Jerzy Kosinski

By: Mark Kingwell
June 14, 2010


You will never think of the phrase ‘blind date’ quite the same way after reading the novel of that name by JERZY KOSINSKI (born Józef Lewinkopf, 1933-1991), the Polish-American writer and fraud whose work is a litmus test of moral sensibility. Many know him best as the author of Being There (1971), the genial but biting satire of American media and politics later filmed with Peter Sellers (1979, directed by Hal Ashby). Far more significant are the harrowing novels, allegedly autobiographical, about a young man surviving the Holocaust (The Painted Bird, 1965) and life under Polish Communism (Blind Date, 1975). For Kosinski’s narrator, a “blind date” is a rape, not always physical, that forces hapless targets into confrontations with self, not unlike the gratuitous mischief performed by Holocaust survivor Julius King in Iris Murdoch’s 1970 novel A Fairly Honorable Defeat. (Though King is in fact based on another European Jewish intellectual, Elias Canetti.) Blind Date also contains the notorious claim that Kosinski — or the narrator — narrowly missed the Manson family murders of Sharon Tate and friends in 1969. Kosinski was indeed friends with Tate’s husband, Roman Polanski, but the latter (himself no reliable source) denied the claim. After early celebrity — repeated Tonight Show appearance, the cover of the New York Times Magazine— controversy tainted Kosinski in later life, including recurrent charges of plagiarism, forgery, animal abuse, and outré sexual tastes. Illness, not always physical, eventually drove him to suicide: he wrapped his head in plastic one night in May and suffocated.

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Margaret Bourke-White.

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