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The Apartment Building in Rosemary’s Baby Is Also a Star. Here’s the Not-So-Secret Story Behind Its Name

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Updated: | Originally published: ;

When the now-classic horror film Rosemary’s Baby was released on June 12, 1968 — 50 years ago on Tuesday — the tale it told was already fairly well known. The Ira Levin novel of the same name, which TIME called “as unsettling as the first stirrings of a poison-ivy rash at the conclusion of a picnic,” had been a consistent best-seller since its 1967 release. It also was seen as a symbol of a larger real-world trend of interest in the mystical.

But that doesn’t mean the story didn’t hold mysteries — well, at least for TIME’s critics.

The movie earned a short but positive review in the magazine in 1968, with TIME praising “the very real acting ability of Mia Farrow” throughout her depiction of “what must be the most unpleasant pregnancy on record.” And, for anyone who was unfamiliar with the novel, the critic summed up the set up for Rosemary’s Baby:

As Rosemary Woodhouse, [Farrow] and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) are delighted to find an apartment in the Branford, a penumbral old fortress of an apartment house on Manhattan’s Central Park West, modeled on the real-life Dakota at 1 West 72nd Street (where some of the exterior scenes were shot). Rosemary’s bookish old father figure, Hutch (Maurice Evans), is not too pleased; the Branford, he notes, has an unsavory history of suicides and diabolical doings, including the murder of a notorious Satanist.

The happy pair moves in anyway and—see how groundless Hutch’s fears were?—the funny old couple next door welcomes them with open arms. Guy, who is an actor, loves to go over and listen to Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) talk about old times. Rosemary is more attracted to a girl of her own age who lives with the Castevets—it is a pity when she commits suicide by jumping out of the window. After that tragedy, the lonely Castevets grow closer than ever to Rosemary and Guy, whose acting career is suddenly beginning to go very well indeed. So well, in fact, that he agrees at last to let her have a baby. They carefully mark the date on the calendar when she will be most likely to conceive.

That night turns out to be really devil-may-care, what with the martinis, and Minnie Castevet coming over with a funny-tasting chocolate mousse, and Rosemary passing out and having a hellish dream in which somebody (or something?) draws marks on her naked body. There are scratches on her back and sides the next morning—Guy admits that he had had a few too many drinks himself.

Read the full review here in the TIME Vault

A mistake in the review, however, prompted a letter to the editor from none other than author Ira Levin, who reminded readers what might have seemed like a small mistake in the plot description actually served to erase one of the story’s not-so-hidden layers: “I am delighted by your praise of the movie version of my book Rosemary’s Baby [June 21] and aghast at your reference to its apartment-house setting as the ‘Branford,’ rather than the ‘Bramford,'” Levin wrote. “I chose the name in memory of writer Bram Stoker, and I shudder to think that you may have offended his baby, who is still alive—you know he is—and whose name is Dracula.”

Considering the fame of the real apartment building in which the movie was filmed — the Dakota is one of the most recognizable residences in New York City — it’s only fitting that an equally famous namesake would displace it in the fictional world of Rosemary’s Baby.

The film was a massive hit and is an oft-cited cinema inspiration — for example, Jordan Peele has mentioned it as an influence for his critically acclaimed directorial debut, Get Out — even as filmmaker Roman Polanski, who fled the United States 40 years ago while facing sentencing after a guilty plea of “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a 13-year-old girl and who was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in May, has fallen from grace in the public eye.

UPDATE: After the original publication of this story, TIME received a note from Nicholas Levin, the son of author Ira Levin, noting a certain symmetry in his writing a letter to the magazine just as his father had done in 1968 — and to provide more information about the story behind the Bramford.

Though the Dakota is widely cited as an inspiration for the Bramford in reviews of the book and movie alike, and even though the movie was shot there, Nicholas Levin says that his father told their family that his ultimate inspiration came from a different New York City building: The Alwyn Court.

[Move Dakota Gallery here]

As shown in documents that were recently compiled as “Rosemary’s Baby Album,” Ira Levin was looking for a “a ‘Dakota-esque’ house” and decided that the novel’s protagonists would move into a “rambling shambling apartment house” like the Dakota or the Alwyn Court. The Dakota being much more famous, Nicholas Levin guesses, readers assumed they were reading a description of that building. The author wasn’t bothered by the assumption, his son says (he never wrote in to correct it, even as he was telling TIME about Bram Stoker) but those close to him knew that the Alwyn Court had ultimately won out — one more slightly-more-secret fact about the apartment building at the center of this story.

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com