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Zbigniew Cybulski

Referred to as the 'Polish James Dean,' Zbigniew ‘Zbyszek’ Cybulski personified the confusion and longings of Poland’s post-war youth. His image – dark glasses, leather jacket, angry young man frown – was so widely emulated that a border guard once pointed at him sneering ‘there’s another idiot pretending to be Cybulski’. He was born in 1927 in what is now Ukraine; his mother saw active service during WWII with the Red Army, while his father was imprisoned in France for his work with local resistance fighters. His cinematic debut (and Roman Polański’s) came in 1954 when he played a small role in Andrzej Wajda’s film, A Generation. His big break followed in 1958 when he starred in Krzyż Walecznych, and later that year he shot to international fame when he was nominated for a BAFTA award as best foreign actor for his seminal role, that of a troubled resistance fighter in Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds. From there he became one of Poland’s best known faces, appearing in a string of hit films. His premature death came on January 8, 1967, when he was killed while jumping onto a moving Warsaw-bound train at Wrocław’s train station. Only the day before he had been informed that he was to star in the New York production of Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. His impact on Polish film cannot be underestimated, as proved in 1996 when readers of Film magazine voted him Poland’s ‘Best Actor of All Time’. A plaque commemorating his life was unveiled on platform three of Wrocław’s train station by his mentor Andrezj Wajda in 1997. Two years later a star honouring Cybulski’s achievements was unveiled on the Walk of Fame on Łódź's ul. Piotrkowska.

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