Tuesday, November 20, 2007

playwright levin

Levin dies at 78

Ira Levin, the playwright and novelist who wrote Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil, has died at the age of 78. Levin died last Monday at his home in Manhattan, apparently of natural causes, the newspaper quoted his son Nicholas as saying.

Big hit: Levin was perhaps most famous for his supernatural 1967 novel, Rosemary's Baby, which was made into a movie starring Mia Farrow (below right) in 1968.
Able to write a variety of genres, from mystery and horror to Broadway comedy, Levin sold tens of millions of books despite producing only seven novels in four decades, the Times quoted his agent Phyllis Westberg as saying.

Several of his works were given the Hollywood treatment, including perhaps most famously his supernatural 1967 novel, Rosemary's Baby.

The film version, directed by Roman Polanski in 1968, tells the story of a young bride involved in a group of Satanists who mysteriously falls pregnant.

His 1972 novel The Stepford Wives, made into a film in 1975, is a thriller about a group of housewives in a quaint Connecticut town being replaced by robots. It was remade in 2004 in a movie starring Nicole Kidman.

Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby.
The Boys From Brazil, written in 1976 and adapted for the screen in 1978, spins a tale of a bizarre Nazi plot to resurrect Hitler and the Third Reich in South America in the late 1970s.

Levin was born in New York in 1929 and served in the US Army briefly in the early 1950s after leaving university. He went on to write for television before publishing his first novel, A Kiss Before Dying, in 1953.

The book won Levin the best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America and was twice adapted for screen.

He also wrote for theatre, notably adapting a novel by Mac Hyman into the 1955 Broadway comedy hit No Time for Sergeants, and penning comic thriller Deathtrap, in 1979, which ran on Broadway before also being made into a film.

According to the New York Times, Levin was unhappy with the legacy of popular Satanism that followed the release of Rosemary's Baby.

"I feel guilty that Rosemary's Baby led to The Exorcist, The Omen," it quoted him as telling the The Los Angeles Times in 2002.

"A whole generation has been exposed, has more belief in Satan. I don't believe in Satan. And I feel that the strong fundamentalism we have would not be as strong if there hadn't been so many of these books."

"Of course," he reportedly added, "I didn't send back any of the royalty cheques." – AFP
Levin, a mild-mannered playwright and novelist who liked nothing better than to give people the creeps — and who did so repeatedly, with best-selling novels like "Rosemary's Baby," "The Stepford Wives" and "The Boys From Brazil" — died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 78.

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Associated Press, 2003
Ira Levin wrote the novels "The Stepford Wives" and "The Boys From Brazil."

Times Topics: Ira Levin
No specific cause of death had been determined, but Mr. Levin appeared to have died of natural causes, his son Nicholas said yesterday.

Mr. Levin's output was modest — just seven novels in four decades — but his work was firmly ensconced in the popular imagination. Together, his novels sold tens of millions of copies, his literary agent, Phyllis Westberg, said yesterday. Nearly all of his books were made into Hollywood movies, some more than once. Mr. Levin also wrote the long-running Broadway play "Deathtrap," a comic thriller.

Combining elements of several genres — mystery, Gothic horror, science fiction and the techno-thriller — Mr. Levin's novels conjured up a world full of quietly looming menace, in which anything could happen to anyone at any time. In short, the Ira Levin universe was a great deal like the real one, only more so: more starkly terrifying, more exquisitely mundane.

In "Rosemary's Baby" (Random House, 1967), a young New York bride may have been impregnated by the Devil. In "The Stepford Wives" (Random House, 1972), the women in an idyllic suburb appear to have been replaced by complacent, preternaturally well-endowed androids. In "The Boys From Brazil" (Random House, 1976), Josef Mengele, alive and well in South America, plots to clone a new Hitler from the old.

Few critics singled out Mr. Levin as a stylist. But most praised him as a master of the ingredients essential to the construction of a readable thriller: pace, plotting and suspense. Reviewing "Rosemary's Baby" in The New York Times Book Review, Thomas J. Fleming wrote:

"Mr. Levin's suspense is beautifully intertwined with everyday incidents; the delicate line between belief and disbelief is faultlessly drawn." Mr. Fleming was less impressed, however, with the novel's denouement:

"Here, unfortunately, he pulls a switcheroo which sends us tumbling from sophistication to Dracula," the review continued. "Our thoroughly modern suspense story ends as just another Gothic tale."

Mr. Levin's other novels are "A Kiss Before Dying" (Simon & Schuster, 1953); "This Perfect Day" (Random House, 1970); "Sliver" (Bantam, 1991); and "Son of Rosemary" (Dutton, 1997), a sequel in which Mama's little boy is all grown up.

The film versions of his books include "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes; "The Stepford Wives" (1975), starring Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss; and "The Boys From Brazil" (1978), starring Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier and James Mason.

There was also a spate of made-for-TV sequels: "Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby" (1976), "Revenge of the Stepford Wives" (1980) and "The Stepford Children" (1987). A big-screen remake of "The Stepford Wives," starring Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick, was released in 2004.

Ira Marvin Levin was born in Manhattan on Aug. 27, 1929. Reared in the Bronx and Manhattan, he attended Drake University in Iowa for two years before transferring to New York University, from which he received a bachelor's degree in 1950. From 1953 to 1955, he served in the Army Signal Corps.

