Next Sunday is the premiere of NBC’s Rosemary’s Baby miniseries, a reimagination of the 1967 novel and 1968 film by the same name.
Without giving too much away, the story revolves around Rosemary (Zoe Saldana in the NBC show), who believes her husband made a pact with witchcraft-practicing neighbors, the Castavets, to trade his baby for success in his floundering acting career. As her pregnancy progresses, Rosemary becomes increasingly paranoid.
From NBC, “Rosemary’s quizzical nature leads her to investigate the building and its past residents. She uncovers a dark past and realizes who Roman Castevet truly is. But is it too late? Are the Castavets’ perceived sinister motives legitimate or all in the pregnancy brain of Rosemary?”
As millions of readers and viewers have known for the better part of the last 50 years, Rosemary’s journey makes for one spoooooky story. But, is Rosemary’s Baby based on a true story? The answer is a bit complicated — and proves that truth is really stranger than fiction.
Rosemary’s Baby was originally penned by Ira Levin, a New York City-based novelist who also wrote The Stepford Wives. In a 2003 afterword for the New American Library edition of Rosemary’s Baby, Ira said he was simply “struck one day by the thought that a fetus could be an effective horror.” After researching witchcraft, he set about writing the book.
Although Ira didn’t specifically mention any situations that inspired his novel, there are several similarities between Rosemary’s story and the story of the Devil Baby of Hull House. That urban legend originated in Chicago in the early 1900s at the Hull House, which was founded by social worker extraordinaire Jane Addams. In the story, a Catholic woman hung a picture of the Virgin Mary in her home. Her atheist husband grew enraged and tore the image down, proclaiming he would sooner have a devil child than Christian iconography in his home. When the couple later had their first child, the baby was born with pointed ears, horns and a tail. The desperate parents took the baby to the Hull House, where they tried to baptize the spawn. After the baby fought back, it was reportedly locked in the attic until its death. (Jane Addam’s adamantly denied this story.)
This picture from the Hull House supposedly shows a ghost on the stairs. The historic building is regarded as one of the most haunted in Chicago.
In 1968, director Roman Polanski adapted Rosemary’s Baby for Paramount Pictures. Author Ira Levin later applauded the film, calling it “possibly the most faithful film adaptation ever made.”
The greater story of Rosemary’s Baby took an incredibly tragic turn in 1969 when Roman Polanski’s 8-months-pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in her home by Charles Manson’s followers.
Although Sharon’s death obviously didn’t inspire the book or movie, it sent existing talks about the “curse” of Rosemary’s Baby to fever-pitch levels. In addition to Sharon’s murder, the film’s composer suffered a fatal blood clot one year after the movie, which was the same demise as a character in the story. Producer William Castle experienced kidney failure and reportedly blamed it on the film being cursed. Even John Lennon, who wasn’t connected to the movie, got tied into the “curse” when he was murdered outside of the building where major scenes were filmed.
Ira Levin died in 2007, taking with him the truth about just how much of Rosemary’s Baby is inspired by other stories. It is, however, known that Ira’s tale inspired dozens of other horror stories. Shortly before his death, he actually said he regrets contributing to this trend.
“The success of Rosemary’s Baby inspired Exorcists and Omens and lots of et ceteras. Two generations of youngsters have grown to adulthood watching depictions of Satan as a living reality,” he said in his 2003 afterword. “Here’s what I worry about now: If I hadn’t pursued an idea for a suspense novel almost 40 years ago, would there be quite as many religious fundamentalists around today?”
The first half of the two-part Rosemary’s Baby miniseries premieres on NBC on Sunday, May 11 at 9/8c.