King, Stephen


King, Stephen
(1947– )
   Author of the novel THE SHINING (1977), on which STANLEY KUBRICK based his 1980 film, Stephen King is one of the most popular contemporary American novelists working in any genre. King’s trademark is his ability to create believable, everyday characters and put them into situations that begin innocently but descend into sheer, gripping horror. His early literary inspirations included such horror comics as Tales From the Crypt, as well as the classic macabre tales of H. P. Lovecraft. King has authored scores of books,many of which have found their way to the big screen. Among them are: Carrie (1974), filmed by Brian De Palma in 1976, with Sissy Spacek and John Travolta; ’Salem’s Lot (1975) which in 1979 became a made-for-television film, directed by Tobe Hooper and starring JAMES MASON and David Soul; David Cronenberg’s 1983 adaptation of The Dead Zone (1979), starring Martin Sheen (a TV series based on The Dead Zone is in production as of 2001); Christine (1983), filmed by John Carpenter in 1983; Cujo (1981), which also hit the big screen in 1983; Firestarter (1980, film 1984); Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (1986, from King’s novella, The Body, published in Different Seasons, 1982), which launched the careers of Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix; and of course The Shining, adapted for the cinema by Stanley Kubrick (and remade into a TV miniseries, produced by ABC and WARNER BROS. , in 1997). In 1980, King became the first author ever to have three books simultaneously on the best-seller lists: Firestarter,The Dead Zone, and The Shining. Then in 1983, he became the first living author to have three film versions of his work in theatrical release (Cujo,The Dead Zone, and Christine), with two more in production, all within the same calendar year. King’s career had taken off at a moment when horror fiction was beginning to penetrate the mainstream to an unprecedented degree. As he told the Aquarian:
   I came along at a time, in the mid-’70s, when the ghetto of fantasy [had] been cracked by Ira Levin, who wrote Rosemary’s Baby [1967], and the fellow who wrote The Exorcist [1971],William Peter Blatty. The Levin book was so strong and so well written that it broke out, and everyone read it. The Blatty book followed a few years later, and the same thing happened. And pretty soon publishers were looking for that.
   King’s parents separated when he was a small child. As a result, he spent various periods living in Fort Wayne, Indiana; Stratford, Connecticut; Malden, Massachusetts; and Pownall and Durham, Maine. His adult life, with his wife, Tabitha, and their three children, would be equally peripatetic, as the Family lived in England, Boulder, and several towns in Maine, including Bangor, Bridgton, Center Lovell, and Orrington. After earning his B. A. degree in English from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, King married Tabitha Spruce, whom he had met at the university library. With King unable to find a teaching position, the couple lived in a rented trailer, subsisting on Stephen’s earnings as a laborer in an industrial laundry, Tabitha’s student loans, and the occasional money Stephen earned from the sale of a short story—usually around $35, primarily from men’s magazines such as Gent.
   In the fall of 1971, King began teaching English at the Hampden (Maine) Academy high school. He wrote in the evenings and on weekends, producing short stories and novels. So far, his first four novels had met with nothing but rejection from publishers. But in 1973, the tide began to turn. King sold his short story “Trucks” (which would later form the basis for the 1986 film Maximum Overdrive, directed by King himself ) for the respectable sum of $250. Then, three months later, Doubleday accepted King’s novel, Carrie, for publication, paying him a $2,000 advance for the hardcover rights. Soon afterward, a major paperback sale would make it possible for him to leave teaching and write full time.
   He immediately went to work on his next novel, ’Salem’s Lot, which he finished the following spring. Six months later, in the fall of 1974, the family left Maine for Boulder, Colorado, where they lived for almost a year. King’s next project initially centered around a family stranded at an abandoned amusement park, but that story did not pan out. Still, King kept after the theme of isolation, which would lead him to write one of his most chilling novels, The Shining.
   King’s inspiration for The Shining came from a hotel called the Stanley, in Estes Park, Colorado, where he and Tabitha had stayed in 1974: Tabby and I had heard about this hotel, and somebody said we ought to spend the night there. The hotel was totally deserted except for us. We went down to dinner, and these waiters in tuxedos were coming over and playing it up. We had the only table that was occupied; the other ones were all covered with clear plastic dropcloths, with the chairs turned over on top of them. There was also an orchestra playing to this empty dining room. The whole scene was really spooky, and I said, “This is it!” The Shining was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1978, from the World Science Fiction Convention, but its reviews in the mainstream literary press were mixed at best. The New York Times Book Review found King’s writing to be inelegant, pretentious, and gimmicky. Furthermore, that critic found the plot elements to be highly derivative, pointing out obvious narrative similarities between The Shining and the works of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, as well as the films Psycho, Village of the Damned, and Diabolique. On the other hand, Mark Laidlaw, writing in Nyclatops, calls King’s creation of atmosphere in The Shining, “masterful”:
   King takes the stance that he should give the readers a hint of the ultimate horror early in the game, and then—when they’re sure to be afraid that it’s actually going to happen—give them exactly what they’ve been nervously waiting for. It’s a technique that works rather well, though in this case the intimations of doom are more frightening than the doom itself.
