Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most admired and respected film directors of his era. This rotund director had a natural talent for captivating movie audiences with stories about everyday people getting caught up extraordinary circumstances. Through the art of film direction, he gave audiences countless hours of thrills, some chills and a bit of humor thrown in for good measure.
While Hitchcock films are endlessly dissected and talked about, facts about his personality, his relationships, behavior, and movie making experiences remain a mystery to many fans. One slide reveals the woman responsible for his long-term success. Want to know what bizarre gift he gave to six-year-old Melanie Griffith? Keep clicking to see that, too!
Little Alfie Was a Neurotic Mess
Alfred Hitchcock came into the world in 1899 as the youngest of three children. He was afraid of the Jesuit priests at his Catholic school, scared of the police, and terrified of being physically harmed, among other fears. Alfie, as he was often called, spent a lot of time hiding away in his room. Within the walls of his sanctuary, his imagination roamed freely.
He had never liked his body and admitted to being well aware that he was no prize in the looks department. His fears sometimes consumed him. The only plus side of his anguish is that boyhood fears, guilt, and repression became the fuel for his future career as an extraordinary storyteller.
Childhood Terror Turns into Movie Terror
As a boy, Alfie did something so bad in his father’s mind that it warranted having his son locked behind prison walls. The elder Hitchcock sent his son to the local prison. Upon arrival, he handed over a note from his father instructing a policeman to lock the boy up for a few minutes. The fear and humiliation of this one incident stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Hitchcock remembers being afraid he was going to spend his life in prison. He drew on his own fears as inspiration for countless scenes featuring emotional terror. He hated feeling terrified so much that the “Master of Suspense” refused to watch his own completed movies.
Married and Celibate?
By all accounts, Alma Reville Hitchcock and Alfred Hitchcock had a close relationship. These two definitely fit into the “odd couple” category when it comes to marriages. While he craved Alma’s opinion about his movie ideas and scripts, he apparently didn’t crave her physically. After conceiving their daughter, Patricia, Hitchcock preferred having a celibate relationship with his wife. Alma stayed in the relationship, regardless of a lack of physical affection.
Raised a Catholic, Hitchcock was a bundle of emotional conflicts and repressed desires. Alma knew about his obsessions over blonde actresses cast in his films, but she had her own private reasons for turning a blind eye to his behavior.
Wife Alma Contributed Greatly to His Success
As a young girl, Alma Reville visited her father at the film studios where he worked. She too began working there as a tea girl. At 16, the resourceful young woman was promoted to editing cutter. She then started writing scripts and became an assistant director on some projects. These early studio jobs make her a female filmmaking pioneer.
She met Alfred Hitchcock when they both worked for the same movie company. Their decades-long collaboration began when he hired her as his assistant director. After marrying Alfred, she continued being a creative force behind his films. Some of her writing and editing work on his films is officially credited, but a lot isn’t, which was okay with her.
A Small Extra Part Ignites a Desire for Film Cameos
Like many directors, Hitchcock learned early on how to improvise on the set. He was serving as an editor of one film, and there weren’t enough extras to do a scene. Hitchcock stepped into an extra role to fill the void. Although his back was to the camera, he totally enjoyed the experience and wanted to do it more. That’s when he decided to put himself into movies he worked on as much as possible.
Being a director, it was easy to do walk-on parts, and movie buffs often look forward to spotting him on screen. During his long career, Hitchcock made cameo appearances in 37 films.
His Dark Sense of Humor Ranged from Silly to Frightening
Hitchcock loved playing demeaning practical jokes on certain people. If he thought someone was too pompous and full of themselves, they became a target for his dark sense of humor. It didn’t matter if you were a famous actor, cameraman, or dinner guest, he enjoyed pranking people of all types.
One of his favorite lighthearted pranks was to put whoopie cushions on the chairs of dinner guests. Another time, he added food coloring to a sumptuous meal, turning all the food blue. On the darker side, some of his pranks were downright mean-spirited. He gave Tippi Hedren’s six-year-old daughter, Melanie, a doll that looked just like her mother. The doll was inside a mini coffin.
