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The Age (11/Dec/2008) - Writer added sharp dialogue to provide zest to Hitchcock's thrillers

(c) The Age (11/Dec/2008)

Writer added sharp dialogue to provide zest to Hitchcock's thrillers

John Hayes, a screenwriter who wrote some of Alfred Hitchcock's best-known films before breaking with the director in a fight over a screen credit, has died of renal failure at a retirement community in Hanover, New Hampshire, in the United States. He was 89.

Hayes wrote more than 1500 radio scripts, including comedy and detective shows, before his work for Hitchcock in the 1950s pushed him to the front rank of screenwriters.

He adapted four films for Hitchcock: Rear Window (1954), from a story by Cornell Woolrich; To Catch a Thief (1955), from a novel by David Dodge; The Trouble With Harry (1955), from a novel by Jack Trevor Story; and the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Rear Window starred James Stewart as a photographer who thinks his neighbour is a killer. Hayes was credited with much of the film's tart dialogue and with creating the character of Stewart's girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly. (Kelly's character, a fashion model, was said to have been inspired by Hayes' wife, Mildred, also a model.)

He won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1955 for Rear Window.

Besides his work for Hitchcock, he was known for writing the screenplay for Peyton Place (1957) — no enviable task given the challenges of turning Grace Metalious' novel of small-town scandals into Hollywood fare. His screenplays for Peyton Place and Rear Window were nominated for Academy Awards.

Hayes was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. As a youth, he contributed Boy Scout news to The Worcester Telegram. He earned a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1941, before serving in the US Army in World War II.

This provided ideas for his early film credits, Red Ball Express with Jeff Chandler, and Thunder Bay with Stewart, before pairing with Hitchcock because they shared an agent.

Though not quite as celebrated as Rear Window, Hayes' other films with Hitchcock — To Catch a Thief, starring Cary Grant as a debonair cat burglar, and The Trouble With Harry, a black comedy about a constantly reappearing body — were generally well received. So was The Man Who Knew Too Much, though it irreparably frayed the partnership between Hayes and Hitchcock.

According to news accounts, Hitchcock hired another writer, Angus MacPhail, to help with the screenplay. He insisted that MacPhail receive joint credit; Hayes demurred. After arbitration, the Writers Guild awarded sole credit to Hayes, who never worked with Hitchcock again.

Hayes' later screenplays include adaptations of Butterfield 8 (1960), in which Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar for best actress, and The Children's Hour (1961). He also wrote television movies and in the 1980s and '90s taught film at Dartmouth College. In interviews over the years, Hayes was forthright about what it was like to write for Hitchcock.

"I enjoyed working with him professionally, but off the screen he wasn't so likeable," he said in 1999. "He was egotistical to the point of madness."

Hayes is survived by two daughters, two sons and four grandchildren. His wife, Mildred, died in 1989.