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Flamingo Feather

front cover of "Flamingo Feather"

Hitchcock had planned to film an adaptation of Laurens van der Post's 1955 novel "Flamingo Feather" — an anti-communist tale in the guise of a Buchanesque adventure story — for Paramount, following the completion of The Man Who Knew Too Much remake and The Wrong Man.

Angus MacPhail, who had provided the initial input into The Man Who Knew Too Much, was approached to develop the draft script for Flamingo Feather, after which it was anticipated John Michael Hayes would polish the dialogue and complete the script. James Stewart was interested in starring in the film and Hitchcock hoped to entice Grace Kelly back from Monaco.[1]

In June 1955, Variety reported:

Alfred Hitchcock has a pair of films coming up which will be filmed in Africa. The director and stars James Stewart and Doris Day recently returned to London from Marrakech, French Morocco, where filming on "The Man Who Knew Too Much" started on May 12. On Hitch's future slate is "Flamingo Feather," based on Laurens van der Post, and dealing with a contemporary adventure set in Africa. The director and Stewart plan a safari to film the property.[2]

1956 Research Trip

Alma and Alfred aboard the Queen Elizabeth

After Hitchcock finished the production phase of The Wrong Man in June 1956, Alma joined her husband, along with Herbert Coleman and Doc Erickson, on a research trip for the film. From New York, Hitchcock and Alma boarded the RMS Queen Elizabeth to Southampton. As they disembarked, they were met by Coleman and Erickson, who had both flown in from the US.[3]

In London, they stayed at Claridge's for a week whilst meeting with officials at the Colonial Office and visiting Laurens van der Post at his home near London. According to Coleman, van der Post's description of South Africa was enough to convince him that the logistics of filming in the country would be impossible, however Hitchcock insisted they continue with their research trip.[4]

From London, Hitchcock and Alma flew to Madrid whilst Coleman and Erickson flew to Cannes, "to renew friendships with the French film workers who'd helped us make To Catch a Thief." The group then reconvened in Rome, where the director wanted to meet with Cary Grant to see if he would be interested in starring in the film. A large contingent of Italian press were waiting at the airport and Hitchcock assumed they were waiting for his arrival — in fact, the press were waiting for French boxer Robert Cohen to arrive on the next plane, but the local Paramount office had bribed some of the photographers to flash their camera bulbs at Hitchcock at Alma.[5]

Alfred and Alma, departing from Rome to South Africa

From Rome, they flew to Johannesburg at the end of June and then travelled to Swaziland, Pretoria and Durban — where they visited Hitchcock's aunt, Emma Mary Rhodes[6] — before returning to Johannesburg. According to Coleman, by then the group had decided it was simply too impracticable to film in Africa and the rest of the trip turned into a vacation with visits to Livingstone, Southern Rhodesia, Victoria Falls, Nairobi and Kenya.

Finally, they returned to London where Hitchcock's sister Nellie joined them on the return leg to America aboard the Queen Elizabeth.

During the voyage, word reached the ship of a collision between the SS Andrea Doria and the MS Stockholm off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, which resulted in the deaths of 46 people. Among the survivors from the Andrea Doria were actress Ruth Roman and her four-year-old son, and Cary Grant's wife Betsy Drake.[7][8]

By the time Hitchcock eventually returned to Hollywood, he had abandoned Flamingo Feather in favour of beginning pre-production work on Vertigo.

According to Hitchcock biographer Patrick McGilligan:

What really set Flamingo Feather back was a parade of logistical roadblocks: the idea of Princess Grace (a mirage), the politics (a turnoff for Paramount), and the budget (a potential sinkhole). And Hitchcock didn’t like what he heard in Africa about the available actors and extras and equipment. After touring the famed Valley of a Thousand Hills in Natal, he realized that the hills and valleys could be replicated outside Los Angeles. Why bother with Africa?[9]

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Notes & References

  1. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, pages 531 & 539
  2. Variety (1955) - African Locales Still Attracting Film Producers
  3. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, chapter 43. Coleman explains that he had intended to sail with the Hitchcocks but then discovered that his son and daughter were both graduating on the day the Queen Elizabeth departed from New York. Apparently the director often bemoaned the fact that Coleman had put his family before his job.
  4. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, pages 236-37
  5. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, pages 237-38
  6. Emma Mary died a few months later on 01/Sep/1956.
  7. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, pages 240-41
  8. Wikipedia: Andrea Doria
  9. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 539