On a warm March evening in 1977, Polish director Roman Polanski had sex with a 13-year-old girl after a photo session led to champagne and Quaaludes in Jack Nicholson’s hot tub. Charged with having unlawful intercourse with a minor, Polanski, then 44, pleaded guilty but fled to Paris before he was sentenced. By then, some of Hollywood’s brightest stars—including Nicholson, Jacqueline Bisset and Anjelica Huston, bystanders all—had been swept up in the scandal. The only name missing—her identity protected by the court—was that of the victim: Samantha Gailey.
At the time, Gailey (now Geimer) was a child trying to fast-track her way to womanhood. In the media, however, she was cast as a wily Lolita. Polanski, who had established himself as a director with Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974), continued his career in exile, with Tess (1979), Frantic (1988) and Bitter Moon (1994). Meanwhile, Geimer, now 34 and a secretary, had become depressed, dropped out of school and married and divorced before finding contentment in Hawaii. There she shares a modest three-bedroom home with second husband Dave Geimer, 31, a carpenter, and her children Jesse, 15, Alex, 8, and Matthew, 4.
Polanski’s attorney met with a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles earlier this year, reportedly in hopes of securing a light sentence for the director, should he return to the U.S. With renewed public interest in the case, Geimer spoke with PEOPLE correspondent Danelle Morton about the past 20 years and why she would welcome Polanski’s return.
WHEN I FIRST MET ROMAN Polanski I was living with my mother and sister in the San Fernando Valley. It wasn’t Ozzie and Harriet, but we had a nice family life. My mother was a working actress, and I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be famous—a movie star. But I was really just on the edge of ceasing to be a tomboy and trying to act more like a young lady. I had a 17-year-old boyfriend who drove a Camaro, but my room was knee-deep in clothes; I had a Spider-Man poster on the wall and I kept pet rats.
My sister was dating a guy who knew Roman and introduced him to my mom, who had actually met him once before at a club. When Polanski said he’d take some pictures of me and put them in a European magazine, it was exciting. We thought it would be a good thing for my career.
On Feb. 20, 1977, Polanski took me on our first photo shoot in a hillside area just a few blocks from my house. We shot a roll of film; then he asked me to take off my shirt and took topless photos while I changed. I let him do it, but I felt self-conscious. I was thinking, “I shouldn’t be doing this,” but I was a kid, so I thought if it wasn’t okay, he wouldn’t tell me to do it. If I’d told my mom, she would never have let me go with him the second time. When he made another appointment a few weeks later, she had no reason to suspect anything. I didn’t want to go, but I still thought it would be a good opportunity.
He picked me up again on March 10 at around 4 p.m. In the car he asked me if I’d ever had sex. I had, once (it was embarrassing to be a virgin among my friends), so I said yes. What I should have said is, “It’s none of your business.” We stopped off at Jacqueline Bisset’s house, but I didn’t recognize her at the time. Someone offered me a glass of wine, but I said no and went out by the pool because I didn’t have anything to say to the adults. He took some shots of me wearing jeans and a white shirt tied up at the waist, but we were only there for about 15 minutes.
Then we go to Jack Nicholson’s house. I had seen Chinatown and I was thinking “Wow! Jack Nicholson.” The maid lets us in and disappears, so as far as I am concerned we are alone, and I’m very far from home. Polanski asks me to pose, drinking champagne. I wouldn’t take the wine earlier but when he says champagne, that sounds interesting to me. He keeps refilling my glass. Then he asks me to pose topless again and says he wants to take pictures in the Jacuzzi. I don’t have my bathing suit so I get in in my underwear. He takes pictures, then he gets in naked and now I’m thinking, “Oh, this is not right.” I’m scared and woozy, so I tell him I have asthma and to take me home. I get out, grab a towel, but he doesn’t want to take me home yet. That’s when he takes out the Quaaludes and asks me if I’ve ever had one. I lie and say yes. I take one-third. He takes what’s left and tells me to lie down for a minute. I know he wants to have sex and he is not taking no for an answer. I’m intoxicated and afraid and don’t know what to do, so I just let it happen.
