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Elżbieta Czyżewska
Born May 14, 1938 (1938-05-14) (age 71)
Warsaw, Poland

Elżbieta Czyżewska (born May 14, 1938) is a Polish-American actress.




Early life

Czyżewska was born in Warsaw. She attended the State Academy of Theatre in Warsaw and was advised by the Dean that in order to play leading roles in Romantic repertory she should undergo plastic surgery: to reduce the size of her breasts. Her answer, after she consulted her colleagues in the notoriously anti-establishment Student Satirical Theatre, was "No way".[1]

Career in Poland

Ten years later - at the peak of her extraordinary film and theater career, and in deep trouble with the communist regime on account of her marriage to New York Times correspondent, David Halberstam - she was cast by the legendary Polish director Andrzej Wajda in his movie, Everything for Sale. Czyżewska was a popular star. The young directors of the Polish new wave in cinema recognized their peer in breaking the conventions of superficial romantic comedy. In A Bride for the Australian (1963), Where is the General (1963) and Giuseppe in Warsaw (1964), Czyżewska created a character who was almost the reverse of the Cinderella versus Prince Charming formula, as it was her charm and wit that turned her suitors into her equals. Not a "method" actor, she would never disappear into a character, nor would she, on the other hand, allow her striking persona to wholly define her succession of screen and theatre parts. Wojciech Has directed her triumphant performance in The Saragossa Manuscript (1964).

Besides the theater role that won her the major Golden Mask Award, Czyżewska had her most significant stage success in the Teatr Dramatyczny's 1965 production of Arthur Miller's After the Fall. By now internationally recognized (from Moscow to San Salvador) as one of Poland's top young actors, she expanded her artistic range in two film dramas: Unloved (1965) and Wajda's Everything for Sale (1968). The dark mood of both these movies marked the country's disillusionment after a brief period of cultural "thaw". Unloved, set shortly before the outbreak of World War II, tells the story of a young Jewish woman's love affair whose ending coincides with the ominous atmosphere of the period, including its anti-Semitism. Czyżewska's "Naomi", as the film's few reviewers raved (it was allowed a very limited run), was powerful and heartbreaking.

She also became an outcast, and soon an exile due to her marriage to Halberstam, who was expelled from Poland for his sharp criticisms of the regime at the time. Czyżewska's career was disrupted, and when she returned in 1968 at Wajda's invitation to play in his film, Everything for Sale, production was complicated by the March outbreak of student protests and the start of that year's anti-Semitic expulsions. Ironically, Czyżewska herself was expelled, and partly because she promptly accepted a role in exiled director Aleksander Ford's adaptation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle, she was unable to work in Poland until 1980 with the rise of Poland's Solidarność (Solidarity) movement, led by Lech Wałęsa.

Career in the United States

The 1987 Hollywood film Anna is loosely based on Czyżewska's life. In the film, an exiled European movie star played by Sally Kirkland, struggles to find work in New York City following her divorce from a well-connected intellectual, presumably based on David Halberstam. Kirkland was nominated for an Academy Awards in the Best Actress category for this role.

However, Czyżewska, unlike the character Anna, continued to do theater work in the USA, winning an Obie Award in 1990 for her role in Crowbar by Mac Wellman. Her American premieres also include other Wellman plays as well as Janusz Glowacki's Hunting Cockroaches. She performed in Ibsen's When We Dead Awaken at the American Repertory Theater, and in several productions at Yale Repertory Theater. She also played in Big Potato (by Arthur Laurents) at the Doris Duke Theater.

Her American films include The Music Box, Running on Empty and Putney Swope. Her television appearances include the American Playhouse drama Misplaced on PBS. Her most recent theater roles were in Martha Clarke's Vienna Lusthaus, Hedda Gabler at the New Theatre Workshop in 2004, and 'Darkling' in 2006. In June 2007, she returned to Poland for a performance of Darkling in Gniezno at the Aleksander Fredro Teatr.

In May 2005, Czyżewska was honored with the Cultural Award of Merit by the Consul General of the New York Polish Consulate. This is the highest award for a Polish American to receive. The ceremony began the first American retrospective of her work at the first New York Polish Film Festival, directed by Hanna Hartowicz.


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