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Novelist, playwright Levin dies

Best-selling writer Ira Levin's  novels included
Best-selling writer Ira Levin's novels included "Rosemary's Baby," "The Boys From Brazil" and "The Stepford Wives." Associated Press (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

Ira Levin, who gave the devil his due in “Rosemary’s Baby,” created an archetype in “The Stepford Wives” and brought a notorious Nazi to fiction in “The Boys From Brazil,” has died. He was 78.

Levin, a novelist, playwright and screenwriter, died Monday of a heart attack in his New York City apartment, according to his agent, Phyllis Westberg.

When “Rosemary’s Baby” came out in 1967, it helped change the publishing landscape. Set in New York, the novel concerned a young wife in the grips of satanic cultists who wanted her to give birth to the devil’s baby with the hope that he might overcome the influence of God’s son, Christ.

Rosemary, a lapsed Catholic, believes she may be hallucinating out of religious guilt. But the devil-worshippers are there, and – as it has been repeatedly observed – the book is the ultimate in paranoid fiction.

The novel, which has sold more than 5 million copies, and the subsequent movie adaptation directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow, opened the floodgates for imaginative touches of evil in the book trade and led to such popular fare by other writers as “The Exorcist,” “The Omen” and “Carrie.”

Levin’s next notable success came with “The Stepford Wives” (1972), the tale of a suburban Connecticut town full of beautiful housewives who mysteriously turn from independent-minded women into obedient, husband-worshipping zombies.

Hollywood snapped it up and filmed it twice, in 1975 starring Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss and again in 2004 with Nicole Kidman and Bette Midler. There also were made-for-television sequels.

His next major success, “The Boys From Brazil,” (1976) offered the tale of a Nazi underground in South America led by the infamous Josef Mengele, the real-life Nazi doctor who performed heinous experiments on children at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland during World War II.

The son of a toy manufacturer, Levin was born in New York City and wanted to become a writer since he was a teenager. He studied at Drake University in Iowa before transferring to New York University.

His debut novel, the murder mystery “A Kiss Before Dying,” was published in 1953. The book received excellent reviews and won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America as the best first novel of 1953.

Levin would not hit the bestseller lists again until 1967 with “Rosemary’s Baby,” which sold 2.3 million copies by the time the movie came out the next year.


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