A look behind the scenes of Roman Polanski’s horror classic ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ 50 years on
50 years on from the release of Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s suspense-horror classic Rosemary’s Baby we take a look behind the scenes and see the making of one of the horror genre’s all-time classics.
Released on June 12th, 1968, starring the wonderful Mia Farrow, the film follows Farrow’s character Rosemary Woodhouse who, while married to her struggling-actor husband Guy (played by John Cassavetes), finds herself living in a New York block next to Satanists Minnie and Roman Castavet. The Lucifer-loving couple expertly played by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer.
Rosemary’s pregnancy begins to feel odd when the due date of her first child is June 6th, 1966 or ‘666’… and we all know what that means. Levin once commenting that “a fetus could be an effective horror if the reader knew it was growing into something malignly different from the baby expected”.
In truth, the beauty of this horror-for-the-ages is the incredible combination of Levin’s words whom Stephen King called “the Swiss watchmaker of the suspense novel” and the subtlety of Polanski’s approach to film. For example, the terrifying reveal of the hooven baby, with “eyes like his father’s” is never shown to the audience with only Rosemary’s reaction to her hellbound baby providing the visual context of her horror. Fearing for the safety of her child, expecting her baby to be sacrificed in their rituals while the reality of her situation was far, far worse.
“Bob Willoughby remembered a day during filming when Farrow was particularly happy: ‘Mia was seeing Frank Sinatra during the filming… He had taken her to lunch this day, and had wined and dined her and Mia returned to the set full of the joys. She was like a giggling school girl, tipping over the assistant director’s chair, climbing on top of the wardrobe. She was a panic, and of course I was clicking away. As she was being bundled off to her dressing room, she leaned in to me, giving me a most memorable parting line: ‘Older men always try to spoil me!’
‘There are 127 varieties of nuts,’ Polanski once said in an interview. ‘Mia’s 116 of them.’ Farrow, by Polanski’s view, was ‘heavily into the whole range of crackpot folklore that flourished in the 1960s, from UFOs through astrology to extrasensory perception.’ Said Farrow, ‘The sixties were in full bloom. Roman was humming, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,” and I painted the walls of my dressing room with rainbows, flowers and butterflies.’ Added to that were dragonflies, birds, a sunburst, a large heart, the words ‘peace,’ ‘love,’ ‘live’ and a color scheme of purples, reds, yellows and greens. Farrow quipped about entering it for competition at the Los Angeles Museum of Art, if only she could move it.
‘They gave me a ping pong table because I was a kid, and I was getting no exercise,’ Farrow said. ‘I wouldn’t even see the light of day. One night I even slept on the set.’ Countless and sometimes fiercely competitive games ensued involving Farrow, Polanski, the Sylberts Anthea and Richard, various crew members and even Cassavetes’s Dirty Dozen co-star Jim Brown, who was visiting the set. But it was Cassavetes who dominated many of the matches. Only Hawk Koch could best him. ‘I beat John Cassavetes for a lot of money,’ recalled Koch.
During lulls in the filming, the energetic director practiced quick draws with a prop six-shooter and, at the end of the shoot, the crew bestowed upon him a real one with his name inscribed on the ivory handle. ‘He’d have his six guns out and he had a cowboy there that was a six gun draw expert who was one of the best in Hollywood,’ said actor Craig Littler. ‘So he’s teaching, and Roman would be sitting there—he’s a little bitty guy—and I’m sitting there, as a young actor looking at all of this, going, “So this is moviemaking, huh? This is, this is the big time?”’