“Rosemary’s Baby” (Post 1/3)

rosemary

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/3

Post 3/3


 

Ira Levin’s 1967 classic. I read my 1968 movie tie-in paperback.

5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot: Young Rosemary Woodhouse moves into a perfect New York City apartment with a perfect New York City husband. Her dream to have a child might not work out as planned, though.

This is a tight masterpiece of black humor and modern horror. It’s also a course in plotting. Every name, every color, every passing reference ties into the larger story, giving you all of the pieces before you even know you’re looking at a puzzle.

Happy Halloween.


Part One

[1] No word is wasted; everything is or becomes significant. The opening lines:

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse had signed a lease on a five-room apartment in a geometric white house on First Avenue when they received word, from a woman named Mrs. Cortez, that a four-room apartment in the Bramford had become available. The Bramford, old, black, and elephantine, is a warren of high-ceilinged apartments prized for their fireplaces and Victorian detail.

(p.7)

The apartment Rosemary and Guy turn down is geometric, white, on First Avenue. All which can symbolize goodness and sanity. The building they move into (where the horror will unfold) is the Bramford: old, black. Symbols of ill or evil for a young couple.

Rosemary is an herb in the mint family. In the middle ages it was associated with wedding ceremonies and thought to be a love charm.

Guy is a neutral everyman’s name. Perfect for this character who married because that’s what you’re supposed to do at a certain point. We later learn that his name was originally Sherman Peden and he changed it to Guy Woodhouse for his stage career (p.33).

You can read into Mrs. Cortez‘s name. And Lily Gardenia, who kept hundreds of plants in her apartment and Edward Hutchins, known to Rosemary as Hutch (also the word for a piece of furniture that is often used to protect family heirlooms. Hutch, as a character, is a protector of Rosemary and other young women in the city).

[2] Reference:

Putting Peds and yellow shoes on her feet.

(p.8)

Peds, founded in 1934, produces socks and hosiery.

[3] Reference:

They were in one room, that had been Guy’s bachelor apartment. It had posters of Paris and Verona, a large day bed and a pullman kitchen.

(p.8)

Pullman is an architectural term for a long, narrow space within a structure. It is most often used to refer to a small kitchen. The word is derived from the long sleeping cars on passenger trains created by the Pullman Company.

[4] Levin’s style is incredibly matter-of-fact and functional:

Mr. Micklas was small and dapper but had fingers missing from both hands, which made shaking hands an embarrassment, though not apparently for him. “Oh, an actor,” he said, ringing for the elevator with a middle finger.

(p.8)

[5] Whenever Rosemary is asked about Guy’s acting career, she gives the same answer. It’s a realistic and humorous touch; most people do develop a standard way to answer questions like this:

“Have I seen you in anything?”

“Let’s see,” Guy said. “I did Hamlet a while back, didn’t I Liz? And then we made The Sandpiper…”

“He’s joking,” Rosemary said. “He was in Luther and Nobody Loves An Albatross and a lot of television plays and television commercials.”

(p.9)

 

“What’s his name?”

“Guy Woodhouse,” Rosemary said. “He was in Luther and Nobody Loves An Albatross, and he does a lot of work in television.”

(p.30)

 

“What movies was he in?”

“He was in two plays called Luther and Nobody Loves An Albatross and he does a lot of work in television and radio.”

(p.46)

Luther is a 1961 play by John Osborne (Post 3, note [66]) depicting the life of Martin Luther.

Nobody Loves an Albatross is a 1963 comedy play by Ronald Alexander. It was performed at the Lyceum Theatre of Broadway, NY between December 1963 and June 1964. The play is a satire of the US television industry.

[6] References:

Roped bales of Fortune and Musical America – the perfect place for something like the blue-and-ivory breakfast nook she had clipped from last month’s House Beautiful.

(p.11)

Musical America is the oldest American magazine on classical music, first published in 1898. It is now released online only.

House Beautiful is an interior decorating magazine that focuses on decorating and the domestic arts. It was first published in 1896.

[7] Levin sticks to simple dialogue attributes (no-frills said and asked). It gives his writing a swiftness that I quite like:

“Is this desk one of the things Mrs. Gardenia’s son wants to sell?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Micklas said. “I could find out for you, though.”

“It’s a beauty,” Guy said.

Rosemary said, “Isn’t it?” and smiling, looked about at walls and windows.

(p.11)

[8]

“Oh, Guy,” Rosemary said, finding his hand and squeezing it. Guy said, “Mm” noncommittally but squeezed back; Mr. Micklas was beside him.