As a college senior, Mr. Levin had entered a television screenwriting contest sponsored by CBS. Though he was only a runner-up, he later sold his screenplay to NBC, where it became "Leda's Portrait," an episode in the network's anthology suspense series "Lights Out," in 1951.

While continuing to write for television, Mr. Levin published his first novel, "A Kiss Before Dying," when he was in still his early 20s. Widely praised by critics for its taut construction and shifting points of view, the novel tells the story of a coldblooded, ambitious young man who murders his wealthy girlfriend, gets away with it, and becomes involved with her sister.

"A Kiss Before Dying" won the 1954 Edgar Award for best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America. It was filmed twice, in 1956 with Robert Wagner; and in 1991 with Matt Dillon.

Mr. Levin, who won a second Edgar in 1980 for "Deathtrap," was named a grand master by the Mystery Writers of America in 2003.

Before returning to fiction with "Rosemary's Baby," Mr. Levin focused on writing for the stage. His comedy "No Time for Sergeants" (1955), which he adapted from the novel by Mac Hyman, was a hit on Broadway. (The play, and the 1958 film of the same title, starred a young actor named Andy Griffith.)

Mr. Levin's later Broadway outings, among them "Drat! The Cat!," a musical that ran for eight performances in 1965, were less successful. (A song from the musical, "She Touched Me," with lyrics by Mr. Levin and music by Milton Schafer, did go on to become a hit for Barbra Streisand as "He Touched Me.")

Then came "Deathtrap." The tale of an aging dramatist who plots to kill a young rival and steal his new play, "Deathtrap," ran on Broadway for 1,793 performances, from 1978 to 1982. It became a Hollywood film in 1982, starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.

Mr. Levin's two marriages, to Gabrielle Aronsohn and Phyllis Finkel, ended in divorce. He is survived by three sons from his marriage to Ms. Aronsohn: Adam Levin-Delson of Bothell, Wash.; Jared Levin and Nicholas Levin, both of Manhattan; a sister, Eleanor Busman of Mount Kisco, N.Y.; and three grandchildren.

If Mr. Levin never achieved renown as a literary novelist, that, judging from many interviews over the years, was perfectly fine with him. It tickled him that the phrase "Stepford wife," and even "Stepford" as an adjective (denoting anything robotic or acquiescent), had entered the English lexicon.

Mr. Levin was less pleased, however, at the tide of popular Satanism his work appeared to unleash.

"I feel guilty that 'Rosemary's Baby' led to 'The Exorcist,' 'The Omen,'" he told The Los Angeles Times in 2002. "A whole generation has been exposed, has more belief in Satan. I don't believe in Satan. And I feel that the strong fundamentalism we have would not be as strong if there hadn't been so many of these books."

"Of course," Mr. Levin added, "I didn't send back any of the royalty checks." Ira Levin, whose five-character mystery thriller Deathtrap was one of the biggest hits in Broadway history and the last major example of its once-bountiful genre, died Nov. 12 of a fatal heart attack in his Manhattan apartment. He was 78.

Mr. Levin, who also penned the 1950s military comedy No Time for Sergeants and the novel "Rosemary's Baby," split his considerable energies between the theatre and the writing of novels. His popular works of pulp fiction included "The Stepford Wives," "A Kiss Before Dying," "The Boys From Brazil" and "Sliver." They were frequently converted into films that were, more often than not, camp masterpieces. "Rosemary's Baby" was an exception. Under the direction of Roman Polanski, the story of an unsuspecting young woman (Mia Farrow) who gives birth to the spawn of Satan was rendered into a 1968 film of hypnotic, creeping dread, well in keeping with the political and cultural paranoia of the time.

Stephen King described Mr. Levin as "the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels, he makes what the rest of us do look like cheap watchmakers in drugstores."

In the theatre, nothing topped Mr. Levin's triumph with Deathtrap. The five-character drama about Sydney Bruhl, a playwright with writer's block, his wife, his talented student, his lawyer and the psychic next door opened on Feb. 26, 1978, and ran for 1,793 performances. Marian Seldes, who played the wife, Myra, became famous for staying with the show during its entire run, not missing a single performance.

Mr. Levin based the role of Sydney partly upon himself, according to the book "It's a Hit!" Following his success with No Time for Sergeants, which starred Andy Griffith and ran for two years, he found it tough coming up with a follow-up. The comedy Critic's Choice had a modest run in 1960, but the thrillers Dr. Cook's Garden (1967) and Veronica's Room (1975) flopped, as did Interlock from 1958, General Seeger from 1962 and the musical Drat! The Cat! from 1965.

Deathtrap was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Play in 1978. The play was made into a 1982 film starring Michael Caine, Dyan Cannon and the late Christopher Reeve. The film caused a sensation at the time due to a kiss shared by Caine and Reeve.

Ira Levin was born in New York City on Aug. 27, 1929. His father was in the toy business. He finished second in a screenplay writing competition held by NBC while a senior in college at New York University, where he transferred after two years at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1953 he was drafted into the Army, where he wrote and produced training films.

His novel "A Kiss Before Dying" won the Edgar Allen Poe Award in 1953. Following that success, he adapted Mac Hyman's comic novel about a naive country boy in the peacetime military, No Time for Sergeants into a stage play. The play made a star out of Andy Griffith.

Mr. Levin wrote one more play after Deathtrap. A comedy called Break a Leg, it opened April 29, 1979. It closed the same day. Deathtrap, playing nearby, would run three more years.

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