The Se­cret Jewish His­tory of... Stephen King

Forward Magazine - - Reviews - By Seth Ro­govoy

Au­thor Stephen King was re­ally born with that name. Not for him the path from Ir­win Alan Kniberg to Alan King. He came out all ready, at least in name, to be­come one of the best-sell­ing au­thors of all time, just as he was. Al­though when it came time for the pro­lific writer — as of last count, 54 nov­els and seven non­fic­tion books — to adopt a pseu­do­nym, he did choose the sus­pi­ciously Jewish-sound­ing name Richard Bach­man.

King once wrote a short story, ‘Her­man Wouk Is Still Alive,’ as the result of a bet he lost with his son.

In re­al­ity, how­ever, King wasn’t try­ing to pass. He took the name from his fa­vorite band, Cana­dian rock­ers Bach­man-Turner Over­drive, named after Randy Bach­man, who grew up Mor­mon, al­beit in a Jewish com­mu­nity in Win­nipeg, in Man­i­toba, Canada.

King’s books have sold over 350 million copies and spawned an en­tire in­dus­try of adap­ta­tions as fea­ture films, TV shows, comic books and minis­eries — the lat­est of which is a 10-episode se­ries based on King’s dystopian story “The Mist,” about a town shrouded in a fog of bib­li­cal, plague­like pro­por­tions. It pre­miered on Spike TV on June 22. Other up­com­ing adap­ta­tions in­clude the sci-fi fan­tasy West­ern “The Dark Tower,” which, co-pro­duced by the long­time King as­so­ciate and Os­car-win­ning screen­writer Akiva Golds­man (“A Beau­ti­ful Mind”), opens in the­aters Au­gust 4. “It” opens on Septem­ber 8. Think “scary clown” — un­less that scares you too much. And later this year, King’s ob­ses­sion with char­ac­ters con­fined to bed (a la “Mis­ery”) con­tin­ues on Net­flix with the film ver­sion of “Ger­ald’s Game,” the story of a woman who is left hand­cuffed in a re­mote cabin after her hus­band dies dur­ing one of their sex games.

King was raised Methodist and still iden­ti­fies as such. Yet Jewish themes and char­ac­ters pop up through­out his life and work. King gave his chil­dren the very Jewish names of Joseph and Naomi Rachel. (In fair­ness, he also has a son named Owen.) King’s sec­ond novel, “Salem’s Lot,” is placed in the fic­tional town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine.

King’s 1986 hor­ror novel “It” in­cludes a Jewish ac­coun­tant named Stan­ley Uris — pre­sum­ably a nod to real-life nov­el­ist Leon Uris of “Ex­o­dus” and “Mila 18” fame. King has al­ways been a big fan and pro­po­nent of com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful au­thors like Uris and Pulitzer Prize win­ner Her­man Wouk (“The Caine Mutiny,” “This Is My God”). King once wrote a short story, “Her­man Wouk Is Still Alive,” as the result of a bet he lost with his son, au­thor Joe Hill.

King wrote the liner notes for a tribute al­bum to Jewish punk-rock group the Ra­mones and recorded a spo­ken-word in­tro to a ver­sion of Jewish hard-rock group Blue Oys­ter Cult’s sin­gle “As­tron­omy.” The Blue Oys­ter Cult song “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” was also used in the orig­i­nal TV se­ries based on King’s novel “The Stand.”

He has even toured as a mu­si­cian with the Rock Bot­tom Re­main­ders, a group of celebrity au­thors var­i­ously in­clud­ing Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Scott Turow, Mitch Al­bom and Cyn­thia Heimel (often with the help of pros, in­clud­ing Jewish mu­si­cians Al Kooper and War­ren Zevon). In his 1994 es­say, “The Neigh­bor­hood of the Beast,” King re­counts stum­bling upon re­stroom graf­fiti read­ing “Save Rus­sian Jews, Col­lect Valu­able Prizes.” In a sub­se­quent short story, “All That You Love Will Be Car­ried Away,” pub­lished in The New Yorker in 2001, his main char­ac­ter, Al­fie Zim­mer, a trav­el­ing sales­man, be­comes ob­sessed with strange bath­room graf­fiti he en­coun­ters on his trav­els, be­liev­ing

it rep­re­sents voices speak­ing to him. King re­cy­cled the “Save Rus­sian Jews” graf­fiti in the story.

In his 2001 novel “Dream­catcher,” the char­ac­ter of Joe “Beaver” Claren­don is “con­vinced that peo­ple named Roth­schild and Gold­farb ran the world.” Pre­sum­ably, King based Beaver on his re­al­life un­cle Oren, about whom he writes in his non­fic­tion work, “On Writ­ing,” Oren “drank quite a bit and had dark the­o­ries about how the Jews were run­ning the world.”

One of King’s best-known works, “The Shin­ing,” of course, was turned into a movie by Jewish film ge­nius Stan­ley Kubrick. Some be­lieve that Kubrick Ju­daized the story; in fact, there is an en­tire doc­u­men­tary film de­voted to this premise, called “Room 237.” Renowned film critic J. Hober­man wrote, “Whether or not ‘The Shin­ing’ is widely in­tel­li­gi­ble as a movie about the Holo­caust, ‘Room 237’ makes it am­ply ap­par­ent that Kubrick was at­tempt­ing to in­fuse King’s novel — which might oth­er­wise be con­strued as a su­per­nat­u­ral tale of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence — with the full hor­ror of his­tory.” Kubrick’s mu­si­cal choices for the film back up this the­ory, in­clud­ing Pen­derecki’s “The Awak­en­ing of Ja­cob.” Pen­derecki was a Pole who lived through the Holo­caust and said that all his mu­sic was com­posed un­der the weight of its hor­ror; “The Awak­en­ing of Ja­cob,” which plays in the film while blood rushes from the el­e­va­tors, is also known as the “Auschwitz Or­a­to­rio.” King re­port­edly hates the film.

AP PHOTO

STEPHEN'S LOT: King jams with rock leg­end Al Kooper in 1992.

SPIKE

INTO THE MIST ( ICK!): The new Stephen King se­ries ‘The Mist’ tells of a town shrouded in a fog of bib­li­cal pro­por­tions.

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