- article: Hitchcock's women on Hitchcock
- author: Greg Garrett
- journal: Literature Film Quarterly (1999)
- issue: volume 27, number 2, pages 278-289
- journal ISSN: 0090-4260
- keywords: "Hitchcock's Films Revisited" - by Robin Wood, "The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock" - by Donald Spoto, Actors, Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, BFeature films, Blackmail (1929), Bodega Bay, California, Cary Grant, Chasen's Restaurant, Hollywood, California, Donald Spoto, Eva Marie Saint, Family Plot (1976), Film & television production, Film (USA), Film directors, Greg Garrett, Hilton A. Green, James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Joan Fontaine, John Gavin, Karen Black, Kim Novak, Lew Wasserman, Marnie (1964), Martin Balsam, Motion picture criticism, Motion picture directors & producers, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, New York City, New York, North by Northwest (1959), Panel Discussions, Peggy Robertson, Psycho (1960), Rebecca (1940), Robin Wood, Rod Taylor, San Francisco, California, Saul Bass, Sean Connery, Suzanne Pleshette, The Birds (1963), Tippi Hedren, Universal Studios, Vera Miles, Women
The final reputation of Alfred Hitchcock today seems to be haunted by the noisy ghosts of misogyny and cruelty. In a roudtable discussion, five actresses from his films — Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren, Karen Black, Suzanne Pleshette, and Eva Marie Saint — offer new insight into Hitchcock and his treatment of women in life and on film.
Hitchcock's women on Hitchcock
A panel discussion with Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren; Karen Black; Suzanne Pleshette; and Eva Marie Saint
The final reputation of Alfred Hitchcock — arguably the greatest film director who ever lived — today seems to be haunted by the noisy ghosts of misogyny and cruelty. Robin Wood, dean of Hitchcock criticism, has argued in Hitchcock's Films Revisited (1989) that the most important question about Alfred Hitchcock's films is whether they can be "saved for feminism." A major difficulty in doing that is the primary biographical work on Hitchcock, Donald Spoto's The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock (1983). Spoto presents a Hitchcock far removed from the self-promoted image of impishly macabre fat man; The Dark Side argues that Hitchcock was an inwardly-tortured master manipulator who became a despot toward actresses like Tippi Hedren for whom he felt a simultaneous attraction and repulsion. And yet, despite such violent exhibits as the shower scene in Psycho (1960), Hitchcock continues to attract phenomenal popular and critical interest. Whatever Hitchcock's inner demons, women in Hitchcock films are often the focus of the audience's strongest empathy and are, indeed, the main characters in films such as Blackmail (1929), Rebecca (1940), and Marnie (1964). Further, although it has not and probably cannot be adequately assessed, the creative contributions of Hitchcock's wife Alma to his work were significant and continued throughout her life.
The question of women and their treatment by Hitchcock exists for every contemporary devotee of Hitchcock's work, so when the American Movie Classics channel invited me to moderate a historic round-table discussion with five Hitchcock actresses from three decades of his films — their presentation for the Television Critics of America meeting in Pasadena in July, 1997 — I leapt at the chance. The panelists were Eva Marie Saint, who starred in North by Northwest (1959), Janet Leigh from Psycho (1960), Tippi Hedren, who appeared in The Birds (1963) and Marnie, Suzanne Pleshette from The Birds, and Karen Black, who appeared in Hitchcock's final film, Family Plot (1976). As a scholar who has studied and taught Hitchcock's work, I wanted to learn more about Hitchcock's relationship with women from these actresses who had worked so closely with him, and I was not disappointed. In the discussion that follows, clearly there are things that remain unsaid — when the other actresses champion Hitchcock, for example, Tippi Hedren seems to disappear from the conversation — but what emerges from this discussion is not only new insight into Alfred Hitchcock, but confirmation that there is no easy answer to the controversy surrounding Hitchcock's treatment of women, either in life or on film.
