Jewish Journal

He managed to fool the world. Michał Waszyński

Ewa Popowska/ Poland

March 14, 2012 | 2:15 pm

Michał Waszyński, (taken from: audiovis.nac.gov.pl)

  It was a long way to go from Kovel, in the deep east of pre-war Poland, to Madrit. Through Warsaw and Rome, from a closed Jewish society of his home village, to the reachest villas of Europe. He called himself a prince, change the personality and shaped the story of his life depending on the moment. The director Michał Waszyński, (Misza Waks, born in 1904), made a movie out of his life. This is an extraordinary story about a man who wanted to be someone else and became one.

  Waszyński’s life may be separated to a three different periods, which were strongly connected with the particular place and situation where he was finding himself at very moment. Once he moved from Kovel to the capital of Poland in early twenties (hardly nothing in his case may be defined as concrete and sure), he broke up with his Jewish past, changed name into the Polish-like, and after gaining first job in the movie bussines bought a place in the fancy part of the city.  He was working as an assistant for the best directors of Polish cinema and after few years he made his debut with a romance Pod banderą miłości (1929) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0907788/. In a short period Waszyński became a movie production machine, directing even seven titles per year, dedicating three weeks for each. That kind of acting of course had nothing to do with Art. Mocked and hated by the critics, Waszyński was beloved by the public, giving them all they wanted - an easy, genre cinema filled with the most famous stars.

  Nevertheles, when noone of the enraged enemies of his did expect that he could direct anything valuable, Waszyński surprised all of them. In 1937 he produced Der Dibuk http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0030092/, the only movie played inYiddish that lasted to our times in original condition from polish inter-war era. Unexpectedly, he turn back to his Jewish roots and created a masterpiece of cinema, which was the first movie in Yiddish that gained popularity with the Polish audience. This adaptation of an folklorist, Szymon An-ski’s drama, was deeply rooted in tradition of Jewish people living on the east side of Poland. Waszyński for the first time looked back to his childhood, which he spent among very religious family, in the village situated not far from the place, where the movie was set.
Until the beginning of the war, Michał Waszyński directed almost forty movies, most of which were lousy quality, today almost impossible in reception. In September 1939 he was making another movie in Lviv, from where he was sent to exile by Soviet Army to the deep East, where he joined the Army of general Anders. While filling the application formula he signed that he was a Polish catholic.
Was it the final goodbye with his real identity?

  In 1946, in Rome, he realised his last movie, Wielka droga http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0283145/, a paean for Władysław Anders and his army, with which he went to Iran, Irak (1942) and Palestine (1943). Film was cenzored in Poland until 1991, when finally had place its first premiere. In 1946 Waszyński married an Italian countess, Maria Dolores Tarantini, although his unconcealed homosexuality. Not long, the noble lady died, leaving her brand new husband with an enormous heritage, which included a collention of works of art and a pallace in Rome.
This way Waszyński entered the society of Italian aristocracy, where he presented himself as a Polish prince. Noone was aware of his past, he did not mention about his pre-war career nor Jewish roots even to the closest friends. What is more, Waszyński was creating many versions of his biography, depending of which circumstances he was at the time. A path to his past was demolished by nazists, who destroyed the world of his childhood but also by himself. Lies about his biography, inventing facts resulted with vanishing of the line beetween the reality and imagination.
Until his death in 1960 of heart attack, Waszyński assisted Orson Welles while making Otello (1952), was a co-producer of inter alia Roman Holiday http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046250/ (1953) dir. William Wyler, and The Fall of the Roman Empire http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058085/(1964) with Sophia Loren. He became a right hand of Spanish producer of Samuel Bronston in Madrit. Waszyński’s operations made Bronston Productions go bankrupt. His death took place three weeks before Bronston found out about the dramatic situation of his company and that all the alleged works of art, that Waszyński was buying for him, were cheap forgeries.

It was not the first time, when a Jewish person working in movie bussines created his own biography by lies and imagining stories. Erich von Stroheim (Sunset Blvd 1950 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043014/, La Grande Illusion http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0028950/ 1937) added a prefix in his name suggesting that he is an aristocrat, as well as Joseph von Sterberg. Nonetheless, in those cases it was rather about creating their own legends, building an atmosphere of mystery, while lies of Waszyński were having a deeper dimension. Maybe the burden of the past, awareness of irreparability of the world where he spent his childhood were sufficient reasons to create a new one around him.

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