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Levin, Ira


LEVIN, IRA (1929– ), U.S. author. Born in the Bronx and raised in Manhattan, Levin earned two bachelor's degrees from New York University in 1950, one in English and one in philosophy. Although his father wanted him to join the family's toy business, Levin opted to try writing for two years, with the proviso that if he failed he would work with his father. He never did. He sold his first script to the National Broadcasting Corporation for its Lights Out television drama. His first book, A Kiss Before Dying (1952), won the Edgar Allan Poe award from the Mystery Writers of America as the year's best first mystery. It was filmed first in 1956 and then in 1991. In 1953 Levin was drafted into the army. He served with the Signal Corps but he still managed to work as a writer, producing training films for troops. While he continued to write for television, he won the assignment to adapt the comic novel No Time for Sergeants, about a hillbilly inducted into the military, for the Broadway stage. It ran for 796 performances. Levin's second novel, published in 1967, was his most famous work, Rosemary's Baby. In it, an apparently average couple find new friends among devil-worshippers. The book sold more than five million paperback copies in the United States alone and was translated into many languages. The film, starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, was a tremendous commercial success. The screenplay was adapted by Roman *Polanski, who won an Academy Award for this horrifying tale of Satanism and the occult. Rosemary's Baby is credited with being a turning point in horror fiction, as books and movies dealing with the occult suddenly came into vogue. Levin's next book was This Perfect Day. It met with mixed reviews, but then came The Stepford Wives (1972). Levin was living then in Wilton, Conn., a suburb of New York, and he wrote the book while going through a divorce. The book, about a small town where men have had enough of women's liberation, is sometimes viewed as a male antidote to the then burgeoning feminist movement. It was filmed twice and made into sequels for television. The idea of women as robots doing men's bidding touched a nerve in the American psyche and spawned a number of sequels and offshoots, and the word "Stepford" entered the common vocabulary, meaning anyone who allowed his role in society to be dictated by someone else. While Levin had a few plays that were unsuccessful, like the musical Drat! The Cat (which included the hit song "She Touched Me," written by Levin), this was not the end of his writing career. Levin turned in 1972 to The Boys from Brazil. In it Hitler has been cloned, and the Fourth Reich is on its way. Levin wrote about Josef Mengele attempting to create an army of Hitler clones. It was made into a gripping film, with Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and James Mason. Levin produced the comedy-thriller Deathtrap (1978) for Broadway. It ran for a record-breaking 1,792 performances and was made into a film that starred Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine. In 2004 Levin was honored by the Mystery Writers with its Grand Masters Award.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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