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With sales of over 300 million copies of more than 70 books, plus dozens of stories adapted for film and television, Stephen King was the dominant American storyteller for over 25 years. While King wrote in a wide variety of genres, from the coming-of-age short story The Body (1982) to the psychological thriller Misery (1987), King was most closely associated with horror and fantasy stories with supernatural elements. A great storyteller with an eye for detail and an accessible narrative tone, King always grounded his fantastic elements in recognizable environments, while his demons often highlighted the rocky emotional dynamics of families and the ravages of dysfunction and addiction. Cultural critic Robin Wood once concluded that "The horrors of the King world are the horrors of our culture writ large, made visible and inescapable." With this curious but huge appeal, the name Stephen King became a powerful brand that sold books and film tickets, even though his name attachment to a film was hardly a guarantee of a good movie. Among the best King-based feature films were Brian De Palma's "Carrie" (1976), David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" (1983), Rob Reiner's "Stand by Me" (1986), Stanley Kubrick's...
With sales of over 300 million copies of more than 70 books, plus dozens of stories adapted for film and television, Stephen King was the dominant American storyteller for over 25 years. While King wrote in a wide variety of genres, from the coming-of-age short story The Body (1982) to the psychological thriller Misery (1987), King was most closely associated with horror and fantasy stories with supernatural elements. A great storyteller with an eye for detail and an accessible narrative tone, King always grounded his fantastic elements in recognizable environments, while his demons often highlighted the rocky emotional dynamics of families and the ravages of dysfunction and addiction. Cultural critic Robin Wood once concluded that "The horrors of the King world are the horrors of our culture writ large, made visible and inescapable." With this curious but huge appeal, the name Stephen King became a powerful brand that sold books and film tickets, even though his name attachment to a film was hardly a guarantee of a good movie. Among the best King-based feature films were Brian De Palma's "Carrie" (1976), David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" (1983), Rob Reiner's "Stand by Me" (1986), Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" (1980), which took more liberties than King was happy with, and Frank Darabont's "The Shawshank Redemption" (1995). The prolific writer's output diminished somewhat following serious injuries he sustained in a 1999 roadside accident, but just as throughout his career, every new novel was highly anticipated, topped the bestseller lists, and usually found its way to the screen as a feature film or television miniseries that drew consistently strong audiences.
King was born in Portland, ME on Sept. 21, 1947, and spent a peripatetic youth living with different family members in Indiana, Connecticut, and eventually back in Maine, where he graduated from Lisbon Falls High School in 1966. While working towards earning his degree in English at the University of Maine, King wrote for the college newspaper and appeared onstage with the school's dramatic society. He also began his professional writing career in 1966 with his first short story sale to Startling Mysteries magazine. King continued to generate a side income with short stories, and expanded into novels while he worked days as an English teacher at a local public school. King's novel Carrie, about an outcast teen with telekinetic powers, was picked up by Doubleday & Co., and kicked off a prolific decade that established King as a bestselling author. Hot on the heels of Carrie's 1974 publication and its paperback sales in excess of one million copies that first year, the author turned out novels Salem's Lot in 1975, The Shining in 1977, the post-apocalyptic classic The Stand in 1978, and The Dead Zone in 1979.
King's first published novel became his first screen adaptation, Brian De Palma's "Carrie" (1976), starring Sissy Spacek. The major financial success was also well-received by critics and proved that King's literary appeal had huge potential among moviegoers as well. King's next adaptation, however, was a small screen version of "Salem's Lot" (CBS, 1979), the vampire classic, directed by Tobe Hooper. The following year, Stanley Kubrick directed one of the more enduring King adaptations, "The Shining" (1980), starring Jack Nicholson as a novelist and off-season caretaker of an isolated mountain resort who slowly goes insane and tries to murder his family. At the time of the film's release, horror fans were dissatisfied by its slow pacing and paucity of scares, while King fans objected to the omissions and revisions from the source novel. Over time, however, the film's standing rose in the world of psychological horror films and it was deemed a classic. In 1982, King debuted as a screenwriter with the horror anthology "Creepshow" (1982), good gory fun in the vein of horror comics of the 1950s.
Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg made his U.S. directing debut with an adaptation of King's chilling "The Dead Zone" (1983), starring Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen; the same year, Lewis Teague directed an outstanding adaptation of King's tale of a rabid dog on the loose, "Cujo" (1983). King remained one of the highest-profile figures in film that decade with the release of "Christine" (1983), the "Children of the Corn" (1984) franchise, "Firestarter" (1984), and "Stephen King's Cat's Eye" (1985), all based on original written works. In 1985, after several years of releasing novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, King admitted he was the author of such books as Roadwork, Running Man, and Thinner, and that he had assumed a second identity, not only to prevent the prolific writer from flooding the market, but also as an experiment to see whether it was his name or his work which was behind his massive numbers of book sales. The experiment was inconclusive. King's media domination continued with his contribution of several teleplays to George Romero's TV horror anthology "Tales From the Darkside" (syndicated, 1986) and his directorial debut, "Maximum Overdrive" (1986), an ill-conceived expansion of his short story, Trucks which was even dismissed by its own writer-director as a "moron movie."
The same year, Rob Reiner increased his clout as a filmmaker when he directed a savvy adaptation of King's semi-autobiographical novella The Body called "Stand by Me" (1986), a coming-of-age ensemble about a group of friends (River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Wil Wheaton and Corey Feldman) who embark on a hike to see a dead body. Columbia Pictures played down King's name in the advertising for the film, lest the public mistake it for a horror film, but Reiner paid King a special tribute by naming his production company "Castle Rock" in honor of the fictional Maine setting for much of King's fiction. "Stand by Me" was among the most critically acclaimed King-based feature film, earning Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, and its author called it one of the best screen adaptations of his work. The following year, Richard Bachman earned his first screen credit for "Running Man" (1987) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, while it's real author, King, was the focus of a family intervention that led to an end to King's worsening problems with drugs and alcohol. The husband and father of three became sober and embarked on a new phase of his career.
After one of King's strongest novels Pet Sematary (1983) was betrayed by the small-minded but commercially successful 1989 feature which King scripted, Rob Reiner found sophomore success with King's 1987 novel "Misery" (1990). Reiner's taut and brilliant film version netted newcomer Kathy Bates a Best Actress Oscar for starring as the psychotic fan of a best-selling author who holds him hostage in her home. King went on to have a steady run of television successes, beginning with the chilling, socially relevant miniseries "Stephen King's 'It'" (ABC, 1990) that truly frightened clown-hating viewers. He next wrote teleplays for "Sometimes They Come Back" (CBS, 1991) and "Stephen King's Golden Years" (CBS, 1991), a smart and fast-paced summer sci-fi series. Proving the power of King's name attraction, "Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man" (1992) was popular regardless of the fact that it bore no relation to King's original story. Meanwhile King wrote the actual screenplay for "Stephen King's Sleepwalkers" (1992), an amiable "moron movie" that evoked '50s teen exploitation flicks, and the author released best-selling books almost every year throughout the 1990s.
A few low-profile film adaptations later, King scored with the miniseries "Stephen King's The Stand" (ABC, 1994), penning a compelling screenplay and executive producing a ratings landmark which helped ABC win sweeps and garnered King an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Miniseries. Boasting superior production values and outstanding performances from an excellent ensemble, this was "The Stand" that fans had been waiting for over a decade. Meanwhile on the big screen, Frank Darabont directed an adaptation of a 1982 King short story called "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994). The prison drama was a favorite nominee around awards season, earning recognition for the director as well as for star Morgan Freeman. In 1995, King's psychological thriller "Dolores Claiborne" - the No. 1 fiction bestseller of 1992 - was made into a film starring Kathy Bates as an unstable housemaid suspected of dual murders. That same year, his 1990 novella "Langoliers" was the basis of the miniseries of the same name for ABC. After landing in the No. 3 slot of 1996 fiction bestsellers with Desperation, King scripted and executive produced a miniseries version of "The Shining" (1997) for ABC, helmed by Mick Garris. The results, while not a ratings blockbuster, earned an Emmy nomination for Best Miniseries, while better serving the original material than the feature film, which King had never been happy with.
