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Liverpool Daily Post (25/Nov/2008) - Obituary: John Michael Hayes

(c) Liverpool Daily Post (25/Nov/2008)

Obituary: John Michael Hayes

A sense of heat on the skin and on the street pervades the story of a press photographer temporarily confined to a wheelchair, who whiles away the slow-moving, monotonous hours gazing through his rear window.

“Look out your window, see things you shouldn’t see,” says his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter).

And LB “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) looks, his face squinting and searching, as he suspects that Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) in the block opposite has murdered his wife.

That was the basis of Cornell Woolwich’s short story, It Had to be Murder, which Alfred Hitchcock turned into Rear Window (1954) – one of his most successful films, thanks in large part to a witty and sympathetic script from John Michael Hayes, which enabled Grace Kelly, at her most beautiful, to act as Jeffries’s “legs”.

Hitchcock didn’t interfere with his writers and Hayes appreciated this, but he also noted that Hitchcock was reluctant to give him credit for the qualities he had brought to the film – richer characters, more conflict, and better visuals.

Even so, they worked together on three more films, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry (both 1955) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

Although thrillers, they had a glamour and humour absent in Hitchcock’s subsequent films, culminating in Psycho (1960).

Hayes, the son of a toolmaker, who doubled as a vaudevillian song and dance man, allowed his imagination to wander during childhood illnesses in Worcester, Massachusetts. He started writing for the school newspaper and was soon sending Boy Scout news to his local paper. After war service in the US Army, Hayes left journalism to write radio scripts, including a series on Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett’s gumshoe.

The split with Hitchcock did Hayes no harm, and his subsequent scripts included Peyton Place, which won an Academy Award nomination; Butterfield 8, starring Liz Taylor; The Carpetbaggers; and, in a change of direction, The Chalk Garden, starring Edith Evans.

From these films of the 1960s, he moved to TV, but there was a return to form with Disney’s Iron Will (1994), a charming story about a dog-sled race. Hayes married and had four children.

John Michael Hayes, writer;born May 11, 1919, died November 19, 2008.