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Toronto Star (31/May/1994) - Alfred Joseph Hitchcock



Alfred Joseph Hitchcock

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, one of Hollywood's earliest celebrity directors, did his job exceedingly well, even by his own standards. Asked late in his 50-some-odd-year career what he felt his contributions had been, he said that his job had been simply "to scare the hell out of people."

And he did, so well, in fact, that Hitchcock's way with murder, mayhem, sex and violence, all of it shaken up with a bit of a nudge and a wink, is now studied all over the world.

But there were creative droughts between the rich film harvests. And the rotund gent with the pouty lower lip had a few secrets fans may get a kick out of discovering tonight at 8 when A&E's Biography tells the Hitchcock tale.

Hitchcock died in 1980, but the people with whom he worked remember well the director who would answer accusations of sensationalism with the declaration: "Drama is life with the dull bits cut out."

Among those with anecdotes to share are director Peter Bogdanovich, writer/historian Richard Schickel, Norman Lloyd (who produced the Alfred Hitchcock Presents (TV series) TV series, Hitchcock's daughter Pat Hitchcock O'Connell, Ernest Lehman (who wrote the North By Northwest script), Janet Leigh, Doris Day, James Stewart, Tippi Hedren.

There'll also be clips of such Hitchcock films as The Birds, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, Vertigo and To Catch A Thief, which should send people scurrying to the video store for full doses of these classics.

The meticulousness with which he crafted every scene of every film ("there was no improvising," Leigh says) was a reflection of his personal life.

His clothing style, for example, was what Schickel calls "the banker/undertaker look," duplicated 25 times over in either dark blue or black.

"We frequently had lunch together," Bogdanovich remembers, "and he always ate the same thing: steak, French fries and coffee."

There are other juicy bits of trivia, too:

  • His first American movie, Rebecca in 1940, won a Best Picture Oscar, but Hitchcock, nominated five times, never won the statuette for direction.
  • Disney studios animated many of the birds in The Birds.
  • Hitchcock's formal training was in engineering, art and advertising.
  • His famed cameo appearances in his own films began with Blackmail in 1929, and in the early years at least, they were born of necessity, since there often wasn't enough money for extras. Pay special attention to the witty way Hitchcock managed to turn up in the 1944 lost-at-sea story, Lifeboat.
  • Sound effects for the shower-scene murder in Psycho were created by stabbing a casaba melon.

He was master of the macabre, but "in reality a shy, gentle man with a great sense of humor," his daughter says.