Backstory: What ever happened to William Castle’s baby?

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bill from Spine Tingler
Photo of the great William Castle -courtesy of Spine Tingler

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Castle in NYC street with Polanski

“The film is frightening because it forces us to examine the kinds and bases of belief. We confront the idea that the Christian myth is certainly no more believable that its mirror image, and possibly less so. And beyond this, we are also forced to realize that our mode of believing in Christianity is quite different from the one with which we perceive ‘real’ things In other words, while Polanski’s film is determinedly realistic, it is at the same time a challenge to realism, locating the ordinary world of plausible social interaction within a wider and more primitive universe of magic, sorcery and supernatural forces.”Hollywood Hex, -Makita Brottman

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Rosemary’s Baby is my favorite film. I plan on doing one of my long winded major features on this masterpiece in it’s entirety but for the sake of celebrating William Castle this week, I’d like to strictly focus on his contribution to an iconic tour de force that would not have been filmed if not for him. Rosemary’s Baby premiered in June 1968.

billboard for the film

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Roman Polanski on William Castle: “He was an excellent technician who understands filmmakers’ problems and doesn’t have the usual worries other producers have. He made a constant effort to make me happy in my work. I can’t think of a better producer.”

polanski, castle and Farrow happy

After many years of William Castle slaving over B movies and programmers like The Whistler and The Crime Doctor, he found his niche in horror. He saw Henri-Georges Clouzot le Diabolique in 1955 and it lit a fire in his belly to create his own Gothic creepy storytelling that would lure the audience under it’s spell. Thus sung Macabre in 1958. While certainly not Diabolique, Macabre put Castle on the path toward creating engaging & frightening landscapes that would entertain millions!

That same year, thanks to his very successful House on Haunted Hill and his 12 foot plastic glow in the dark skeleton deemed ‘Emergo’ that flew over theatre audiences, he was now dubbed the ‘King of Gimmicks.’ Castle went on to chill us with The TIngler in ’59, 13 Ghosts in ’60, Homicidal and Mr Sardonicus in ’61, Strait-Jacket in ’64, and I Saw What You Did in ’65 both landing Joan Crawford at the helm.

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William Castle’s Homicidal ’61starring Jean Arless (Joan Marshall)

With all the ballyhoo and commercial success, Bill was craving respect. He thought he’d find that admiration in Rosemary’s Baby, a novel by Ira Levin (A Kiss Before Dying, The StepFord Wives, Boys From Brazil) about an unassuming pretty little housewife chosen by a coven of New York City witches to be the mother of Lucifer’s only begotten son and heir.

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What is remarkable about the film is the realism. It is so careful to remain dedicated to the naturalistic tone of Levin’s novel showing us a set of ordinary characters in an apparently common world. Then they gradually become introduced to extraordinary elements of dark forces, both magic and fantasy that begin to overwhelm the narrative. We as spectators are now caught up in Rosemary’s plight and her utter sense of powerlessness. This story is less about witches and more about paranoia and the lack of control over our own bodies and destiny. However explained in supernatural terms, it’s still about losing trust with those closest to us, the people we depend on to protect us from harm. We watch as Rosemary’s world turns upside down.

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I saw Rosemary’s Baby during it’s theatrical release in New York in June 1968. It was billed as a double feature with The Mephisto Waltz. We won’t get into how either really enlightened or truly nutty, depending on your perspective, my mom was for taking her 6 year old little girl to see two very intense horror pictures dealing with adult and subversive themes.

I was an extremely mature child and the film not only didn’t traumatize me, it opened up a world of desire for me to see as many intellectual horror stories without fear of nightmares. Although I must admit when I used to watch Robert Wise’s The Haunting in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon, I did manage to lock the basement door and shove the large gold (the color of Archie Bunker’s favorite chair) love seat in front of it to keep any boogeyman from coming up the basement stairs into the den when I was alone in the house.

I also just saw Rosemary’s Baby remastered on the big screen at the Film Forum a few weeks ago. I have to admit, that as soon as Christopher Komeda’s music starts playing and the birds eye view of the Dakota emerges on screen the electricity started flowing up my legs, this time not my usual RLS, I began weeping. Not only is Rosemary’s Baby my favorite film, I recognize the confluence of perfectionism in each and every scene that makes it a flawless masterpiece, from the vibrant performances to the exquisite storytelling. Every detail is magical and I don’t mean devilish, I mean artfully.

Castavets at Terry's fall

Something else wonderful happened during the screening that day. Amidst all the other film geeks like myself, and aside from the audible pleasure the audience let out when the magnificent Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer walk on screen where we all laughed and silently cheered for their strolling entrance as the iconic quirky and eccentric devil worshiping senior citizens. When Bill Castle did his Hitchcock walk on by the phone booth, I realized that it wasn’t only me smacking my partner Wendy’s knee with childhood excitement, “There’s Bill, there he is!!! We both chuckled with glee to see his wide warming grin. Suddenly we heard others in the crowd stirring and murmuring “there he is, that’s Bill Castle!!!” Amidst all the appurtenances Rosemary’s Baby has to offer, so many of us fans were thrilled to catch sight of Mr.Castle with his fat cigar standing by the phone booth. We were collectively excited to see the man who had entertained us all these years. It was heart warming. I did tear up.

