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Authors: Ira Levin

Rosemary's Baby

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Rosemary’s Baby

By Ira Levin:




















! (Music by Milton Schafer)








(From the novel by Mac Hyman)

Rosemary’s Baby





Pegasus Books LLC
80 Broad Street
5th Floor
New York, NY 10004

Copyright © 1967 by Ira Levin
Introduction copyright © 2010 by Otto Penzler

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher, except by reviewers who may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review in a newspaper, magazine, or electronic publication; nor may any part of this book be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or other, without written permission from the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

ISBN: 978-1-605-98148-2



by Otto Penzler


The argument could be made that
Rosemary’s Baby
is one of the half-dozen most influential horror novels of all time, up there with
for inventing the genre,
for creating the single most iconic creature who ever lived…and lived…and lived, and
, for launching the career of Stephen King, the greatest and most popular horror writer in history. The downside, as Ira Levin often stated, is that the novel and the excellent film adaptation spurred a virtual flood of exorcists, omens, demon seeds, changelings and other hackneyed copycats.

“It’s one thing to refer to the book,” Levin wrote of
Rosemary’s Baby
, “as being ‘generally credited or blamed for having sparked the current revival of occultism,’ and another to recognize, as I have in the past few years (writing in 1990), that the blame may be real and weighty.”

The preponderance of horror in fiction and on film led to a time, Levin noted, “when people, presumably schooled, detect backward demonic messages in rock music and Satan’s symbol on bars of soap.”

Levin was not a believer—not in any organized religion, not Satanism, not witchcraft, not in any of the myths or charismatic real-life figures who have engendered worship. In fact, he had rather hoped that his novel would help to increase the skepticism that had always resided with him. It wasn’t to be. Not only did the book become a publishing phenomenon, rushing to the top of best-seller lists, but it was the basis for a faithful motion picture version that also was a staggering success at the box office and one of the few horror films of the 1960s that holds up to repeated viewing, even today.

Hollywood directors are famous for signing on to make a motion picture based on a novel and then changing it so dramatically that even the author wouldn’t recognize it. This was not the case with Roman Polanski, who was almost obsessive about following the author’s story. He met regularly with Levin, pages marked in the book, asking such questions as, What do you think is the color of Rosemary’s dress in this scene? and What is the date of the issue of
The New Yorker
in which Guy Woodhouse sees a shirt he wants?—all very flattering to the author, who had no idea how to answer. It was uncommonly wise of the director, who also wrote the screenplay for the 1968 masterpiece starring Mia Farrow as the young woman who slowly becomes convinced that her husband (John Cassavetes) has become involved with a coven of witches who live in their apartment building.

Ira Levin (1929–2007) was the genius whose brilliant first novel,
A Kiss Before Dying
(1953), won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America in the Best First Novel category. Never a prolific novelist, his next novel was
Rosemary’s Baby
(1967), which he followed with the dystopian science fiction thriller
This Perfect Day
(1970). He then added a phrase to the language with
The Stepford Wives
(1972) before writing the huge best-seller,
The Boys from Brazil
(1976), then concluded his novel-writing career with two less well-regarded books,
(1991) and
Son of Rosemary
(1997). All but
This Perfect Day
Son of Rosemary
have been filmed at least once.

Levin’s success as a playwright equaled or exceeded that of his books, notably his adaptation of Mac Hyman’s
No Time for Sergeants
to the stage in 1955; it starred Andy Griffith, launching his career. He also wrote the book and lyrics for the musical
Drat! The Cat!
(1965). But it is his 1978 tour-de-force,
, that brought him his greatest acclaim. It was nominated for a Tony and won the Edgar, becoming the all-time longest running thriller in the history of the American theater, with 1,809 performances over a four-and-a-half-year period.

What a career! At the age of 23, while most recent college graduates are still living at home and trying to figure out what they want to do, Levin had written one of the greatest mystery novels of all time. A couple of years later, he had a hit Broadway play. He wrote the lyrics for one of Barbra Streisand’s signature songs, “He Touched Me.” After some television work (
Lights Out, The U.S. Steel Hour
), he had another hit on Broadway, and then the horror novel to end all horror novels. He wasn’t yet forty.

Although somewhat reclusive in later life, Ira Levin was, perhaps contrary to expectation, a delightful companion who loved to laugh and hear other people’s stories. We happened to be at the same Christmas party one year and he was as genial as could be. But he was also a little troubled. The party was at the home of America’s greatest comic crime novelist, Donald E. Westlake, and, not surprisingly, there were many authors and book people in the room. It had been almost fifteen years since he had written
The Boys from Brazil
and he said he felt like a fraud, that he was listening to conversations and realized that everyone else had books recently published or books on which they were working. He went home and wrote
in a few months and, as was usual for him, it hit the best-seller lists.

He should have realized that he was not a fraud, not for an instant, and that no one sane could ever have thought he was. He wrote brilliantly in every literary field in which he worked, his sentences models of precision, making up what they lacked in velvety, mandarin, overripe prose with clarity and forward movement, with never a wasted word. He was justly proud of his achievements—except, perhaps, in the case of
Rosemary’s Baby
, because of the books and films by others for which it had been a catalyst. He once wrote that he regarded his novel the way he might have felt about “an offspring who regularly sent home money that I’d begun to suspect was ill-gotten.” He was dismayed that “it helped boost the universal stupidity quotient.” But, like that hypothetical offspring’s offerings, he never felt compelled to send back the money. Nor should he have. He enriched those readers fortunate enough to have picked up this perfect classic, and we would never give back the experience.

BOOK: Rosemary's Baby
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