Blood Red Carpet
A Bangor movie premiere foreshadowed dark times for two celebs in 1984.
On its face, this festive scene in Bangor should have been enough to warm the cockles of a moviegoer's heart. The darling girl in her bows and ruffled dress is just dying to put her finger into the gooey frosting of a tremendous square cake, while the dapper gent beside her is presumably encouraging her to refrain from making mischief. Look a bit closer, though, and you'll see that the man clutching his beer bottle and opener, just left of center, is none other than Stephen King, Maine's own master of horror, and the innocent preteen is a nine-year-old Drew Barrymore. It was 1984, and the celebrities had gathered at the Bangor Civic Center following the world premiere of Firestarter, in which Barrymore played the incendiary lead character. Queen City bakers had created the delicious display as an exact model of the marquee poster that promoted King's thriller. The celebrations were apparently in full swing when press photographer Whitney Draper snapped this image, as virtually all of the unidentified people behind King and Barrymore have a drink in hand.
But there is less festivity here than one might imagine. After viewing the premiere, King was quoted in Cinefantastique magazine as saying: "I was extremely depressed. The parts were all there, but the total was somehow much less than the sum of those parts." (The box office agreed with his assessment, with Firestarter grossing a paltry $7.5 million.) The Bangor novelist was wrestling with personal demons, too, having grown addicted to alcohol. "My nights during the last five years of my drinking always ended with the same ritual: I'd pour any beers left in the refrigerator down the sink," King wrote in his book On Writing. "If I didn't, they'd talk to me as I lay in bed until I got up and had another. And another. And one more."
And Barrymore, who had shot to fame two years earlier in Stephen Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and seemed destined for a bright future, reportedly had first tasted champagne months earlier at the Firestarter wrap party. She would spend the rest of her childhood battling addictions before turning sober in the early 1990s and emerging as a sought-after actress, activist, and film producer.
King too would find sobriety a few years after this gala, but even then he was already demonstrating a big heart that would endear him to Mainers. He was responsible, for instance, for bringing Firestarter's world premiere to Bangor, an event that drew some nine hundred people to the Bangor Opera House and raised ten thousand dollars for Northeast COMBAT (since renamed Northeast CONTACT), a local consumer-advocacy group. The philanthropic activities of King and his wife, Tabitha, grew from there, supporting the Bangor Public Library, creating a world-class baseball park, and contributing to literacy and
scholarship programs statewide. For both King and Barrymore, strength of character would eventually conquer inner darkness.
- By: Joshua F. Moore