King scripted a 1998 episode of the sci-fi staple "The X Files" (Fox, 1993-2002), and his 1998 book Bag of Bones was the No. 3 bestseller of the year. But the following summer, King's writing output stalled when the author was hit by car while walking alongside of the road in his hometown. He spent three weeks in the hospital and considerable time afterwards recovering from broken leg bones, a broken hip, and a collapsed lung. Meanwhile, Frank Darabont brought another King prison drama, "The Green Mile" (1999), to the big screen which resulted in one of the biggest box office successes of any King adaptation. The blockbuster and Academy Award nominee for Best Picture starred Tom Hanks as a Depression-era prison guard who encounters an unusual inmate with supernatural powers. "The Rage: Carrie 2" (1999) was a box office disappointment, though the telekinetic teen was brought back to life again in the 2002 miniseries "Carrie" (NBC, 2002), which was meant to serve as pilot for a weekly series, but poor ratings ended the project. The same year, however, King's "The Dead Zone" was used as the basis for the science fiction series of the same name (USA Network, 2002-07), starring Anthony Michael Hall as the coma survivor with psychic powers.
Still suffering from the repercussions of his accident, King's punctured lung led to a bout of pneumonia, while his injured hip and leg made sitting for long periods of time at a desk painful. In 2002, he announced that due to his physical condition, he was going to retire from writing. Luckily for his millions of fans he did not keep his promise, but the notoriously prolific writer's output did decrease significantly, with only three novels and a few short story collections and anthologies published over the remainder of the decade. The next major King-based screen success was the paranoid thriller "Secret Window" (2004) starring Johnny Depp in the story of an author haunted by accusations of plagiarism. In an unusual case of King adapting another's work, he developed and wrote nine episodes of the miniseries "Kingdom Hospital" (2004) for ABC, based on the Danish miniseries "Riget" from Lars von Trier. The following year, each of King's two grown sons had their first works published: Owen King's We're All in This Together: A Novella and Stories, and the short story anthology 20th Century Ghosts from son Joseph Hillstrom King, who used the pen name Joe Hill. Hill's true identity was uncovered in 2007, by which time he had already proven himself as a writer separate from his family name.
TNT brought dad Stephen King's work back to primetime with the anthology series "Nightmares and Dreamscapes" (TNT, 2006) based on eight short stories from the author's 1993 short story collection. King's 1999 short story about a paranormal investigator trapped in evil hotel room, "1408" (2007), was a certified blockbuster in theaters, while Frank Darabont's "The Mist" (2007) was a moderate ensemble success. In 2009, King published the longest novel of his career, Under the Dome, which immediately entered the New York Times bestseller list, while at the same time, the author continued to contribute pop culture editorials to Entertainment Weekly magazine.
By Susan Clarke
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His official website is located at www.stephenking.com
King used the pseudonym Richard Bachman for six novels: "Rage", "The Long Walk", "Roadwork", "The Running Man", "Thinner" and "The Regulators". The latter was publicized as a "lost novel" by the author who "died of cancer of the pseudonym" in 1985.
The late Tom Allen stated the opinion of many King fans regarding Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson's somewhat peverse adaptation of "The Shining" in a review entitled "Hatchet Job" in a June 1980 issue of Village Voice: "What is clear is that the novel's 'credible' explanations have been ripped out. These include Jack's psychological weaknesses and his susceptibility to evil suggestion; Wendy's crucial lack of trust; Danny's special gift for intuiting danger AND acting upon it; and (How could it be ignored?) the Overlook's lust to add Danny's second sight, his 'shining' to its powers."
"Somewhere in the early days, before anyone much had heard of him...King reached the conscious decision to modify his writing style, so as to make money. And this has had startling if in a sense imponderable consequences.