GARRETT: Hitchcock has often been described as a misogynist, and certainly, some of the characters portrayed by you ladies suffered the ultimate fate in Hitchcock's films. Miss Leigh and Miss Pleshette were both killed by Hitchcock, and others suffered various horrible fates. And yet, what's also true about the women in Hitchcock films is they're typically the object of very strong sympathy from the audience. I'm wondering what you could tell us, first, about working with Hitchcock, and anything that he might have passed on to you that might help explain the tremendous hold that characters like Marnie or Marian Crane in Psycho have on audiences who view the films.
SAINT: Well, working with Hitch was very different from working with [Elia] Kazan, say, in On the Waterfront . Kazan is a method director, and I'm a method actress, and had gone to the Actor's Studio. Kazan would whisper into your ear, individually, his ideas for the emotional scenes and so forth. Hitchcock gave me three things, three directions. One, lower your voice. Two, don't use your hands. And three, look directly into Cary Grant's eyes at all times. The last was not difficult at all. [laughter]
It was very strange because — having come from Kazan — it was very strange direction. But the way he did it, the way he said it, I conjured up, in my mind, a kind of sexy, spy lady. And that's what he wanted. And, believe me, that was just, basically, the direction.
LEIGH: He really, as Eva said, didn't give direction at all, as far as what to do with the character, unless it was beneath what you were supposed to be doing in the scene. You were not contributing enough, or you were contributing too much.
What he said to me at the beginning, before we started to shoot, was, "Look. I hired you because you're an actress, so I assume that you can do it — you know what you're doing." He said, "The one requisite, absolute, is that you have to move when I tell you to move with my camera, because my camera is the most important. And as long as you can do that," he said, "If you need help with a motivation" — maybe I would feel like getting up on "I," and he — his camera — says, "No, no, you wait until 'I don't want to."' Then he said, "If you have a problem, you know, with having that motivation to get up on that word, I'll be happy to help you."
But it was almost like a challenge to me because, it was like, well, I can find my own motivation, thank you very much. And so, I always felt that, contrary to what a lot of people say, he did have respect for actors because he was saying to me, "I'm sure you can do it, old girl, you know." And he made me rise to where I could.
He didn't give me any direction except for movement, except in the love scene with John [Gavin], where he said, "See if you can heat it up a little bit." [laughter]
HEDREN: I talked to him about motivation. I'm not a method actress, but when I heard that Sean Connery was going to be my leading man in Marnie, who was this frigid woman who really didn't give a damn about any man, I said, "Well, Hitch, you know, I mean, how am I supposed to react so coldly to this very, very handsome, attractive, absolutely marvelous man?"
And he said, "Well, you just have to do it." And I said, "But have you seen him?" [laughter] And he said, "Yes. It's called acting." [laughter]
PLESHETTE: I came from the theatre, and I, too, am a method actress. I mean, Hitch didn't know what the hell to do with me. He regretted the day that he hired me. Because, with The Birds, it was a very structured film.
I mean, this is one that he had the least control over. Everything was storyboarded because we had, as you know, special effects — mechanical birds, live birds — and I would watch him, and he would work with each of us, depending on our experience, in a different way.
Of course, he never told me to lower my voice [laughter] or I would have been the leading man in the picture. [laughter] And Rod Taylor would have been real cranky, because his voice was really low. Although Tippi and I were crazy about each other. [laughter]
But he would work with Tippi, he would — because this was her first film — he would do what we do. In other words, we would do our own homework to bring us up to the moment. And he would talk Tippi through, up to the moment before she made her entrance. And, he gave us whatever we needed.
And I was so ingenuous, that it never occurred to me to be afraid of Alfred Hitchcock. I was actually crazy about him.
PLESHETTE: — and he never noticed that I wasn't a blonde, and that he didn't care about me at all. [laughter] And he kept saying, "Why is she in this picture?"
I would invent things, like you used to be able to do with other directors and I'd say, "Oh, you know, Hitch, it would be a great idea if we did such-and-such." And he actually was very indulgent, and very generous. And he let me try to contribute. And occasionally, he actually used an idea — rarely, but occasionally.
And, I said to him one day — [to Hedren] I don't know if you remember this — "Oh, you know, it'd be great if the birds got in my ear, and ripped my ear and it was hanging." [laughter] And he said, [as Hitchcock] "That's a good idea. Go to the make-up man."
