Rosemary’s Baby (1969): Polanski’s Horror Thriller, Starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, and Ruth Gordon in Oscar-Winning Turn

Roman Polanski’s brilliant horror thriller tale was nominated for two Oscars, winning one, Supporting Actress for Ruth Gordon.

Polanski adapated to the screen (also as a writer) Ira levin’s popular novel about witchcraft in modern-fay Manhattan.  Well cast, Mia Farrow plays the fragie wife, Rosemary, of John Cassavetes, a young, striving actor who will do anything to advance his fledgling career.

The young couple moves into an old, lush apartment house, where their neighbors are a nosy elderly couple (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer).  After Rosemary gets pregnant, she begins to suspect that something strange, even diabolical is going on–and she turns out to right.

Supremely mounted, the film benefits from Polanski’s sharp narrative and technical skills, and from polished production values by cinematographer William Fraker and production designer Richard Sylbert.  There is ominous tension in the film from first frame to last, and the material proves to be ideal for Polanski’s dark sensibility and talent.

The superb supporting cast includes Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Charles Grodin

The commercial success of “Rosemary’s Baby” led to countless imitators, all pale compared to the original.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Screenplay (Adapted): Roman Polnaski

Supporting Actress: Ruth Gordon

Oscar Awards: 1

Supporting Actress

Oscar Context:

The winning of the Adapted Screenplay Oscar was James Goldman for the historical epic, “The Lion in Winter,” which was also nominated for Best picture and other awards.

About Ruth Gordon

Ruth Gordon’s winning age, seventy-two, was encouraging, suggesting the career opportunities available to supporting players when they reach older age. Though a late bloomer in film, Gordon was an accomplished stage actress. After a few appearances in silent movies and one substantial role, as Mary Todd Lincoln in “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” (1940), Gordon dedicated herself almost exclusively to the theater.

In 1965, however, Gordon made an impressive comeback, as Natalie Wood’s demented mother in “Inside Daisy Clover,” for which she earned her first supporting nomination.

Three years later, Gordon won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her delicious portrait of a modern Manhattan witch in “Rosemary’s Baby.”

“Well, I can’t tell you how encouraging a thing like that is!” enthused Gordon. “The first money I ever earned was as an extra in 1915, and here it is 1969.”

Gordon’s husband-writer Garson Kanin, with whom she collaborated on many Oscar-nominated screenplays (“Adam’s Rib,” “Pat and Mike,” both directed by George Cukor), responded similarly: “Suddenly, Hollywood discovered Ruth. It’s only taken them fifty years.”

Among the many congratulatory cables Gordon received was one from Mary Pickford, her old colleague and friend, and one of the first Oscar-winners. It simply said: “Dear Ruth, why did you take so long”

Gordon saw in her Oscar not only a tribute to past attainments, but also a prelude to a new career. And it was. For the next fifteen years, up to her death at the age of eightyeight, Gordon worked nonstop, delivering some of her most vivid performances, including a memorable turn in the cult film “Harold and Maude,” and in Clint Eastwood’s “Any Which Way You Can.”

Ruth Gordon’s Oscar Nomination

1965: Inside Daisy Glover
1968: Rosemary’s Baby

In 1965, Gordon lost the Supporting Oscar to Shelley Winter in “A Patch of Blue.”