Rosemary’s Baby Turns 50!

Today is June 12th. Several notable things about today: it happens to be Roy Harper, Dave Franco, and Swedish pop singer Robyn’s birthdays; and it also happens to be the birthday of Rosemary’s Baby, one of the most revered films in the horror genre, and one of my mom’s favorite horror movies of all time, too! Between the dark story, the realistic tone, and the mysterious “curse” that seems to be attached to the film, Rosemary’s Baby is a classic tale of horror.

It all started when William Castle, known at that time for his run of low-budget horror B-movies, convinced Paramount Pictures executive Robert Evans to buy the gallery proofs for the original novel of Rosemary’s Baby (yes, it was a book first!) so that it could be made into a feature-length film. While Evans agreed that the book would make an excellent movie, he was staunchly against Castle directing, given his particular track history with the genre.

As such, Evans sought out then up-and-coming director Roman Polanski, whose work Evans admired and who had never had an American feature before. To entice the director, Evans sent a draft of the film, Downhill Racer (a film centered around skiing, a pastime that Evans knew Polanski enjoyed), with the proofs of Rosemary’s Baby casually snuck in with it. By the next day, Evans knew the ploy had worked: Polanski was on the phone, raving about how the story for Rosemary’s Baby was much more engaging, and that he would love to do the project. The director was chosen.

In order to get public interest in the film, Polanski felt that they needed someone with a little bit of street cred to play Rosemary. At first, he considered Sharon Tate, his then-fiance, but eventually decided on Mia Farrow, given that her marriage to Frank Sinatra and her role in the popular TV show Payton Place ensured her popularity. Robert Redford was the first choice for the role of Guy Woodhouse, but he turned down the offer; Jack Nicholson was considered briefly before Polanski suggested John Cassavetes. The rest of the cast was assembled soon after, and filming began.

Polanski was very deliberate in how he filmed Rosemary’s Baby: for one thing, the screenplay is considered one of the most loyal adaptations ever put to film. Dialogue is matched verbatim, and even costume pieces were chosen based on descriptions from Ira Levin’s novel. Levin said that during a scene in which Guy mentions wanting to buy a specific shirt advertised in The New Yorker, Polanski was unable to find the specific issue with the shirt advertised and phoned Levin for help. Levin, who had assumed while writing that any given issue of The New Yorker would contain an ad for men’s shirts, admitted that he had made it up. Now that’s some commitment to your source.

Additionally, many of the scenes in the movie were shot in one take to create a sense of foreboding and unease. According to the IMDb page for the film, this includes the opening scene where Rosemary and Guy first tour their apartment (two cuts), the laundry room scene (only one cut), the “Let’s have a baby!” scene, the New Year’s Eve party, Rosemary’s and Guy’s argument after their party, Rosemary’s getting the unfortunate phone call about Hutch, the final scene at Dr. Sapirstein’s office where she tells him of Adrian Marcoto, Rosemary’s phone call with Baumgard, and the famous phone booth scene. When Farrow was reluctant to film the infamous Walking Into Oncoming Traffic scene, Polanski reassured her, “No one’s going to hit a pregnant woman.” The scene was successfully shot with Farrow walking into real traffic and Polanski following, operating the hand-held camera, since he was the only one willing to do it. Good thing it worked out!

Rosemary’s Baby was a massive success upon its release, garnering two Academy Award nominations and winning one, and cementing Roman Polanski’s status as a great film director. However, the film was more largely associated with an apparent “curse” that struck several members of the crew, the least of which was Mia Farrow being handed divorce papers by Frank Sinatra in front of all the crew on the film’s set (Sinatra had demanded she forego her film career when they wed).

But all things considered, this was the least threatening of the curse’s effects. A few months after the film was released, composer Krzysztof Komeda died at 38 of a cerebral hemorrhage. While this would have been a tragedy regardless, the composer’s death exactly mirrors Hutch’s in the film. Additionally, William Castle, the film’s producer, experienced a number of kidney stones leading to outright kidney failure a few months after the film was released, famously crying deliriously on his hospital bed, “Rosemary, put down the knife!”

However, the worst of all was Roman Polanski, whose fiance, Sharon Tate, had just bought a house from music producer Terry Melcher… the same Terry Melcher who had, unfortunately, refused to record a certain Charles Manson’s music. Manson ordered his cult to go to Polanski’s house with the intention of killing him and everyone inside. There, they murdered Sharon Tate, her unborn baby, and four others. The event was referred to by Manson’s cult as Helter Skelter, named after the Beatles’ song of the same name. Coincidentally, John Lennon would be murdered outside his hotel, The Dakota, the same hotel used in some scenes of Rosemary’s Baby. Damn.

Regardless of the aftermath of the movie’s creation, Rosemary’s Baby is still a classic. Considering that this was a movie made in 1968, it holds up remarkably well, described by one NY Times critic as being “almost too plausible” in its setting and execution. It would create a new interest in Satanic cult movies, and would lead the book’s author to pen a sequel, Son of Rosemary. The same long-time legacy can’t be said for Roman Polanski, but it cannot be denied that Rosemary’s Baby is one of his best films, and one of the greatest horror films of all time.

About Seth Hansen

Seth is a writer and musician living in Los Angeles. When not explaining to strangers why John Carpenter's The Thing is the greatest horror movie ever made (trust me, it is), he's usually playing violin or hanging out in record store clearance sections. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook!

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