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Mia back of Bill's head phone booth

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I recognize Roman Polanski as the auteur that he is, but that is not what I want to dwell on here. I want to stress that Rosemary’s Baby would not have been made if it weren’t for William Castle, and his perseverance, passion and eye for intellectual property. William Castle acknowledged that The Lady From Shanghai was a work of art because of Orson Welles‘ direction, however, it was Castle who first discovered and purchased the rights to If I Should Die Before I Wake, only to have Orson Welles turn around and pitch it to Harry Cohn as his own idea.

It was Rosemary’s Baby that Bill chose to elevate his status from B movie maker to respected filmmaker in a very fickle industry. Let’s pay tribute to one certain fact: Rosemary’s Baby would not be the film it is after 45 years without William Castle’s imprint on it.

B&W Bill at Booth

In Bill’s memoirs Step Right Up, I’m Gonna Scare the Pants Off America (which is a fantastic read for any enthusiast about the golden age of Hollywood and just a darn good bit of story telling) describes how William Castle’s literary agent Marvin Birdt, the person who found the script and insisted Bill read the galleys immediately. Castle looked at the title and dismissed it saying “Its probably some story about an unwed mother… cheap exploitation. Who the hell wants to make a picture like that?” 

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Bill Castle thought the film just wasn’t for him at the point. It was 1968 and the film industry wasn’t really embracing horror films anymore. He was so overwhelmed with the lousy books and manuscripts that were piling up that he just couldn’t fathom wasting any time with yet another piece of junk. But, it took him all of three hours to finish the story, as he said, ‘bathed in sweat and shaking.’ Castle saw the magnitude of Ira Levin’s story when it was still in unpublished manuscript form: “I made up my mind when I read the novel Rosemary’s Baby that it was the greatest novel that would translate into a screenplay that I had ever read. That just lent itself to a brilliant movie. And I loved the property and I brought the property because I wanted to prove to the industry my fellow peers that I could do something really brilliant.” (Step Right Up, 2010) He told Ellen, his wife, that it was one of the most powerful books he’d ever read, and that it would be an incredible picture to make. When Ellen finished reading it, she told him “it’s disturbing… frightening and brilliant.”(SRU, 2010) But Ellen also warned that he’d have trouble with the Church.

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William Castle and the love of his life, his beautiful wife Ellen courtesy of Spine Tingler

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Castle’s agent Birdt tormented him about other studios and directors interested in the story and making offers. Later, Castle had found out that the book had actually been offered to Alfred Hitchcock first. One wonders what it might have looked like if Hitch had been behind the camera, storyboarding Levin’s work.

Bill Castle was worried that he was going to lose the picture, but where was he going to get the quarter of a million Birdt demanded to finance the rights to the film? He asked Birdt to offer one hundred thousand dollars up front and then fifty thousand if the book became a bestseller with five percent of one hundred percent of the net profits. His agent wasn’t very encouraged that they’d accept the offer. The waiting to hear back was excruciating, but Castle did get the rights to Rosemary’s Baby. Now he had to come up with the money!

In Step Right UpBill describes how Robert Evans, in charge of Paramount Pictures, called to check in, not sure William Castle could handle such a serious motion picture.But, Charles Bluhdorn, owner of Paramount, wanted to meet with Castle personally to discuss the picture, saying “I have big plans for Paramount, and they include you.” Castle found Bluhdorn’s persona magnetic. He told him that Bob Evens had informed him about Castle’ obtaining Rosemary’s Baby.“Would you like to make the picture for us?” Of course, Castle told him, yes.

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head of Paramount Robert Evans

“Your services as producer, how much would you want?” Bill Castle corrected Bluhdorn by adding the word ‘director’… trying to avoid negotiating with this man without his lawyer. Bluhdorn wasn’t having any of that. He told Castle that he would not negotiate with lawyers on the making of Rosemary’s Baby. It’s either between Castle and him, or Donnenfeld and Castle’s attorney. Castle decided he had the ego to take on this financial genius and told him he’d negotiate with him directly. But first, Bill asked him if he had read the story. Bluhdorn had not. Bill thought that worked to his advantage as the story was intensely disturbing so the less Bluhdorn knew about the story the better.

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Robert Evans and Roman Polanski

When Bill Castle finally blurted out that he’d want to produce and direct, Bluhdorn laughed at him called him a ‘big ridiculous clown.’ He tried to offer Bill only one hundred fifty thousand for the film plus thirty percent of the profits. Bill told him no way. It was a hard bargaining session. Bluhdorn didn’t know what he was dealing for and Bill did, Bluhdorn was also dropping the phony niceties and getting close to bowing out of any deal. “If I walk through that door, Rosemary’s Baby is finished at Paramount. No one -and I mean no one- will renegotiate!” Castle finally composed his inner panic and came back at the austere blowhard with an offer of two hundred fifty thousand and fifty percent of the profits. It was a deal. (Step Right Up, 2010) 

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Bill Castle courtesy of Spine Tingler

Producer Evans In Conference

Bill’s daughter, Terry Castle remembers, “He had to do whatever he could and it was his time. Mom and dad mortgaged the house and they bought the rights for a substantial amount of money.” (Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story)

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Bill’s wonderful daughter Terry Castle founder of Dark Castle Entertainment

