Polanski returned, clutching a small black camera. My mom gently suggested she should come along on the shoot. No, Roman said, her presence might make me uncomfortable and unable to relax. Roman and I drove in silence to the top of our street, then walked up the hill. It was late afternoon. Warm, not too breezy. This was the test shoot. From this he could determine if I was the right girl for the French magazine.
I had brought two tops with me, and after one roll of film, he asked me to change into my other shirt. I turned my back to change, and was surprised that I still heard the click of the shutter. Wasn't it obvious I wasn't ready? As I was changing, he asked me to turn toward him, and he began giving me directions, quietly. Smile, don't smile, look at me, bite your lip, look up, turn to your left, look back at me.
"This is not working," he said. "I'm just not seeing it."
I tried again. I knew I wasn't quite nailing it. I could tell he was a little exasperated when I tried to look sexy, biting my lip. When he asked me to take my top off altogether, I felt I had to rise to the challenge. Sure, my breasts were so small I could still wear undershirts, and sure, my mother would disapprove, but this was my break. If I eventually got into the magazine - well, I'd have clothes on. Besides, I was a professional.
He snapped away. Then I got my blouse back on as quickly as I could. I didn't think much about it. These pictures weren't going to be used. Vogue didn't have naked girls in it, like Playboy. Maybe it's different in France. The next thing I knew, I was topless again. "Put your hands on your hips now," he said. He looked a little happier. I was getting cold. A dirt biker zipped by, and Roman looked from the biker to me. "Is that bothering you?" he asked. "No," I said.
Breasts are beautiful; that's what The Joy of Sex said. It's just that I didn't have them, not really. But hadn't other girls my age posed like this? Brooke Shields, or Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver.
Finally we were done, and headed back to the house, the sun setting behind us. It must have gone well enough, because although he didn't say anything to me, Roman called my mom and arranged for a second session.
On March 10, my ticket to stardom showed up again, his cologne smelling a little too strong. He was neither brusque nor ingratiating; just somewhat thoughtful and abstracted. He wanted to shoot me for the magazine! Sure, the last time was super-uncomfortable, but that was the price of fame.
Everyone was excited for me, but even though I'd said nothing about the last photo shoot, my mother sensed my discomfort.
I suggested to my mom that my friend Terri, who was hanging out at my house that day, go with me. But Roman was in a rush. He said, "Let's go. All the light is going to go down. Hurry up. Get your clothes." So I did. Polanski warned Terri that the shoot might take a while, so maybe she shouldn't come. She shrugged and headed home on her bike.
Roman negotiated the rolling bends on Mulholland Drive in a steel-grey rented Mercedes. I sat beside him in the front passenger seat, glimpses of the canyon rushing by. It was a lovely day for my big break.
First, we stopped at the home of an English-woman with feline features and perfect full lips - Jacqueline Bisset, I was told. He took a few photos of me at Jacqueline's house - pretty, feminine, maybe just the tiniest bit risqué - and continued to worry about losing the light, so he said we would go to his friend Jack Nicholson's place.
Much of what happened when I got home was told to me years later; I was too high and too upset to remember. I flew into the house and into my room, but not before my mother got a good look at me. My eyes were glazed, the pupils huge; my hair was damp.
Polanski sauntered in, relaxed and cordial. He must have been a little high himself. After some small talk, he asked if Mom and Bob wanted to see the pictures. They said sure. He went to his car and brought back an envelope of slides, a slide viewer, and a joint. They smoked together.
It's impossible to tell, in retrospect, if Polanski assumed that because of Bob's job at Marijuana Monthly we were a permissive family in other ways - more European, perhaps? Or maybe, with the arrogance of someone who was lauded as a genius around the world, he just assumed that whatever he did was okay. As Mom and Bob looked at the photos, they were surprised to find them unprofessional, unfocused, cropped haphazardly, with no regard for lighting. Some caught me prematurely, as if the photographer had snapped too soon. My mother knew test shots, and she was instantly baffled why a man of pictures like Roman Polanski would resort to shots like these. I looked more sullen than sultry, one hand on a hip, a hand slightly behind my head, now in my white lace shirt, unbuttoned. No young Marilyn here. When they saw the topless photos, Mom and Bob froze.
"," my sister, Kim mumbled.
Dogs are pretty good at measuring the mood of a room: our dog Natasha went into a frenzy, spinning in circles before she peed on the living room rug.
"What are you doing?!" Kim screamed at Natasha, smacking her and dragging her out the door, because she had to do something. After this, Roman turned to her: "That's not the way to discipline a dog," he told my sister.
Kim looked at him wild-eyed. My mother felt the blood rising, choking her.
"Get him out of here," Mom rasped.
There was a flurry of activity. The photographs were shoved back into the envelope as Roman explained he had to call someone he was seeing that night. Bob, stunned, handed Roman the joint roach and herded him out the door.
Bob was pacing. "How dare he? Oh my God, that had her take her top off. Should we call someone?" In our house, it was my mother who was in charge. It was her decision.
At first, she tried to soothe herself with the legality of the whole thing. "We didn't sign a release. He can't do anything with those pictures," she said. But it wasn't enough. "He did that with my daughter? He thought that was okay?"