(p.12)

[9] Guy is a shallow but initially likable character. He always has a quip or goof but behind his affability is selfishness that will cause him to use Rosemary as a pawn for his own career. He is a master of lying on the fly and even when Rosemary falls for his false sincerity, she is reminded of his past acting roles (Post 2, note [43] and [50]).

“It’s a marvelous apartment!” Rosemary said, back in the living room. She spun about with opened arms, as if to take and embrace it. “I love it!”

“What she’s trying to do,” Guy said, “is get you to lower the rent.”

(p.12)

[10] Reference:

Guy spun a story about a call to join a company of Come Blow Your Horn leaving for a four-month USO tour of Vietnam.

(p.14)

Neil Simon’s first play, which premiered on Broadway in 1961. It tells the story of a young man’s decision to leave the home of his parents for the bachelor pad of his older brother who leads a swinging ‘60s lifestyle. It points out the fundamental spiritual and emotional emptiness of the playboy life.

[11] In just three sentences, Levin effectively introduces Hutch and gives us Rosemary’s backstory:

When Rosemary had first come to New York in June of 1962 she had joined another Omaha girl and two girls from Atlanta in an apartment on lower Lexington Avenue. Hutch lived next door, and though he declined to be the full-time father-substitute the girls would have made of him – he had raised two daughters of his own and that was quite enough, thank you – he was nonetheless on hand in emergencies, such as The Night Someone Was on The Fire Escape and The Time Jeanne Almost Choked to Death. His name was Edward Hutchins, he was English, he was fifty-four. Under three different pen names he wrote three different series of boys’ adventure books.

(p.17)

(Side note: Every writer needs to read some Levin.)

[12] Reference:

“I’ll make a duchess out of this cockney flower girl yet,” he said, and Rosemary had wit enough to say “Garn!”

(p.18)

interjection – (British) – used to express disbelief or ridicule.

Hutch and Rosemary are referencing My Fair Lady, which Rosemary alludes to again by thinking of her friendship to Hutch as having a “Higgins-Eliza period” (p.153).

[13] Reference:

His wife had been a cousin of Terence Rattigan, the playwright.

(p.18)

Terence Rattigan (1911 – 1977) was a British dramatist. He is known for such works as The Winslow Boy (1946), The Browning Version (1948), The Deep Blue Sea (1952) and Separate Tables (1954).

[14] References:

“Along with the Isadora Duncans and Theodore Dreisers,” he said, “the Bramford has housed a considerable number of less attractive personages.”

(p.18)

Isadora Duncan (1877 or 1878 – 1927) was an American dancer who performed to acclaim throughout Europe. Born in California, she lived in Western Europe and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death at age 49/50, when her scarf became entangled in the wheels and axle of the car she was riding.

Theodore Dreiser (1871 – 1945) was an American novelist and journalist of the naturalist school. His novels often featured main characters who succeeded at their objectives despite a lack of a firm moral code. His best known novels include Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925).

[15]

“Perhaps it’s simply that the notoriety of a pair of Trench sisters attracts an Adrian Marcato, and his notoriety attracts a Keith Kennedy, and eventually a house becomes a – a kind of rallying place for people who are more prone than others to certain types of behavior. Or perhaps there are things we don’t know yet – about magnetic fields or electrons or whatever – ways in which a place can quite literally be malign. I do know this, though: the Bramford is by no means unique.”

(p.20)

[16] Reference:

“There was a house in London, on Praed Street, in which five separate brutal murders took place within sixty years. None of the five was in any way connected with any of the others; the murders [sic murderers?] weren’t related nor were the victims, nor were all the murders committed for the same moonstone or Maltese falcon. Yet five separate brutal murders took place within sixty years. In a small house with a shop on the street and an apartment overhead. It was demolished in 1954 – for no especially pressing purpose, since as far as I know the plot was left empty.”

(p.20)

Praed Street is in London’s Paddington district (now part of the City of Westminster), most notable for the fact that Paddington Station is situated on it.

These Praed Street murders seem to be an invention of Levin’s, though the author Cecil Street (1884 – 1964) published a book (under the pseudonym John Rhode) titled The Murders in Praed Street in 1928. (The plot doesn’t match up with Hutch’s story but the blog that post is from is great.)

[17] The difference between Rosemary and Guy’s priorities, summed up in a single exchange:

Rosemary worked her spoon in melon. “Maybe there are good houses too,” she said; “houses where people keep falling in love and getting married and having babies.”