With that he asked Castle’s age and if he’d heard of director Roman Polanski, or seen any of his pictures. Castle had seen Repulsion and Knife in the Water. Bluhdorn sung Polanski’s praises calling him a genius. He impressed upon Castle that with the director’s youth and Castle’s experience as producer, they could both learn from each other. Bill Castle started to find his fire, “Look Mr. Bluhdorn, the reason I bought Rosemary’s Baby with my own money was to direct the film… It’s going to be an important motion picture and I’m not going to miss the opportunity of directing.” (Step Right Up, 2010)

Bluhdorn told him that Polanski directs Rosemary’s Baby or no deal, and asked Bill to at least meet the young director. Castle says “I had made up my mind to hate him on sight… and that he wasn’t going to direct the picture I said absolutely no way. I bought the picture, I bought the book. I own it, I’m going to direct it..{…} I worked all my life to get something worth while on the screen and so at first sight I hated him.” He’d sent Polanski the galleys to read and if after meeting him he decides he doesn’t want him directing the movie then fine. Bill Castle says in his memoirs that while Bluhdorn was a tough negotiator he was at least an honorable and fair man whose handshake was better than a written contract.

Castle and Polanski Spine Tingler
Castle and Polanski courtesy of Spine Tingler

In Step Right Up, 2010 Castle describes his first impression of Roman Polanski was that he was a little cocky vain narcissist who liked to look at himself in the mirror a lot. Bill asked if he liked the story, “I like it very much… It will make a great picture.” Polanski spoke in his Polish accent. “You would like to direct Rosemary?” Bill asked. “That’s why I’m here. Nobody will be able to direct it as well as Roman Polanski.” And Bill Castle’ felt that Ira Levin’s book was perfect for the screen, needing absolutely no changes whatsoever in adapting it. This was something he felt passionately about. He posed the question to Polanski. “The book is perfect… no changes must be made” Bill says that Polanski was so intense about this that it was quite jarring. “It’s one of the few books I have read that must be translated faithfully to the cinema.” (Step Right Up, 2010)

And having read Levin’s book, I can tell you that reading each line of every page is exactly like watching the story unfold on screen. It is the most faithful adaptation I’ve ever read, more like reading the script after the fact.

on set Castle, Gordon, Farrow and Polanski b&W

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Then Castle posed a trick question to Polanski to see what his vision was for filming the narrative, suggesting to him that the camera should not only move around a lot but use strange shots to tell the story. Polanski was empowered by his convictions and told Bill,“No, I don’t Mr. Castle. Actors tell story… like peeping through the keyhole of life. I do not like crazy tricks with camera… must be honest.” That was exactly how Bill Castle saw the film being made. When Polanski told Bill to start calling him Roman, Bill couldn’t help but start to like this man who truly did share a special vision for a very special story. Polanski went on to tell him, “Bill, we can make a wonderful picture together. I have been looking for a long time for a Rosemary’s Baby. To work with you would be my privilege.” (Step Right Up, 2010)

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Terry Castle, Bill’s daughter, remembers: “Polanski came over to the house and he was this young wild guy, just this incredibly wily dynamic man with this very thick accent talking about cameras and light he was just incredibly dynamic himself and my dad totally got him. He wanted to get Rosemary’s Baby made and he wanted to produce it… and yet he wanted to direct it. But I think once he met Roman Polanski I think he understood he could bring something incredibly special to the project. And I think it was okay for dad to give that up to him because I think he saw the brilliance in this man. […] Even though he wasn’t going to be directing it at least his name was going to be on it as a William Castle production and he was making for the first time in his life an important studio film.” (Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story)

Polanski on the set with Mia

Left tor right, William Castle, Mia Farrow, and Robert Evans during the production of ROSEMARY'S BABY, 1968.

Bill with Mia and John on the set of Rosemary's Baby

The last thing Bill Castle needed to know was who he’d pick to write the screenplay and why. Polanski told Bill he would do it himself because he would stick strictly to the book. They spent the rest of the time discussing the film, Bill finding Polanski brilliant and extremely open. He immediately called Bluhdorn and told him that he was right Polanski was the only one who could direct Rosemary’s BabyBill Castle had the wisdom and grace to understand that Polanski would make a great film, but to be fair to Bill Castle. it’s also only after his careful facilitation and thoughtful know-how that helped bring Ira Levin’s story to life.

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Polanski and Farrow and Cassavetes in hall color

Polanski kept his word, he wrote the screenplay and adhered strictly to the book as promised. Polanski asked Bill to help him find a house by the beach to work and that he’d send his fiance over to help him look for one. On a Sunday morning Sharon Tate was standing at Bill Castle’s door. They found the perfect beach house for the couple, owned by Brian Aherne who was in Europe.

Polanski wanted to use Richard Sylbert to do the set design for the film. Sylbert had just finished working on Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Roman Polanski thought his work was brilliant. Polanski suggested Tuesday Weld in the lead as Rosemary. Bill agreed that she was a fine actress but said, “I think the role was written for Mia Farrow” Polanski watched her in several episodes of Peyton Place and didn’t agree. He thought Tuesday Weld would be better. Jane Fonda, Julie Christie, Elizabeth Hartman, and Joanna Pettet were also considered for the part. Evans asked about the casting of Rosemary, which they both gave their choices.Evans told them that he didn’t think Mia Farrow was available because she was working with George Cukor, he’d check with Zanuck at Fox and in the meantime try and get a reading with Weld.

