Hitchcock And His Heroines: The Director’s Complicated Relationships With Leading Ladies

Acclaimed director Alfred Hitchcock was particular when it came to the actresses he chose to feature in his films. His portrayal of women and his treatment of them, both on and off set, have been the subject of debate for decades. According to Roger Ebert, “The female characters in his films reflected the same qualities over and over again […] They were blonde. They were icy and remote. They were imprisoned in costumes that subtly combined fashion and fetishism. They mesmerized the men, who often had physical or psychological handicaps. Sooner or later, every Hitchcock woman was humiliated.” Take a look to see who some of these actresses were and learn about their relationships with the director.

Grace Kelly Worked On Three Of Hitchcock’s Films Back-To-Back

Kelly in Rear Window
Bud Fraker/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
Bud Fraker/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Grace Kelly was a prominent actress in the 1950s, starring in several significant films of the decade before an early retirement after marrying Prince Rainer III and becoming the Princess of Monaco.

Kelly worked with Hitchcock on three of his projects in succession, which were Dial M for Murder in 1954, Rear Window in 1954, and To Catch a Thief in 1955. Her co-star in Rear Window, James Stewart, said that Hitchcock was a little in love with her himself.

Madeleine Carroll Became Extremely Popular After 39 Steps

Madeleine Carroll in 39 Steps
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Born in 1906, Madeleine Carroll was an English actress who was popular in both Britain and the United States in the 1930s and ’40s. At the peak of her career in 1938, she was the world’s highest-paid actress. In the 1930s, Carroll caught the attention of Hitchcock, who approached her about a film.

In 1935, she went on to star in his 39 Steps, based on the espionage film by John Buchan. The film turned out to be a major success and helped rocket Carroll into stardom with the New York Times describing her performance as “charming and skillful.”

Carole Lombard Brought Hitchcock Onto A Project

Lombard in Mr. and Mrs. Smith
RKO Radio Pictures
RKO Radio Pictures

Known for her screwball comedies, Carole Lombard was the highest-paid star in Hollywood in the 1930s and was named 23rd on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest female stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema.

In 1941, Lombard starred in the comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith, about a couple who learns that their marriage is invalid. Interestingly, it was Lombard who brought Hitchcock, whom she knew through David O. Selznick, onto the project. This would result in Hitchcock directing the most out-of-character film of his career.

Janet Leigh Struck Gold Acting In Psycho

Leigh in Psycho
Bettmann via Getty Images
Bettmann via Getty Images

Discovered at the age of 18 by actress Norma Shearer, Janet Leigh had a career as an actress, singer, dancer, and author that spanned over five decades. In 1960, Leigh was cast in arguably her most iconic role as victim Marion Crane in Hitchcock’s Psycho.

The work was an immediate commercial and critical success and is considered one of the greatest films of all time, earning Leigh a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting actress. The film is regarded as career-defining for both Leigh and Hitchcock.

Tippi Hedren Had A Troubled Relationship With Hitchcock

Hedren and Hitchcock
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Tippi Hedren started out her career as a fashion model, appearing on the covers of Life and Glamour. She began acting after she was discovered by Hitchcock in a television commercial in 1961. He signed her to a seven-year contract.

According to production designer Robert F. Boyle, “Hitch always liked women who behaved like well-bred ladies. Tippi generated that quality.” She would go on to star in his films The Birds and Marnie, although she had a complicated relationship with the director. Hitchcock was very controlling and had little concern for Hedren’s safety or comfort, which resulted in a split in their relationship.

Vera Miles Was Predicted To Be Grace Kelly’s Successor

Vera Miles in Psycho
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Vera Miles is a retired American actress who worked closely with Alfred Hitchcock throughout her career. In 1956, she starred as Rose Balestrero, alongside Henry Fonda, in The Wrong Man. The film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and is one of his few movies based on real events. Miles then went on to sign a five-year contract with Hitchcock in 1957, which had several people foreseeing her as Grace Kelly’s successor.

Although she was set to star in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a pregnancy prevented her from doing so. However, she continued working with Hitchcock, with her most memorable role being Lila Crane in Psycho. She also appeared in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Golden Hour.

Ingrid Bergman Starred In Three Hitchcock Films

Ingrid Bergman in bed
Madison Lacy/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
Madison Lacy/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Ingrid Bergman was a Swedish actress who was well known for her work in both European and American films. She won a number of awards throughout her career, including Academy Awards, Primetime Emmy Awards, Golden Globes, and a BAFTA.

She also acted in a series of Hitchcock films, such as Spellbound, in which she worked alongside her acting coach Michael Chekhov, as well as Notorious and Under Capricorn. As she was close with the director, in 1979, Bergman hosted the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Ceremony for Alfred Hitchcock.

Nova Pilbeam Had A Strong Professional Relationship With The Director From A Young Age

Nova Pilbeam in The Man That Knew Too Much
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

An English film and stage actress, Nova Pilbeam first caught people’s attention as a child actress. She continued to work into her teens, which resulted in her appearing in Hitchcock’s 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much before starring in Young and Innocent in 1937. She and Hitchcock developed a strong professional relationship.

In 1939, producer David O. Selznick wanted to have Pilbeam star in Hitchcock’s Rebecca, believing that it would turn her into an international star. However, her agent was concerned about having to take on a five-year contract and the role went to Joan Fontaine instead.

Joan Fontaine Is The Only Actor To Earn An Academy Award Under Hitchcock

Hitchcock and Fontaine
Authenticated News/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Authenticated News/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Joan Fontaine is a British-American actress who is best known for her work in Hollywood during the “Golden Age.” Over the course of five decades, she appeared in more than 45 films beginning when she signed a contract with RKO Pictures in 1935. In 1940, the film Rebecca was released starring Fontaine and Lawrence Oliver. It was also Hitchcock’s American debut.

