Ira Levin Dies at 78

Best-selling writer Ira Levin, whose novels included the occult-horror classic Rosemary's Baby, the Nazi thriller The Boys From Brazil and the satirical fantasy The Stepford Wives, has died, his agent said Tuesday. He was 78.

The 78-year-old Levin, who also wrote for television and Broadway during his long career, passed away in his Manhattan apartment on Monday, agent Phyllis Westberg said.

Levin, long before authors like Stephen King routinely had their books turned into movies, watched his novels move inexorably to the big screen. Besides Rosemary's Baby with Farrow and The Boys From Brazil with Olivier, Levin's novels The Stepford Wives,Sliver and A Kiss Before Dying all received the Hollywood treatment.

His long-running 1978 play Deathtrap was also made into a Sidney Lumet-directed film, starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.

Levin's page-turning books were once compared by Newsweek writer Peter S. Frescott to a bag of popcorn: "Utterly without nutritive value and probably fattening, yet there's no way to stop once you've started."

Born in the Bronx, Levin's father was hopeful his son would follow him into the family toy business. But by age 15, Levin determined that he wanted a career in writing; in his senior year of college, Levin won the $200 second place prize in an NBC-sponsored screenplay-writing competition and launched his career.

Levin worked as a television writer before finishing his first novel, A Kiss Before Dying, a murder mystery that was an instant success. His debut won the Edgar Allan Poe Award as the best first novel of 1953, and it was twice turned into a movie — first in 1956, and again in 1991.

It wasn't until 14 years after his first book that Levin completed his second novel, Rosemary's Baby, the creepy tale of a New York couple in the clutch of Satanists who want the young wife to bear Satan's child.

The Stepford Wives was Levin's satirical tale of a suburban town where the spouses were converted into subservient robots, while The Boys From Brazil detailed a South American underground where the infamous Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele tried to clone Adolf Hitler.

The idea for the latter book came from a newspaper article on cloning, which suggested Hitler and Mozart as examples of the disparate possibilities for the new technology.

In 1991, Levin wrote a thriller set in a Manhattan high-rise apartment building: Sliver, which became a movie starring Sharon Stone.

Besides Deathtrap, Levin also wrote the Broadway adaptation of No Time For Sergeants. The 1955 show, which launched the career of actor Andy Griffith, ran for more than 700 performances. He wrote several other less successful plays, including Drat! That Cat! which closed after a week in 1966.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete. Levin is survived by three sons and three grandsons, Westberg said.

Source: AP