By: H. B. Gardner
If you are reading this, you certainly already know Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, and Minnie and Roman Castevet. Perhaps you even remember Dr. Sapirstein from ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. If you don’t, then please be aware that this article contains spoilers!
We admit, it takes a special kind of obsessive fan to bother with secondary characters in a film or book, even one as important as ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ Most of these characters are mentioned in passing – by name only – in the novel; but they are practically complete strangers to us in the film! Very few of these actors are even mentioned in the film’s credits! Some are rather well-known character actors, others are more obscure. It took a studied re-reading of the novel, a close viewing of a few choice scenes of the film, and some obsessive horror geek research on the internet, but we have managed to identify all of the witches in Minnie and Roman Castevet’s coven. It is our own fascination with the book and film that compels us to look for The Devil in the Details!
There is a kind of surreal banality to these characters; they seem just like anybody else you could meet on any given day. We feel like we met some of these people in our neighborhood where we grew up, at a family gathering, or at our parent’s church. Maybe a few of these women were in our mother’s Bible study group! It could be this sense of unfamiliar familiarity with them that so disturbs and intrigues us.
As pointed out by author Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke) in an introduction to a 2011 edition of this diabolical classic, the horror of Rosemary’s Baby comes from the idea that “The Enemy Is Everyone.” This is a point that becomes more and more clear as the plot unfolds. One disturbing scene in the story is when, after locking herself within the apartment she shares with her husband, the very pregnant Rosemary is suddenly accosted by what we have come to suspect are a coven of witches – who also just happen to be her acquaintances and neighbors. They almost quite literally come crawling out of the woodwork! To have your home invaded by a conspiratorial cadre of Diabolists offering reassurances that they are your friends and are only there to help when you are at your most vulnerable is truly terrifying. How in the hell did they get in? she must be wondering.
It was a stroke of director Roman Polanski’s genius to cast the coven members based primarily on their looks above any other considerations. The director is said to have sketched out the old Hollywood types he wanted for these roles in order for casting to do their job. Most of these character actors and actresses spent years on stage and / or are ubiquitous background faces in film and television. In this way, they somehow seem hauntingly familiar…
Mr.Micklas (novel), or Mr.Nicklas (film) is the very first resident of the Bramford we meet. Played by Elisha Cook Jr. (December 26, 1903 – May 18, 1995). We know he lives there as a kind of superintendent or manager because he not only shows the apartment to Rosemary and Guy but he appears at the scene of Terry’s suicide wearing striped pajamas under a trench coat. He presumably grants the police access to the Castevet’s apartment to inspect the scene where Terry’s suicide note was found (“stuck to the windowsill with a band-aid”).
It is doubtful however that he is a member of the coven. He never appears at any of the gatherings in the Castevet’s apartment in either the novel or the film. In the novel he has fingers missing from both hands. In the film he keeps his fingers in odd positions. We just don’t know about him. Polanski manages to unnerve us right from the start.
Elisha Cook Jr. is well known as a Hollywood character actor, appearing in many films and on TV, most famously for his role in The Maltese Falcon. He appeared in a number of horror genre films like Voodoo Island 1957 with Boris Karloff, House on Haunted Hill 1959 with Vincent Price, Blacula 1972, Messiah of Evil 1979, and ‘Salem’s Lot 1979. He has, as do some other actors listed here, a Wikipedia page.
The ubiquitous Mr Cook…
Mrs Gardenia We never see her. We are, like the voyeuristic eye of Polanski’s lens, snooping through the dwelling place and belongings of a recently deceased 89 year old woman (“one of the first women lawyers in the state.” as Mr Nicklas informs us). She did a little gardening – herbs mostly (wink) – in her shadowy apartment. And what about that unfinished letter glimpsed on poor old Mrs.Gardenia’s desk?
Who or What could she no longer associate herself with? She probably wasn’t the first (and we know she’s not the last) person in the story to mysteriously fall into a coma and die.
Laura-Louise McBurney “lives up on 12” (12-F to be novel-precise) in a “small dark tannis-smelling apartment.” In the novel, the character Laura-Louise bakes cookies, reads Reader’s Digest with a magnifying glass, and is knitting a pair of “shaped-all-wrong booties” for Rosemary’s baby (for cloven hooves, we imagine ). Don’t be fooled by her friendly demeanor! She threatens to kill, “milk or no milk!”