British Hitchcock Films Got Hollywood’s Attention
Hitchcock always wanted to be noticed by Hollywood, but it took a while for him to appear on its talent radar. In England, he got his first taste of directing as an assistant director for the 1922 film Woman to Woman. Using skills he learned from working in partnership with German film studios, he directed The Pleasure Garden in 1925.
In the 1930s, Hitchcock focused on suspense thrillers and honed his style. Movies such as The Man Who Knew Too Much, Secret Agent, The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes earned him accolades, and he was seen as a leading British filmmaker. Some of these movies had modest success in America.
Hitchcock and Selznick Lock Horns over Rebecca
Alfred Hitchcock jumped at the chance to become a Hollywood movie director after being offered a deal by producer David O. Selznick. Rebecca was Hitchcock’s first movie of a seven-year contract. It was a tug-of-war between the two right from the start.
The producer and director had vastly different visions for the movie. Hitchcock’s screenplay took lots of liberties with the story, and Selznick hated the changes. The comedic parts had to go. They butted heads over filming styles. Selznick wanted lots of footage, but Hitchcock was economical, shooting only what he needed. The movie turned out okay, despite the disagreements.
His Experimental Film Bombed
As the director of the film adaptation of Rope, Hitchcock wanted to do something different. This was his first Technicolor film, and he decided to try a creative experiment. Rope was filmed as if it were taking place in real time, which was a novel concept for movies at the time.
The movie plot revolves around two college friends who decide to murder a buddy and stuff his body into a chest. The two chums hold a dinner party, turning the chest into a macabre buffet table. Hitchcock shoots long takes to make scenes look continuous. Those long reels meant theater projectionists had to stop the show every 20 minutes to change reels. These interruptions made the movie unpopular with audiences.
The Actress Who Wasn’t Icy
It’s no secret that Hitch preferred actresses for leading roles in his film who perfectly captured that icy blonde persona. The female characters they portrayed kept their cool, regardless of what kind of intrigue was swirling around them.
Grace Kelly broke the mold when she was cast in leading lady roles in Hitchcock films. Her 1950 screen test caught his eye, and he cast Kelly in Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief. Hitchcock compared the classy actress to a volcano, fiery hot with a cool exterior. Kelly left Hollywood to be with the Prince of Monaco, and Hitchcock chose Vera Miles as his new leading lady.
Kim Novak Obsession: Art Imitates Life
Kim Novak was at the height of her popularity as an actress when she was cast to play opposite Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. In the movie, Novak plays the plain shopgirl, Judy, and the sophisticated blonde, Madeleine. Stewart’s cop character, Scottie, is obsessed with Madeleine, forcing Judy to keep up the ruse of a false identity.
The movie’s main focus is on the destructive nature of obsession, and in real life, Novak was dealing with the director’s obsession with her. She remembers Hitchcock being totally fixated on her makeup, hair, and clothing. His behavior mirrored that of Stewart’s character Scottie, who couldn’t let go of his fantasy woman.
He Blamed Jimmy Stewart for the Movie’s Flop
Lanky and likable actor Jimmy Stewart played leading man roles in four Hitchcock films: Rope, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo. Already an established Hollywood star by this stage in his career, Stewart was a middle-aged man, and his leading ladies were quite a bit younger.
Vertigo is now considered one of Hitchcock’s greatest films, but it proved to be a big bore to 1950s film audiences. Hitchcock felt the movie failed due to Stewart’s older guy looks. Stewart was supposed to play the lead part in North by Northwest but lost out to the younger looking Cary Grant. Ironically, Stewart was four years younger than Grant.
That Rotund Profile Was Originally for Christmas Cards
Hitchcock may have disliked his body, but that never stopped him from using it for the sake of art. Each episode of his popular TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents opens with a silhouette featuring his famous rotund figure. The first image is a simple hand-drawn figure, and right after the show title, Hitchcock himself steps into the frame as a large shadow figure.
It turns out that the hand drawn image was conceived by Hitchcock many years before he ever came to Hollywood. Back in 1927, when he was a film crew assistant, Hitchcock created a similar caricature of his form for that year’s Christmas cards.