I went. For two hours, this guy made this disgusting ear. [laughter] I was so sick by the time we finished the make-up. And Hitch photographed me from the other side — [laughter] — which was his delicious sense of humor.
LEIGH: Oh, well, you're not going to get anything past him.
LEIGH: His camera is going to be there whenever you say — whatever.
BLACK: I thought it was a little odd. I mean, because I'm not a method actress, but I certainly follow, the "form follows the content" kind of thing. And, he didn't say much about that.
I remember there was one scene where [I] had to cry. I was having a conversation in the kitchen. And the other characters were outside of the kitchen, and after about seven seconds, I was meant to burst into tears.
Well, that's very hard to do. We all know that. You prepare, and you're all ready, just ready to cry, and they turn the camera on, and the tears fall — aren't you lucky. But seven seconds in is real hard. And the first time we did, I did it. And the second time, I didn't. And he said, "Print two."
And then I went to find him, and he was sitting profile, against a wall, not watching the scene. At all. And I said, "Could we please print take one? Because it worked, and I really cried when I was supposed to."
[as Hitchcock] "All right, he said. Print take one." And I said, "Thank you so much." Then
I saw the film, and you didn't see that scene. It was like a voice-over. The camera was on the people outside of the kitchen. [laughter]
But I think whoever said he was a misogynist is a very silly, mistaken person. And you might go to them and ask them what they're talking about.
BLACK: I think he liked women. And I think you can communicate best about that which you have affinity for. And it's real to you. And I think he had affinity for women, and that's why they came across so well, because he could communicate about them.
PLESHETTE: Well these [indicating Saint, Leigh, Hedren] women are his fantasy women. I mean, the beautiful, blonde goddess who's really warm underneath. [to Karen] I don't know how the hell we ever got in movies — in his movies.
LEIGH: I wore a blonde wig, darling.
PLESHETTE: I remember one day — Tippi, I don't know if you were there — but he used to stay in San Francisco, and then he'd drive up to Bodega Bay every day in the limousine, with the suit, and the tie, and the perfect hair.
And I got a blonde hairpiece, and I put it on, and I had this scarf, and he drove up, and I said, "My agents are insecure. They think you prefer blondes." And he said, [as Hitchcock] "Take it off. You look like a female impersonator" — [laughter] — which, indeed, I did.
SAINT: I have no idea where that story that he felt the actor was like cattle.
PLESHETTE: We don't, either.
BLACK: Where did that start?
HEDREN: He did'nt say it.
SAINT: He said they should be treated like cattle. [laughter] That's what he said.
LEIGH: But how do you treat cattle?
BLACK: I said, "Mr. Hitchcock? Did you say that actors are cattle?" He said, [as Hitchcock] "No, dear. I didn't. I said — " [as self] this is what he says — [as Hitchcock] "I said actors are like cattle."
LEIGH: "Are like cattle?"
BLACK: Are like cattle. But, I mean, I think he said all these funny things, and had his blue parties, and made his jokes, and had his gags, and was shrewd, and had a sense of humor, and it was meaningless. That's significant. Take it with a grain of salt.
PLESHETTE: But you must remember that his films were so exquisitely prepared, because he really did edit in his head. I mean, that was a finished film before we ever showed up.
LEIGH: Before you ever you got on the set, the film was shot, cut, and ready to go.
SAINT: If he were filming this scene we would be sitting where we are sitting, because he would have told us to sit this way. But within the context of the scene, and what's going on, that was up to us.
And if you felt like — well, you just didn't do it, because, as you said, the camera is there.
LEIGH: Oh, the camera is absolute. But the thing, on the set, he was so vocal. He was so extraordinary. And I think that the ambiance on the set was extraordinary because he was so relaxed because the work had already been done. There was no, "Where am I going to put the camera? And where do I want the focus of the scene?" He knew.
He knew everything before anybody ever walked on the set. So, on the set, he was really very relaxed, kind of like, "Oh yeah. Fine. Roll 'em."
