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Daily Express (27/May/2008) - The psycho and his blondes

(c) Daily Express (27/May/2008)


A new book reveals how Alfred Hitchcock’s lust for his leading ladies and the cruelty he showed them fuelled and ruined his career

Tippi Hedren was understandably nervous when Alfred Hitchcock called her into his office.

The then 65-year-old director had made no secret of his desire for Tippi, 30 years younger than him and already married with a baby.

During filming of The Birds two years earlier, Hitchcock had banned any of the other cast and crew from talking to her and, on one occasion, had attempted to grab and violently kiss her in the back of a car as they drove on to the set.

Tippi did her best to discourage Hitchock’s advances but, when the pair were reunited for Marnie, the 26-stone director’s lecherous obsession grew worse.

He began to describe fantasies he had of them living together, sent her passionate letters and refused to let her travel to New York to receive an award for fear of letting her out of his sight.

But despite the warning signs, even Tippi wasn’t prepared for what Hitchcock did next.

“He stared at me and simply said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, that from this time on, he expected me to make myself sexually available and accessible to him – however and whenever and wherever he wanted,” she recalls.

“That was the moment, after almost three years of trying to cope, when I finally had enough – that was the limit, that was the end.”

It was also, according to a new book by Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto, the end of Alfred Hitchcock’s genius.

“Hedren was Hitchcock’s last great obsession and arguably his downfall,” says Spoto.

“Considering the films he made and the leading ladies who came after Tippi, it is clear he lost all interest in his women, his actors, his stories – indeed, in movies.”

But Hitchcock’s outrageous proposition to Tippi was the culmination of a career that had been characterised by his love-hate attitude to women, which switched from brutality and cruelty in most cases to adoration and obsession.

Hitchcock married only once and stayed wed to his assistant Alma for 54 years until his death in 1980. His wife seemingly made no attempt to prevent his obsessions with his leading ladies.

The couple had a daughter Patricia and Hitchcock often claimed that her conception was the only occasion when he had experienced sexual intercourse, insinuating that his morbid obesity prevented him from enjoying any form of sexual pleasure.

“He once said to me, ‘I have all the feelings of everyone encased in an armour of fat’,” recalled art director Robert Boyle.

“He felt he was not attractive physically but had all those same yearnings and was frustrated by what he perceived as a difficulty, if not an impossibility, which was to experience requited love.”

In place of sex, Hitchcock took an apparently perverted pleasure in torturing his female stars – physically and emotionally.

“Nothing pleases me more than to knock the ladylikeness out of them,” said Hitchcock in 1935, after completing The 39 Steps.

During filming, actress Madeleine Carroll spent a large amount of time painfully handcuffed to her co-star because Hitchcock claimed to have lost the key.

Caroll also had to endure hours of being dragged along the ground under orders of a director who referred to her as “the Birmingham tart”.

While making the 1960 hit Psycho, he forced Janet Leigh to spend six days in the shower, standing under water for hours at a time, to achieve what was to become one of the most famous scenes in movie history.

These measures may have been essential for his film-making but he still seems to have taken a perverse enjoyment in them.

The director’s favourite joke was to talk dirty to an actress or tell her an obscene joke just before the cameras started rolling.

One actress who remained unfazed by attempts to put her off was Ingrid Bergman. She worked with him on three films and they got on well professionally, but Hitchcock became smitten.

When it became clear the relationship could never be physical, Hitchcock simply pretended that it already had. He invented a story that after a dinner party, Ingrid had refused to leave his bedroom until he made love to her.

“If this fiction were not so sad and pathetic, it would be amusing,” says Spoto.

“But Hitch insisted it was the truth.”

Bergman found the story amusing: “I never got angry when it came back to me. People will believe what they want to believe. I loved him but not in his way.”

When Ingrid left to work in Italian films, he was heartbroken and spent five years searching for an actress to fill her shoes.

He found one in 23-year-old Grace Kelly.

Like Bergman, Kelly remained unimpressed by Hitchcock’s coarse stories and obscenities. “I said I had heard worse things when I was in convent school and he loved that,” she said.

Kelly’s show-stopping beauty was exploited in films such as Rear Window and Dial M For Murder and the director began taking great interest in her image, detailing every colour she should be seen in and every style she wore.

In 1958’s Vertigo, James Stewart’s character becomes maniacally determined to turn his girlfriend, played by Kim Novak, into the fantasy girl he once loved and lost by bleaching her hair and controlling her wardrobe.

Similarly, Hitchcock became obsessed with every item of clothing worn by his leading ladies after Kelly left Hollywood to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco – his fanaticism was seen as a desperate attempt to find “the next Grace Kelly”.

When he cast Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest he took control of everything the actress wore. “I acted like a rich man keeping a woman,” he admitted.

“Just as Stewart did with Novak, I watched every hair on her head. I had two wardrobes made for her.”

With age, Hitchcock grew even more domineering and his increasing sexual frustration meant that simply controlling the appearance of his actresses wasn’t enough – he needed to own them.

When, in 1961, hesaw a blonde model on an advert for a liquid diet supplement, he asked his agents to sign her up to Universal Studios for a seven-year contract at $500 a week. Tippi Hedren, a 31-year-old divorced mum of a four-year-old girl who would later find stardom as Melanie Griffith, gladly signed the contract.

But what started out as a dream job starring in Hitchcock’s next film The Birds soon turned into a nightmare.

“She was like a precious piece of jewellery he owned,” said Rod Taylor, her co-star on The Birds. “Little by little, no one was permitted to come close to her during the production. ‘Don’t touch the girl after I call cut!’ he said to me repeatedly.”

Tippi recalled: “He was developing this obsession and I began to feel uncomfortable because I had no control. I had to be very careful. He tried to control everything: what I wore, ate and drank.”

But his obsession didn’t prevent him from indulging his fantasy of torturing Tippi on set, ostensibly for the good of the film. To make the finale, live birds were thrown at Tippi and others were pulled towards her using transparent cord attached to their feet.

Filming only stopped when one bird almost pecked out her eye.

Tippi suffered it all for the sake of her daughter and because she was stuck in a contract. Only when Hitchcock began to make his sexual demands did she finally refuse to work for him.

Furious, he told her he would ruin her career.

He held true to his promise, keeping her under contract and preventing her from getting the big roles that had seemed to be her destiny. But his obsession with Tippi also ruined his own career and the films he made after Marnie never lived up to his previous work.

“Alfred Hitchcock was a great genius who lost all control over himself,” says Spoto.

“Marnie marked the end of his art.”