“And becoming stars,” Guy said.

(p.20)

[18] Reference:

“Go to the Dakota or the Osborne if you’re dead set on nineteenth century splendor.”

(p.21)

The Osborne is an apartment building at 205 West 57th Street in New York City. The Osborne began construction in 1883 and was completed in 1885.

[19] Reference:

“Have you tried the Wyoming?” Hutch asked. “It’s in the same block, I think.”

(p.22)

The Wyoming is an apartment building in Manhattan, built in 1905.

[20]

They agreed to meet him at the apartment on Tuesday evening at eight, and, doing so, found him to be a tall man past sixty with a cheerful open manner.

(p.23)

[21] Vocabulary:

Rosemary and Guy conferred and examined, and bought two air conditioners, (…) and the andirons, firescreen and tools.

(p.23)

noun – a metal support, typically one of a pair, that holds wood burning in a fireplace.

[22] References:

They bought a sofa and a king-size bed, a table for the kitchen and two bentwood chairs. They called Con Ed and the phone company.

(p.24)

Bentwood objects are those made by wetting wood (either by soaking or steaming), then bending it and letting it harden into curved shapes and patterns. In furniture-making this method is often used in the production of rocking chairs, café chairs, and other light furniture.

Consolidated Edison, commonly known as Con Edison or Con Ed is one of the largest investor-owned energy companies in the United States.

[23] References:

At breakfast he was touchy reading the theatrical page – everyone else was out of town with Skyscraper or Drat! The Cat! or The Impossible Years or Hot September.

(p.25)

Skyscraper is a musical that opened on Broadway in November of 1965. It is about an antiques dealer who is determined to save her midtown Manhattan brownstone. When she can manage to stay on track, Georgina is bright in her thinking and staunch in her beliefs. But far too often she strays into a Walter Mitty-like dream world.

Drat! The Cat! is a musical with a book and lyrics by Ira Levin and music by Milton Schafer. (Nice touch, Levin.) Originally called Cat and Mouse, it is a spoof of late-Victorian melodrama. The main character, who wants to be a career girl and not just a housewife, becomes a cat burglar and plunders Manhattan homes. It opened on Broadway in October of 1965.

The Impossible Years is a 1965 comedy play written by Robert Fisher and Arthur Marx (son of Groucho). The Broadway production opened in October of 1965.

Hot September was the 1965 musical adaptation of the 1953 play Picnic. It opened in October in Boston and closed within a few weeks.

These plays would have been in pre-production or rehearsals when Guy is reading the paper (September 1965). I’m not sure why people would be “out of town” if most of the plays were opening on Broadway. Someone with more knowledge of the theater world would have to help me figure this out.

[24] Reference:

The white-and-yellow wallpaper would come later, clean and fresh. Rosemary had a sample of it lying ready in Picasso’s Picassos.

(p.25)

A 1961 book by David Douglas Duncan collecting photographs of Picasso’s work.

[25] References:

She made Guy chicken Marengo and vitello tonnato.

(p.26)

Chicken Marengo is a French dish consisting of a chicken sautéed in oil with garlic and tomato, garnished with fried eggs and crayfish. It was named to celebrate the Battle of Marengo, a Napoleonic victory of June 1800.

Vitello tonnato is a Piedmontese (Italian) dish of cold, sliced veal covered with a creamy, mayonnaise-like sauce that has been flavored with tuna.

[26] References:

“I’m sorry,” Rosemary said. “I thought you were Anna Maria Alberghetti, so I’ve been staring at you. I’m sorry.”

(p.28)

“You don’t have to apologize. People have been thinking I’m Anna Marie since I was, oh, just a kid, when she first started out in Here Comes The Groom.”

(p.29)

Anna Maria Alberghetti (b.1936) is an Italian operatic singer and actress.

Here Comes the Groom is a 1951 musical romantic comedy film produced and directed by Frank Capra and starring Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman. Alberghetti plays a young blind opera wunderkind.

[27] Levin plotted this book around real events in 1965 and ‘66:

They spoke of (…) the coming visit to New York of Pope Paul. Terry was, like Rosemary, Catholic but no longer observing; she was anxious, though, to get a ticket to the papal mass to be celebrated at Yankee Stadium.

