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Evan Hunter - quotes

Quotations relating to Evan Hunter...

Hitch was not only my director, he was my drama coach, which was fantastic. I couldn't have had a better teacher. He not only helped me with developing the character of Melanie Daniels, he had me sit in on meetings with Evan Hunter; with Robert Burks, the D.P.; with Bobby Boyle, the set director; with, of course, Edith Head, who I worked very closely with on designing not only the clothes for "The Birds" and "Marnie" but my own private wardrobe. But in every phase of making that motion picture, he was sure that I was educated in it. And it was stunning. It was an amazing education that I received.

Tippi Hedren (2000)

Film Pre-Production

It was a sort of apocalyptic short story. It's about these birds inexplicably attacking this isolated little farmhouse in Cornwall. I read it, and I would've given my right arm to work with Alfred Hitchcock. I then spoke to him on the phone and he said, "Come on out with some ideas. We're throwing away everything but the title and the notion of birds attacking human beings. So come on out with some ideas." I remember Hitch showing me a lot of newspaper articles about unexplained bird attacks as a reminder that these things do happen, so we weren't dealing entirely with fantasy.

We searched for the turning point where it would get ominous. We recognized immediately that the audience wasn't gonna sit there for two hours waiting for a bird attack. So we very carefully measured out the lengths between the bird attacks so that the audience would sit there, we'd throw them a crumb, so to speak. So the first one was when the gull hits Melanie in the rowboat.

One of the ideas I brought to Hitch was a school teacher coming to a town and bird attacks start when she comes to the town to teach there. And the provincials think she must have something to do with it. There's an echo of that in the scene in the Tides Restaurant, from the mother — "You're responsible for this. They tell me this didn't happen before you got here", and the school teacher survived as Annie Hayworth.

Evan Hunter (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), pre-production, and screenplay

We were just trying to find a hook — a way to get into the movie. And on the lunch hour, while I was walking around, I came up with the notion of a screwball comedy — doing a couple who meet cute and go from there into comedy until it turns to terror. And I told him this after lunch that day, and he said, "Yeah, that sounds interesting." So then we tried to find characters who would be mismatched, who would strike sparks and, we hoped, comic sparks. And it seemed to me that a society woman, first of all, in the old screwball comedies of the '40s was your mainstay, that she always was a madcap society woman. And a lawyer is the very notion of solidity and stolidity. So it seemed that a lawyer would be a good type also.

Evan Hunter (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), pre-production, and screenplay

Hitch would say, "Do you think we should explain it?" And we decided that it would be science fiction if we explained why the birds were attacking, and that it would have a greater meaning if we never knew, if it were kind of this unsettling thing that these creatures we see in the park every minute can suddenly come at our heads, you know? If it was feeding, it can suddenly come at us with no reason.

I got a call from Hitch saying, "I think we need a scene where we don't explain what's happening but where the people involved are trying to understand what's happening so that we can proffer different things here." And this was the spur for the scene in the Tides Restaurant, which I thought was one of the better scenes in the movie.

Evan Hunter (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), pre-production, and screenplay


I had been modelling in New York for a long time. It was about 11 years. And my career was sort of waning in that fashion business. I had done a number of commercials, and at one point I had about 12 of them going, and one of them ran on the "Today" show every morning for about a month. And apparently, a producer/director was watching the show and decided to find out who the girl was, where she was, and all of that. So I received a call on Friday, the 13th of October of 1961. It was, "Are you the girl in the Sego commercial?" — it was a diet product. And I said, "Yes." And they said, "Would you come over to Universal Studios?" I did, and I met with an executive there. I asked, who is the director, and he wouldn't tell me. And then he asked if I would leave my photographs and commercial film over the weekend. So I said, "Yes, but I will have to pick them up on Monday."

So Monday I was introduced to a number of other executives. Nobody would tell me who it was — who the producer/director was. They just said, "Would you go over to MCA tomorrow morning and meet with Herman Citron," who was an agent there. I went over and met with Mr. Citron, and I sat down and he said, "I suppose you're a little bit curious as to who this director is." I said, "Yes." He said, "Alfred Hitchcock wants to sign you to a contract if you will agree with the terms."

And I was stunned. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or run up and down the halls or what to do. And he said, "If you are in agreeance to this, we will go over to Paramount Studios and meet with him." So Herman Citron and I went over to meet with Hitch, and we didn't talk about anything other than — Oh, we talked about food, we talked about travel, we talked about wines. We didn't mention movies at all. Not at all.

