Delaware County Daily Times (22/Dec/2013) - Collecting Memories: All the world's a stage for Hitchcock-loving pair
- article: Collecting Memories: All the world's a stage for Hitchcock-loving pair
- author(s): Patti Mengers
- newspaper: Delaware County Daily Times (22/Dec/2013)
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Bodega Bay, California, Cary Grant, Donald Spoto, Eva Marie Saint, Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Joseph Cotten, Kim Novak, North by Northwest (1959), Notorious (1946), Noël Coward, Oscar Wilde, Psycho (1960), Roger O. Thornhill, San Francisco, California, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Spellbound (1945), Strangers on a Train (1951), Teresa Wright, The Birds (1963), Universal Studios, Vertigo (1958)
Collecting Memories: All the world's a stage for Hitchcock-loving pair
Against a forbidding December sky, the house on the corner in Upper Darby has a frighteningly familiar aura as it sits at the top of the hill, casting its shadow across the neighborhood of row homes below.
That eerie ambiance did not escape Ray Smith and his partner, Dennis Murphy, when they bought the 108-year-old, gray stucco farmhouse in Drexel Hill in 1990.
'When I first saw the house I thought it looked like the house in the movie 'Psycho,'" confessed Smith.
But, he insists, unlike the trappings of British director Alfred Hitchcock's macabre movies, 'there is no one murdered in the cellar or attic."
Perhaps not, but the three-story edifice does harbor an element that could startle the unsuspecting guest in search of bladder relief or the washing of a soiled hand. Tucked in a corner of the first floor is a powder room decorated with memorabilia devoted to the director of 'Psycho," the 'Master of Suspense" himself, who died in 1980 at the age of 80. The color scheme is black and white, with splashes of red.
'If you're wondering why we're standing in the Hitchcock powder room, it's because this is the first home I've ever actually owned so I wanted to make it distinctive and Hitchcock seemed to lend himself to it," said Smith, who has been a devoted Hitchcock fan for more than 50 of his 66 years.
There is no shower drain to suck up swirling streams of blood, nor are there telltale shreds of note paper left unflushed, but above the toilet is an autographed picture of Marion Crane, the ill-fated 'Psycho" heroine played by Janet Leigh, clad in black undergarments. Murphy surprised Smith with the picture after Smith spotted it at a shop during vacation in Provincetown on Cape Cod, but thought it too expensive. Smith got to personally tell Leigh about it in 1997 when she co-hosted the showing of the first wide-screen version of 'Psycho" with Nick Clooney at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside.
'I said, 'I don't know how this is going to sound, but you've been hanging up in my powder room for several years. You're hanging up in your black underwear.' She said, 'Ah, yes, that's when I've gone over to the dark side and become the bad girl,'" recalled Smith with a laugh.
To the left of the red medicine chest in the Hitchcock powder room is a poster featuring the classic crop-duster scene from his 1959 film, 'North by Northwest," starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, given to Smith by former Drexel Hill residents Greg and Renee Cantwell. It is unique in that it is presented in French and Grant's first name is misspelled 'Gary."
The bathroom has framed full-page Life magazine ads from the director's 1946 film, 'Notorious," starring Grant and Ingrid Bergman and his 1945 flick, 'Spellbound" starring Bergman and Gregory Peck, that Smith found at a Cape Cod flea market. The walls of the tiny room are also covered with publicity shots, including the rotund director staring down a starling perched on the end of his cigar for his 1963 eco-thriller, 'The Birds," and another of him calmly communing with a live Leo the Lion to mark his only film made for MGM studios, 'North By Northwest." Other pictures include Hitchcock with 1960s pop artist Andy Warhol, and one with his beloved wife of nearly 54 years, Alma Reville.
A visitor to the Hitchcock powder room will also find a hand towel, room key and matchbook from the Bates Motel, the secluded site of Marion Crane's fatal shower, as well as a matchbook from The Tide Wharf restaurant in Bodega Bay, Calif., where a scene from 'The Birds" was actually filmed.
'I got that myself," noted Smith, who is the frequent recipient of Hitchcock memorabilia obtained at Universal Studios theme parks by friends who know he shares 'Hitch's" dark sense of humor.
Smith and Murphy have, in fact, visited California sites where scenes were shot for several of Hitchcock's movies, including Muir Woods, the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco and a Spanish mission, all featured in the 1958 film, 'Vertigo," starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak.
The oldest of five children of Margaret and the now-late Raymond Smith, Smith grew up in Collingdale. In 1960, when he snuck out to see 'Psycho" at the old Terminal Theater on 69th Street, his alibi was that he was attending an event at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, his future alma mater.
'I knew my parents would never let me see it," said Smith.
Bonner also indirectly enabled him to saturate himself in a week's worth of Hitchcock films featured on 'The Late Show" on TV in 1963. He watched them while he burned the midnight oil working on a science fair project about the human psyche. Smith even used Hitchcock's famous profile as the illustration above his 'color wheel of emotions." When he saw the camera shot showing a woman's strangulation reflected in her glasses that had fallen to the ground in 1951's 'Strangers on a Train," said Smith, he was hooked on Hitchcock.
