The story of an unsuspecting woman falling victim to a cabal of Satanists is among the most haunting films ever made, but the deaths and strange occurrences surrounding its production might be even scarier than the movie itself. The supposed curse of ROSEMARY’S BABY affected the film’s producer, composer, and director, with each suffering a unique horror soon after the completion of the movie.
ROSEMARY’S BABY begins with B-movie director/promoter William Castle. Throughout the 50s, Castle directed cheap horror flicks, but his real genius was promotion. Castle hocked second-rate fright flicks with first-rate gimmicks like buzzing theater seats, in-theater nurses, and life insurance policies in case audience members died of fright.
Castle’s P.T. Barnum routine made him a ton of money, but by the mid 1960s, he’d grown tired of flim-flam: Cheap gimmicks couldn’t get Castle the one thing he wanted most: Respect. So Castle acquired the film rights to ROSEMARY’S BABY, Ira Levin’s as-yet-unpublished novel, with plans to direct a prestige movie that would make money without anyone having to throw plastic skeletons at the audience.
Castle’s original plan to direct the movie fell through (thankfully), and the job was given to highbrow young filmmaker Roman Polanski. Castle settled for producing ROSEMARY’S BABY as well as appearing in a memorable cameo–he’s the impatient guy waiting for the phone booth while Rosemary desperately calls for help.
Despite some production trouble (Star Mia Farrow’s husband, Frank Sinatra, served her divorce papers in front of the entire cast and crew), ROSEMARY’S BABY proved a massive hit. It earned nearly universal critical acclaim and huge box office returns. It was, by far, the most successful thing Castle had ever touched, and even ushered in a slew of second-rate, William Castle-esque imitations like BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW and MARK OF THE DEVIL. But Castle’s newfound respectability came with a price.
It started with letters. According to his autobiography, Step Right Up!: I’m Gonna Scare The Pants Off America, Castle began receiving as many as 50 hateful letters a day, castigating him for his part in making the movie.
“You have unleashed evil on the world,” read a typical missive. “Bastard. Believer of Witchcraft. Worshipper at the Shrine of Satanism. My prediction is you will slowly rot during a long and painful illness which you have brought upon yourself” another said. In spite of his history of fleecing rubes, Castle started to get worried.
“The story of ROSEMARY’S BABY was happening in life,” Castle wrote. “Witches, all of them, were casting their spell, and I was becoming one of the principal players.”
Castle began experiencing excruciating groin pain from a blockage in his urinary tract. Over the course of a few months, his kidney stones recurred again and again, debilitating Castle with each attack. During one of his frequent trips to the emergency room, a delirious Castle is said to have called out, “Rosemary, for God’s sake, drop the knife!”
ROSEMARY’S BABY was receiving Academy Awards, but Castle wasn’t celebrating. He was ruminating about the evil he believed he’d brought into the world. “All my life I had yearned for the applause, approval and recognition of my peers,” Castle wrote. “And when the awards were being passed out, I no longer cared. I was at home, very frightened of ROSEMARY’S BABY.”
Castle lived until 1977, seemingly always burdened with the idea that he brought something terrible into existence… Although a cynic might suggest that the consummate publicity hound knew a good story when he heard one, and played up the “curse” angle in his memoir to further immortalize himself and the movie.
The Death Of Composer Krzysztof Komeda
While Castle was in and out of hospitals with kidney stones, Rosemary’s curse claimed its first life: Composer Krzysztof Komeda. Komeda was a pioneer of European jazz and Polanski’s go-to composer. He crafted ROSEMARY’s eerie score, including penning “Rosemary’s Lullaby,” the unforgettable melody sung in the movie by Mia Farrow. But Komeda would never score a film after ROSEMARY’S BABY. A few months after the film was released, Komeda died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was only 38.
His death may seem like a coincidence, but consider this: Komeda died of the very thing that kills Rosemary’s friend Hutch in the film. Like Hutch’s fictional death, the cause of Komeda’s deadly blood clot is murky. Some say it was caused by a car accident or a skiing mishap. Others report that a friend pushed Komeda down a slope while they were drunk. While any of these mishaps could have been the cause of a deadly hematoma, perhaps Komeda’s blood clot was sent directly from hell to kill the man who created the atmospheric music that helped give ROSEMARY’S BABY its power.
The Manson Connection
If one person bears the most responsibly for ROSEMARY’S BABY, it’s director Roman Polanski. From the carefully constructed, dread-building suspense to the Grand Guignol payoff, the film was all Polanski. It could have been called Roman’s Baby. Maybe that’s why Polanski’s victimization was the most grotesque. Kidney stones and blood clots are bad, but Polanski’s fate was worse than death. He was cursed with getting everything he always wanted and then having it suddenly ripped away.
