The Guardian (17/Aug/1999) - Farley Granger and Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell interview
(c) The Guardian (17/Aug/1999)
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Ben Hecht, Cary Grant, Cedric Hardwicke, Charles Laughton, Claude Rains, Constance Collier, David O. Selznick, Farley Granger, Gainsborough Pictures, Gerald du Maurier, Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart, Jennifer Jones, Joan Fontaine, Joan Harrison, John Houseman, Joseph Cotten, Lifeboat (1944), New York City, New York, Norman Lloyd, Notorious (1946), Patricia Hitchcock, Psycho (1960), Rebecca (1940), Robert Walker, Rope (1948), Ruth Roman, Saboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Strangers on a Train (1951), Tallulah Bankhead, Teresa Wright, The Lady Vanishes (1938), Warner Brothers
AW: You grew up in California and there are various stories about how you got signed to Goldwyn. I've read stories that a talent scout saw you in a play, I've read stories that you answered an ad in a newspaper - that was in one of the biographies issued by the studio. What's the truth?
FG: Answering the ad was not true, that was a thing that the studio thought would be clever. What happened was I was in a play. I had a very small part, as a matter of fact I had about four small parts. I'd run on the stage and shout 'Fire' then run off, change the make-up a little and come on as somebody else. And the agent and the casting director from Goldwyn's saw me and the agent signed me up and took me to the Goldwyn studio and I read a couple of pages of dialogue for this film The North Star.
I read it for Lewis Milestone who was the director and Lillian Hellman who wrote it and Sam Goldwyn and they said thank you very much and I left and as I left I went in to thank the casting director who had seen the play. I thanked him and as I left the office into the outer office where the secretary was she said, "Goodbye - and don't call us we'll call you," and I thought, 'She said they're going to call me, WOW!' Oh my God I was so happy - I was 17 years old - I went home and said "They're going to call me".
I waited, I waited, I waited, I waited, weeks went by I graduated from high school, but finally they did call.
I went back and the three were still in the same room. And a man Goldwyn had brought from New York called Ben O'Schneider who was supposed to be a kind of coach. I started to read the scene and the scene had been changed completely so it wasn't making any sense. And Goldwyn said, "No, no, no, no, this is no good. Give him the right scene and come back in a hour."
So, I went to a drugstore and had a sandwich and a coke and looked over this thing. He said come to Schneider's office and I went and this very nice man said, "Do you know what the story's about?" and I said, "No, nobody's told me anything". And he told me what led up to the scene and what the story was really about and so he said, "Okay now let's do it". We read the scene and he put the paper down and he said, "You're the boy, come, come with me" and we went up to the casting director and said, "This is the boy" and the casting director said "Don't tell me I'm the one who found him!" So I read for Goldwyn and I was signed to a contract for $100 a week. Things have changed!
AW: You were signed to him for seven years before you bought your contract out in the 1950s. You did service in the navy during the war and when you came out you made a movie with Nicholas Ray - They Live By Night. What was that like?
FG: It was wonderful. I loved working with him very much. It was his first film and John Houseman produced it. I had met him at some friends' house but we really didn't talk much to each other. The woman whose house it was said to me that he wanted me for his movie and I said, "But I've hardly talked to him" and she said "Well he's been watching you" So I went to RKO and he and John Houseman said "We're going to test you. Who would you like to work with?" and I said I'd like to work with Cathy O'Donnell and they said okay. Cathy was at Goldwyn's then.
They got Cathy and we did the test which evidently was very very good. Dori Sheri was the head of RKO and he said "Look we've got all these young guys under contract, Rory Calhoun, Guy Materson, I don't want to borrow and particularly I don't want to borrow somebody from Sam Goldwyn because he's too tough and Nick and John Houseman fought for us and they got us. It's the only time anyone's fought for me.
Then I went New York for the first time and fell in love with the theatre and then I came back to Hollywood and what had happened was that Howard Hughes had taken over RKO and he looked at They Live By Night and, excuse the phrase, but there was no T and A in it, for those of you who know the phrase, and he said "What is this? This is a piece of junk get rid of it" and they shelved it for two years, but everyone had seen in Hollywood because they all have their own projection rooms so it did a great deal for me.
And then finally it came out in a little theatre here in London and got very very good reviews and finally they thought "Oh well perhaps we should release it in America" and they did so, so thank you. All of you!
FG: Evidently, as far as I know.
AW: I just want to pick up on Sam Goldwyn being tough. Do you regard him with affection now?
