Having rejected MGM's suggestion of Cyd Charisse for the role, Hitchcock briefly considered approaching Grace Kelly or Elizabeth Taylor before settling on Eva Marie Saint, who was suggested to him by producer Herbert Coleman and agent Kurt Frings.
Saint had won the 1954 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her debut role in On the Waterfront and Hitchcock was keen for her to play against type in a more elegant role, which included cutting her then waist-length hair:
Short hair gives Eva a more exotic look, in keeping with her role of the glamorous woman of my story. I wanted her dressed like a kept woman — smart, simple, subtle and quiet. In other words, anything but the bangles and beads type.
— Alfred Hitchcock
Speaking in 2000, she recalled:
I loved playing Eve because it was so different from "On the Waterfront" or anything else I'd ever done before. Hitch said, "You don't have to cry in this one, Eva Marie. No more sink parts for you." Meaning the dowdy wife at the kitchen sink. Cary thought I should play nothing but glamorous leading ladies for the rest of my career. But, I wanted to do it all, the real and the unreal and I pretty much have.
When I got the role, I had just given birth to my daughter Laurette Hayden. So, after I lost a few pounds, Hitch began the process of transforming me into Eve Kendall. He personally oversaw all of the details of Bill Tuttle's glamorous makeup designs and the sophisticated hairstyles of Sydney Guilaroff. But he wasn't so crazy about MGM's costumes for me. The studio designed a wardrobe for my character but Hitchcock didn't like it and threw out almost everything. Then he took me to Bergdorf Goodman in New York and we selected the rest of my wardrobe right off the models. I often joke that he was my one and only sugar daddy!
During an interview for the CBS Sunday Morning Show in 2014, Saint said that Hitchcock gave her only three instructions, "Lower your voice. Don't use your hands. And look directly into Cary Grant's eyes at all times."
Notes & References
- Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 566
- Western Humanities Review (1983) - Hitchcock at Metro by Leonard J. Leff
- The exact source of this quote, which has been widely reproduced, is uncertain.
- Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest (2000).
- CBS Sunday Morning (02/Mar/2014) - Why Oscar-winner Eva Marie Saint never went Hollywood