GARRETT: A question for Tippi Hedren. Hitchcock had you under contract and only a few actresses before had been under his exclusive contract. At any rate, one day, supposedly, he was being quite unreasonable about something, and you are supposed to have made a reference to his weight, which no one had ever done to him in public. Is there anything to that apocryphal story?
HEDREN: To his — to his what?
GARRETT: You told a fat joke, or called him fat — made some insulting reference to his weight. </indent>
HEDREN: I may have done that. I don't remember. That could have happened. I honestly don't remember that.
GARRETT: It's been said of Hitchcock that he would go to any extreme to avoid confrontation on the set. In fact, one of the stories is that he would work on hand signs for you, Miss Saint.
GARRETT: That he developed hand signs to let you know that he wanted you to lower your voice.
SAINT: No, no, no, no. You must be a little more careful. That was the direction before we started. Not once I got the direction. Then I knew my hands were at peace, and my eyes were focused on Cary Grant. He didn't every time I — but I didn't do that. I'm doing it now [indicating hand gestures], but I didn't do that as the character. As the sexy spy lady.
That was his direction. He wasn't there at all. [To Leigh] You said it so beautifully. You felt that when you were on that set, you were the only actress to play that part. And somehow, he installed that in you.
SAINT: He made it comfortable.
BLACK: He had an amazing, funny warm affinity, a sense of humor that you just felt so comfortable.
SAINT: He felt comfortable.
BLACK: And he was very chummy with you.
BLACK: He used to do limericks. Did you do those?
PLESHETTE: Oh, those awful limericks.
SAINT: I wrote them all down. They were awful.
LEIGH: What was awful, or difficult — not awful, it was wonderful — but, between shots, we would sit and talk, and he would tell these jokes that you couldn't believe.
And then the A.D. would go over and say, "Well, we're ready, Mr. Hitchcock." And he'd say, "Oh, okay, roll 'em." And I'd say, "Hey! Wait just a minute." I'm laughing, I'm on the floor. And I'm supposed to now scream my head off and die? It's very difficult. And so, that was the only thing that was hard, was that he put you so at ease, and you were having such a good time, that you had a take a minute to get back to where you were in the movie.
SAINT: But he was very protective about us. I remember one of these days, we were just sitting there, and I got up, and I had on the black dress with the red, embossed roses. And I went up to get a cup of coffee in my Styrofoam cup.
It was the auction scene that day, so there were many, many extras there. And he was so upset. Here, his leading lady, in the dress that costs thousands of dollars, is going, first of all, to get her own coffee. And second of all, that she's sipping from a Styrofoam cup. [laughter]
So he made me put it down. He had someone go and get me a cup of coffee, in a china cup, on a china dish, and there I sat. I mean, talk about a method actress.
HEDREN: We used to have tea at 4:00, every afternoon, with china cups and saucers. And it was brought to us. Just the two of us. On the set, which was really a little embarrassing, I must say.
LEIGH: You knew that you never worked late. There wasn't such a thing as working till 8:00 or 8:30 or 9:00.
LEIGH: Because, 6:00, there it was. And especially on Thursdays, because they always, Alma [Hitchcock] and he, always went to Chasen's, right?
SAINT: [laughing] Maybe he wanted his leading ladies to look very fresh the next morning.
GARRETT: Hitchcock's biographer Donald Spoto has said that to understand Hitchcock's relationship with leading ladies, you just have to watch the make-over scene in Vertigo  where Jimmy Stewart is controlling every single aspect of Kim Novak's appearance
PLESHETTE: Picking out the clothing, and the style.
BLACK: He's not that controlling. There's a lot of people who write books about him who have never been in the room with him.
SAINT: He had a wonderful idea about wardrobe in films. I remember one scene, everyone was wearing the shift dresses without a waistline and without a belt. All the extras came dressed that way, and he sent them all home. Why? Because that particular fashion was an "in" fashion and it would date the film.
So if you look at something like North by Northwest, those dresses could be worn today. He was very meticulous and had definite ideas about what you wore. A wardrobe was made for me and he didn't like it, so he took me to New York and we sat at Bergdorf Goodman's. The first and last time I ever had a sugar daddy. [Laughter]
Truly. He sat there and he said, [as Hitchcock] "Well now, Eva Marie, do you like that one?" I said, "I love it. I love that black dress with the red roses." [as Hitchcock] "We'll take that one there." It was wonderful.