(p.32)

It was Monday, October 4th, the day of Pope Paul’s visit to the city, and the sharing of the event made people more open and communicative than they ordinarily were. (…)

She followed the Pope’s rounds on television during the afternoon, moving the set out from the wall of the den (soon nursery) and turning it on so she could watch from the kitchen while readying the fish and vegetables and salad greens. His speech at the UN moved her, and she was sure it would help ease the Vietnam situation. “War never again,” he said; wouldn’t his words give pause to even the most hard-headed statesman?

(p.71)

Pope Paul VI visited New York City on October 4, 1965. He met with President Lyndon Johnson, addressed the United Nations General Assembly, celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium, and visited the New York World’s Fair. He was the first pope to visit the United States.

A strike against the New York newspapers had begun that morning.

(p.41)

“It will end on October third,” Mr. Castavet said; “the day before the Pope gets here. No Pope ever visits a city where the newspapers are on strike.”

(p.53)

On September 16, seven major New York newspapers were hit by a strike (all but The New York Post). The Herald Tribune was back in circulation after 11 days, but the other papers remained on strike for three weeks.

 

“You remember the power failure?”

“Shall I ever forget it? I was in an elevator.”

“No.”

“Yes indeed. Five hours in total darkness with three women and a John Bircher who were all sure that the Bomb had fallen.”

(p.116)

The Northeast blackout of 1965 occurred on Tuesday, November 9, 1965 and affected parts of Ontario as well as New York state and most of New England. Over 30 million people were left without electricity for up to 13 hours. The cause of the failure was human error. The blackout was not universal in New York City; some neighborhoods never lost power.

The John Birch Society is, in its own words, a conservative advocacy group supporting anti-communism and limited government. It has been described as a radical right and far-right organization.

Formed in 1958 by Robert W. Welch, it was named after an American Baptist missionary and military intelligence officer who was shot and killed by communist forces in China in 1945. Welch claimed that Birch was a dedicated anti-communist and the first American casualty of the Cold War.

After an early rise in membership and influence in the 1960s, efforts by those such as William F. Buckley, Jr. (Post 2, note [39]) and National Review led the JBS to be identified as a fringe element of the conservative movement.

 

The threatened transit strike had come about.

(p.130)

The 1966 New York City transit strike was the first strike against the Transit Authority and it led to the passage of the Taylor Law, which redefined the rights and limitations of unions for public employees in New York. The strike effectively ended all service on the subway and busses in the city, affecting millions of commuters and lasting twelve days. It began January 1st, Mayor Lindsay’s (Post 2, note [58]) first day in office.

[28] Reference:

On Friday night, September 17th, Rosemary and Guy went with two other couples to a preview of a play called Mrs. Dally.

(p.35)

Mrs. Dally, two short plays performed together (written by William Haley), opened on Broadway in September of 1965. It included Mrs. Dally Has a Lover and Today is Independence Day.

[29]

Rosemary and Guy walked faster, hand in hand, their senses sharpening. Cars on the avenue slowed questioningly; windows scraped open in the Bramford and heads looked out beside gargoyles’ heads. The night doorman Toby came from the house with a tan blanket that a policeman turned to take from him.

The roof of the car, a Volkswagen, was crumpled to the side; the windshield was crazed with a million fractures. “Dead,” someone said, and someone else said, “I look up and I think it’s some kind of a big bird zooming down, like an eagle or something.” (…)

On the sidewalk Terry lay, watching the sky with one eye, half of her face gone to red pulp. Tan blanket flipped over her. Settling, it reddened in one place and then another.

(p.35-36)

[30] The Castavets are immediately signaled to be very important characters. No one else receives such a detailed visual description, not even Rosemary or Guy. The fact that Levin stops everything to describe them is a huge (but easy to overlook on a first reading) tip-off:

Coming from downtown, as they themselves had come, were a tall, broad, white-haired woman and a tall, thin, shuffling man. “The Castavets?” Rosemary asked. Mr. Micklas nodded.

Mrs. Castavet was wrapped in light blue, with snowwhite dabs of gloves, purse, shoes, and hat. Nurselike she supported her husband’s forearm. He was dazzling, in an every-color seersucker jacket, red slacks, a pink bow tie, and a gray fedora with a pink band. He was seventy-five or older; she was sixty-eight or -nine. They came closer with expressions of young alertness, with friendly quizzical smiles. (…) His wide, thin-lipped mouth was rosy-pink, as if lipsticked; his cheeks were chalk, his eyes small and bright in deep sockets. She was big-nosed, with a sullen fleshy underlip. She wore pink-rimmed eyeglasses on a neckchain that dipped down from behind plain pearl earrings.

(p.37-38)


Post 2/3

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