Later photograph of Ira Levin
    Credit: Sanjiro Minamikawa
Bio


COMPACT BIO

The genre-defining works of novelist-playwright Ira Levin (1929-2007) include such indelible titles as Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives, The Boys from Brazil and Deathtrap – the fifth longest-running play in Broadway history. At home in nearly every genre – horror (Rosemary's Baby), crime (Edgar-winning A Kiss Before Dying), science fiction (This Perfect Day), comedy (No Time for Sergeants), even a Broadway musical (Drat! The Cat!) – Levin's enduring works continue to resonate with readers and audiences, acting as iconic cultural and creative touchstones. His official website is IraLevin.org

FULL BIO

Ira Levin was one of the most versatile writers of contemporary times, sustaining two distinct careers – one as a best-selling novelist, the other as a full-tilt Broadway playwright – while also writing in nearly every genre imaginable, from suspense to comedy, horror to science-fiction, fantasy, drama – even musical theater. (Full works index) All while creating some of the most recognized and enduring works of popular culture: Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives, Deathtrap, The Boys from Brazil... and in the process, helping to cultivate multiple emergent sub-genres (modern horror, dark suburbia, young adult dystopia, feminist dystopia/horror...)

His landmark plots suspend disbelief through an eerily palpable sense of reality, achieved through the crafting of wholly-believable worlds and fully-dimensional, empathetically-observed characters (The Stepford Wives), ever-ratcheting tension (Rosemary's Baby), iron-clad plotting (The Boys from Brazil), and uncanny prescience (This Perfect Day). Plus a dash of dark, satirical wit.

“My goal is to entertain. That's what any book or play has to do first. Anything beyond that is fine, but first it must entertain.”

Born in the Bronx, New York in 1929, Ira Levin attended the Horace Mann School and (after a two-year stint at Iowa's Drake University) New York University. While at NYU, a CBS television writing contest got him his first professional credit, and an agent – whereupon he began writing half-hour fantasy/suspense television fare during TV's "golden age."

Fresh out of college, Levin wrote the Edgar Award-winning suspense classic A Kiss Before Dying (set in a fictionalized version of Drake's Des Moines). Just before its publication, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where – while not occupied in the writing of standard-issue training films – he scripted two one-hour teleplays, Notebook Warrior and the breakthrough success No Time For Sergeants. Immediately out of the army, he made his Broadway debut, with his full-length stage treatment of Sergeants.

The many screen adaptations of his books and plays which would follow were already beginning – with 1956's CinemaScope release of A Kiss Before Dying.

Levin spent the next 14 years crafting original full-length stage plays, beginning with his psychological drama Interlock (1958), his urbane comedy Critic's Choice (1960), later filmed starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, his searing military drama General Seeger (1962) and his one musical, Drat! The Cat! (1965) – which yielded the Barbra Streisand standard He Touched Me.

“One of the benchmarks by which I measure a new idea – on the rare occasions when I get one – is, if it really happened would it rate at least a paragraph in the New York Times? I don’t think a writer should ask a reader’s attention for anything less.”

Levin returned to novel writing with a work that would prove no less than culture-defining: 1967's Rosemary's Baby – the book credited with ushering in the era of modern horror that continues to this day. In 1972, The Stepford Wives similarly took its own place in the collective psyche, as both a cultural reference point, and – like Rosemary – a touchstone of social and domestic fiction.

Levin would spend the remainder of his 50+ year career alternating between novels and plays.

On the theatrical front, Levin crafted one of the most enduring works of contemporary theater – 1978's comedy-thriller Deathtrap – the fifth-longest running play in Broadway history, itself serving to usher in a renewed era of metatheatricality.

Levin's other high-profile novels include tech-laden The Boys from Brazil, Sliver, and This Perfect Day – his science-fiction opus that envisions a near-future world shockingly similar to our own. His later theatrical offerings include the mind-bending Veronica's Room, the theatrical revenge comedy Break A Leg, and the seriocomic, semi-musical Cantorial.

“Stepford Wives depicted the backlash against feminism twenty years before Susan Faludi wrote ‘Backlash’.”
—Chuck Palahniuk (Author of Fight Club)

In his novels, as well as his plays, Levin was often first to the table in dealing with themes and subject matter that had previously gone unexamined, or had yet to take shape in the public consciousness: “I’m only intrigued by suspense situations that impinge on society at large as well as the individual characters involved – the backlash against feminism in The Stepford Wives, the computer-controlled society of This Perfect Day, cloning in The Boys from Brazil, and hidden surveillance cameras in Sliver. And of course the Antichrist of Rosemary’s Baby and Son of Rosemary. One of the benchmarks by which I measure a new idea – on the rare occasions when I get one – is, if it really happened would it rate at least a paragraph in the New York Times? I don’t think a writer should ask a reader’s attention for anything less.”

Yet his goal was straightforward: “My goal is to entertain. That's what any book or play has to do first. Anything beyond that is fine, but first it must entertain.” (The Reporter, 1980) – it was not to point-make: “I really in general tend to resent works of art that make a moral point. In a way, when you write something sheerly to entertain, that's making a moral point, too.” (1979, Washington Post)

Levin once likened his work to that of Edward Hopper: “I’ve admired Hopper᾿s work since [...] the early 1950’s – admired it for its clarity, its seeming simplicity, and its mysterious and powerful underlying sense of drama. These are qualities that I’ve sought in much of my writing.”

Indeed, the seemingly effortless nature of Levin's prose has often been misinterpreted. But as colleague Peter Straub (Ghost Story) wrote: “Levin’s prose is clean, precise, and unfussy specifically in order to be as transparent as possible: he wishes to place no verbal static between the words on the page and the events they depict,” adding that his work “...resembles a bird in flight, a haiku, a Chinese calligrapher’s brushstroke. With no wasted motion, it gets precisely where it wants to go.”

Levin received a 1978 Best Play Tony Award nomination for Deathtrap, and was the recipient of multiple Edgar Awards – including 2003's lifetime achievement Grand Master award, as well as an additional lifetime achievement award from the Horror Writers Association. He was a Councilmember of the Dramatists Guild for thirty years, during which time he served as a Tony Awards voter.

Ira Levin died in New York in 2007, at the age of 78.

–IraLevin.org

EXTERNAL LINKS
  • Ira Levin on the Internet Broadway Database (IBDB)
  • Ira Levin on the Internet Off-Broadway Database (IOBDB)
  • Ira Levin on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB)
       (We make no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of external sites)