Waszyński is again much talked about - thanks to The Prince and the Dybbuk, the documentary film by Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosołowski. This magnificent poetic documentary presenting the life and secrets of the director and film producer, wins awards at festivals in the country and abroad. In September 2017, it was honoured in the Venice Classics section as the best documentary on the cinema - Best Documentary on Cinema at the Venice Film Festival. It also won the Warsaw Antoni Marianowicz Phoenix award for the best Polish film as well as the prize in the amount of PLN 10,000 funded by the ZAiKS Society of Authors and Composers.
Michał Waszyński was born as Moshe Waks in Kowel, in a poor Jewish family. His father was a blacksmith, mother traded in poultry. In childhood, the boy received a traditional education, was a pupil in a cheder, and then in a yeshiva. However, at the last stage of his Jewish education he started to cause problems and was finally thrown out.
Sensitive, curious of the world, he ventured into the unknown. His fate at the time remains a mystery. He recounted later that he went to Kiev, where he studied acting. From the Dnieper he came to Warsaw where he became assistant to Wiktor Biegański, and even played in his film Jealousy. He completed an internship at the Babelsberg studio near Berlin. He told later that he worked for Friedrich Murnau on the film Nosferatu. A Symphony of Horror. In reality, however, he watched the work of the lesser-known filmmaker, Johannes Guter. In the years 1923-1925, he was supposedly an assistant of the theatre director, Evgeny Vakhtangov. We know, however, that at that time he worked with Biegański in Poland.
In 1929, he made his first film, Under the Banner of Love (silent film, not preserved). Over the next decade, he made 40 films, which was one-third of the entire Polish film production of that period. His works were created at an express speed, he even managed to shoot as many as seven films a year. They included such well-known titles as His Excellency the Salesman, What My Husband Does at Night, It Will Get Better or The Quack. Critics savaged his films, but the audience loved them. Waszyński could move from a cheap flat at Miła Street to Saska Kępa. He was living in the world of artists.
Undoubtedly, his most outstanding work was Der Dibuk (Yiddish Dybbuk) - a film in Yiddish based on the drama under the same title written by S. An-sky. Waszyński immortalized the world which, sentenced to extermination by Hitler, ceased to exist two years later. Paradoxically, the director who escaped from the religious world of the shtetl managed to preserve it on tape for future generations.
When World War II broke out, Waszyński was in Lviv on the set of the next film. He was exiled to Siberia. This saved his life. Had he remained in Lviv after the German invasion of the USSR, his Jewish origin and sexual orientation could only mean that he would be murdered.
In December 1941, after the entry into force of the Sikorski-Mayski agreement, he joined the army of Gen. Władysław Anders. Together with other artists such as Konrad Tom, Henryk Wars and Jadwiga Jędrzejewska, he covered the entire combat route from Persia, through Palestine, Egypt all the way to Italy. He personally shot the scenes from the assault on the Monte Cassino monastery in May 1944. He immortalized the Anders Army trail in a film Wielka droga (The Great Road) made in 1946.
After the war, he decided to stay in Italy. In 1946, he directed his first and at the same time his last film in this country – Lo Sconosciuto di San Marino (A Stranger from San Marino). The film is about a man who lost his memory, does not know where he is from and does not remember his own name. After the experience of war, destruction of Poland, information about the Holocaust, and especially news about the death of his family in Kowel, Waszyński also kind of decided to ‘lose his memory’ and become a new man. Already during the war he was introducing himself to strangers as a prince, and in Italy he perfectly adapted himself to this role. He was telling that he was a Polish aristocrat and that his family had a palace near Warsaw. Thanks to a close relationship with Countess Maria Dolores Tarantini, a rich widow older than himself, he got into the Italian aristocracy circles, and after her death inherited her estate. The people he worked with at that time were convinced of his aristocratic origins. For them, he was a role model in terms of elegance and good manners. It never occurred to anyone that Waszyński could invent it all, and nobody knew who really hid behind this mask.
He got involved in the creation of the Italian film industry. He also worked for American corporations. In the 1950s and 1960s, together with Samuel Bronston, he was a producer of The Barefoot Contessa and The Quiet American directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, as well as such huge movies as El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire. In his productions, the great stars of cinema were starting their careers: Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner, and Audrey Hepburn. Together with Bronston, he created a film studio in Las Rozas near Madrid. There, on empty fields, there was meticulously restored, among others, the centre of ancient Rome, which served as major prop in The Fall of the Roman Empire. Despite the initial successes, Bronston’s company eventually went bankrupt. Waszyński did not live to see it. He died of a heart attack during a dinner in Madrid.
His funeral was a great ceremony. Waszyński was buried at the Rome cemetery of Campo Verano, in the tomb of befriended Italian Dickmann family.
On February 24, 1965, the following obituary appeared in Variety:
‘Prince Michał Waszyński, a film producer, died of a heart attack in Madrid on February 20...’