Letter from Otis L. Guernsey (14/Oct/1957)
In the early 1950s, journalist Otis Guernsey had discussed with Alfred Hitchcock an idea for an original screenplay about an ordinary man who is mistaken for a master spy. Hitchcock had been intrigued enough by the concept to plan several scenes for story, which he often referred to as "The Man on Lincoln's Nose".
When the plans for filming an adaptation of The Wreck of the Mary Deare for MGM stalled, Hitchcock discussed it with scriptwriter Ernest Lehman and the two decided that Guernsey's idea would make an ideal "wrong man" film — eventually renamed as North by Northwest. In order to proceed, Hitchcock secured the rights to the story from Guernsey for $10,000.
October 14, 1957 Mr. Alfred Hitchcock c/o M-G-M 1540 Broadway New York, New York Dear Hitch, A few years ago I suggested to you an idea for a movie, vaguely based on something which actually hap- pened in the Middle East during World War II. At that time, a couple of secretaries in a British embassy in- vented--for the fun of it and to relieve the boredom of an inactive post--a fake masterspy. They gave him a name, and a record and planted information around to lure the Nazis onto his trail. To their delight and astonishment, the enemy gob- bled the bait and spent some valuable time and energy trying to hunt down the non-existent operative. I suggested to you that this escapade might be built into a good movie melodrama in any one of a num- ber of ways. The actual treatment we discussed at the time involved an ingenuous young American--probably a traveling salesman--who has the fake identity pinned on him by accident and finds that he cannot get rid of it. He is on the spot: the enemy is trying to capture and kill him, and his friends cannot help him because they cannot afford to have their ruse exposed. However you plan to use the idea at this time, I hereby hand it over to you, blithely and with best wishes, with all rights and privileges, etc., etc., with no pur- pose of evasion or mental reservations, etc., etc., for such consideration as may have been discussed between my agent and yours, for all the good it may do you which I hope will be plenty. Cordially yours, Otis L. Guernsey Jr.