Here is a link to a great article By Michael Koresky about Patsy Kelly’s performance as Laura-Louise, “The Witch Upstairs”: Patsy Kelly in Rosemary’s Baby
Patsy Kelly (January 12, 1910 – September 24, 1981) was an American stage, radio, film and television actress who began her career in vaudeville as a dancer at the age of 12. She appeared in film through the ’30’s and 40’s but was shunned by Hollywood for 17 years because of her being “out of the closet” at a time when that sort of thing was just not acceptable.
At a time when being openly gay was not socially acceptable, Kelly was open about her sexuality. On occasion she would frankly disclose, in public and with typical candor, to being a “dyke”. During the 1930s, she disclosed to Motion Picture magazine that she had been living with actress Wilma Cox for several years and had no intention of getting married. She later claimed she had an affair with Tallulah Bankhead when she worked as Bankhead’s personal assistant.
Dr.Shand “He used to be a famous dentist.” He is introduced to us this way by Minnie Castevet at her and Roman’s New Year’s Evil party. He made the chain for the Tannis charm the Castevets give to Rosemary. Guy says Dr.Shand also happens to play the recorder (how does he know it’s not a flute or clarinet?). In the film Dr.Shand is the one driving the car when Guy and Dr.Sapirstein arrive to take Rosemary away from Dr.Hill’s office (in the novel it’s Mr.Gilmore behind the wheel).
Phil Leeds (April 6, 1916 – August 16, 1998) was an American character actor.
Leeds was born on April 6, 1916, in New York City, the son of a post office clerk. He started his career as a standup comedian and then went on to appear in many films and sitcoms including Beaches, All In The Family, Three’s Company, Night Court, Wings, Ally McBeal, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Larry Sanders Show, and almost yearly appearances on Barney Miller; as well as making guest appearances on Car 54, Where Are You?, The Patty Duke Show, The Monkees, The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Friends, Mad About You, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Golden Girls.
Leeds was blacklisted during the McCarthy era after pleading the fifth when examined by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The man was a part of a modern American witch-hunt!
At age 80, he appeared on an episode of Roseanne – Season 9 Episode 7: Satan, Darling (First Aired: October 29, 1996) – in which Roseanne finds herself drawn into a creepy ’90s version of Rosemary’s Baby in a crossover with the ladies from Absolutely Fabulous. Ernest Harada (see below) also reprised his role as a photographer in this episode. Leeds also memorably appeared as a friendly spirit in the 1990 film Ghost. His final role was a brief scene in Lost & Found (1999).
Mr.Wees is the first person to “Hail Satan!”in the climactic scene of both the novel and the film version of Rosemary’s Baby. Mr.Wees was performed by Walter Baldwin (January 2, 1889 − January 27, 1977). Mr Baldwin was a prolific character actor whose career spanned five decades and 150 film and television roles, and numerous stage performances. He acted in films like The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) but was probably best known for playing the father of the handicapped sailor in ‘The Best Years of Our Lives‘ (1946). He was the first actor to portray “Floyd the Barber” on The Andy Griffith Show. He also played the husband of a housekeeper who succumbs to the evil machinations of Boris Karloff’s mad scientist in ‘The Devil Commands’ 1941.
Walter Baldwin was featured in a lot of John Deere Day Movies from 1949-59 where he played the farmer Tom Gordon. In this series of Deere Day movies over a decade he helped to introduce many new pieces of John Deere farm equipment year-by-year.
Mrs.Helen Wees is one of those neighbors (in the gray dress) who creeps into the bedroom before Rosemary goes into labor, saying: “We’re your friends Rosemary,” in a sweet melodic voice. During the frenzied struggle in the bedroom she picks up the phone off the floor to set it back in it’s cradle beside the bed. She is the first person to see Rosemary enter the Castevet’s apartment in the film’s climactic scene. In the novel she is the first witch to say “Hail Rosemary.”
Portrayed by Patricia O’Neal (born 1911, married 1940 aged 29–died 1996?) – mother of actor Ryan O’Neal, grandmother of actress and author Tatum O’Neal. NOT to be confused with actress Patricia Neal! She appears in a couple of her son’s movies in the 1970’s. She is a woman on an airplane in the final scene of 1972’s Barbara Streisand vehicle What’s Up, Doc?
Ryan O’Neal’s character was a love interest of Mia Farrow’s character on TV’s Peyton Place… Coincidence? We know Polanski used Tony Curtis as the voice of Donald Baumgart over the telephone to elicit an anxious response from Mia Farrow. Did Farrow have a passing acquaintance with Ryan O’Neal’s mother?
