“It was bad, Mama. They laughed at me. Hold me, Mama. Please hold me.”
Brian De Palma.1976
“This girl Carrie isn’t another stereotyped product of the horror production line; she’s a shy, pretty, and complicated high school senior who’s a lot like kids we once knew.” – Roger Ebert, Chicao Sun-Times
How do you cast the 16-year-old telekinetic heroine of the first book – and first film – from Stephen King? Simple, surely? You get agents to send in their teenage progidies and you test ’em, one by one, and then with someone playing her religious nutcase mama and prom night date… And see what gives.,
Or then again – this is Hollywood, remember – you see, interview, read and/or audition actresses from the age of 17 to… 32. We’ll get top them, all olf them
This is the movie that launched a career of 312 screen credits. From he first Stephen King’s first four novels to be published: Carrie, The Novel of a Girl With a Terrifying Power – ex-Cavalier for the hotel where Chris and Tommy dallied; Cavalier was also a men’s magazine that published some of his short stories.
Stephen Edwin King was 26 at the time, an English teacher at Hampden Academy in Maine (where else?). He got $2,500 for the rights and splurged it on a new Ford Pinto. “I was fortunate to have that happen to my first book.”
It’s all part of his legend that he never thought much of his chances with Carrie with a. Indeed, he threw his manuscript in the trash. His wife, Tabitha, rescued it. (Where are we without our wives?). Even then,he shoved it in a drawer and got on with his next notion. Salem’s Lot.
Brian De Palma, a New Jersey director with nine little movies and a Hitchcock fetish to his credit, was told by a writer friend to read the book,“. A writer friend of his had written it… I liked it a lot and proceeded to call my agent to find out who owned it… Nobody had bought it yet.”
Betsy Slade, a TV and theatre actress from Baltimore was De Pal;ma’s earliest choice for Carrie. Next? Betsy’s r1973 Our Time co-star Pamela Sue Martin.
Fledgling film-makers De Palma and George Lucas famously held joint auditions for Carrie and Star Wars. For Princess Leia, Lucas chose another Carrie. This led to the rumour that Carrie Fisher refused Carrie White because of the nudity. “Total bullshit,” said Princess Leia. ”I love being nude.” Don’t we all. At 20.
“I can see your dirty pillows. Everyone will.”
“Breasts, Mama. They’re called breasts, and every woman has them.”
Carrie White . Those also seen for the pig’s blood shower… despite or because of their ages… included…
At 17: The Exorcist’s Linda Blair auditioned but avoided more horror so early in her career. Terri Nunn, from Thank God It’s Friday and the 1984 sound rack of Better Off Dead with her new wave band, Berlin.
AT 19: Melanie Griffith, Tippi Hedren’s daughter. Theresa Russell, who would marry UK director Nic Roeg in 1986 and star in six of his films.
At 21: Debra Winger, on her way to Wonder Woman’s TV sister, Urban Cowboy, An Officer and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment and oblivion.
At 22: Kathleen Turner, four years away from her 15 minutes of fame for Body Heat , Romancing the Stone and The War of the Roses (which I saw in Yugoslavia!)
At 23: Kay Lenz, 23, Hollywood’s favourite mistress matrix after Breezy, directed by Clint Eastwood in 1972
At 24: Angelica Huston, Jack Njcholson’s lover, co-star and by 1985, Oscar-winner (incidentally,she starred in Nic Roeg’s The Witches, 1988). Carol Kane, who shared a manager with Spacek. Plus Catherine Hicks,the mother in Child’s Play, 1988, first of the eight Chucky horror, and for more than 30 years the wife of the killer doll’s creator, Kevin Yagher… And the teenagers’ Marilyn, PJ Soles – instead, De Palma gave her the ”totally” Norma and more than the original one line od dialogue.
At 25: Jane Seymour, future Bond lady and Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman during 1993-1998, was the sole Brit in the frame.
At 26: Christine Lahti, finally debuting in TV’s Dr Scorpion, 1982. Cybill Shepherd, from The Last Picture Show and Taxi Driver.
Atr 27: Jessica Lange, 27, girlfriend of the 1975 King Kong. Sigourney Weaver, Ms Alien and Avatar;… and the as yet still unknown Meryl Streep.