At that point they knew nothing other than that he had taken topless pictures of me - but that, in itself, was enough of a reason for a freak-out. It wasn't the toplessness alone, though. It was the deception. The betrayal of trust. In their minds Vogue meant two things: fashion and clothes. Lots of clothes. The sheer badness of the photos made them realise something was wrong.
Mom and Bob threw out ideas: "Call a lawyer. Call Henri and let him know what his friend did." Or: "Say nothing. Just keep him away from Sam." They were trying to be calm about this, with me in the next room. My mother spoke in a panicked whisper. She went to her bedroom to lie down and think. Bob lay next to her and fell asleep.
Kim came in to check on me. She was at my door, about to come in. She paused. By this time, my boyfriend Steve had come over and was in my room. She overheard my conversation with him: "He went down on me ..."
She turned around, walked to the back of the house, and tapped on Mom's door.
"He f...ed her, Mom," Kim said. Bob woke up.
Then, Mom was in my room.
"Did he make you have sex with him?"
I was confused, high from the Quaaludes, not understanding the situation, grateful to be home, and now my mother had found out. She was quivering with rage. It's just sex, I told myself.
"Did that happen? Tell me the truth."
"Yeah," I said. My mother sat beside me quietly. Occasionally she hugged me and cried a little.
The story that would be repeated in the press for years was that my mother had, for lack of a better term, pimped me out - that she had set me up with Roman as a kind of bait, not only for my career, but for hers. In fact, as improbable as it now sounds, it never, ever crossed her mind that he would have sex with me. First, no one talked about child sex abuse then. And however "adult" I may have acted, I looked like a child. He'd had Sharon Tate. He'd had Nastassja Kinski. Why, if you could have the most scintillating women in the world, would you have a 13-year-old girl whose best friend was a bird? But then, the real answer to, "Why me?" is quite simple - because I was there.
But that night, she wasn't thinking about this rationally. She was thinking what an idiot she'd been. And what she was going to do next. I heard her saying over and over, "The The I'll kill him." Within an hour, two cops were standing in Kim's room - Kim's, not mine, because mine was in its usual volcanic state. Mom, Kim, and I sat on the edge of the bed.
"Tell them everything," my mother said.
I never would have been so honest if I hadn't been so high. How I've wished, over the years, I'd never told anyone about that poke in the butt.
Did Mr Polanski insert his penis into your vagina?
Then ... did he do anything else? This took a bit of time. I whispered the answer to Kim. She caught her breath. I think she may have been holding back from crying. She looked at Mom.
"Yes," Kim said to the officers. "He also put it in her butt."
Hearing this, my mother fell back on my bed with her arms out over her head, whispering, "Oh my God." Her reaction really startled me. Was this a terrible thing? Like, worse than the other?
Roman Polanski was arrested Friday night, March 11, about 24 hours after we left Jack Nicholson's. Some of what I had told the police was now showing up in print for the world to see. That first wire service article said that Polanski had lured a 13-year-old girl to Nicholson's house on the pretext of photographing her, then drugged and raped her. He also was suspected of sodomy, child molestation and furnishing dangerous drugs to a minor. I'm thinking, "This seems like a big pile of Awful for something that took only a few minutes."
Subsequent articles said that my mother and Polanski met to plan the photo shoots, and that my mother was angered after seeing the topless pictures. The implications were obvious: gold digger parents, hot kid as payoff. In 1984, Polanski would write an autobiography, Roman. He would say that at the time of the first meeting at our house, my mother had asked him to recommend an agent to her, and that Bob had asked him to pass an interview request to Jack Nicholson on behalf of Marijuana Monthly, because Nicholson was known to support the legalisation of pot. Did that imply there was some sort of quid pro quo for professional courtesies that included nookie with the 13-year-old?
My mother was relieved at the arrest but I wasn't sure, still feeling that I had, at least in some way, brought all this on myself. If I were clever or if I had put up more of a fight, or if I hadn't drunk the champagne or taken the Quaalude or ... and so on, then I could have figured a way out of Nicholson's house before things got so crazy.
I knew I hadn't wanted to have sex with Roman, but did that make it rape? I thought rape had to be violent. When I was told that what he had done was a serious crime because of my age, I was shocked. While I may have been unsure what to call it, I certainly didn't see it as Polanski described it, in his autobiography, as "making love." Making love? Still, I was not brutalised. I never felt in physical danger, and I never felt, "poor me."
There was something considered generally positive about erotic experience in the 1970s, even in the absence of anything beyond the sex itself. The idea was that emotional growth came about through an expanded sexuality - for both the person in power and the relatively powerless. This is the cultural paradigm Roman Polanski was sopping up in 1977. As wrong as he was to do what he did, I never thought he wanted to hurt me; he wanted me to enjoy it. He was arrogant and horny.
I am not apologising for him and I don't think his art somehow makes up for what he did. Mostly what I am is a person with commonsense and a belief that motive does play a role in judging a crime. Polanski was horny and high on March 10, 1977. That's it. I do not think his motive was to hurt me, even if, unavoidably, he did.
An edited extract from The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski, published by Simon & Schuster. Samantha Geimer will tour Sydney and Melbourne, from September 30 to October 4.