FG: No, No, [laughter] No way! No, I think Sam Goldwyn was really William Wilder. Wilder made all the important movies that Goldwyn ever made. Wilder left - his contract was up and he'd had it with Goldwyn because they always fought like crazy - so Goldwyn didn't know what to do.
The films were not good, they weren't up to the standard of William Wilder - who was brilliant - and so he kept turning out this things and he made one maybe two movies a year, and so I had to depend on loan-outs. He loaned me out for a lot of really crappy movies that I refused to do. And then I'd be put on suspension. I was on suspension more than I worked, I'm sure.
AW: What was your experience of meeting Hitchcock for the first time?
FG: I was very impressed of course, because I'd seen all his films and thought he was unique and brilliant and we had this sort of bizarre set [in Rope] where everything moved. We would rehearse for a day or two and then spend the next day shooting. The technical camera then was as wide as this table and just a terribly big box and everybody had to get out of the way while it moved and the walls were on rollers, they moved. It was difficult and you'd come to sit down and you'd hope that the prop man would have the chair under you when you sat, otherwise you'd go on the floor.
AW: And what was he like directing actors. Did you spend a lot of time talking about character motivation?
FG: Not too much. Hitchcock was fine, he was jolly. He knew what he was doing that was the important thing because I worked with so many directors who would come in and they hadn't a clue what to do for the scene and usually they would hit on the poor cameraman. That's why most of them were alcoholics [laughter]. It's true. They'd say, "What do you think and Bill... Joe...?" and the cameraman would say, "Well he's coming in there and we put the camera here" and the cameraman would do it.
But Hitch did it all and there was no waiting around. He did it like that [snaps fingers repeatedly]. I loved that.
AW: And what was it like to work with James Stewart?
FG: He was a terrific man. I think he was a little concerned about the part and he was very thoughtful about it and spent most of his time alone. But Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Connie Collier, the elderly people, were wonderful. They had a ball, well, we all did. It was an interesting experiment. It didn't really work, but it's still something I'm proud of being part of.
AW: In between Rope and Strangers on a Train you made some other films for Goldwyn, one of which was Our Very Own which was a big hit and you became, for a short while, a teen idol. Did you like being a movie star?
FG: No [laughter] I wanted to be an actor that's all. The great thing about the way Hitch worked because he didn't waste any time because he'd done it all before with the drawings and so on. And I hated this sitting around, waiting and waiting. I did a film for Goldwyn called Roseanna McCoy. It was cast and sets were built up in the Sierra Madre mountains and the day before we all had to go up a train to the location, he threw out the script so a whole company went up with nothing. They shot me riding a horse from left to right, from the right to left, up the hill, down the hill. It was ridiculous.
AW: What are your memories of Strangers on a Train?
FG: I had a great time. Oh I loved it. I got to know Hitch pretty well - and his family - which was terrific - and it was fun. Pat and I had a lot of fun together on the set. I'd been in Europe and I came back and Goldwyn called and said, "Go out and see Hitch at his house" so I went out and we sat on the porch and he told me the story and he said, "What do you think about it?" and I said "I think It's terrific" and he said "Okay, well we start shooting on Monday" [laughter]. Those were the greatest words I'd ever heard.
AW: Could you play tennis?
FG: Yeah, I did part of it, the easy part.
AW: It was very sad about your co-star Robert Walker and what happened to him.
FG: Very sad. He'd always played these boy next door parts and very well - he was a very good actor - and he was hurt and angry when Jennifer Jones left him for Selznick and he was just getting over that then and he worked very hard and he was wonderful.
AW: Did you get to see the rushes?
FG: No, I'd probably just say, "Oh no, I should have done it the other way". I would have been depressed, I'm sure.
AW: You made some more movies in Hollywood before you bought out your contract from Goldwyn. You had your Italian adventure with Senso. What was it like working with Visconti? You worked with him for a long long time didn't you?
FG: Yes, for about seven months or more. I'd gone to my agent's office and I'd already rented an apartment in New York and my agent said "You can't go to New York, you idiot, you have no money. You gave it all back to Goldwyn. You don't have anything, you've got to make some money. There's this Italian movie". And I said "I don't want to go to Italy". He said "It's directed by Luchino Visconti". Well, at that time nobody really knew who he was, but I knew that Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles had written it so I thought that's a pretty good idea and I'll go and work on it for six weeks and get the salary Goldwyn got for me when he loaned me out.
So I went and I was there for over seven months. It's interesting because at the end of the movie when I'm executed, there's no close-up of me, and that's because it wasn't me! In May or June after I'd left in February they called and said "We need you to come back" and I said "No! If I go back I'll be stuck for God knows how many months."
