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Director wins suit against magazine

LONDON -- Filmmaker Roman Polanski won his libel suit yesterday against Vanity Fair magazine over an article that accused him of propositioning a woman while on the way to the funeral of his murdered wife, Sharon Tate.

The Academy Award-winning director was awarded 50,000 pounds, equal to about $87,000, in damages plus court costs. The jury of nine men and three women took 4 1/2 hours to reach their unanimous verdict at London's High Court.

''It goes without saying that, whilst the whole episode is a sad one, I am obviously pleased with the jury's verdict today," Polanski, 71, said in a statement.

Judge David Eady also ordered Vanity Fair publisher Conde Nast to pay the equivalent of $300,000 of Polanski's costs within 14 days. The total bill for costs could be much higher.

Polanski, director of ''Rosemary's Baby," ''Chinatown," and ''The Pianist," sued Vanity Fair's publisher over a 2002 article that accused him of propositioning a woman while on the way to the funeral of Tate, who was killed by followers of Charles Manson in 1969. The article alleged that Polanski put his hand on the woman's thigh and promised her: ''I will make another Sharon Tate out of you."

Polanski's lawyer, John Kelsey-Fry, said Polanski had been ''monstrously libeled for the sake of a lurid anecdote." The director's lawyers deny that the incident ever occurred.

Conde Nast accepted that the alleged incident at Elaine's restaurant in Manhattan did not happen before Tate's funeral, but alleged that it happened about two weeks later.

In a weeklong case that featured lurid probing of Polanski's sex life and testimony in his defense from movie star Mia Farrow, lawyers for Vanity Fair labeled Polanski a ''refugee from morality." The magazine's lawyer, Tom Shields, told the jury Thursday that Polanski's ''law of morality" knew no rules -- ''only violations of civilized conduct which, it appears, can be readily excused."

Polanski, who won an Oscar in 2003 for the Holocaust drama ''The Pianist," has lived in France since fleeing child-sex charges in the United States in 1978. He was unwilling to come to Britain for fear of extradition, but he was allowed to testify by video.

After the verdict, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter said he found it ''outrageous that this story is considered defamatory, given the fact that Mr. Polanski cannot be here because he slept with a 13-year-old girl a quarter of a century ago."

Polanski said the case had made him ''relive the horrible events of August 1969, the murders of my wife, my unborn child, and my friends."

''The memory of my late wife, Sharon Tate, was at the forefront of my mind in bringing this action," he added.

Farrow, appearing as a witness for Polanski, said the director was consumed by grief when she met him at Elaine's in late August 1969. Farrow, who starred in ''Rosemary's Baby," said the director had been ''unable to talk about anything else. . . . He just kept saying over and over, 'Why? Why?' "

Conde Nast is based in New York, but libel actions concerning the international media are often brought in British courts because they are considered friendlier to claimants than US courts.

Carter said he found it ''amazing that a man who lives in France can sue a magazine that is published in America in a British courtroom."

''Nevertheless," he added, ''it was interesting to see the wheels of British justice move, and I wish Mr. Polanski well, and we have a magazine to put out."

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