Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ira Levin, of ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ Dies at 78

Ira 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.
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 In “The Stepford Wives” (Random House, 1972), the women in an idyllic suburb appear to have been replaced by complacent, preternaturally well-endowed androids.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.

Read the full story from The New York Times overnight, AP photo.

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