Tuesday Weld
Tuesday Weld

Now the buzz was all over Hollywood and every actress in town felt they would be just perfect for the lead role, but Polanski was still stubborn about Tuesday Weld. When Zanuck called Bill and told him the Cukor picture fell through, and Mia was available. Bill set up a meeting with Mia and Polanski over lunch and Polanski wound up being completely mesmerized by her. He finally agreed she would play Rosemary. The rest is history.

Roman Polanski actually developed a wonderful working relationship with Mia Farrow on the set. She didn’t bring any preconceived motivations to her role as Rosemary Woodhouse. Supposedly he had some difficulties with Catherine Deneuve on the set of Repulsion, but he found Mia very amenable to work with. Mia followed Polanski’s directions very well, which might explain some of her childlike and innocent air to her performance of the blithe and charming Rosemary.

Robert Redford

Now they had to find the actor to fill Guy’s shoes. Both thought that Robert Redford would be perfect as Guy Woodhouse. Polanski set up a meeting with Robert Redford but they had to meet in secret because of the lawsuit that Paramount had filed against him for having walked off the set of a western. During Polanski’s lunch meeting, Redford was served with a subpoena who then vowed that he needed to stay clear of Paramount. They tossed out Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn, Alan Bates and James Fox as they were too British. Tony Curtis was considered but was too old. Steve McQueen was just plain wrong for the part. Maybe Paul Newman?… He was busy. Laurence Harvey was really interested in the part of Guy, and I think he would have been an interesting choice, but Polanski wanted someone more American looking, fiery and passionate in tone. Warren Beatty was convinced he should read the script but he apparently procrastinated and eventually turned the script down as he didn’t feel it was an important enough role for him. Jack Nicholson tried out for the part of Guy but he appeared too bullish and imposing which was in divergence with the clean cut all American actor type.

On the Paramount lot one day, John Cassavetes ran up to Bill and asked if they had found anyone to play Guy Woodhouse yet. “Well what about me? I could play the devil out of the part-no pun intended.” While Polanski was very interested in using Cassavetes, Robert Evens had reservations. “Don’t you think Cassavetes is too dark and brooding… Its’ on the nose casting – audiences would suspect him immediately. We need someone more romantic, more of a conventional leading man…” “Somebody like Robert Redford?” Polanski exclaimed with fury in his voice. Finally, Polanski concedes to the more cerebral John Cassavetes to play the dark brooding Guy Woodhouse.

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Castle and Cassavetes

Castle on the set

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne would be ideal as Minnie and Roman Castevet. But Lunt was ailing and his wife needed to attend to him. Polanski then suggested Frederick March or Melvyn Douglas. These were very interesting suggestions. Then Polanski had the idea of having an artist render a sketch of how the characters might look including how they would dress. Bill Castle thought Ruth Gordon would be perfect as Minnie and begged Polanski to meet with her. But, Polanski refused saying “Ruth Gordon is all wrong for the part…{…} I saw her last picture Inside Daisy Clover, and hated it. Besides, I don’t like meeting actors. They make me nervous.” (Step Right Up, 2010)

Finally Polanski agreed to at least have a short lunch with her and husband Garson Kanin who were good friends with Bill Castle. Bill purposely didn’t show up and waited for Polanski to be furious with him but hoped the plan would work. He got the call later that afternoon, “She’s perfect for the part of Minnie Castevet. Sign her.”

Drink your shake Ro

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On a lighter note, finding Minnie Castevet’s husband is a funny story. I’ve always been a fan of Sidney Blackmer. Bill’s secretary Lisa had told him that Sidney was in Hollywood for a few days and wanted to say hello. Back when Castle was a little movie goer in New York City, Blackmer had been a huge matinee idol. Now he was in his seventies. Castle said to his old friend, “Sidney is that a toupee you’re wearing?” Smiling he said, “Why do you ask? Does it look that bad?” Castle writes that he started to get so excited “Would you mind taking it off for a moment..{…} now, turn it around and put it on backward” Blackmer did as Bill asked him to, and watched as he yelled for joy “Perfect!” (Step Right Up, 2010)

Bill quickly phoned Polanski and told him, “I’ve found Ruth Gordon’s husband… I’m sending him right down… He’s perfect!” No one argued with the idea of the wonderful Maurice Evans playing the role of Edward Hutchins or “Hutch” so he was signed right away. It was Polanski’s idea to use wonderful comedienne Patsy Kelly to play the ever knitting, saturnine and roly-poly Laura-Louise.

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Maurice Evans as ‘Hutch’ is puzzled by the amulet that contains the stinky tannis root. Sidney Blackmer witnesses the inquiry
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Cassavetes, Farrow and Bellamy

Next up was the devilish obstetrician Dr Sapirstein. They considered Luther Adler and Raymond Massey but again they didn’t resemble the sketches the studio artist had been creating for the cast. The sketch was of a tall gaunt bearded man dressed in baggy clothes. Roman Polanski asked Bill who the sketch reminded him of. Bill joked Fred Astaire? Which might have been an interesting casting move if you think about it. Polanski suggested think of him without the beard, and then insisted it’s you! “Roman for chrissake- I can’t play Sapirstein; I’m no actor.Polanski insisted that he started out as one, but Bill told him it was a long time ago besides he was lousy at it. Bob Evans tried to convince Bill to play Sapirstein too, but Bill was concerned with producing this masterpiece let alone having to act in it as well. Polanski was furious with Bill not talking to him for a while. But Bill called Ralph Bellamy who got the part, Polanski made him go to Bill’s tailor Frank Hoffer in Beverly Hills for his wardrobe.

