The libel award was granted by a nine man, three woman jury after four and a half hours of deliberations at the High Court in central London, where witnesses had included a number of Hollywood stars.
“It goes without saying that, whilst the whole episode is a sad one, I am obviously pleased with the jury’s verdict,” said Polanski, who turns 72 next month, in a statement.
“Three years of my life have been interrupted. Three years within which I have had no choice but to relive the horrible events of August 1969, the murders of my wife, my unborn child and my friends.”
“Many untruths have been published about me, most of which I have ignored, but the allegations printed in the July 2002 edition of Vanity Fair could not go unchallenged,” he added.
He said the memory of his late wife “was at the forefront of my mind in bringing this action,” as he thanked those who testified on his behalf, including his current wife, the French actress Emmanuelle Seigner.
Polanski did not attend the trial because of his fear of extradition to the United States, which he fled in 1978 while awaiting sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Instead, the prolific creator of such celebrated motion pictures as Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Tess, The Tenant and The Pianist followed the proceedings in Paris via a video link from London.
He had sued Conde Nast, the US media group that owns Vanity Fair, over a July 2002 story which said that following the August 1969 murder of 26-year-old Tate and four others by the Charles Manson cult, he made a pass at a young woman in Elaine’s celebrity restaurant in New York.
It recounted an onlooker, Harper’s magazine editor Lewis Lapham, as saying: “Fascinated by his performance, I watched as he slid his hand inside her thigh and began a long honeyed spiel which ended with the promise ‘And I will make another Sharon Tate out of you’.”
The woman was identified as Norwegian-born blonde Beatte Telle, the companion of financier Edward Perlberg, who was also at the table.
Polanski’s lawyers argued that the article meant that he had gone “on the pull” – slang in Britain for picking up a woman – and exploited the name of his late wife, who was eight months pregnant when she died, as a “tool of seduction”.
Polanski, backed up in the court by testimony from such celebrities as actress Mia Farrow, who was at the dinner, countered that the incident in the chic Manhattan eatery never happened.
Vanity Fair contended that its article was substantially true, but accepted that the incident did not occur when Polanski was on his way back to Hollywood for Tate’s funeral, but rather about two weeks afterwards.
It contended that, in any event, Polanski should not receive any damages, as his reputation had already been ruined by his 1977 conviction for sex with a minor and his well-documented promiscuous past.
Vanity Fair’s editor, Graydon Carter, was seen by reporters in the High Court shaking his head at today’s verdict, while Tate’s sister, Debra Tate, who had also testified, smiled.
Speaking outside the court, Carter said Friday: “I find it amazing that a man who lives in France can sue a magazine that is published in America in a British courtroom.”