Book Article

Stephen King: One of 1990's great entertainers

Stephen King is the grand pooh-bah of the lethally skewed image — the murderous Plymouth, the monstrous pooch, the malevolent prom queen. So why should we be stunned by his description of what it feels like to be himself in 1990 — a year that made it howlingly obvious that horror now has a brand name? Why should we blink when Stephen King describes himself as feeling something like Marilyn Monroe?

''All I can say is that I feel a little bit overexposed,'' the 43-year-old author says. ''It's sort of like the character in that movie The Seven Year Itch — you know, Marilyn Monroe when the wind blows up her dress on the subway grating — and you look around and realize everybody is looking at you, and there's a lot to look at.''

What everybody is looking at, King explains, is his brain, gray matter so real to him that he speaks of it as something quite separate, as in: ''Here, take a piece of my mind, would you? And pay for it.'' In 1990, everybody was buying. The novellas in Four Past Midnight were met with million-selling madness. His resurrected 1978 best-seller, The Stand (with 150,000 words restored from King's original version), muscled to the top of the lists its first week out. The severed-head-in-the-refrigerator horror of It made the ABC miniseries one of the highest-rated shows of the fall TV season. And though King and critics alike dismissed the film version of Graveyard Shift as ''just nothing,'' King deemed another movie spawned by one of his books as a crowning achievement — Rob Reiner's side-splitting, spine-tingling Misery, starring James Caan and Kathy Bates, which quickly took off at the box office. All of which is not that shocking, given that one King book or another has consistently been on The New York Times best-seller list for a solid decade.

King enjoys the attention, though it is, he admits, ''a little much even for someone with a little streak of exhibitionism.'' He is thrilled that his $22 million, two-year income put him on Forbes magazine's list of highest-paid entertainers — but he has reservations: ''It's a national scandal. Not that I should be there, but that I should be the only writer there.''

That's the other thing about Stephen King: He has a warm heart. All the chilly Republicanism of his Maine upbringing melted away during his college years at the University of Maine in the late 1960s, when he ''screwed for peace'' and ''smoked everything that was smokable, dropped everything that was droppable, and snorted the rest.'' Now that he's ''like a limousine liberal'' with a wife and three kids, he supports causes such as saving Thoreau's Walden Woods from developers. ''I do it because I think that it's right,'' he explains, ''but when I see myself doing it, I just sort of roll my eyes and think, 'You're just such a f-----g American dream, King.'''

Originally posted Dec 28, 1990 Published in issue #46-47 Dec 29, 1990 Order article reprints
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