Smith similar to Cary Grant's Roger Thornhill character in 'North by Northwest" was an advertising account executive when he met Murphy at the historic Plays & Players community theater in Philadelphia in the fall of 1983. Murphy, who had made a name for himself in Chester County community theater, had just completed his first rehearsal for 'Murder Among Friends" at Plays & Players and had adjourned upstairs for a drink at the club bar. Smith, dapper in his three-piece suit, was substituting for the club's bartender, Leon Mitchell, who had the night off. They have been together ever since.
Smith and Murphy recently talked about their meeting in the show 'This Is Not A Theater" presented at Plays & Players as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in September. Their second-floor study is a collection of theater memories they have created both individually and together, including photographs, books, scripts, trophies, props, masks and other mementoes.
'We have one wall that's all shows he's directed and starred in and there's another wall of shows I've starred in. The third wall is shows that I've directed," said Smith.
One of five children of the now-late Irma and Orville Murphy, Murphy grew up in West Chester and acted all through grade school and high school. Now 73, he was only 20 years old when he was elected president of the Barley Sheaf Players in Coatesville. He helped negotiate its merger with the West Chester Players before he was drafted into the Army in 1964. Murphy spent the last six weeks of his military service at Fort Meade rehearsing a vaudeville-style show he directed and acted in at the behest of a general for another visiting general.
'We did 15 different acts. There were a thousand people in attendance," said Murphy.
After the service, he resumed acting and directing for the West Chester Barley Sheaf Players. He was also involved with the Forge Theatre in Phoenixville and the old Marple Newtown Players in Delaware County before becoming involved with Plays & Players at the recommendation of fellow thespian Beth Carpenter Watson. But his favorite role was with West Chester Barley Sheaf as Charlie in 'Flowers for Algernon," a play about a developmentally disabled man who temporarily becomes a genius through a medical experiment.
'I had to go from being slow-speaking and not correct to being very intelligent to losing my intelligence and I had 18 different changes of clothes," said Murphy.
Smith played his favorite role in 1985 at Forge Theatre, where he was crusty, old Sheridan Whiteside in 'The Man Who Came to Dinner," directed by Murphy.
'I was too young for the role then," noted Smith. 'I'm the right age now so if any theater group in the area is interested in doing it, let me know."
While he played St. Michael in 'Joan of Arc" in second grade at St. Joseph Grade School in Collingdale, Smith didn't become deeply involved with theater until his freshman year at St. Bernard College in Cullman, Ala., when he was cast as Algernon in Oscar Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest."
'I read the script and I knew I had found gold. I became a mainstay of the theater department there with other people who have become lifelong friends," said Smith, who noted that Mike Howley, an English teacher who ran the college theater department, was just a few years older than him.
With his St. Bernard classmates, as well as with students from nearby Sacred Heart College, Smith performed plays by everyone from Sophocles to Noel Coward on the Sacred Heart stage until his graduation in 1969.
'I took a hiatus of seven years after college until 1976 when I happened to see a production of 'Miracle Worker' at Plays & Players and was so dazzled by it. Enid Reid was the star," said Smith.
A month later, he auditioned at Plays & Players for 'Thurber Carnival" in the hopes of getting a small role and director Peter Chomentowski cast him in the lead. Smith has since played many roles and directed Murphy in three Neil Simon plays there. They've performed together in just a few shows including 'School for Wives," directed by Enid Reid Whyte, and 'London Suite" directed by the now-late Joe Hart. Smith has also performed several times at Players Club of Swarthmore.
Smith said he decided to give up directing about 10 years ago after his second male lead in 'The Miser" at Plays & Players dropped out opening night and he had to step into the role. In addition to being about 30 years too old for the part, he had to portray the romantic interest of a character played by his sister, Peggy Smith of Collingdale, who was substituting for the young woman originally cast.
'Needless to say, we eliminated all the kissing except I kissed her hand," said Smith.
Between the two of them, Smith and Murphy have directed a total of more than 30 shows and acted in at least 60, in addition to holding full-time jobs. They are both now retired.
From 1992 to 2002, Murphy was executive director of the former Delaware County AIDS Network after working for 32 years as a credit manager and general officer manager of a manufacturing firm. Murphy is also the father of two and grandfather of four.
'They call him 'Grandpa' and they call me 'Faux pas,'" joked Smith.
Smith was an account executive for Davis Advertising in Philadelphia for 29 years after working as a teacher and a principal for the federal Get Set day care program for more than seven years.
Murphy and Smith both say they like the theater because of the challenges it presents in creating characters different than themselves, but, even more, they like the camaraderie of theater people.
'They tend to be very upbeat, enthusiastic and interested in the world around them," said Smith. 'In my 20s, I had friends in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and it just gave a richness to my life. Now, I'd like to think I've graduated to being the aging eccentric for a new generation of theater."
Smith's latest credits include three characters in 'Spoon River Anthology" with Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center at Laurel Hill Cemetery for the 2013 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Herr Schultz in a script-in-hand performance of 'Cabaret" with Lance Moore's Renaissance Theater and several roles with the Dramatists Guild of America at the Adrienne Theater, all in Philadelphia.
Murphy's last major role was as the father in 'Meet Me in St. Louis" at Drexel Hill United Methodist Church nearly 20 years ago.
Recently recovered from three eye surgeries, Murphy is now working his way through Smith's collection of show business biographies lovingly shelved in their second floor study with the rest of their precious theater memorabilia.
Noted Murphy, 'It just so happens right now that I'm reading the life of Alfred Hitchcock by Donald Spoto."
Needless to say, at his house, that qualifies as excellent bathroom reading.