There is no doubt that Alfred Hitchcock, who more than earned his moniker "The Master of Suspense," is considered one of the greatest directors in cinema history. But does his genius excuse his sometimes cruel alleged behavior?
Alfred Hitchcock once famously said that all actors should be treated like cattle, and he earned a reputation for not liking actors in general. Yet, the biggest movie stars of the day worked with the auteur, many of them on multiple occasions.
What was Hitchcock like to work with? Tippi Hedren claims he harassed and even assaulted her on and off set; however, Kim Novak said she never saw him make a pass at anyone. Was he gracious to some and cruel to others? Did he mistreat some actors just to get the best performance out of them? Was he really obsessed with pretty blondes? This is a collection of Hollywood professionals talking about their personal experiences with Alfred Hitchcock.
- Photo: Rebecca / United Artists
In 1940, Joan Fontaine starred in Hitchcock’s first American film, Rebecca. She plays the second, much younger wife of a widowed man (Laurence Olivier) who mistreats and intimidates her.
The actress admitted that the making of the psychological thriller was a tough experience and that Hitchcock often separated her from her castmates in order to get the best performance from the 23-year-old actress. Fontaine went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for her work in Rebecca.
Fontaine said of Hitchcock, “He wanted total control over me and seemed to relish the cast not liking one another, actor for actor, by the end of the film.”
Despite the allegedly controlling director, Fontaine wanted to appear in Hitchcock’s next movie, Suspicion. In fact, she wrote to the director and pretty much begged him for the leading role of the young heiress.
"I must do that picture, Oh, please, dear darling Hitch... I am even willing to play the part for no salary if necessary!" wrote Fontaine. "I’m sure with you at the helm I would not regret it."
Fontaine not only got the part in Suspicion, but she also won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
- Photo: Psycho / Paramount Pictures
In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock made Psycho, a movie that shocked audiences so much, many people were afraid to take a shower after watching it. Hitchcock also did something that had never been done before: He offed the movie's big star about a third of the way through the story.
Psycho's shower scene is one that has been analyzed over and over again by film students of every generation. The 45-second scene used 78 setups, 52 cuts, and took seven days to film. Hitchcock used the power of editing and montage to make it appear that Norman's "mother" is repeatedly stabbing Marion (Leigh), but in reality, the blade never came anywhere near her skin.
Hitchcock was known to have a complete storyboard drawn of every shot in his movies before he came to set. Leigh discussed the detail of Hitchcock's method and her job as an actress working on his movie:
We shot that picture so easily, so quickly, because of Mr. Hitchcock’s preparation. The planning, the concept, the details - everything was done before. It was never a haphazard, "Well, let’s see what we do now." He gave me great respect, but it had to be within the framework of his concept, his camera. He already knew how the camera could make it exciting, how the camera could make it work. So as an actress, you do what you have to do and bring to Marion all the things you want to bring to her. That’s why I put in the vulnerability, the passion or whatever, because I had my thoughts and he said, "Fine, great. Just don’t go beyond what I want." If I didn’t have a motivation to make a move when his camera had to move, I had to create or invent my own motivation. That, to me, is a compliment as an actress.
Leigh is thankful for the opportunity to have been involved with Hitchcock and the masterpiece that is Psycho. "We’re talking about a man who gave so much to our industry, and to me personally,” she said. “He gave me the opportunity to be a part of something that has become a classic, and it provided me acceptance as an actress. I feel incredibly honored to have been a part of it.”
- Photo: Rear Window / Paramount Pictures
Legendary screen actor Jimmy Stewart starred in four Hitchcock films: Rear Window, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Rope. In a 1984 interview, Stewart talked about how prepared Hitchcock was for every scene:
I think he came into a picture more prepared than almost anyone else I've ever seen. He would work for five to six months on the script with the writer... He was a visual man. He would set up the scene and I never saw him look through the camera.
Stewart also said that Hitchcock was not the type of director who worked out every detail of a scene with his actors. However, Stewart clearly respected Hitchcock's methods and final results. He was willing to take a part in any Hitchcock movie. He said. ''I'd just get a script, and read it, and say, 'If you want me to play this part, it's okay with me.'"
- Photo: Rear Window / Paramount Pictures
Much has been made about Hitchcock's love for beautiful blondes. The actress that perhaps best reflected Hitchcock's perfect muse was Academy Award winner Grace Kelly. Kelly appeared in three Hitchcock films: Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief. Perhaps she would have been in more of the auteur's films if she had not left Hollywood at the age of 26 to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
Unlike Tippi Hedren, another one of Hitchcock's blonde muses, Kelly spoke well of the director: "Mr. Hitchcock taught me everything about cinema. It was thanks to him that I understood that murder scenes should be shot like love scenes, and love scenes like murder scenes."