After the massive success of ROSEMARY’S BABY, the director’s rise was meteoric. He couldn’t have asked for a more perfect life if he had sold his soul. Polanski had his choice of huge film projects, he spent his free time jetting to impossibly glamorous destinations all over the world, and he married actress Sharon Tate, regarded by many as the most beautiful woman alive.
Polanski originally wanted Tate to play the lead role in ROSEMARY’S BABY, but instead, she appears as an uncredited extra in the party scene. Not that Tate needed extra-work: She was an up-and-coming star in her own right. Her roles included a witch in EYE OF THE DEVIL and the lead in Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS.
On August 9, 1969, ROSEMARY’S BABY was still playing in theaters, and Tate and three of her high-class friends were enjoying a dinner party at the Benedict Canyon house she shared with Polanski. Tate, eight-months pregnant, was entertaining hairdresser-to-the-stars Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Katie Folger, and screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski. Polanski was out of the country, an ocean away from the horrors about to befall the love of his life.
Shortly after midnight, Tex Watson and a gaggle of drug-fueled hippy chicks pulled up to Tate and Polanski’s house at 10050 Cielo Drive. Their personal messiah Charles Manson had ordered them to “do something witchy,” and the gang of maniacs was about to make Charlie proud.
Tex and company crawled through the dark yard, silently cut the mansion’s phone lines, and burst into the house. “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business,” Watson announced to the terrified heiresses and celebrities. Then the Manson Gang set to their terrible work.
In all, the four victims were stabbed 102 times. Tate was the last to die. According to the Mansons, her last moments were spent pleading for her unborn child’s life and calling for her mother. Manson girl Susan Atkins, once a follower of famous Satanist Anton LaVey, stabbed Tate to death, drank her blood, and used it to scrawl “PIG” on the walls of the mansion.
No one (but Manson himself) is certain why the group chose this particular house on this particular night to begin their murder spree. They may have been targeting a record company executive and Manson acquaintance that used to live at the address. Or there may have been some dark unseen hand guiding the group from their desert lair outside Chatsworth to Tate and Polanski’s front door. Some have even suggested that Polanski’s Hollywood fame was a result of a deal he made with a coven of occultists, much like Guy in ROSEMARY’S BABY. Manson’s family, the theory goes, was only collecting the debt.
According to Manson, himself, the family’s ultimate motivation was to foment a race war by pinning random murders on The Black Panthers. Satan didn’t really figure into it. Charlie says they got the idea from hidden messages contained in The Beatles’ White Album. Which brings us to…
The John Lennon Connection
Realistically, The Beatles probably weren’t using The White Album to send murder messages to Charlie Manson as part of a devil-curse spawned by William Castle and Roman Polanski, but there are some interesting connections between the tragic death of Beatle John Lennon and ROSEMARY’S BABY.
Internet “researchers” have suggested that the lyrics of Lennon’s “Imagine” are directly related to Satanism, and that the song’s admonition to imagine a world without religion isn’t a trite “co-exist” bromide, but is instead a call to blasphemy. This rejection of God put the ex-Beatle in the crosshairs of whatever is supposed to be behind the curse, or so the theory goes.
Even for a conspiracy theory, most of the “Lennon/Rosemary’s Baby” evidence is spotty: Lennon was friends with actress Mia Farrow and Roman Polanski. The cover of the Imagine album bears a passing resemblance to some of the promotional artwork used for ROSEMARY’S BABY. There’s some strained “the ‘Imagine’ release date adds up to 666!” nonsense too, but the most solid connection is The Dakota Building.
Built in 1884, New York’s distinctive, gothic-looking Dakota was the shooting location of ROSEMARY’S BABY, although it was renamed “The Bramford” for the movie. In real life, John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived in an apartment at the Dakota until a crazed fan met Lennon outside the Dakota in 1980. Much like Manson and his family, Mark David Chapman was motivated by insanity and a work of art. Chapman wasn’t obsessed with ROSEMARY’S BABY or Meet the Beatles, though. He was taking his marching orders from always-popular-with-weird-psychoses novel Catcher in the Rye… and Satan, of course, the thread that runs through this entire narrative.
According to evangelist Richard Ciarrocca, Chapman psyched himself up for his crime like this: Alone in my apartment back in Honolulu, I would strip naked and put on Beatles records and pray to Satan to give me the strength. I prayed for demons to enter my body to give me the power to kill.”
Whether it was Satan, JD Salinger, or a chemical crossfire in the brain, Chapman shot Lennon to death in nearly the same spot ROSEMARY’S BABY was filmed, leaving him as perhaps the final victim of the supposed curse.
This post was written by Nadia Vella