The film was met with glowing reviews and Fontaine was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. She then went on to star in Hitchcock’s Suspicion, for which she won Best Actress, making hers the only Academy Award-winning performance to be directed by Hitchcock.

Teresa Wright Was Different From Most Of The Women Hitchcock Worked With

Wright in Shadow of a Doubt
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

An American actress, Teresa Wright first began working with Hitchcock in 1943 for Shadow of a Doubt. Watching her work, Hitchcock claimed that Wright was one of the most intelligent actors that he had worked with, even though the characters she played had atypical characteristics for Hitchock heroines.

Although she only worked on one film with the director, later in life, she would make numerous appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as well as several other major television shows.

Margaret Lockwood Impressed Hitchcock

Lockwood with an umbrella
Don Price/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Don Price/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Margaret Lockwood was an English actor, and one of Britain’s most popular movie stars in the 1930s and ’40s. In 1938, Lockwood starred in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, in which she impressed the director with her performance.

He commented, “She has an undoubted gift in expressing her beauty in terms of emotion, which is exceptionally well suited to the camera.” Unfortunately, this would be the only time that Hitchcock and Lockwood would work together.

Kim Novak Replaced Vera Miles

Portrait of Kim Novak
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Kim Novak’s film career began after she signed with Columbia Pictures in 1954. While working on 1968’s Vertigo, Hitchcock’s leading actress Vera Miles became pregnant and had to give up the role of Judy Barton.

However, after accepting the role, Novak protested the amount that she was being paid and had “all sorts of preconceived notions” about her character, resulting in some problems during filming. After filming was completed, Novak learned that Hitchcock was disappointed he had to work with Novak rather than Vera Miles and that she had supposedly ruined the movie.

Julie Andrews Worked On One Film With The Director

Hitchcock and Andrews
Universal/Getty Images
Universal/Getty Images

Julie Andrews was a child actress and singer who started in theater before making the transition to film. In 1964, she debuted in Mary Poppins, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Then, in 1966, she starred opposite Paul Newman in Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain. Torn Curtain and Thoroughly Modern Millie, a film that she made afterward, went on to become the biggest hits in Universal Pictures history.

Barbara Harris Initially Turned Down Hitchcock

Picture of Harris
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Barbara Harris was an American actress who began her career on the stage before going to Broadway. In the early 1960s, she appeared as a television guest star on several shows including Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In 1976, Hitchcock cast her in Family Plot, which was well-received and earned Harris a Golden Globe nomination. In a 2002 interview, Harris admitted that she had previously turned down opportunities from Hitchcock, but after making Family Plot, she claims that “Hitchcock was a wonderful man.”

Anny Ondra Is Considered To Be The First “Hitchcock Blonde”

Anny Ondra in costume
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Anny Ondra was a Czech film actress whose career began in the 1920s, with her starring in Czech, German, French, Austrians, and English movies. In 1929, she appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Manxman and Blackmail, with her character being considered to be the first “Hitchcock Blonde.”

For Blackmail, although her accent was too strong for the female lead role, Hitchcock didn’t want to make the movie without her, so he had her voice dubbed over by English actress Joan Barry.

Tallulah Bankhead Won An Award For Her Performance

Portrait of Bankhead
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

An American actress on both the stage and screen, Bankhead was born to a prominent Alabama political family. Her personal political views often opposed those of her family.

In 1944, Alfred Hitchcock cast her as the journalist Constance Porter in his successful film Lifeboat. Her performance in the film is considered by many to be one of her best. For her work on the film, she received the New York Film Critics Circle Award.

Edna May Wonacott

Picture of Wonacott
Pinterest
Pinterest

Edna May Wonacott is an American actress best known for her role as Ann Newton in the 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt. Alfred Hitchcock directed the movie with producer Jack H. Skirball selecting the then nine-year-old after seeing her at a bus stop.

With zero acting experience, she received a seven-year contract with Hitchcock predicting that she would become a major star within a year. However, Wonacott never became a major actress and retired in 1952.

Rhonda Fleming’s First Substantial Film Was With Hitchcock

Fleming in colored photo
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Rhonda Fleming is a retired American film and television actress. Having acted in more than 40 films, mostly during the 1940s and 1950s, she was referred to as the “Queen of Technicolor” because of how good she looked in that medium.

Her first significant role was in the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock film Spellbound. According to Fleming, “[Hitchcock] told me I was going to play a nymphomaniac. I remember rushing home to look it up in the dictionary and being quite shocked.”

Brigitte Auber Made A Name For Herself In To Catch A Thief

French actress Brigitte Auber sitting in a cellar with a notebook in her hands in the film To Catch a Thief.
Mondadori via Getty Images
Mondadori via Getty Images

Brigitte Auber is a French actress who has worked on plays, television shows, and films throughout her extensive career. Although she is well known for her French films, her best-known role and one of her few English speaking parts was playing opposite Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief.

In the film, Auber plays the role of Danielle Foussard, a waiter’s daughter who helps Grant’s character escape. Her role helped her gain the attention of American viewers.

Shirley MacLaine

Picture of MacLaine
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Shirley MacLaine is an American actress, dancer, singer, activist, and author. She made her film debut in Hitchcock’s 1955 work, The Trouble with Harry. For her performance, she received the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress.

Not long after appearing in Hitchcock’s film, she exploded in popularity, and within a few years, was an incredibly popular actress in Hollywood, eventually winning an Academy Award for Best Actress. In 2012, MacLaine received the 40th AFI Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.