Then Anjelica Huston [who was Jack Nicholson’s girlfriend at the time] knocked on the door. I assume she asked him, “What are you doing in my room?” I started to get dressed, but Polanski came back and said, “Lay back down,” and he took off my underwear. He had been interrupted, so he finished—briefly—then went back to talk to her. I got dressed and went out to the car and started to cry. He took me home and said, “Don’t tell your mom what happened.” But my sister heard me telling my boyfriend on the phone what happened. My mom asked me if it was true, then called the police. That’s when all hell broke loose.
The fallout was worse than what had happened that night. It was on the evening news every night. Reporters and photographers came to my school and put my picture in a European tabloid with the caption Little Lolita. They were all saying, “Poor Roman Polanski, entrapped by a 13-year-old temptress.” I had a good friend who came from a good Catholic family, and her father wouldn’t let her come to my house anymore. It was even worse for my mother because everyone was saying it was her fault. Meanwhile, I just shut down and didn’t talk. I was this sweet 13-year-old girl, and then all of a sudden I turned into this pissed-off 14-year-old. I was mad at my attorney; I was mad at my mom. I never blamed her for what happened, but I was mad that she had called the police and that we had to go through this ordeal. Now I realize” she went through hell trying to handle things as best she could.
What I did with my life over the next five years was self-destructive. I had been heading in a positive direction before that, going on auditions, getting into commercials. But I never really got back on course. You can’t be a movie actress and have this kind of secret. If I had pursued acting, it would have all come back and slapped me in the face again. So I became a rebellious teenager. I left school at 16 and hung out with a group of wilder kids. I was pregnant at 18 and married at 19.
Having Jesse, my first child, changed everything for me. But my ex-husband and I were separated before Jesse’s first birthday. Suddenly I had a child; no one was going to take care of me; and worrying about foolish things just went out the window. We lived in a converted garage at my mom’s home, and my grandmother looked after Jesse while I went to secretarial school.
I was still living there when I met Dave through friends. We had been together for a year when I became pregnant again. It was 1988, and Mom and her new husband had moved to Hawaii and were selling” the house. She said, “Just come. I’ll move your stuff and get you on your feet.” We didn’t want to go at first. It seemed so far away. Would we like it? Could we find work? We didn’t know anybody. In the end, we moved here and got married a year later. It turned out to be a really great decision. We had both our kids in this house. (Jesse goes to see his dad every summer and on the holidays.) My sister moved here too, and everyone’s doing fine.
One of the things I always wanted was a good marriage and two or three kids and a home life. I like my work and the town I live in. It’s a quiet, small neighborhood where you know everyone and your kids are safe. I’m glad to have moved away from L.A. and to have a normal, quiet existence. I’ve felt safe here. Here my neighbors are like, “Roman who?”
Then when the reports came out that Polanski was trying to get back in the country, my phone rang off the hook for three days. I couldn’t let my kids answer it, and my life was turned upside down again. It was like I got a 20-year suspension on dealing with all this, and now my time was up. That’s when I decided: no more hiding, no more waiting. When I was younger I really didn’t have any control over the situation, but now I want to deal with it on my own terms. I don’t carry feelings of anger towards Polanski. I even have some sympathy for him, what with his mother dying in a concentration camp and then his wife Sharon Tate being murdered by Charles Manson’s people and spending the last 20 years as a fugitive. Life was hard for him, just like it was for me. He did something really gross to me, but it was the media that ruined my life.
Even now, so-called experts are using my situation on TV talk shows to push their own points, which have nothing to do with how I feel. Twenty years ago everything said about me was horrible. But these days it’s not fashionable to bad-mouth the victim. Now I’m all ready to stand up and defend myself and everyone is saying “oh, you poor thing.” But I’m not a poor thing. And I can’t oblige everyone by becoming freaked out and upset just to make things sound more interesting. If Polanski comes back—fine. That would at least end it. It will never be over until that happens.