- Born Michailo Waszynski as Musi Wax. He was born into a poor Jewish family from Wołyń
- He quickly moved up the professional career ladder. But among experts and critics, he had a reputation as a hunting instructor: he shot quickly and inexpensively
- Being homosexual, he managed to marry an old countess, who died a few months later, leaving him a huge fortune
- He often repeated that it was he who chose 17-year-old Sophia Scollona from the crowd of extras, later the divine Sophia Loren
- He liked to embellish his biography; Not many events in his life have been confirmed in reality
- In 2017, the documentary The King and the Dybbuk by Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosołowski was shown, trying to unravel the mystery of Waszyński’s biography
- More stories like this can be found on the Onet homepage
became Mosze Waszyński
A filmmaker of dubious talent, a notorious liar, a con artist posing as a playboy, an arrogant snob. No matter how negative one may say about Michał Waszyński, it is difficult to deny him the ability to deal with life. Moshe Waks, because that was his real name, was born into a poor Jewish family from Volhynia in 1904. The son of a blacksmith and poultry trader, he had been sensitive to art since childhood, which could embarrass his teachers. He was expelled from a Jewish school for teenagers because he infuriated a teacher by asking him about the existence of demons.
After turning 18, he settled in Warsaw, where he first worked as a correspondent for director Wiktor Biegański. It was he who advised Waks to adopt a Polish surname. Waszyński quickly climbed the professional career ladder. He met Aleksander Hertz, founder of the Sfinks Film Studio, thanks to whom he helped the group of the most important directors of Polish cinema of the period: Ordyński, Lejtes, Szaro, and celebrated a quarter of a century as an independent author of the drama “Under the Flag of Love” that has not survived to this day this.
Among experts and critics, Waszynski had a reputation as a sly: he shot quickly and cheaply. He didn’t have great artistic ambitions, but he mastered filmmaking almost to perfection. He was able to make up to seven films a year, shooting each of them in just 2-3 weeks. No less fantastic comedies and tearful melodramas starring the great stars of pre-war cinema: Jadwiga Smosarska, Adolf Dymsza, Eugene Bodeau, Or Kazimierz Junosza-Stępowski, which was very popular with viewers. After achieving success, he moved from Muranów to Saska Kępa and greatly raised his standard of living.
Waszyński became an aristocrat
On September 1, 1939, Waszyński and the directors who accompanied him were in Lviv. The Soviet authorities sent him to Siberia, but he managed to join Anders’ army, which was taking shape at that time, and travel with him to the Middle East. When filling out the application form, he identified himself as a Polish Catholic. Being a soldier in the Second Legion and a member of the military film team, he recorded the battle scenes of Monte Cassino on tape. Parts of these images can be found in the movie “Wielka Droga” made just after the war, starring the notable actress Jadwiga Andrzejewska and Irina Anders herself.
In 1948 he shot The Stranger of San Marino, another film with a distinctly anti-Nazi tone, starring the great Italian actress Anna Magnani as the prostitute Liana and the eminent director Vittorio De Sica as the atheist Leo in the ensemble cast. Farewell to Waszyński’s director’s chair does not mean parting with him from the cinema at all, and the adventures of his later life will suffice for several Hollywood productions.
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Surprisingly, being homosexual, he managed to marry the “rich and infirm” Countess Maria Dolores Tarantini, who died a few months later, leaving him a huge fortune, including an art collection and a palace in Rome. The author of “Antek the Police” and “Dodek na frontcie” entered the circle of the Italian aristocracy, calling himself a Polish prince and telling left and right that he also had his own court in Warsaw. Until recently, his heirs were convinced that such a palace existed in the Polish capital.
Talent scout and fake product taster
Luck did not leave him for a moment. Having acquired a large fortune, Waszynski drove an elegant Rolls-Royce and led a life of luxury, trading Rome for Madrid. Thanks to his friendship with the entrepreneur in the production industry, Samuel Bronston, especially the nephew of Leon Trotsky, he went from a minor director to an influential figure in the world of great cinema: he helped Orson Welles in the production of Shakespeare’s “Othello”, artistic director of the classic adaptation of “Quo Vadis”, and worked on the set of “Roman Holidays”.
Besides, he often repeated that it was he who chose 17-year-old Sophia Sicolona from the crowd of extras, who later became the Divine Sophia LorenAnd I discovered the great acting talent of Audrey Hepburn. Waszyński and Bronston became the directors of the European “dream factory” at Las Rozas near Madrid, where high-budget, huge-grossing historical films were filmed. To meet their needs, they built the Forbidden City of Beijing and the ancient Roman Forum there. Together, they made “Cid” with Charlton Heston, or the famous “King of Kings”.
They were able to do business even with the Vatican, but the author of “Professor Wilczur” and “The Quick Man” didn’t always play fair on business. The financial operations he made contributed to the bankruptcy of the company. It soon turns out that all of the art he bought for Samuel Bronston were cheap imitations. The perpetrator did not bear any consequences. He died in the winter of 1965 on a plate of truffles during a dinner party in the Spanish capital. The cause of death was a heart attack. He was buried with all honors as befits a Catholic aristocrat.
“Prince and Dibbuk”: still from the movie
Your Excellency and Majesty the King
Waszyński is not the only cinematographer who, in addition to films, has also directed his life. It is true that he did not appear in his works as Alfred Hitchcock, but like a master of suspense, he loved to embellish his biography. Studying dramatic art in Kyiv, collaborating with Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau on the iconic “Nosferatu” group, or staying as a prisoner at Auschwitz are events in his life that are not confirmed in reality.
Little lies about aristocratic origins were shared by other directors of Jewish descent: Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg, who decided to add some magic to themselves. In recent years, Lars von Trier used the same trick, inserting the word “von” between his name and surname, as if in honor of the aforementioned Austrians. In his youth, Waszyński sometimes signed the name Ernest, which was a reference to the character of Ninoczka’s legendary creator, Ernst Lubitsch. The author of nearly a third of all films produced by Polish cinematography in the 1930s was referred to as “Polish Lubitsch”.
Nearly 50 years after his death, Michał Waszyński is guaranteed a permanent place in cinematographic history thanks to one position – commissioned Dybbuk. The film, made entirely in Yiddish two years before the war broke out, is a surprisingly successful adaptation of Shimon Ann Ski’s Jewish drama Ancestors’ Eve. With Dybbuk, Waszyński once again returned to his Jewish roots, from which he had cut himself off most of his life, making the film in his hometown and devoting far more time to it than other productions. It was worth it then. If anyone in the world associates it with the achievements of our cinematography before “Kanal” and the Polish film school, it is because of the intimate black and white work, shot by a man who managed to become a prince for a moment.
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