The Stepford Wives

For the 1975 film see The Stepford Wives (1975 film), for the 2004 remake see The Stepford Wives (2004 film).

The Stepford Wives is a 1972 novel by Ira Levin. Two movies of the same name have been adapted from the novel; the first starred Katharine Ross and was released in 1975, while a remake starring Nicole Kidman appeared in 2004. Edgar J. Scherick produced the 1975 version (as well as all the sequels) and was posthumously credited as producer in the 2004 remake.

Plot summary

The premise involves the married men of the fictional town of Stepford, Connecticut, and their fawning, submissive, impossibly beautiful wives. The protagonist is Joanna Eberhart, a talented photographer newly arrived from New York City with her husband and children, eager to start a new life. As time goes on, she becomes increasingly disturbed by the zombie-like Stepford wives, especially when she sees her once independent-minded friends – fellow new arrivals to Stepford – turn into mindless, docile housewives overnight. Her husband, who seems to be spending more and more time at the local men's club, mocks her fears.

As the story progresses, Joanna becomes convinced that the wives of Stepford are actually look-alike gynoids, manufactured in secret at the men's club. She visits the library and reads up on the pasts of Stepford's husbands and wives, finding out that some of the women were once high achievers, while some of the men were brilliant engineers and scientists, capable of creating such life-like robots.

At the end of the story, Joanna attempts to flee the town of Stepford as well as warn her new friend Ruthanne, mother of the first black family to move into the town. The men find her and try to convince her that she's mistaken. They take her to her former best friend Bobbie Markowitz, telling her that Bobbie will cut herself and bleed, proving herself to be human. Joanna enters the house to hear loud rock and roll music playing upstairs and sees Bobbie taking a large knife, and realizes that the men told Bobbie to kill her and use the music to cover her screams. Joanna argues with herself about whether or not she is simply paranoid. As Bobbie approaches with the knife, her last thoughts are that Bobbie will prove to be human and everything will be okay. The scene shifts to the men standing outside, wondering what's taking so long, and one of them leaves to call her husband and let him know where she is.

In the story's epilogue, Joanna has become another Stepford wife gliding through the local supermarket, while Ruthanne appears poised to become the conspiracy's next victim.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

In 1975 the book was adapted into a science fiction thriller directed by Bryan Forbes with a screenplay by William Goldman and starring Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Peter Masterson and Tina Louise. The film also marked the screen debut of brat pack actress Mary Stuart Masterson, playing one of Joanna's children. While the script emphasis is on gender conflict and the sterility of suburban living, and the science fiction elements are thus only lightly explored, the movie still makes it much clearer than the book that the women are being replaced by some form of robot. Goldman's treatment of the book differed from that of Forbes with the robots closer to an idealized 'Playboy bunny'; it has been claimed that the look was scrapped when Forbes' actress wife Nanette Newman was cast as one of the town residents.

A made-for-TV sequel was produced in 1980, entitled Revenge of the Stepford Wives. It was critically panned for poor acting and shallow writing. In this film, instead of being androids, the wives undergo a brainwashing procedure and then take pills that keep them hypnotized. As suggested by the title, in the end the wives are broken free of their conditioning and a mob of them kill the mastermind behind the conspiracy.

Yet another made-for-TV sequel/remake was released in 1987 called The Stepford Children, wherein both the wives and the children of the male residents were replaced by drones. It again ends with the members of the conspiracy being killed.

A 1996 version called The Stepford Husbands was made as a third TV movie with the gender-roles reversed, and the men in the town being brainwashed by a crazed female clinic director into being perfect husbands.

A remake of the original The Stepford Wives was released in 2004. It was directed by Frank Oz with a screenplay by Paul Rudnick, and featured Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, Faith Hill, Glenn Close and Jon Lovitz. It was intended to be more comedic than previous versions and featured, among other changes, a Stepford-drone replacement for the male partner of a gay town resident. The film's production suffered much behind-the-scenes turmoil and the entire ending of the film was eventually reshot, creating numerous contradictions and plot holes.

Both the 1975 and 2004 versions of the movie were filmed in Darien, Connecticut, and New Canaan, Connecticut, and also Norwalk, Connecticut. The 1975 version had several locations in the Greenfield Hill section of Fairfield, including the Eberharts' House and the Greenfield Hill Congregational Church. In an early scene with a school bus, many of the children were from the local elementary school.

In a March 27, 2007 letter to The New York Times, Ira Levin said that he based the town of Stepford on Wilton, Connecticut, where he lived in the 1960s.

In popular culture

  • The term "Stepford wife" has entered the language, generally as a term of satire. It has been used by critics to describe Laura Bush and to describe Katie Holmes after her marriage to Tom Cruise. The label "Stepford wife" is usually applied to a woman who seems to conform blindly to an old-fashioned subservient role in relationship to her husband, compared to other, presumably more independent and vivacious women. It can also be used to criticise any person, male or female, who submits meekly to authority and/or abuse; or even to describe someone who lives in a robotic, conformist manner without giving offense to anyone. The word "Stepford" can also be used as an adjective denoting servility or blind conformity (e.g. "He's a real Stepford employee") or a noun ("My home town is so Stepford") . (See also; Pollyanna).
  • British band Radiohead have a song called "Bodysnatchers", that draws major inspiration from the 1975 movie. Singer Thom Yorke mentioned the connection when the band premiered the song in Copenhagen on May 6, 2006. It is not the first Radiohead song related to The Stepford Wives. "A Wolf At The Door", the final track on the band's sixth album "Hail to the Thief", also contains a reference.
  • The Stepford Cuckoos, characters in the X-Men comics, were based partly on the Stepford Wives (See also: The Midwich Cuckoos).
  • In The New Traveller's Almanac, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen briefly pass through Stepford en route to Arkham, and note the 'agreeable womenfolk'.
  • Mentioned in Designer Behavior, a song on MD.45's album "The Craving".
  • The song "Hey Music Lover" by the British 80's band S-Express starts with a sample from the 1975 movie, where Bobbie says "Oh ... yes ... this? It's wonderful!" when being questioned by Joanna as to her sudden change in appearance.


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