" . . . There was a time when Stephen King had a style significantly different from any style he uses today. Because there is more to it than there would be in the case of the average or even merely extraordinary writer, for whom style is a matter of word choice. For Stephen King, the over-riding factor in his "style" is a matter of plot choice--the words follow from the choice of plot, since he has about six radically different plots, six more or less different sets of word choices." --From "Stephen King" by Algis Budrys in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1990
"One is bowled over by Stephen King's prodigious capacity to milk every situation for its dramatic possibilities, by his ability to line up vast landscapes of dominoes whose toppling will concatenate catastrophically, and by his sheer inventive energy." --Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in his The New York Times review of "Needful Things", October 3, 1991)
"... King has a remarkable eye and feeling for the lives of ordinary Americans and the places they live. They're the people you might see buying a McDonald's hamburger, or at a local baseball game, or your neighborhood hardware store. And indeed, that's a key to understanding King's way. He has carried on what Ray Bradbury pioneered: his stories are about identifiable people whose lives are altered by paranormal events and forces. His characters and their worlds ring uncannily right, and he involves one intensely in their predicaments. ..." --Kirby McCauley, editor of "Dark Forces" (New York: The Viking Press, 1980)
"... [novelist Michelle Slung in a positive review of King's work in The New Republic] has a point when she touches on the propensity of a small but influential element of the literary establishment to ghettoize horror and fantasy and instantly relegate them beyond the pale of so-called serious literature. I'm sure those critics' nineteenth-century precursors would have contemptuously dismissed Poe as the great American hack." --Stephen King in a 1983 Playboy interview reprinted in "Bare Bones: Conversations on Terror with Stephen King", Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller, Editors
"... The problem goes beyond my particular genre. That little elite which is clustered in the literary magazines and book-review sections of influential newspapers and magazines on both coasts, assumes that ALL popular literature must also, by definition, be bad literature. Those criticisms are not really against bad writing; they're against an entire type of writing. MY type of writing, as it turns out. Those avatars of high culture hold it almost as an article of religious faith that plot and story must be subordinated to style, whereas my deeply held conviction is that story must be paramount, because it defines the entire work of fiction. All other considerations are secondary--theme, mood, even characterization and language." --Stephen King in Playboy 1983
"Most of all, I think that trapped inside King is one of the finest writers of our time. I think he understands that, though he be wrong about when and where that writer emerges, and he may or, more likely, may not, understand what he gave up in order to be a moneymaker on this gigantic scale. Most of all, I think he has done an almost unthinkable thing; he has not narrowed down, but rather has expanded the definition of what he is as a writer, to the point where he can say, as no one else can, that he has tried everything, and made it work in some sense." --From "Stephen King" by Algis Budrys in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1990
"The novels are a battleground on which the central conflict of our civilization (rather than, as King himself might put it, the eternal struggle between good and evil), the conflict between repressive `normality' and the drives that normality seeks to repress, is fought out (and, so far, neither definitively won or lost--typically in the novels BOTH sides lose.) ... On the conscious level--the level at which the author asserts what HE means to say, in contradistinction to what the texts he produces say--the novels are, for all their liberal critique of Reaganite America, plainly reactionary. ... But, like much superficially reactionary work (the films of John Ford, for example), the texts generate so many internal tensions and contradictions at such a pitch of intensity that the whole repressive social/ideological structure is blown wide open, its monstrousness revealed." --From "Cat and Dog: Lewis Teague's Stephen King Movies" by Robin Wood in Cineaction!, No. 2, Fall 1985
"Before Stephen King charged into pop culture, Maine filmmaking was virtually dead until the Maine resident and novelist achieved the power and national status to make it happen. King has sent a message, loud and clear, to Hollywood: if you want to make films from my books, you're going to make a few of them in Maine."
Before King's contractual stipulation forced a segment of "Creepshow 2" ["The Hitchhiker"] to be filmed in Bangor, Maine, in 1987, you have to go back thirty years to find another Maine-based production, "Peyton Place" in 1957, and before that, "Captains Courageous" in 1937, both filmed in Camden. Since "Creepshow 2", King has brought to Maine the filming of "Pet Sematary" in 1988 and "Graveyard Shift" this year (1991)." --From "Stephen King: Shooting it in Maine" by Gary Wood in Cinefantastique, Feb. 1991, Vol. 21, No. 4
King was a judge of the 1977 World Fantasy Awards.
He was guest of Honor of the World Fantasy Convention at Providence, Rhode Island in 1979.
He was recipient of the Career Alumni Award from the University of Maine.
"There's an immediate attitude that anyone who's reaching a large popular audience-what they're doing is crap! Because the popular mind is crap! I mean, you've got these two places, Here is high literature and then you've popular fiction over here. And in between is this great big river of misunderstanding. There are a lot of people, I feel, who are dedicated to keeping the clubhouse white."- King Entertainment Weekly
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