PLESHETTE: Also, sometimes a snake is just a snake. I think that in the sense that he's given credit for being very controlling, yes, he controls his films. They were his films. They were out of his imagination, and the way they were styled and how we appeared in them, and the men as well, were part of the full impact that he wanted — the statement that he wanted to make in that film. He was a brilliant technician.
PLESHETTE: He was very well prepared. The reason he could be so relaxed is because he knew precisely the film he was making. We could fill it up, but he was going to make that film. We were not going to change the film, we were going to enhance the film.
LEIGH: I think this answers the question of why his films have maintained the brilliance and held up so well. I feel that this control isn't a Svengali type of control we're talking about. This is a vision. He had a vision of each film, and that's what he made. That's why his camera was absolute, because his camera told a story in a way that led the audience to a point and allowed the audience from that point on to then imagine what happened for the rest of it. That's why you didn't see blatant things, you were led to a point, and then your imagination and your own vision took over.
And he gave the audience that opportunity, and that's why I feel his films have lasting power, because something that somebody makes up and is a part of the creative force is much more potent than something that — if you see a knife going in, it doesn't mean as much as if you imagine you see it, because you imagine that knife as much worse.
It's like Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett going up those stairs. The next morning you see her going like this, [mimes satisfaction] and you think, wow! [laughter] What went on that night, in my head, was a lot wilder than they could show me today.
GARRETT: Miss Leigh, an on-going rumor is that the infamous shower scene in Psycho was actually not directed by Hitchcock but by Saul Bass. Can you clear that up?
LEIGH: That is absolutely untrue. Saul Bass did not direct the shower scene, and I told him to his face, how dare he say that?
SAINT: Don't get upset, Janet. [laughter]
LEIGH: Well, I do, because you can talk to the assistant director [Hilton Green]. The two of us were so upset by this. There was only one day Hitchcock had the flu, and this was not even on the shower scene, this was when Marty [[[Martin Balsam]]] was going up the stairs. And that one day the shots were all laid out — not even going up the stairs, entering the door. He had the flu, and Hilton Green did that — just those few shots, and Hitchcock still had to re-do it because it wasn't right.
But he was there every minute of the shower scene. No one else directed it. The A.D. always says "Roll 'em," but he was there to say "Cut" or "Print." It really upsets me because it's absolutely not true.
GARRETT: Did you socialize with Hitchcock off-camera?
LEIGH: On his 75th birthday at Chasen's we were going down the red carpet, and we were going down this with the flashbulbs and the TV cameras, and all this stuff.
And he sees us and he goes like this [motions for her to come to him], and we lean in and he whispers the most [she laughs] terrible story I've ever heard in my life. [laughter] And everybody's waiting — the line is saying what's going on up there, what's happening?
And we're on the floor practically because it was just about the worst joke [she laughs], and he couldn't wait to tell it.
I mean, that was Hitch — of course, we could socialize.
SAINT: Even if you're not in the scene — I remember the crop-dusting scene in North by Northwest — I wasn't in that segment so I was home, feeling a little left out and unhappy I wasn't in Bakersfield. [laughter] But he sent a telegram saying it was very hot that day. I thought that was so sweet. So, through the years we would send telegrams.
But back to what Janet was saying about suggesting things — when I first saw North by Northwest, and saw the ending. You don't always see the film, so when I went to the opening with my husband — at the very end, Cary Grant pulls me up into the bunk, and then you see the train going through the tunnel. [laughter] I turned to my husband and said, "oh, boy, that's — that's a little suggestive, isn't it?" And my husband said, "You got it, honey." [laughter] But, honestly, I'm part Quaker. I think it came out in me then. [laughter]
GARRETT: Miss Leigh, a question on Psycho. Was there anything in your conversations with your co-star, Vera Miles, that led you to believe that you were favored over her, or that she might have been treated differently?