Mrs.Leah Fountain was portrayed by operatic actress and singer Charlotte Boerner (dates uncertain). Mrs.Fountain is the witch in a soft rose colored dress who, in a flawless theatrical move, snatches the handkerchief from Mr.Gilmore’s jacket pocket to stuff it in Rosemary’s mouth during the frenzied struggle on the bed. In the novel, Rosemary drugs Leah’s coffee and is then able to sneak out of her room to enter the Castevet’s apartment through the secret passage to find her baby.
The actress Charlotte Boerner was normally active – Boerning up, shall we say? – on stage, she only appeared rarely in front of the camera. She was an accomplished opera soprano in her day. The link below will give you a sample of Soprano Charlotte Boerner singing Vissi d’arte (Love and Music) from Tosca in German.
Charlotte Boerner… back in the day.
Her first movie was “Die Stimme der Liebe” (’34) where she played the role of the empress. She only continued her film career many years later in the USA where she impersonated several smaller parts.
Besides “Rosemary’s Baby” she was also in an episode of the serial “Family Affair: A Waltz from Vienna” (’68), George Cukor’s “Justine” (’69) with Anouk Aimée, Dirk Bogarde and Robert Forster and “Wake Me When the War Is Over” (’69) with Eva Gabor, Ken Berry and Jim Backus.
Mr.”Clare” (Clarence?) Fountain Was portrayed by actor Robert Osterloh. It’s not easy to really get a good look at his face in the movie but he’s visable in a couple of still photographs at the top of this article. When Rosemary is on the phone, just before the witches come pouring into the room, we see Bruno Sidar as Mr.Gilmore (in black suit) and Osterloh (in pinstriped jacket) sneaking past the doorway just over her shoulder. He might be in the background of the New Year’s Eve party in the same jacket. His character can be seen sitting to the left of Laura Louise as Rosemary enters the final scene where, in the novel, he actually fears (or, hopes?) that Rosemary murdered his wife Leah.
Osterloh (May 31, 1918 – April 16, 2001) was active mainly in the 1950s, playing roles in films such as Illegal Entry (1949), White Heat (1949) (as a gangster killed by gang boss James Cagney), 1951: The Day The Earth Stood Still – as Major White (uncredited). One Minute to Zero (1952), Star in the Dust (1956) and I Bury the Living (1958). In the 1960s, however, he appeared in only a few films such as Young Dillinger (1965) and his last film, Coogan’s Bluff (1968). During this time he also played roles in several TV series such as Bonanza (in several episodes of 1959), and The Untouchables in a 1961 episode.
Mr.Gilmore appears to have been portrayed by a mysterious man named Bruno Sidar, about which we have not been able to find any information. At the Castevet’s New Year’s Eve party (in the film) he makes a strange comment when handing champagne to Rosemary and Dr.Sapirstein. As he hands Rosemary a glass he says “Happy New Year;” then he turns to Dr. Sapirstein and says “Have a good (finger to lips in silence gesture) year.” Very mysterious Mr.Gilmore; what’s your story?
Mrs.Florence Gilmore was portrayed by character actress Hope Summers (June 7, 1896 – June 22, 1979), known for her work on CBS’s The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD, portraying Clara Edwards. You can find her Wikipedia page.
Quotes from the film: “There’s nothing to be afraid of Rosemary. Honest and truly there isn’t.”
“Rosemary, go back to bed. You know you’re not supposed to be up and around.”
A very conspicuous character who appears in the final scene in the book and film is a young Japanese photographer. He asks “Is the mother?” when Rosemary makes her appearance just before the climax.
Called Hayato by Minnie Castevet in the novel, he eagerly snaps photos of the tormented Madonna and child. One wonders how this character ended up as the lucky one to photo-document the event.
Portrayed by actor, singer and Broadway performer Ernest Harada (born October 20, 1944). His first film was an uncredited role as Lyon’s houseboy in Valley of the Dolls (1967). He is also known for his work in such films as: The Devil and Max Devlin (1981), Blue Thunder (1983), Dreamscape (1984), The Woman in Red (1984), Volunteers (1985) Blind Date (1987), Wicked Stepmother (1989), and as a coroner in 1992’s Death Becomes Her.
Mr Harada was also part of the 1976 Original Broadway Cast Recording of ‘Pacific Overtures’ – a musical written by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman. The show is set in Japan beginning in 1853 and follows the difficult Westernization of Japan, told from the point of view of the Japanese. Click on the link below to see a video of the Original Broadway Cast, 1976, Starring Mako (who you may recognize as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian‘s Wizard friend). An all male cast for this song, with the fabulous Ernest Harada as the Madam, singing ‘Welcome to Kanagawa’.