But it's a wonderful film. It's beautiful and he was the great master of not only film, but theatre. He did everything in the world in the theatre and of course the opera, Callas and everything.
AW: Is that why you went back in the 70s, because you had so much affection for the time you'd spent there? Because you lived in Rome for a while?
FG: I just love it and I think the people are terrific. Even if I don't know what they're saying it sounds great! It sounds musical and beautiful.
AW: Senso, like They Live by Night, had a traumatic history. Of course, you were well paid for it but at the time it must have been depressing to think that one of the greatest pieces of work you'd done...
FG: No, it was shown at the Venice Film Festival and the government objected to some of it because in the beginning of the Risorgimento the Austrians win, not the Italians, and the government didn't like it and so the they insisted on chopping it up and it began to ruin the story and so that was not good, but now it's recognised now.
AW: You stayed in New York and you worked in the Golden Age of Television
FG: I hadn't really worked in the theatre and the closest thing to working in the theatre was live television where you would rehearse for two or three weeks and then do it. Two years in a row I did five shows one right after the other, and two of them were in Hollywood, and one of the ones in Hollywood was a story where I play twins and it had something like 35 changes - on live television! I don't know how I did it but I did it, and it was great fun.
Then I did a musical called First Impressions. It was my first show on Broadway and that was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - that was her first title for it and it was with Polly Burkett and Hermione Gingold. It was ahead of its time.
AW: And then you did some work in the cinema but concentrated on the theatre with the occasional TV. You never thought "I want to go back to Hollywood"?
FG: I don't like the waiting around doing a film. That was what was so good about Hitchcock - because you didn't have to. The theatre is so exciting for me because you start at the beginning and you go to the end which I like and the audiences are different every night - because the weather is different, the news is different, their personal life is different. So it's not the same ever and one of the first things I did in New York was the first revival of the King and I. I worked with Barbara Cook. She was brilliant and a dear friend.
AW: Before we move on I want to ask you did Hitchcock play any practical jokes on you? FG: Not that I can remember. No, I don't think so. He was very serious about the film. He may have played some on his daughter I don't know. If I blew a line I'd say "Damn it Hitch I'm sorry" and he'd always say "It's only a mooooo-vie" and I loved that. He just made me laugh so. He was just so terrific.
PH: Oh I loved it. I had a wonderful time. I remember when were scouting for the tennis shots my father and I went to Forest Hills and we really had a wonderful time on the whole picture. Farley's already told you about Bob Walker well I'd known him long before he came to Hollywood long before all of his problems so we had a great time getting together again and he was very troubled, it was just heartbreaking to see but he still had that wonderful quality that everybody knew of him, so I really was devastated when we heard that he had passed away. Otherwise we had a wonderful time didn't we?
FG: You bet!
AW: And did your father play any practical jokes during the film?
PH: No, he grew out of that when he left England. Actually they got to be too expensive, that's what happened. But the one practical joke he had was with Sir Gerald du Maurier and they used to play jokes on each other all the time. But my favourite was when my father had a big work horse put in Du Maurier's dressing room, squeezed into this tiny, tiny room and all Gerald did when he walked in was he said "Oh hello old boy" and went right on with what he was doing. That was great.
AW: What was it like being directed by your father - was he very different on set?
PH: No, he was exactly the same. He planned everything so far ahead of time. When he had a finished script he took a pad and drew three rectangles. He then drew every single scene in the picture he then went over it with the cameraman so by the time he got on the set he was able to devote himself to the actors because he already knew what the picture would look like and he was very easy to work for. He never cast you unless you were absolutely right for a part, which really broke my heart because I thought I could have done a lot more parts!
But it was wonderful working with him. He was so easy. We didn't have any problems, did we?
FG: No, none.
AW: What about Hitchcock's TV series?
PH: Oh yes, we had a wonderful British repertory company going there. I played more English maids than you will ever know! It was produced by Joan Harrison who was married to Eric Ambler and who actually came over in 1939 with us on the boat to America. She was the producer and Norman Lloyd, the actor you will probably remember most as hanging from the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur, he was the associate producer and of course they had a lot of English stories and we had our little group who could do English accents passably well. It really was wonderful. The stories were great and Norman received all the scripts for the lead-ins that my father was supposed to do and he said, "Oh my God, Hitchcock will never do these, he'll never do it. He LOVED it! He loved every minute of doing those lead-ins. He really did.
I think the funniest thing was he would do them for other countries and they put them on the board phonetically. Well, they got to German which they knew he'd made his first movies in Germany so they just put the German up there and he looked up at it and said "I can't read German, I've never learned how to read it". He had learned how to speak it but he had never learned how to read it. So they had to do that phonetically too. But he had a wonderful time, he loved doing the series. They were a lot of fun.