I heard that they were doing "The Birds", that Evan Hunter was working on the script and Hitch was working with him on it, and I thought, that's very interesting, this is very exciting and all that, but it never occurred to me that I would be involved in this movie at all. I thought I would do the television shows which he did every week. They talked about doing a screen test, and they chose three different roles for me to play in this screen test — one from "Rebecca", one from "Notorious" and one from "To Catch a Thief". Now, the se are three entirely different women. And Hitch was my drama coach, and I would go over to the Hitchcock home where Alma and Hitch would both go over the scenes with me, which was fantastic. Alma had a great deal to do with a lot of his work. So we eventually did the screen test. It took three days. And Robert Burks was the D.P. on it and Edith Head did all of the designs of the clothes and she did a personal wardrobe for me. It was an extraordinary time.

In order to do the screen test, we needed a leading man and Hitch flew Martin Balsam out from New York to be my leading man. He had just come out of Psycho.

The screen test was put together, and I guess everybody saw it, and Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock invited me to dinner at Chasens. Lew Wasserman was sitting to my left and Alma and Hitch were to my right, and — he placed — Hitch placed a very, very beautifully wrapped package from Gumps in San Francisco. It was one of his favorite shops. And I opened the box and there was this beautiful pin of three birds in flight, with the seed pearls and gold, and I looked over at Hitch, and he said, "We want you to play Melanie in The Birds."

Well, I started to cry. These big tears welled up, because I didn't expect that. I really didn't expect that. And I looked at Hitch, and he was a little watery, and Alma and even Lew Wasserman, this big movie mogul, he had one little tear coming down here. It was a very exciting evening. It was just incredible. And then the whole — all of the work really began.

We didn't actually do any pre-rehearsals. I didn't meet Rod Taylor till we were — you know, till we were really ready to film.

Tippi Hedren (2000)

Film Production

Hunter talking about the famous scene of the birds gathering on the jungle gym outside the school...

The crows are gathering behind her on the jungle gym. And I have the kids singing a song. And I asked my kids, what's a... they were about that school age. And I said, "What's a song that you sing in school?" and they gave me "Rissle-dy Rossle-dy." And I looked it up and it was public domain. You know, it's an old folk tune that goes back forever. And I used it. And I gave them four or five stanzas, whatever, of the song, the actual song.

And I got a call, I think it was from Peggy Robertson, Hitch's assistant, and she said, "We need more lyrics for the song." I said, "Why?" She said, "It won't cover the scene on the jungle gym."

So I wrote I don't know how many more stanzas — enough to cover the whole bird kingdom arriving on that jungle gym. And they used whatever they needed, and the irony of it is that I still get royalties from ASCAP. I had to join the American Society of Composers and — whatever it's called — Publishers — ASCAP — to, uh, in order to allow me to use the lyrics in the film.

And I still get royalties from ASCAP on “The Birds” for the lyrics I wrote for that scene!

Evan Hunter (2000)
Hunter describing how the film originally ended in the screenplay...

That was a surprise for me, when I saw the end of the film at the Museum of Modern Art, at this special, uh, invitational opening. Uh, I was really enormously surprised. I was surprised when some scenes were not in the film, but when I saw the ending, I was shocked because the way I had the film end, uh, they come out of the house and they get in the car and they start driving away from the house. And we see them coming through town, now, and we the see the havoc that has been wreaked in the town so it becomes not just a personal thing that's directed against Melanie, that wherever she is, the birds are attacking.

We now see that this is a universal thing, where we see disaster all through the town, as we see an overturned school bus. We see a farmer with a shotgun, lying across a front porch. We see windows shattered all over town. Dead birds on the road. Police patrol cars, uh, in flames. It's almost as if a war has been waged against the town by the birds. And they come to a roadblock in the road covered with birds and they manage to get through that, they creep along through that, and they start gradually accelerating the car and moving away, and the birds all go up in the air and come at the car.

And now they're going out of town on that same winding road, and the birds, now, are coming on a straight line for the car. And the birds descend on the car. And the convertible was also set up at the very beginning of the film, it's a convertible with a canvas top. And now the birds land on the top of the car, and they're in the car, and we see the top starting to shred, and it goes back suddenly, and all the birds are hovering over the car.

And we go back and we see that the road, now, is... it curves around, and he hits the gas, and the cargoes ahead and the birds fallback. We see the birds falling back. And they're in the clear. And that was the end of the movie. And certainly the car chase survived to whatever draft was in the production script. And it was gone, and ... I don't know what happened. I know that — I know for sure that that sequence would have taken them a month to shoot. Overhead shots, special effects with the birds over ... Cutting away from the winding road to helicopter shots — all this stuff would have been just impossible to shoot. Just impossible. And I think maybe he figured he had the same effect by showing the birds having taken over the screen, and by association, the world.

Evan Hunter (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), production, and screenplay

[Hitchcock and I] had a long discussion about music and a score. Using a score, you know? And I felt that it would really make the movie almost unbearable if we had music in it and, you know, underscoring the terror and adding to the screaming of the birds. I think the audience would have jumped out of their seats. And he said no, he felt it would be more effective the other way.

Evan Hunter (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), music scores, production, and screenplay