LEIGH: That was a different situation. Miss Miles was under contract to Mr. Hitchcock, and I came in I think it was, like, my 32nd picture or somewhere where I had done enough pictures that it was not like I was under contract.
And so I don't know how — what their relationship was. I didn't have any scenes with her, and I wasn't there when he directed her. I think that she was out of favor, as I understand it, because — I think because she got pregnant. [she laughs] I think that he was upset that his protege chose another career. [she laughs]
And I think that if there was any discrimination — I don't know, I wasn't on the set. But I feel that may have been the reason. I don't know.
PLESHETTE: Well, Tippi and I had a problem, too, when we were on location. She had a beau that was not allowed to come up and visit her. Because Hitch — Hitch didn't want any distractions.
GARRETT: Joan Fontaine, who starred in Rebecca, recalls in her recent autobiography, No Bed of Roses, "Hitchcock would constantly tell me that no one thought I was any good, except himself and that nobody really liked me. He seemed to relish the cast not liking one another actor for actor, by the end of the film."
PLESHETTE: Because that's what he wanted her to be experiencing. That's what he wanted her character to experience.
GARRETT: Do you see this as kind of a cruel trick to get a certain kind of acting? Did he do this on your films?
LEIGH: That's not true. It's not a dirty trick.
BLACK: People always attack a great person. He could have the world, he was a big person. People are always attacking and latching onto that. and pulling themselves up by attacking people who are great people. But if he were what you guys have been reading, we would be complaining. The five of us would not be saying what we're saying.
LEIGH: I don't think we'd be here, do you?
PLESHETTE: But I will tell you, in all fairness, that every performer had a different experience, but it's because each performer had a different responsibility in the film. And, as I said, he gave each of us what it was we required to get the job done.
If we needed freedom, he gave us freedom. If he needed control, he controlled. If he needed to make Joan Fontaine feel twelve hours a day when she was on the set that she was unloved and unappreciated so that that's what she would give, she gave one of the best performances of her career.
HEDREN: That's interesting. I believe it.
PLESHETTE: Many directors do this in other ways, in more subtle ways. They will create an atmosphere in which you are able to get the job done.
But think about his movies, and think about movies today. I mean, we had scenes that went more than two pages, that kept you interested because it is genius, and because he respected the word and because he knew how to make a film.
Today, nobody has the ability to stay focused. I don't think I've had a scene in the last ten years that goes more than two pages because it's an MTV generation who can't stay focused. They're bombarding you with special effects, which he didn't have to do.
Every once in a while a little independent film will come along that does what these great filmmakers did, that keeps you interested. And that's something that people run to see. He kept you interested, and he got the performances. However he had to do it, he got it. But that's a mark of his greatness.
And if it made her uncomfortable for those three months, she also got great reviews, and maybe she couldn't get there herself.
LEIGH: On her own. Also, to single out Mr. Hitchcock is really quite unfair because any director who has any worth will, again, provide the aura on a set that is needed for the performance. [Fred] Zinnemann — I loved him and he was a great director and a wonderful man — but he used the same technique with me on Act of Violence . I was young and I had just fallen in love, and I was like, I don't want to know. That person [indicating the character] doesn't exist. And he made me come back into this fear-ridden woman, girl, that this character was.
So, it is not just exclusive to Mr. Hitchcock. It's anyone who is great.
GARRETT: Miss Leigh, your role in Psycho was unprecedented in that you were a major star, yet you were killed off in the film in the first twenty minutes. I was wondering how you felt about that at the time.
LEIGH: I was just so grateful that he chose me. [laughter] I mean, it never entered my head. He sent the novel over, I read it, and there's two pages in the novel of Marian.
And he said in the note that it would be different, but it didn't matter to me. He didn't even have to send the novel. It was to work with him — I just said yes. And it didn't matter to me whether it was the whole picture or a third. I don't think it's the number of lines that you have that mean anything. It's the content of what you do. So I had no thought about that at all. I was just so grateful to work with him.