At 28: Bernadette Peters, future Broadway queen. Margot Kidder, future Lois Lane in Superman. Dianne Wiest, Oscar-winner for two of her five later Woody Allen films. Cindy Williams lost but won Shirley in Laverne and Shirley, TV, 1976-1982
At 29: Glenn Close, about to breakthrough in The World According to Garp and The Big Chill, leading, of course, to Fatal Attraction.
At 32: Jill Clayburgh, making ready for every scene in An Unmarried Woman., 1977. Farrah Fawcett was keen but Charlie’s Angels would not release her. And Sondra Locke: she had made good in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, 1967, and sharing her life, love and career with Clint Eastwood. …
Plus Nancy Allen, 26 who wed De Palma… and Amy Irving, who married his pal, Steven Spielberg. “[He] was 26, but acted much younger,” said De Palma. “He was very sexually immature for his age. We were all very concerned about him.” He told him “there’s lotsa of cute girls down here.” PJ Soles said Spielberg often visited the set and tried to date most of the girls. Soles declined. Irving agreed..
There would be other Carries on stage (two musicals) and screen and almost a TV series. None had the Sissy Spacek magic.
As far as The Role went, Sissy had an in… She knew De Palma. Her husband, Jack Fisk, was his art director – and she was seriously pissed that she’d only been offered Sue or Chris and not Carrie.
She called him about it. “Brian, I’m coming in for a test but I’ve also got an audition for a Vanquish commercial where I can make $10,000. Should I do that or come in?” Fisk recalls: “She thought he’d say, ‘Oh, please come in. I gotta see you.’ But what he actually said was,
“Well Sissy, I think you
ought to do the commercial.”
“She got so upset that she sat down in our living room in Topanga Canyon and read the book from cover to cover. She didn’t sleep, got up the next morning, put Vaseline in her hair, and put on a little sailor dress that her mother had made her in seventh grade. Then she went into where they were testing”.
And blew the opposition away. Sissy was 25. Yet absolutely perfect. She also knew all about being a homecoming queen – she was that at her Quitman High School. Now here she was a prom queen again… at Bates High School. (Named for you know who).
Sue Snell & Chris Hargensen . Until Sissy’s riveting test, Army Irving was going to be Carrie. with Nancy Allen as Sue and (or Kaye Lenz) pencilled in for Chris. The test made musical chairs out of all that.… Sissy won Carrie, Amy became Sue. Nancy was given Chris. In the book, Sue turned telekinetic – just as Amy did by starring in De Palma’s next horror, The Fury, 1977. She was also the only member of the ’76 squad to appear in the (first) sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2, 1998. Lenz was in another Carrie rip-off, ABC TV’s The Initiation of Sarah, 1977… with a meagre body-count of two compared to Sissy’s 22
Margaret White . Resurrecting Piper Laurie from a ten year lay-off for the mad mother was not De Palma’s idea. He gave all the praise to Marcia Nasatir, actress, producer and the first female vice-president of production at United Artists. Betty Buckley, who debuted as the teacher Miss Collins, played Margaret in the Broadway production of Carrie: The Musical).
Tommy Ross . John Ritter and Andrew Stevens were up for Tommy – but they were not good matches, age-wise, opposite Sissy. “They decided to go a half a generation older and went with William Katt”, said Stevens , who immediately joined another teenage vengeance trip, Massacre at Central High, hailed by one critic as making Carrie look like an after school special. Utter bilge!). De Palma booked Stevens (and Amy Irving) for his next horror, The Fury, 1977 – and Ritter was the adult Ben Hanscom in the TV two-parter made from Stephen King’s It,1990.
Our favourite critic, Roger Ebert called the result ”an absolutely spellbinding horror movie, with a shock at the end that’s the best thing along those lines since the shark leaped aboard in Jaws.”
Sissy loved sharing the public reaction to that ending, ” I’d go to theatres just for the last five minutes… to watch everyone jump out of their chairs. People are all relaxed. The music is really beautiful and relaxing, and all of a sudden that comes up, and people just go crazy.”
And yes, that is her arm shooting out of the grave. You don’t have to do it, said De Palma. But I do, said Sissy… and hubby Jack Fisk actually buried her!
Last word goes to the man with the first words. Stephen King admits the film is now dated but… ”It’s good. Much better than the book.”
[I must acknowledge great assistance from IMdB’s great Carrie reportage. Thanks, Immy!]