McCall's (1956) - The Woman Who Knows Too Much
(c) McCall's (March 1956)
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, David O. Selznick, Paramount Pictures, Rebecca (1940), Sealyham Terriers, St. Moritz, Switzerland, Strangers on a Train (1951), To Catch a Thief (1955)
- Sloan's Alfred Hitchcock: A Filmography and Bibliography (1995) — page 375, #241
The Woman Who Knows Too Much
The day I proposed marriage to Alma she was lying in an upper bunk of a ship's cabin. The ship was floundering in a most desperate way and so was Alma, who was seasick. We were returning to London from Germany, where I had just finished directing a movie. Alma was my employee. I couldn't risk being flowery for fear that in her wretched state she would think I was discussing a movie script. As it was, she groaned, nodded her head and burped. It was one of my greatest scenes — a little weak on dialogue, perhaps, but beautifully staged and not overplayed.
Alma's acceptance stood for complete triumph. I had wanted to become, first, a movie director and, second, Alma's husband — not in order of emotional preference, to be sure, but because I felt the bargaining power implicit in the first was necessary in obtaining the second. I had met her a few years before at the Paramount studios in London when I was only an editorial errand boy told by everybody to keep out of the way. She was already a cutter and producer's assistant and seemed a trifle snooty to me. I couldn't notice Alma without resenting her, and I couldn't help noticing her. We honeymooned in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
When David Selznick invited me to the United States to do Rebecca, we brought with us our little girl Patricia, a maid, cook, cocker spaniel, and a Sealyham dog. We had indifferent luck with the group: the maid got homesick and returned to England; the cook left us to become a chiropractor; and it was only through clever ruses that we persuaded the dogs to stay on.
The cook's departure from our cast prompted Alma to try out for the part. With only cookbooks for a script, she memorized and executed my dishes to such perfection that there's been no need since to hire more than an understudy for the role.
We're both fond of French cooking and Alma duplicates my own eating habits. When I go on a diet, which I often do, Alma faithfully loses weight with me, although she's not quite five feet and weighs less than a hundred pounds. Contrary to what one would think from my measurements, I'm not a heavy eater. I'm simply one of those unfortunates who can accidentally swallow a cashew nut and put on thirty pounds right away.
I would pit Alma against a chef in any of the finest restaurants. She can prepare a meal perfectly and completely — except trample the grapes for the wine, and I'd rather she didn't do that, really. The French need the business.
Alma is most extraordinary in that she's normal. Normality is becoming so unnormal these days. She has a consistency of presence, a lively personality, a never-clouded expression and she keeps her mouth shut except in magnanimously helpful ways. She's aware that I become paralyzed with fear at the sight of a cop, but rather than try to analyze me, a method through which more wives than one have demolished otherwise honourable husbands, Alma cheerfully offers to do most of the driving.
Alma knows much — too much — about me. But Alma isn't talking. She knows that for a thriller-movie-making ogre, I'm hopelessly plebeian and placid. She knows that instead of reading mysteries at home I'm usually designing a built-in cupboard for the house; that I wear conservative clothes and solid-colour ties; that I prefer talkative colours to sombre ones in a room, properly introduced through flowers or fine paintings. She knows I share her tastes for modest living, but that my tendency to utter terrible puns makes me a trial to live with. She knows how relieved we were, in a way, when our daughter settled her movie career for one part in Strangers on a Train, then decided that being a mother of sticky-fingered children required all her creative attention.
Next to policemen, I dread being alone. Alma knows that too. I simply like the woman's presence about, even if I'm reading. She puts up with a lot from me. I dare say any man who names his dog Phillip of Magnesia, as I did, is hard to live with. Alma won't say.
It isn't my fault, really, that Alma has stayed so much out of sight of the public, although I suspect I'm accused a lot of overshadowing her. She does read for me and I rely on her opinion. She helped work out on paper the chase scene in To Catch a Thief. She tries to be on the set the first day we begin shooting a film, sometimes goes to rushes, and always gives me her criticisms. They're invariably sound. She still knows the business well, which proved handy again when I began to produce my Sunday television show for C.B.S.
Alma thinks it's a shame I've been typed as a mere maker of suspense and murder movies. But I'm afraid to risk too "offbeat" a movie; people wouldn't like it because I did it. "It wasn't good Hitchcock," the critics would say.
In many ways it's a nuisance having a wife who knows all this but won't talk. The inherent danger is that the husband will never be talked about in public. It, in fact, eventually imposes upon him the egoistic need to write about himself. I'm sure I prefer it that way. I suspect Alma knows that too.