He Risked Losing His Home to Make Psycho
By the late early 1950s, Hitchcock had quite a string of impressive and successful films under his belt. He was now a Hollywood brand who commanded attention, just like many of the big stars he worked with. Yet, when he had an idea for a suspense thriller about a wayward woman who checks into a mysterious hotel while on the run, his studio, Paramount, told him to take a hike.
That’s right. Paramount refused to put up the funds for Psycho. Not wanting to give up, Hitchcock financed the film with an $800,000 loan using his home as collateral. This turned out to be good for him because he kept total creative control, which meant no censoring of objectionable scenes.
Showers Became Too Scary for Janet Leigh
In the movie Psycho, when Janet Leigh steps into the shower and begins soaping up under the streaming water, her character has no idea what’s about to happen. The actress did know what was coming, but claims she wasn’t bothered by the violent scene as she was shooting it. That’s not so unusual because movie scenes are often shot in several takes. Besides, Anthony Perkins wasn’t even around for that scene.
Her nonchalant attitude about it lasted until the moment she watched it play out on the big screen. Leigh was stricken by how vulnerable she was, naked and without any means of defense. Afterward, it’s reported that she never took a shower again. We assume that means she only took baths?
Late Moviegoers Were Banned
Hitchcock was determined that his new shock thriller, Psycho, wasn’t going to have run-of-the-mill marketing. He wanted the youthful movie going audience who enjoyed movies such as The Fly to flock to his film, so he came up with an ingenious marketing strategy to create demand.
Every movie theater showing Psycho was given strict orders by Hitchcock to not let anyone in after the movie started. Theater manager’s received cardboard cutout posters featuring Hitchcock that reinforced this warning. No one arriving late got in, regardless of excuses. Managers went along with this marketing ploy, which added to the sense of excitement about the film.
Hitchcock Started a New Genre
Before Psycho came out, Hollywood violence was glossed over, and films didn’t show the gory stuff. That all changed after Hollywood realized that movie fans were okay with seeing the realistic violence that could be gory and shocking.
The shower scene depicting the brutal murder of a woman remains one of the most shockingly violent scenes in cinema. Everything is normal for Marion until that moment when she’s attacked by someone unseen. The fact that it’s shot in black and white doesn’t make it any less disturbing; audiences are glued to the screen for the entire 45-seconds of gore. And that’s how the slasher movie was born.
Hitchcock Was Banned from Disneyland
Disneyland in Anaheim, California was just five years old when the movie Psycho shocked the world. Inspired by an idea he had while out with his two young daughters, Walt’s Disneyland quickly became a fun family destination and was associated with good values and old-fashioned wholesomeness.
Hitchcock wanted to make a film about a blind man who has his sight restored after receiving donor eyes from a dead man. One scene takes place at Disneyland, and Hitchcock asked for permission to shoot at the popular theme park. Unfortunately, Walt Disney had seen Psycho and was thoroughly disgusted by the movie. He refused to let Hitchcock anywhere near his beloved park with a film camera.
Leading Lady Obsessions Leads to Real Bird Attack
As much as Alfred Hitchcock is known for his movies and TV series, he’s also known for his obsessions with several leading ladies who starred in his films. After actress Tippi Hedren accepted a leading role in The Birds, she became the object of the director’s strong obsession.
First, Hitchcock isolated her from her castmates. He then stalked her, and at one point attempted to forcibly kiss her. Hedren refused his amorous advances. While shooting a scene that involved a vicious bird attack, Hedren had live birds tossed at her face for five tortuous days until she suffered a breakdown. Was it revenge for rejecting him? Perhaps.
A Lost Holocaust Film
The year was 1945, and WWII had just come to an end. Alfred Hitchcock flew from Hollywood to Germany to make a chilling documentary about Nazi death camps. He and members of the British movie crew managed to shoot six reels of footage. They depicted horrifying images of starved and desperate people. The documentary was never completed, and the footage was forgotten by time.
For almost 30 years those reels sat in a vault until they were discovered in 1985. Director, Sidney Bernstein stated that Hitchcock served as an adviser on the film, and refused to accept payment for his services. A documentary called Night Will Fall was made about the story behind the unfinished film.