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William Castle 'Terrified' of 'Rosemary's Baby'

William Castle Rosemary's Baby producerWilliam Castle and the Rosemary's Baby 'curse'

William Castle was a director of B movie thrillers such as those in two popular franchises of the '40s starring faded stars of the previous decades: The Whistler, with Richard Dix (Best Actor Oscar nominee for Cimarron, 1930-31), and The Crime Doctor, with Warner Baxter (Best Actor Oscar winner for In Old Arizona, 1928-29). In the early '50s, Castle also directed both B Westerns (Conquest of Cochise, The Law vs. Billy the Kid) and B “Easterns” (Slaves of Babylon, The Saracen Blade).

But later in the decade, as explained by David Parkinson at Films in Focus, William Castle, now a producer-director, “sold his soul to horror.” How so? “In 1958 he hit upon the notion of insuring the lives of those brave enough to see his new chiller, Macabre, and recouped around $5 million on a $90,000 outlay,” Parkinson says. “The same year's House on Haunted Hill confirmed Castle as the 'King of the Gimmicks,' thanks to Emergo, a pioneering process that involved a 12-foot plastic skeleton whizzing across the auditorium on a wire.”

But cheesy gimmicks or no, what William Castle really wanted was critical respect. How to achieve that? What about a movie revolving around a New York-based coven of satan-worshipers, directed by the renowned Polish filmmaker of Knife in the Water and Repulsion?

Rosemary's Baby Mia FarrowWilliam Castle 'terrified of' Rosemary's Baby (image: Mia Farrow as Rosemary, getting ready to cuddle up with her baby)

With Roman Polanski at the helm, and starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, Rosemary's Baby (1968), based on Ira Levin's bestseller, was both a critical and a commercial hit. Ironically, according to Parkinson “the showman who had peddled cheap thrills to millions ended up terrified of his own movie.”

Well, who can blame William Castle, when among Rosemary's Baby's satan-worshipping New Yorkers (and assorted bystanders) were revered figures of the American stage and screen, such as eventual Best Supporting Actress Academy Award winner Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy, Elisha Cook Jr, Maurice Evans, and '30s comedienne Patsy Kelly? But there were other reasons.

Parkinson adds:

Castle claimed to have received up to 50 abusive letters a day following [the release of Rosemary's Baby] on 12 June 1968 (exactly a week after the assassination of Robert Kennedy.) In his autobiography, Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America (1976) Castle quoted such accusations as “You have unleashed evil on the world” and threats like “Rosemary's Baby is filth and YOU will die as a result.” But when Castle began suffering from excruciating pains in his groin, one taunt particularly hit home: “Bastard. Believer of Witchcraft. Worshipper at the Shrine of Satanism. My prediction is you will slowly rot during a long and painful illness which you have brought upon yourself.”

On 31 October Castle was preparing to fly to New York to discuss producing Neil Simon's The Out of Towners when he collapsed. A spinal tap was required to remove a blockage in his urinary tract. But the condition recurred several times over the next few months, and legend has it that during one emergency admission Castle yelled out, “Rosemary, for God's sake, drop the knife!"

William Castle's post-Rosemary's Baby career

William Castle would produce only two more movies after Rosemary's Baby, neither of which caused much of a stir: Riot (1969) and Bug (1975). Additionally, he executive produced the TV series Circle of Fear, and directed the curious Marcel Marceau vehicle Shanks (1974). Castle died of a heart attack at age 63 on May 31, 1977, in Los Angeles. (See also: Robert Evans and Rosemary's Baby.)

William Castle publicity photo ca. 1955. Mia Farrow Rosemary's Baby photo: Paramount Pictures.

William Castle 'Terrified' of 'Rosemary's Baby' © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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1 Comment to William Castle 'Terrified' of 'Rosemary's Baby'

  1. SATAN666