Along with other numerous appearances on TV (Mannix, Ironside, Charlie’s Angels, Magnum P.I., Knots Landing, to list a few), Mr Harada also reprised his role as a Devil-baby-photographer when he appeared on an episode of Roseanne – Season 9 Episode 7: Satan, Darling (First Aired: October 29, 1996) – in which Roseanne finds herself drawn into a creepy ’90s version of Rosemary’s Baby in a crossover with the ladies from Absolutely Fabulous. Phil Leeds who played Dr Shand in the film also appeared in that episode.
Click on the link below to read our Devil in the Details interview with Mr Ernest Harada!
The novel ends with the line: “The Japanese slipped forward with his camera, crouched, and took two, three, four pictures in quick succession.”
Argyron Stavropolous was portrayed by Sebastian Brooks (or, Brook), known for The Gay Deceivers (1969), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), and The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio (1971). We have found no other information about him.
His character calls to mind one of the Biblical ‘Three Kings’ who, bearing gifts, attends the birth of the New Messiah. The novel informs us that a few moments after looking silently into the bassinet he lowers himself to his knees in worshipful adoration. Later, when observing Rosemary weeping he asks “Is this the mother? Why in the name of ….?”
These two characters, Hayato and Argyron Stavropolous, like Two Wise Men From the East, give the reader, or audience, a glimpse into a larger world taking place just outside the dark gothic setting of the Bramford. That is to say, Our world. These two characters represent a keen foreign interest in the event which has taken place within this New York apartment building. We are given the idea that Minnie and Roman’s coven extends far beyond the story’s small Manhattan setting, and the birth of The Devil’s child carries international implications. Both of these characters ask the same question, if Rosemary is the mother. And by strange coincidence, both Harada and Brooks appeared in Valley of the Dolls and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls respectively.
These two characters, Hayato and Argyron Stavropolous, like Two Wise Men From the East, give the reader, or audience, a glimpse into a larger world taking place just outside the dark gothic setting of the Bramford.
Mrs.Sabatini was portrayed by veteran character actress Almira Sessions (September 16, 1888 – August 3, 1974). Almira Sessions was an American character actress of stage, screen and television. Born in Washington, D.C., her career took her through all the acting mediums of the 20th century, spanning eight decades, and led her from Washington D.C. to New York City to Hollywood. She worked into her 80s, finally retiring shortly before her death in 1974 in Los Angeles.
Mrs Sabatini is textbook witch with her black cat (named Flash according to the novel) which she takes with her wherever she goes. She is apparently the oldest member of the coven. With a name like “Sabatini” we can imagine she spent some time at the Witches’ Sabbat back in the glory days. What’s her story?
Young Man in the suit with a blue shirt in the final scene was portrayed by Elmer Modlin (1925 – 2003).
Aged about 43 when Rosemary’s Baby was filmed, Elmer Modlin was an American film and television actor. He settled in Europe, working frequently in Spain. He was married to the artist Margaret Modlin. He is sometimes credited as Elmer Modling.
He was Brock in the film ‘Edge of the Axe‘ (Original title: Al Filo del Hacha) a 1988 Spanish-American made-for-TV horror film about a masked maniac murdering people in a small Northern Californian suburb.
Young Woman (“Young” is a relative term in the Castevet’s coven. She must have been about 53 when filming Rosemary’s Baby) was portrayed by Natalie Masters. She is the younger tan woman in a sleeveless yellow dress in the final scene.
Natalie Masters was born on November 23, 1915 in San Francisco, California, USA as Natalie M. Park. She was an actress. She was married to Montgomery Masters.
Natalie Masters played female private eye “Candy Matson” on the radio series of the same name, which ran on the NBC west coast network from 1949 to 1951. She found reasonably constant work as a character and supporting actress on television, including a recurring role as Wilma Clemson in Betty White’s underrated vehicle A Date with the Angels (1957). Until her death at 70 on Feb. 9th, 1986, Masters had roles in, among others, The Donna Reed Show, The Millionaire, The Patty Duke Show, The Twilight Zone, The Joey Bishop Show, The Addams Family, The Lucy Show, Adam-12, Hart to Hart, Alice, and Riptide.
So, please consider the next time you take a walk through your neighborhood, or you smile and nod to the kindly neighbor at your apartment building’s postboxes, do you really know anything about these people? What do they do in their spare time? What sort of company they keep? What they may be wearing (or not wearing) beneath their clothes? Just who are the people in your neighborhood?