Rosemary’s Baby is a film that is famous for reasons that extend beyond what Polanski captured on celluloid. The production was tumultuous in many ways. Frank Sinatra served Mia Farrow divorce papers on set, upset with her decision to continue her acting career after marrying him. Polanski and Paramount producer Robert Evans had to convince her to remain a part of the cast. Polanski and John Cassavetes reportedly clashed on set over Cassavetes’s insistence that he be allowed to improvise. A director himself, Cassavetes apparently felt hamstrung by Polansk’s more rigid, controlling directorial style.
The film is also notorious for reintroducing Satanism into the public consciousness. Late in his career, Ira Levin expressed regret that his 1967 novel led to such a resurgence of interest in the topic, which generated big-budget Hollywood films like The Exorcist (1972) and The Omen (1976), as well as a host of low-budget rip-offs. The idea that a hidden conspiracy of witches or Satanists could exist in modern America stirred the imagination of the public, and prefigured the “Satanic panic” of the 1980s, in which a wave of accusations of Satanic child abuse rocked primary schools and nurseries across the United States.
The fact that members belonging to Charles Manson’s cult ritualistically murdered Polanski’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate a year after the film’s release only deepened the mythology surrounding it. Apocryphal reports also circulated that Polanski had real-life Satanist Anton LaVey don the beast costume and perform the role of Satan during Rosemary’s rape scene. The murder of John Lennon on the steps of The Dakota in the early 1980s also eerily paralleled the film’s plot, happening in the very place where a mob is said to have murdered Adrian Marcato. For all these reasons, Rosemary’s Baby is bound up with the countercultural mythology of the 1960s, including Charles Manson, Helter Skelter, and The Beatles, reflecting a surreal, evil vision as the underside of the hope and optimism of the “Free Love” era.