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TV Radio Mirror (1962) - Why Grace Kelly Couldn't Say 'No'






Perhaps you wouldn't I believe it to look at him, but Alfred Hitchcock has a way with women

With the speed of a man losing a fortune at the gaming tables of Monte Carlo, the news spread. Grace Kelly was coming back to Hollywood! Just as quickly, the rumors began. Why was she doing it, people wondered. Why should Her Serene Highness want to be a working girl again? Noblesse oblige it certainly wasn't. Some said it was because Grace was finding life at the palace dull. Others blamed it all on Charles de Gaulle and the French Premier's threat to introduce care-free Monaco to the quaint custom of income tax. If that happened, they said, Grace would have to go to work in order to make the royal budget come out even. Still others said you couldn't blame everything on de Gaulle (wasn't Algeria enough?). They explained that the princess wanted to be a movie queen again so she could bring some of the glamour — and the tourist trade — back to her kingdom.

It was all very intriguing and the rumors grew louder and louder — so loud, in fact, that hardly anyone heard when a short, rotund man said quietly: "I just asked her ... and she said yes." The man was Alfred Hitchcock, and for him it's that simple. It always had been. It's easy for him to make a woman say "yes." You see, he has a way with them.

Alfred Hitchcock first saw Grace Kelly in a test for a picture called "Taxi," at 20th Century-Fox. The test was not successful, Grace did not get the job. When she finally did get a picture, "Mogombo" at MGM, it showed her as a stiff school-marm creature with ice water in every vein. But in the "Taxi" test, Hitchcock had seen beneath that frozen exterior the promise of warmth, strength, sexual power and the ability to convey it all on screen. He snapped up Grace for "Dial M for Murder." It was an exciting performance. So was hers in "Rear Window."

And after all that, after proof on the screen that Grace Kelly could be an exciting, provocative actress, she went back to her home lot and might have, by a narrow margin, missed her destiny, might never have become the Princess of Monaco. Her screen career hung in the balance while they put her into a languid "B" picture called "Green Fire," in which she was the frigid lady. But Hitchcock snared her again for "To Catch a Thief."

To film that one, Hitchcock took her to the Riviera and the cameras turned in the very shadow of the palace Grace was later to call home. During that picture, Grace met her Prince. The rest is history, except for the secret meeting years later in Paris. There, in a dimly-lit bistro, Grace found that Hitchcock's magic was still working. She couldn't say "no" to him.

The man who defrosted Grace Kelly may not have had as many women in his life as some men. But his relationships have been long-lasting. As a matter of fact, once a woman gets involved with Hitchcock, she's rarely ever the same again.

His wife Alma, for example, was a film cutter when Hitchcock met her, and not in the least domestic. During the years of their marriage, she has worked with him as a writer, as assistant director — and also become a mother, a gifted homemaker and a superb cook. But she still looks cool and blonde.

"I've been accused," he says, "of always choosing this same cool blonde type as the heroine of my movies and perhaps that's true. My taste is based on English women, outwardly cold, inwardly passionate — probably the most promiscuous of all. The trouble is, most Englishmen don't appreciate them. These lovely creatures are the product of their climate; Scandinavian women, from a similar climate, are similar emotionally — Bergman the apple-cheeked, but what seeds inside the apple! The type is most photogenic, most intriguing, and gives me the opportunity of presenting a woman subtly and slowly to the public — not just putting it all on a platter. Look at the charm of the Victorian woman — buttoned up to the neck, the corseted torso — yet all that barricade had to come off sometime, you know. Consider the size of the Victorian family!"

Madeleine Carroll... Grace Kelly ... Joan Fontaine ... Eva Marie Saint ... Kim Novak ... Vera Miles. To Hitchcock goes the credit for bringing these actresses to life. Strangely enough, he insists, it has nothing to do with teaching them to act. It's been rather a matter of giving them self-confidence. Though talented and lovely, they need the whispered word, a feeling of ease ... like the words that changed Madeleine Carroll into the radiant creature of "The Thirty-Nine Steps." This picture was made at Gaumont British and the powers-that-be called Mr. Hitchcock in. Madeleine had only one picture to make under her contract and would he please use her for "The Thirty-Nine Steps."

Hitchcock remonstrated, he felt the pretty blonde something of a stick, but they pressured him and there was nothing to do but use Madeleine. Suddenly, it occurred to him that, off the screen, she really might have a sense of humor.