SAINT: Janet, when I was sent North by Northwest, I had just had my second baby and it was supposed to start in three weeks following the birth. So there I was, just lounging around and so forth, and I read the script. And I actually thought, "I don't know about this, I don't come in until page 58." [laughter] I really thought that. Why? Because my mind was — you catch actresses at different times in their lives when they want to do something. I remember having just lost my dad. It's a very personal thing when you read a script, and sometimes, no matter how anxious you are, there are other things that are going on in your life.
PLESHETTE: My role wasn't in The Birds. I was supposed to be some 49-year-old schoolteacher who was not romantically involved with Rod Taylor at all, and Hitch had seen me on a television show. And the agent said, "Mr. Hitchcock wants to see you, and I don't know why because there's no part in the film for you." So I said, well, I don't care — I want to go meet Alfred Hitchcock. And I was smoking — all the things he hates. [laughter] I was smoking, and I had all this hair all over my face. And he said, [as Hitchcock] "What do you look like without all that black hair on your face?" [laughter]
And he decided at that meeting that he was going to change this role so that there had been a romantic relationship, and he did.
LEIGH: It made it much more interesting.
PLESHETTE: It really did, and especially that we liked each other — the two women liked each other, which was new at that time.
HEDREN: It gave a whole other depth to the film. This is also another thing which we could go into, the phases that Hitch was involved with, every part of that motion picture, whether it was the writing of the script — he was always highly involved with that.
He would sit with the writer and work with him. A lot of Hitch comes through all of his movies.
But he was very much in control of the camera work, although he put total control into every person that worked with him. And he would bring them back in one film after the other so that everybody knew almost innately what he wanted out of every film. I don't think too many directors do that because they're not always available. But every one of these people, whether it was the art direction, the camera person, the editor — everybody, everybody on that film stayed with him, picture after picture after picture.
PLESHETTE: Tippi and I were with him out at the Motion Picture Home. The Wassermans, Edie and Lew Wasserman, do a wonderful thing and they give a Chasen's catered dinner for everybody out at the Motion Picture Home. And there are grips, and hairdressers, and producers, and secretaries for the moguls, and Peggy Robertson, who was Hitch's assistant through all of these films — a wonderful, wonderful woman who had a way of gentling everything that Hitch did that was not so gentle. And she was just great.
HEDREN: She was a magician. [laughs]
PLESHETTE: And she was a big woman, probably because she was eating with Hitch all the time. [laughter] And here's this little delicate woman in this wheelchair and the two of us fell on her, we probably crushed her to death, right? She was there this year, too.
But it was wonderful to see her and she had been through all of these adventures with him. She would come and say to me, "You know, don't put your cigarette out in your eggs. He hates eggs and he hates cigarettes, and frankly, he hates you." [laughter]
GARRETT: Miss Hedren, there's a story about the little coffin that was supposedly sent to you by Hitch. Did it contain a little doll with a noose around the neck? What did that mean? Was that a joke?
HEDREN: This is the first time I've heard about the noose around the neck. I was called in to do — have a mask made of my face. And I really didn't think anything of it, because at the make-up facility at Universal there are faces of every actor up on the wall. So I thought, well, gee, I'm just going to join all that. That's fine, that's wonderful. It's a rather painful experience to go through this, with the plaster on your face and the straws up your nose and that sort of thing. However, I weathered it through.
The outcome of that was a doll that was made for my daughter [Melanie Griffith] for a Christmas present. And the difference in this little doll was that most of the time when a doll is made of a celebrity or whatever, it's sort of a caricature of that person. This was an absolute replica of my face. Bob Dawn, who was absolutely brilliant in his field of prostheses and that sort of thing, had taken that mask and taken it down to this tiny little face, and it was absolutely perfect. The doll was then dressed in the green outfit that I wore in The Birds for six months.
Unfortunately, they put the doll in a pine box. And then it was presented to my daughter for Christmas. [laughter] And my little girl, Melanie, looked at it and just blanched white, and we had to put the doll away. [laughter]
Now this was not — and I truly believe this — this was not an intentional thing for Hitch to hurt my daughter. She was hurt by it. But this was not intentional on his part. I mean, he did a lot of really weird things, but this was not intentional, and there was no noose, believe me. No noose.
GARRETT: Was it a joke?
