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National Post (12/Aug/1999) - Not many skeletons



Not many skeletons

Hitch would have been 100 years old tomorrow. Patricia, his only daughter, turns 71 this year and has flown to England from her Santa Barbara home to play her part in celebrations for the life and work of the man who is arguably England's most successful -- certainly commercially -- film director.

Like her father, Patricia Hitchcock is small, but with the intense gaze recognizable from photographs of her mother, Alma. She also has more than a little of her father's famous pout (though fortunately not his girth). This genetic fusion is entirely apt, for, like his only child, Alfred Hitchcock's films were very much a collaborative effort with his wife, who was older than him by just a day and outlived him by only two years. Or as his daughter explains: "He did not take a step without her. If she didn't think it worked, he wouldn't do it."

It was Alma's keen eye that spotted that the "corpse" of Janet Leigh could be seen swallowing in the final print of Psycho, just as it was to be sent out for distribution. She also held power of veto over every Hitchcock project. "If she said 'No,' he wouldn't touch it," says Patricia.

In the early years of their relationship, Hitchcock was actually the junior partner. The couple met at the Players-Lasky studio (later to become Paramount.) It was still the silent-film era, and Hitchcock, a fresh-faced Jesuit scholar and engineering graduate who had become obsessed with filmmaking, pestered the studio until it gave him a job designing title cards.

Alma Reville was a film editor and, at first, had little to do with the lowly Hitchcock. They finally met and fell in love after he was given his first directing break, on a never completed two- reeler called Number 13. From their marriage at the Brompton Oratory until his death in 1980, theirs was as much a creative partnership as it was an emotional one.

Alma's role was to oversee scripts through development to post- production. "I don't think she ever got the credit she deserved," says her daughter, who is writing a book about her mother, in part to set the record straight, and "in part it was because she was a woman in a man's world, but she was also a very quiet person who liked to lead a very quiet life."

Patricia Hitchcock was born in London in 1928, three years after her father made his directing debut in The Pleasure Garden. A year later, Hitchcock's Blackmail became the first British "talkie," with several scenes reshot following the success of Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer.

Hitchcock's growing reputation made a move to the United States inevitable. The family arrived in New York on the Queen Mary to make Rebecca. It was the eve of the Second World War and the family never returned, except for Patricia who left to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when she was 16.

After graduating, she was quickly assimilated into the family "firm," appearing in Stage Fright, where she doubled for Jane Wyman because their hairstyles were the same, and, later, in Psycho, where she makes an early appearance as "Caroline" in the real estate agents' office.

Home life with the Hitchcocks, though, rarely matched the thrills and unexpected twists of their films. Showers were taken without incident. There were no unpleasant secrets or murderous neighbours. Rather, the opposite was the case. According to their daughter, the couple thrived on mundanity. Hitchcock's favourite meal was steak and chips. He also abhorred violence. "The thought of it appalled him. He was an extremely kind and gentle man," says Hitchcock.

She also denies widespread rumours that her father had a roving eye for his famous ice-blonde leads, from Grace Kelly and Kim Novak to Ingrid Bergman. In particular, he is said to have propositioned Tippi Hedren during the making of Marnie, an allegation his daughter dismisses as "nonsense." "He would have been much too scared to approach his stars. My mother would have killed him. He was very happily married."

Hitchcock says her father would have found life more difficult today in an industry where films are made by committee, and digital special-effects have replaced more imaginative thrills and chills.

She saw Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho last year and was not impressed. "He said he wanted to make it as a homage and that he was going to remake it shot by shot. Well, he didn't. And Father hated remakes anyway."

Is there anyone working today who has inherited the Hitchcock mantle? She thinks probably not. But her father, would, she believes, have admired Steven Spielberg. "It's not the sort of film he would have made, but he would have loved E.T. It was pure entertainment, and that was what he was always about."