Hollywood actor Casey Siemaszko grew up deeply immersed in Chicago’s Polish community, performing with his parents’ Polish dance troupe. And Siemaszko’s father Konstanty fought for the Polish underground in World War II.
Siemaszko made a fitting return to his hometown Friday night for the opening of the 21st Polish Film Festival in America, at the AMC River East 21 theatre.
Siemaszko presented an award to a Polish World War II veteran who served under resistance leader August Emil Fieldorf, the subject of the festival’s opening night film, Richard Bugajski’s “General Nil.”
“On a cellular level I’m an offspring of survivors,” Siemaszko says. “I’m sure my mother and father would be proud.”
Siemaszko was born Kazimierz Siemaszko in Chicago in 1961 and grew up in Old Irving Park. His father Konstanty served in the Polish Navy in World War II and spent two years in a German POW camp. After the war, Konstanty moved with a Polish folk dancing troupe to London, where he married dancer Collette McAllister.
The couple emigrated to the U.S. in 1959 and trained generations of Chicago children in Polish traditional dance for 20 years with the Kosciuszko Dancers.
Casey and his younger sister Nina (“The West Wing”) both performed with the Kosciuszko Dancers before going on to acting careers. Casey performed with the Polish Boy Scouts, and with the community RefRen Theater, many of whose actors had been professionals in Poland.
“It was a community theater, but it was a professional environment,” Siemaszko says, “and it taught me stuff that still pays off now.”
His first paid gig was at age seven, as an extra for a touring ballet company on their Chicago stop. “It paid five bucks, but at age seven that buys a lot of baseball cards,” he says.