Ralph Bellamy

Just think– if William Castle was not so insightful with his vision of who to cast in Rosemary’s Baby, the film might have been a very different picture. Can you imagine it without the consummate Rosemary Woodhouse as the evocatively ethereal and fey Mia Farrow and the spectacular Ruth Gordon as glorious Minnie Castevet.

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Ruth outside the bramford

When filming began a camera was set up on the roof ledge across from The Dakota at 72nd and Central Park West. The iconic building was the home of some of New York’s elite, ‘the’ place to live. Castle writes that Boris Karloff lived in The Dakota on the top floor. He grew Orchids.

On the first day of shooting, Polanski spent six hours and not one shot had been executed. He argued with cameraman William Fraker telling him that the placement was not right they needed a better vantage point. By midnight on that humid and hot New York City day, shooting was taking on a nightmarish look to poor Bill who was concerned with going over budget amongst other things. I love how he describes in his memoirs how even The Dakota’s “gargoyles seemed restless and angry.” Polanski told him that he worried too much, and Bill answered “that’s the job of a producer” puffing on his cigar. Polanski also told him he smoked too much and pulled it out of his mouth and stomped on it. (Step Right Up, 2010)

mia and roman color on set outside crowd

There were throngs of onlookers trying to catch a sight of Mia Farrow, who had just recently gotten married to ole blue eyes Frank Sinatra. NYC city police were secured to keep the crowds in line. Polanski was on the set scrutinizing the scene where Terry (Victoria Vetri) goes out the window and splats on the pavement below. “Blood- bring me the blood!”  And so the make up artist brought the extra bag of blood. Polanski thought it looked too phony, always striving for realism. Castle relates how the spectators were shocked by the Polanski’s request for real-looking blood but Castle was impressed with his unyielding passion for detail. William Castle admits that if he had directed the scene he would have finished it in a matter of hours, whereas Polanski took days to complete one key scene.

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Castle talks about his pacing back and forth while filming the scene then noticing that the great director Elia Kazan had been watching him. He said, “You seem frustrated…{…} I live just across the street thought I’d watch Polanski at work, he’s slow isn’t he?” Bill told Kazan that he’d pick up speed once he gets immersed in the film. Kazan also ribbed Castle about having someone else direct his picture. He told him he didn’t mind at all, but in his heart he didn’t truly mean it.

However, as the slow and tedious perfectionist Polanski’s style and method barely eked out two albeit brilliant scenes, Castle continued worrying that Paramount was going to be angry at the budget. Polanski was so maniacal about the minutia and subtleties that he even complained that Sidney Blackmer’s jacket was too rumpled to Anthea Sylbert the costume designer and demands that it get pressed even if it was 2am in the middle of the night. Designer Sylbert did a sensational job with the cast creating the colorful and essential palate for the various characters.

Elisha Cook Jr
Elisha Cook Jr
Hope Summers and Ralph Bellamy
Hope Summers and Ralph Bellamy
Patsy Kelly
Patsy Kelly as Laura Louise

Lauren Bacall also lived at The Dakota, with her husband Jason Robards, and saw Bill Castle having such a rough time on the set so offered him a drink. He decided that nothing was going to happen at the pace it was going so he agreed and went up to her apartment and shared a cocktail. Noticing photographs of Humphrey Bogart on the walls. She told him to try and relax but he was worried about how slow Polanski was working on the project. She assured him that the picture was going to be incredible and that’s what matters. “Rosemary’s Baby is number two on the bestseller list? The film can’t miss.”

But Bernie Donnenfeld had started to give Bill a hard time about how slow the production was taking. Little problems were popping up. Maurice Evans couldn’t remember his lines. Bill argued that he was trying to push Polanski as much as he could, all the time thinking that he should have been the one directing this film. Castle was worried sick over the whole ordeal. Little details were just not flowing smoothly. Even truck drivers were giving Castle grief when they needed to re-shoot the scene where Rosemary throws the pendant filled with the stinky tannis root down the manhole. There were so many conflicts arising on the set that Paramount was starting to breath down poor Bill Castle’s neck and wearing him out. Allowing Polanski to direct was a bit of genius from an artistic perspective but from a business angle it was driving Castle insane. referring to it as ‘exquisite pain.’ (Step Right Up, 2010)

polanski mia color set

polanski directing mia

Roman Polanski strove for detailed realism on the picture, but Bill was up against the studio and Robert Evans was on his back constantly about the scheduling. Polanski wanted to shoot one of the most important frames, the phone booth scene, during the height of lunch hour on Fifth Avenue, which seemed a daunting task. “But how are you going to get Mia in a telephone booth without being swarmed by a crowd of onlookers?” Bernie Donnenfeld suggested flying back to Hollywood and doing the scene there, but Bill convinced him that it wasn’t the same as Fifth Avenue.

Polanski at booth with mia

Polanski was setting up the scene while the crowds were gathering around getting in the way. He then insisted that Bill change his suit from blue to a brown one. Bill rushed back to the hotel to change his suit just to keep Polanski’s pace moving along. Back at the phone booth with Mia waiting for Dr. Hill to call back, Bill stood next to Ralph Bellamy who was also wearing a brown suit. They timed the scene where Bellamy steps out of the camera’s range and Bill takes over with his back to Mia wearing the same kind of brown suit. Then Bill turned to face Rosemary in the booth, who saw to her relief that it was just kindly Bill Castle, grinning and chewing on one of his beloved cigars.

