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. He was 90.
Mr. Gutowski's son Adam Bardach told the Associated Press that his father died of pneumonia on Tuesday at a hospital in Warsaw.
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 Mr. Polanski to Hollywood.
Years later, Mr. Polanski credited Mr. Gutowski with launching his international career, calling him "one of the most important figures in my existence."
Mr. Gutowski was the son of a cultured and 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 U.S. military intelligence hunting Nazis in postwar Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1947.
A talented artist and sculptor, Mr. 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 that took him across Europe, to Hollywood and the Virgin Islands, with six wives and many lovers along the way, a life story he tells in a memoir, With Balls and Chutzpah: A Story of Survival.
For several years, he was also a consultant to Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. Following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, he returned to Poland, spending his latter years in Warsaw.
Mr. Gutowski and Mr. Polanski met in 1963, shortly after Mr. 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.
At the time, Mr. Polanski was 30 and lived in France, speaking no English. Mr. 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.
Mr. Gutowski was born Witold Bardach on July 26, 1925, in Lwow, Poland (today Lviv in Ukraine). He came from a family of lawyers, doctors, concert pianists and army officers, a family so assimilated that they celebrated Easter and Christmas and never attended synagogue.
After his mother was sent to the death camp of Belzec, young Witold knew he couldn't survive if he stayed in Lwow. So he made his way to Warsaw alone and struggled to survive by passing as an "Aryan." His father was killed by the Germans while his beloved younger brother, Roman, died when an uncle poisoned himself and the 13-year-old boy in the final days of the Lwow ghetto.
For a time, Mr. Gutowski worked for the Luftwaffe at Warsaw's Okecie airport, stealing radio transmitters for the Polish underground, an activity that nearly got him killed.
When he was being hunted by the Nazis for stealing the radio equipment 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 Bardach, eventually took it.
After their professional collaboration in the 1960s, Mr. Gutowski and Mr. Polanski parted ways professionally but remained friends. They eventually reunited to produce the 2002 film The Pianist, the wrenching Holocaust drama that mirrored the wartime experiences of both men. (Mr. Polanski escaped the Krakow ghetto and also survived by passing as a non-Jew, while his mother died in Auschwitz.)
Mr. Gutowski told the AP in 2014 that he and Mr. Polanski never discussed the war, saying he always felt it was a taboo topic. In his memoir, he also described denying his Jewish roots and
distancing himself from other survivors.
He said making The Pianist was "a personal catharsis."
"Watching crowds of terrified helpless people being pushed into a train to the gas chambers recalled the last journey of my entire family in the summer of 1942," he wrote. "And thus The Pianist, a film crowned with three important Oscars, was also in many ways the crowning moment of my life."
He leaves his wife, Joanna Smaga-Gutowska, his companion of 16 years; sons, architect Andrew Gutowski, yacht captain Alexander Waugh and Mr. Bardach; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.