   King told Paul Hendrickson that the only occasion on which his own writing had scared him was during a rewrite of a section of The Shining. The offending chapter is the one in which the corpse of an old woman, lying decaying and bloated in the bathtub of room 217 (room 237 in the film), rises from the tub to pursue young Danny, who scratches and claws at the door, trying to get out.
   When Stanley Kubrick decided to make The Shining as his next film, he chose not to read the screenplay that Stephen King had already written. VINCENT LOBRUTTO characterizes Kubrick’s relationship to King as similar to the one he had with ANTHONY BURGESS on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: Kubrick did not want the author to become too closely involved in the process, but he did want to consult with King on key conceptual and philosophical points. King told American Film:
   The first time he called, it was 7:30 in the morning. I was standing in the bathroom in my underwear shaving, and my wife comes in and her eyes are bugging out. I thought one of the kids must be choking in the kitchen or something. She says, “Stanley Kubrick is on the phone!” I was just floored. I didn’t even take the shaving cream off my face. Just about the first thing he said was,“The whole idea of a ghost is always optimistic, isn’t it?”And I said, with a hangover and one eye almost open,“I don’t understand what you mean. ” He said,“Well, the concept of a ghost presupposes life after death. That’s a cheerful concept, isn’t it?” . . . Then I said,“But what about hell?” There was a long pause on his end, and then he came back in a very stiff voice and said,“But I don’t believe in hell. ”
   King visited Kubrick’s set just once, toward the end of production on The Shining. He told Fangoria: I got out to the set the second to last day of shooting, and I got a chance to look around. The security was extremely tight: there was everything but guard dogs around the place. I didn’t see any rushes, but I saw some lovely Kodachrome stills of the set. . . . Danny is on his tricycle in the lobby. He looks so small. The feeling you get is one of this gigantic hotel that swallowed this kid. Just the still is extremely ominous, which bodes well, I think, for the film. . . . I’ve heard that they had done a life-sized head of Jack Nicholson that at some point was going to split open and spill out worms. I do know that there are not going to be any of the hedge animals that move. Apparently, Kubrick’s replaced it with a hedge maze. . . . It wasn’t that he didn’t like the idea, but he went to a lot of special-effects people in England and Europe, and they said they could make the hedge animals move—they just couldn’t guarantee that they’d look realistic enough to satisfy Kubrick’s need for perfection. From that it seems clear that Kubrick is obviously a man who is in control of what’s going on there. . . . And I think from the way things sound that he’s updated the Overlook considerably. I saw it as a kind of grand old manor; but I understand that there is one sequence in the movie where Danny goes into this game room that’s full of electronic games. Apparently, Kubrick assembled every advanced kind of electronic game in England and put them in this room; when the kid comes in, they all come to life. I don’t see a whole lot of potential in that myself, though.
   Shortly after Kubrick’s film was released, King voiced his general displeasure: The problem with The Shining is that it doesn’t have any heart. A horror movie has to have the involvement of the director and the writer. It’s got to be hot; you can’t make a horror movie that’s cold and distant. . . . If I had directed The Shining, it would have looked exactly the same, but it would have been hot, constantly going.
   Despite King’s disparagement, the film met with some immediate critical success and is now considered a classic. In Newsweek, critic Jack Kroll said that Kubrick had “gone after the ultimate horror movie . . . The result is the first epic horror film, a movie that is to other horror movies what his 2001: A Space Odyssey was to other space movies. ” Similarly, critic Richard Schickel of Time called it “a movie that will have to be reckoned with on the highest level. ”
   References
   ■ “About Stephen King,” Stand By Me pressbook, Columbia Pictures, 1986: Adalian, Josef, “ABC Takes ‘Shining’ to Scary King Story,” New York Post, October 17, 1995, p. 81;
   ■ “Biography: Stephen King,” Cujo pressbook, Warner Bros. , 1981;
   ■ Christensen, Dan, “Stephen King: Living in ‘Constant, Deadly Terror,’” Fangoria no. 3:46–49;
   ■ “Stephen King,” Current Biography, October 1981;
   ■ Gareffa, Peter M. ,“King, Stephen (Edwin),” in Evory,Ann, ed. , Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series, vol. 1 (Detroit: Gale, 1981);
   ■ Kelly, Bill, “Author of ‘The Shining,’ Stephen King Reveres the Relevance of Horror,” Aquarian November 19, 1980, p. 13+;
   ■ “Stephen King: Firestarter,” Universal Press Department, April 9, 1984.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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