Back in Hollywood, Richard Sylbert was working on creating the interior scenes for The Dakota. The next big question was should they let the audience actually see the baby. Polanski felt that he could create an image that would be longer lasting in terms of impact rather than trying to show literally a horned baby with tail and eerie eyes.

Interview with Roman Polanski Michel Ciment, Michel Perez and Roger Tailleur ’69

Q-“But the ending of the film remains somewhat ambiguous. The audience might feel that the while story about witchcraft is actually nothing more than Rosemary’s fantasy. Through out the film it’s possible to believe that Rosemary is trying to escape the colorless reality of her world, to find something more real:The world of witches, something closer to the nature than this world of consumerism”-

A- “All the better then. I don’t remember which philosopher it was who said ‘You must be obscure” It’s a principle of drama. If you want to make a book or film interesting, you can’t be too explicit, otherwise it’s already digested for the audience. Look at Walt Disney’s films where there’s no ambiguity at all.-Polanski

Oh-God

Polanski felt confident that he could create a powerful visual  effect with the camera that would frame the eyes in a way that would leave the audience thinking that they actually saw the devil’s son. In art  the power of imagination can trigger our most intimate fears. The best auteurs have made this work on screen for years. When the film aired on Television critics actually claimed that the boards of censors cut out the scene showing the baby, when in actuality the devilish infant had never been filmed. Polanski made the right aesthetic decision by merely alluding to the flash of the eyes which leaves a more lasting impression. A memorable impact on the psyche than literally having seen the face of the devil’s child in our collective minds.

Another obstacle was the sequence with the naked witches during the black mass rape scene. They feared the MPAA would give Paramount trouble and insisted on the scene being cut. Castle, in his charming and diplomatic way, tried to assure Bernie Donnenfeld “Look Bernie, the witches are old bags and the warlocks aren’t too appetizing-looking either, but we’re going to photograph them in semidarkness… Look, I’ll tell you what -I’ll insist that Polanski protect us by getting head shots -you know eyes, close shots on the faces, then we can cut away if we’re in trouble.” (Step Right Up, 2010)

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CapturFiles

Rosemary's Baby Naked Witches

Clip Mia Black Magic

Castle told Polanski that he promised Donnenfeld that he’d take it easy with the witches in the dream sequence. He understood that Polanski was striving for realism but having the witches and warlocks bare-assed on screen is going to be a problem. Castle was in the middle of a messy venture. Bob Evans and Donnenfeld were concerned about the growing financial expense and Polanski the auteur was completely consumed with making his film the way he had envisioned it, at any expense.

Robert Evans could see the potential in the film being a phenomenal success and Roman Polanski would only do things his way.

Roman Polanski refused to compromise on that vision trusting that Rosemary’s Baby would be a successful masterpiece, and Bill knew in his heart that Polanski was truly brilliant and knew what he was doing. in fact Rosemary’s Baby would become one of Paramount’s five most successful features of the 60s.

van-johnson-mia-farrow-joan-crawford-roman-polanski-william-castlepremiere-of-strait-jacket-1964
Van Johnson, Mia Farrow, Joan Crawford, Roman Polanski and William Castle at the premier of Strait-Jacket
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Mia Farrow, Roman Polanski and Bob Evans at the awards ceremony

But Castle needed to find a way to balance the pressure he was getting from Paramount and didn’t know how to convince the powers that be that Polanski was right about this vision. No matter how much he urged Polanski, he could not rush this genius to speed up the process. Apparently Castle smoked a hell of a lot of cigars on the set.

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rosemary-polanski-directs Mia

Left to right, Mia Farrow, Robert Evans, and Roman Polanski during production on ROSEMARY'S BABY, 1968.  Digital Id: 1083_012484
Left to right, Mia Farrow, Robert Evans, and Roman Polanski during production on ROSEMARY’S BABY

Now another snag was about to surface. Donnenfeld came and talked to Bill about the brewing problem of Frank Sinatra wanting his wife Mia Farrow to finish in a week in order to come and work on his film, The Detective they were doing together. Sinatra didn’t like the publicity his wife was getting from Rosemary’s Baby, in particular the rape scene where everyone in the cast involved in the scene were butt-naked. He wanted her to finish up and come work on The Detective which he was filming at the time. When Polanski stopped taking his calls, Sinatra gets through to Castle who tells him they were behind schedule and it would be at least another three weeks before she’d be done shooting Rosemary’s Baby.

Sinatra tells Castle “Then I’m pulling her off your picture tomorrow” Castle pleaded, “That’ll mean shutting us down, Frank.” “Sorry to have to do that to you Bill, but there’s no other choice.” “That means that Paramount will shut your picture down-and nothing will be gained.” “At least I’ll have my wife with me.” “Frank, please reconsider.” (Step Right Up, 2010)

Mia decided she wanted to finish the picture and was not leaving for New York. Frank Sinatra files divorce papers to Mia Farrow on the set in front of the cast and crew. Distraught Mia can not articulate the anguish on the set she is experiencing and channels her pain into a tense and fraught emotional state that she projects onto the role of Rosemary. That day they film the scene where her friends at the party are concerned about her (with an uncredited role by Sharon Tate). People take note that in the very last scene when Rosemary comes face to face with her newborn for the first time, her portrayal of shock and symbiosis stuns everyone into giving her a standing ovation on the set.