"Madeleine," he said, "let some of your own personality come through. Relax! After all, this is only a movie." That broke her up. He's used the line ever since. Most actresses are terrified of this director at first. They think him formidable and forbidding. Then they discover that he's really not fierce and they begin to find his deadpan and calm rather soothing.

Before his pictures start shooting, every minute detail of production has been worked out, from the angle of each camera to the placing of a pair of gloves on a table. When the day comes to shoot, the major work has been done. All is order, precision. There is absolute quiet on the set, an aura of calm; an actress has the ease of simply playing her part.

On one occasion an actress, a top star, went off the deep end, raving and ranting about Hitchcock's direction. She was playing her anger to a room full of people, though, of course, the tirade was aimed at Hitchcock. What did he do? He quietly slipped out the door. Twenty minutes later, she discovered he was gone.

"That's the trouble with him," stormed the star. "He won't fight."

She's quite right. When they resumed work the next day, everything went smoothly enough, but that actress probably wonders why the great director has never suggested she work with him again. The answer is that he doesn't like trouble. He likes simplicity, directness and honesty. He likes foreign actresses because, as a rule, they're more candid. American girls are very likely to put on the trappings of sex, the plunging necklines, the sweaters  — but let a man put his hand on her shoulder, she'll run screaming to mother. They ogle men, they play at sex, but they're terrified. Not all American girls... . There is Grace Kelly.

"Make no mistake about this," the director says. "Ninety percent of the box office is determined by women, at least in this country. Women decide what movie they and their male escorts will see. Women stars are made by women and one of the reasons for poor movie attendance, I feel, has been the downbeat picture. From sink to sink, I call them.

"My inclination is to give an audience a different world, divert them. There's nothing new in the elements of shock and horror. Why have people from the beginning of time loved to visit a haunted house or ride the ghost train or visit the Chamber of Horrors? What I add are glamorous, important stars to the horror. You have to have important people at the top or the public will not worry about them. It's as if you saw, at the next intersection, a terrible accident. A girl has been thrown into the street and lies there inert. You are horrified, you feel compassion. But suppose you take a second look, the girl is not just Jane Doakes, she's Doris Day?"

A star, he feels, must be surrounded by glamour. During "North by Northwest," he watched over every hair on Eva Marie Saint's lovely head. Eva is sensitive; like most actresses, she worries about her appearance. Up until this picture she had always appeared on the screen as a sort of shy girl-next-door, someone's sister, a serious, worried character. But Eva in life is bright, lively, witty and sophisticated. This is what he wanted to get on screen.

"Perhaps you think of all actresses as exhibitionists," he says. "They are, to an extent. But they are also embarrassed and sometimes tortured by the exhibit. What I help them achieve is a degree of objectivity. We sit in the projection room watching the rushes and I reassure them. 'That's not you, it's a shadow. See the mistakes and correct them. This is something you can't do on a stage, but you can in a movie. You can do what you want, there's always the cutting room floor.' Actresses are apt to take themselves too seriously, they're often on the defensive, they're inclined to lack humor. Above all, they worry."

Doris Day worries. In "The Man Who Knew Too Much," she worried because she felt she wasn't getting any direction. Hitchcock reassured her, she was excellent.

"What's the matter with you — it's only a movie. For the money you get, you should be happy." He's said this to many actresses and they have to laugh. He's suggested perhaps they'd like to take up nursing as a career instead. They have to laugh. Ingrid Bergman is a worrier but she has a good sense of humor. Janet Leigh worries but she is an eager and apt pupil.

Kim Novak gave a great deal to "Vertigo," once she had been lulled into a sense of confidence. She played a double role, and was particularly good as the girl from Kansas. She temporarily dropped her self-consciousness and let her self emerge into the girl. Joan Fontaine was able to achieve a real triumph in "Rebecca." She had existed before then but had received no real recognition — until Hitchcock.

A woman may be strong and independent but Mr. Hitchcock says he's never met the woman who doesn't need a masculine arm to lean on. A woman needs to lean a little and a man must rise to the occasion. "In our household, for example, when Alma and I are sitting in the kitchen at night, having just relished one of her superb dinners, I cannot under any circumstances let my wife clear up, while I sit back and smoke a cigar. I have to be at it with her. I have made her depend on me through the years just as in our deep basic companionship she has become the other half of me. To some extent, my knowledge of feminine psychology has grown through my knowledge of her."

How could Grace Kelly resist? Even if she finally can't make that picture for Hitch — this Princess business being what it is — she simply couldn't say "no" when this understanding man first asked her!

June Morfield