HEDREN: No, it really wasn't a joke, either. It was supposed to be a very, very, kind of wonderful, thoughtful gift. And one that had taken great thought, great effort, great expense, I'm sure. So it wasn't — I can't say that he was trying to hurt anybody. It was just unfortunate.
BLACK: I wanted to tell a story about Hitchcock. I think it's also sort of an answer to the idea that he was treating women badly or controlling them or having these sorts of Elia Kazan transactions with the actor and their art, because it sounds — that sounds very unlike Hitchcock to me, nothing like him and nothing like his concerns.
I was upset because he seemed in a bad mood one day. I thought he was mad at me. So I went to his cabin and I said, "Are you upset with me, Mr. Hitchcock?" I never called him "Hitch." And "No," he said — he said he was just ill. He didn't feel well at all. And all his drinking water and everything wasn't doing anything for him.
And somehow — the conversation led to his belly button. I don't know how. But he said, [as Hitchcock] "You know, I don't have a belly button." Well, I said, "I think everyone has a belly button or they wouldn't have a mother." And he said [as Hitchcock] "No, I don't have a belly button."
And he literally sort of started undressing for me. And he did sort of undress and he pulled his shirt open, and in fact, Mr. Hitchcock did not have a belly button. [laughter] He'd had some kind of operation where they'd stitched it out. [laughter] It wasn't there anymore.
But that was his way of handling an actress being upset about if he's mad at her. [laughter] So if he's going to go to that kind of extent, I just don't think that he's got any bad intentions toward us. [laughter]
GARRETT: Was every single shot of a Hitchcock film story boarded?
PLESHETTE: No, not everything.
LEIGH: Not every shot — every shot was planned, but not necessarily story boarded.
GARRETT: Was any of you ever privy to those storyboards?
PLESHETTE: Oh, we all were. They were on the stage.
HEDREN: You could go up anytime.
PLESHETTE: You could go and look at it.
GARRETT: Did they help you or inhibit you?
PLESHETTE: No, you never felt restricted.
HEDREN: They generally were technical boards. They were never like two-people-scene boards. Especially The Birds, because so much of it was either mechanical or blue screen. So we really had to know exactly what was going on.
That was helpful if you had something technical you had to do, but I don't ever recall anything having to do with an emotional scene being boarded.
LEIGH: It was really — all it did was sort of orient one to how the scene was going to be cut and edited, like the shower scene. You could see that he was planning an angle from up there. You had no idea how quickly the montage was going to go, or how effective it would be, but you at least knew sort of what he was aiming for.
I'd just like to say one thing about his knowledge and control of the camera. His image was so absolute in his mind. There was a young director who was allowed to observe and be on the set for three days with Mr. Hitchcock. And of course he was very intent. But at the end of the third day he went to Mr. Hitchcock and said, "You know in all the set-ups in all these three days, you said `Put the camera there,' and you never looked through the camera."
And Mr. Hitchcock said, "Well, there's no need." He said, "I know where the camera is, I know what the lens is and I know what's inside — I know what's being shown." That's how meticulous and absolute his knowledge was.
SAINT: There are so many film buffs for the Hitchcock films and I understand, but it's funny how they analyze every scene. I remember once at a film class, somebody said, "Miss Saint, in North by Northwest there were three red cabs, and two blue [laughter], and one white. Does that mean he was terribly patriotic?"
And I said, "No, [she laughs] I think those were the available cabs that day." [laughter] I mean, they — I'm always flattered — that they know more about our films than I think we do, actually.
But there's a scene in North by Northwest when I shoot Cary Grant at the cafeteria [at Mount Rushmore]. We rehearsed it several times. And just before the take when I shoot him, there is a little boy sitting in the cafeteria, and he goes like this. [puts fingers in his ears]
That was left in the film, to this day, this minute as I speak. Did Hitch see that and decide to keep it in, and that's why I'm talking about it? Or did he see it, and we only had that one day in North Dakota and we couldn't go back, and he left it? We'll never know. And that's Hitch. There are some things you cannot explain.
LEIGH: A snake is a snake.
(c) Literature Film Quarterly (1999)