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At the film’s climax when Rosemary finally discovers her coven neighbors celebrating the birth of her son Adrian, whom she was told died at birth, Rosemary is at the pique of maternal fury. The revelation that these witches might be using her little child in a satanic rite drives her to the hysterical revelation that she must act. She grabs a kitchen knife and enters the Castavet’s apartment. Ruth Gordon as calmly as your Aunt Esther offering her ordinary Lipton tea, tells her “He chose you out of all the world, Rosemary. Out of all the women in the whole world, He chose you. He arranged everything cause He wanted you to be the mother of His only living Son.”

William Castle was aware of Mia Farrow’s emotional strain due to the conflict with husband Frank Sinatra. The scene where Rosemary sees her son for the first time, comes off as a striking performance, by a woman who is both conflicted and betrayed yet longing for her lost motherhood.

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I want to keep this post a celebration of Bill Castle, so I won’t get into some of the more gruesome details of the cursed events that followed the making of the motion picture (such as Simon LaVey’s involvement, or the Manson Murders). I’ll save most of that for my later more in-depth post ‘ALL OF THEM WITCHES’. But, Let’s look at the way Bill Castle was impacted by what some say is a nefarious flood gate of demonic energy unleashed by the film…

‘HELL AND DAMNATION ON YOUR SOUL’ words to threaten William Castle

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If it wasn’t enough trouble getting this picture filmed and not running over budget, William Castle started getting death threats and hate mail. Religious groups began boycotting the film advocating against the diabolism of the film’s content. Castle shared some of the more frightening letters with his business partner Donna Holloway:

“You have unleashed evil on the world. You will not live long enough to reap your rewards”-unsigned

“Rosemary’s Baby is filth and YOU will die as a result, Lover of Satan. Purveyor of Evil, you have sold your soul. Die. Die. Die.”

“Bastard! Believer in Witchcraft, Worshiper at the Shrine of Satanism. My prediction is you will slowly rot during a long and painful illness which you have brought upon yourself.”

“Your immortal soul will forever burn in the pits of hell where you belong… I am your mortal enemy and will see that you are destroyed. You have unleashed evil upon the world”

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(Source: Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story)

The death threats and poisoned pen letters started to arrive after the film received critical acclaim. Castle had received crank letters for some of his other films, but nothing on this magnitude. The nutty letters were pouring in as Rosemary’s Baby started breaking box office records. The church and inflammatory news headlines only fueled the dangerous public animosity.

And a strain of ill-fortune began falling upon those connected with the film. William Castle was asked by Neil Simon to direct The Out-of-Towners, but he fell deathly ill with kidney stones and went into the hospital for surgery twice. Polish composer Christopher Komeda went into a coma and died of a blood clot in the brain. The details of the composers death remain unclear but it is eerie how his death does seem to mimic Hutches. The 38-year-old Komeda died in a Warsaw clinic on 23 April 1969 from a hematoma of the brain.

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brilliant composer Christopher Komeda dies of a brain hemorrhage

Bill felt like “all of them witches” were casting their spell in real life, and that he was somehow cursed by all the animosity that was being flung at him for making such a sacrilegious picture. Bill was so delirious from the pain of his kidney stone the size of a bolder that he kept going in and out of consciousness weaving in the events of the film with real life. When they told him he might need the second surgery he said, “Please, I’ll do anything, But I won’t be cut again by Rosemary’s knife” Bill saw the stone as the Devil inside him. (Hollywood Hex) convinced that witchcraft had somehow caused his severe illness and caused Komeda’s tragic death. In (Step Right Up 2010)- Bill states that he begins to feel as if he’s “living in a constant nightmare , in a maze” from which there is no way out.

To recover from the horrible physical siege of the malevolent stone that was wreaking havoc with his body, he and Ellen and the girls took a little trip to San Francisco to try and relax. Then, he reads a newspaper headline:

RITUALISTIC SLAYING SHARON TATE AND 4 OTHERS MURDERED August 9, 1969

Sharon Tate and Roman
Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski

Bill was devastated and wanted to go see Roman Polanski. He felt that once again life was imitating the film. Polanski was secreted away guarded by police, completed crushed by the loss of his wife and baby. Bill Castle had finally made a picture that had garnered so much success but it came at a price for him. in his memoirs he writes–

“Ironically all my life I had yearned for applause, approval and recognition from my peers. And when the awards were being passed out, I no longer cared. I was at home, very frightened of Rosemary’s Baby and still very ill.” (Step Right Up, 2010)

Bill looking thinner

Charles Highman interviewed Polanski -POLANSKI ROSEMARY’S BABY AND AFTER:

“What about the claim by William Castle the producer of Rosemary’s Baby, during the shooting of the film witchcraft caused him to become severely ill? And that while he was recuperating in the hospital, Christopher Komeda the film’s composer was fatally injured in a fall?”“Ridiculous, if anything caused Bill Castle’s illness it was having too much success with the picture”

Hollywood is cruel and has a short term memory.. it wasn’t Bill Castle’s Rosemary’s Baby it would always be Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. His next movie was Project X which went back to the B movie genre….

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Rosemary’s Baby- The awards and nominations:

  • Academy Award Best Supporting Actress- Ruth Gordon
  • Nomination Academy Award Best Screenplay- Roman Polanski
  • Nomination -Producers Guild-Producer of the Year- William Castle
  • Photoplay Award- William Castle
Ellen and Bill from Spine Tilngler
Ellen and Bill courtesy of Spine Tingler
Terry and Bill
Bill Castle and daughter
happy bill from Spine Tingler doc
Triumphant William Castle courtesy of Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story

THIS IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF A LOVING, PASSIONATE AND BRILLIANT MAN WHO MADE SO MANY OF OUR LIVES FILLED WITH AN INEFFABLE KIND OF SENSATIONAL THRILL TO MAKE US FEEL FOREVER THAT WONDROUS KID THAT HOPEFULLY LURKS IN ALL OF US!

With love to you dear Mr. William Castle-Your eternal fan – Joey

11 thoughts on “Backstory: What ever happened to William Castle’s baby?

  1. Joey, this amazing article blew me away! The saga of the making of ROSEMARY’S BABY is as fascinating and thought-provoking as the film itself, with it triumphs and tragedies; so much for “Hi-diddle-dee-dee, an actor’s (and producers’) life for me!” Can you imagine Our Man William Castle actually playing Dr. Saperstein? It must have been a kick for you and Wendy to spot Bill’s walk-on cameo at the phone booth. Heck, phone booths are practically extinct these days, thanks to cellphones! I agree with you wholeheartedly that ROSEMARY’S BABY wouldn’t be a classic today without William’s imprint! And yes, one can only imagine what Alfred Hitchcock would have done with the film, considering the big differences between Castle’s and Polanski’s movie methods. BRAVA and all kinds of huzzahs to you, not only for this stunning article, but for all the blogs and hard work you’ve done for these articles and the stunning job you and Terri have dong with this entire Blogathon!

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    1. Dori my friend- You have no idea how happy I was when not only you but hubby Vinnie agreed to join us for the William Castle Blogathon. I knew you’d both bring something special to the table. As everything that happens at Tales of the Easily Distracted is always an enjoyable romp through funny asides, and enlightening back story that you just don’t get from every blog. I appreciate the kind words about my piece on Rosemary’s Baby. When I watched it’s screening at The Film Forum recently, it hadn’t lost it’s powerful effect on me. It’s a perfect film that transcends a genre label. And I just can’t help feeling that William Castle is owed recognition for having brought it to life. It was a kick for Wendy and I when he did his Hitchcock walk on scene at the phone booth. And what was so endearing was hearing the whispers in the audience for all the other fans who actually got equally excited to see dear Bill with his fat stogie and brown suit. This event was smashing beyond my dreams. And the amount of enthusiasm and talent that showed up is just remarkable… thanks again for the marvelously entertaining pieces on THE SPIRIT IS WILLING & ZOTZ! -Your pal Joey

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  2. This stupendous, fascinating essay had me riveted to every word. Having just seen ROSEMARY’S BABY weeks ago at the Film Forum (as you did) and having met Terry Castle at the same Film Forum’s ‘William Castle Festival’ two years ago with my entire family, I found myself nodding over and over. I know it broke Castle’s heart to lose the directorial nod, even while staying on as producer, but it nice to learn here that in the end he got some peace of mind, developing a respect and adoration for Polanski’s talent. A back story extraordinaire I’d say!

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    1. Thank you Sam-I have said the same thing about your piece which was sheer poetry. Actually your article about Komeda’s music was musical in itself as your eloquent description of not only his contribution to the powerfully evocative work he did sculpting the aural atmosphere of Rosemary’s Baby but his entire persona and and perspective as a brilliant composer in general. You really contributed something extraordinary with your piece, and I’m so grateful that you got to join us.

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  3. A fantastic finale piece for this wonderful celebration of William Castle! Your respect and adoration for Mr. Castle was clear when you conceived of the idea to do this blogathon but no more so than in this enlightening essay. I thought I knew a goodly amount about Castle until this blogathon. The assortment of informative and entertaining features blew me away!

    Shine on you crazy diamond!
    GG!

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    1. Hey there “the friend I wish I had growing up” tormented by all the normal mean kids who called me MonsterGirl. I’m glad I made you proud. I found myself growing even more endeared to the man whom I loved for years as well-as we all dove in and uncovered such fascinating and impressive things about William Castle’s life and career. I often found myself resisting words like huckster or schlock though he himself was a showman and loved the superlatives. Beyond the ballyhoo and bells and whistles was a very caring, thoughtful and lovable man who just wanted to entertain the masses. Not just teenage boys. Had he been given the chance to sink his teeth into some of the brilliant property he seemed to have an eye for, perhaps he would have honed his craft sooner and done some marvelous things. I think he had it in him. Within all the sensationally cheesy gimmickry amidst his earlier b horror films were some of the most powerfully framed moments of psychological horror. I’m so glad that you were by my side through this. You brought a sense of authentic passion and style that truly made the event something special…We need that traveling carnvial/waxmuseum cabaret drive-in theatre already. Think of the possibilities-

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  4. Wow – this is a fascinating story that would make a good movie in itself. I always like reading about Hollywood folk who have great respect for each other & was happy to see the respect Polanski and Castle had.

    Thanks for providing interesting background info on this iconic film.

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