Questions from the audience
Question 1: What would your father have thought of the centenary celebrations?
PH: He would be extremely flattered. He would have loved all of them. My family and I are most thrilled about the centenary both in the States and here.
Question 2: Will Farley be playing on stage in London?
FG: There is a possibility, yes, I would love to do it.
Question 3: Is it true that your father's favourite film was Shadow of a Doubt?
PH: Yes and the reason was he loved bringing menace into a small town [laughter] He did!
FG: It's a great film
Question 4: In writings about your father he has been called a misogynist. Is this true?
PH: I'd say it was totally untrue.
FG: I think it's untrue.
Question 5: What's your favourite cameo?
PH: I think probably Lifeboat when he's on the back of the paper for an ad. It was very funny at the time. But that was a wonderful picture. Tallulah Bankhead was an absolutely incredible person. She was wonderful. The whole cast was great in that picture.
Question 6: Hitchcock said actors should be treated like cattle. How do you think directors should be treated?
PH: Probably like a farmer who's taking care of his cattle.
AW: Can you top that?
AW: From what you were saying you did work with a lot of poor directors.
FG: I worked with a lot of directors who were supposed to be good, who had reputations that I didn't really feel that they deserved. Hitch was unique, there was nobody like him at all.
Question 7: What would have Hitch thought of the remakes?
PH: I think he would have been very kind and very flattered. I did happen to talk to Gus van Sant before he made Psycho. He invited my daughters and I over and I did say to him "Why do you want to make Psycho?" and he said "I want to do it as an homage to your father. I'm going to do it shot by shot". Well, he didn't do it shot by shot, so what can I tell you?
Question 8: How was your mother involved in the pictures?
PH: My mother started the motion picture business long before my father. She actually went to the studios when she was 16 and she was working as a cutter - she was doing everything - and when he went to the studios she went to draw the titles on silent films and did not dare talk to her until he had a equal kind of job because you didn't do that in those days.
But in England she was in on every facet of the picture that they were making and then when they went to America she still stayed on it for many years and even to the very end he would bring back a story and if she didn't think would make a good picture then he didn't even touch it. They worked very closely right up to the end.
Question 9: What's your favourite Hitchcock film?
PH: Nobody really seems to know about this film, but it is Notorious with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. And the reason why I loved it so much was because every actor was perfectly cast. While Hitchcock and Ben Hecht were writing the story they went over to see a doctor in California and my father said "I'm really having problems with this story. I don't want it to be the typical spy story. Is there a way that people could find some material that could be used to make a bomb, like atoms or something like that? Well, the doctor nearly fell off his chair. It was right before the atomic bomb. He said "I'm going to forget you said that". They were watched by the FBI for two months!
Question 10: You've said that Hitchcock's favourite director today would be Steven Spielberg. Why?
PH: Because Spielberg makes his films for the audience and that's what my father did. And people say why has he lasted and I say because he made them for the audience and audiences don't change much over the years.
Question 11: There were deep underlying themes in Hitchcock's work, including Strangers on a Train. Where you aware of these themes when you were making the film?
PH: No. I wasn't. Everything about my character was made perfectly clear by my father.
FG: I think the same thing. It was made clear by what Hitch thought the content was.
Question 12: Was the gay issue ever mentioned?
FG: No, it was 1947 - We didn't know about things like that then!
Question 13: What do you think of big-budget special effects movies?
PH: I think my father would be horrified by the budgets and how much movies cost today. He was very very careful to keep his costs and budgets to a minimum, and he really would be horrified. As for everything blowing up I don't think he'd like that either.
AW: Farley, are you a big fan of Volcano and Dante's Peak and movies like this?
AW: Volcano, Dante's Peak - are you keen on these movies?
FG: No, no, no. They've got to stop blowing things up in Hollywood. I'm sick of it. It's ridiculous.
Question 14: Who's your favourite Hitchcock heroine?
AW: How did you find working with Ruth Roman [in Strangers on a Train]?
[Farley Granger bursts into laugher]
PH: Stop that! I had a great time working with her. Actually we became very good friends.
AW: Farley? You and Ruth?
FG: She was f...i...n...e.
FG: She worked very hard.
PH: Can I preface that by saying this picture was made for Warner Bros. and I can't remember who my father wanted to cast in it but they said you have to use Ruth Roman, she's under contract.
FG: That's right. Absolutely noone else was from Warner Bros and they said you've got to use one of stars, and so they did.
Question 15: What was it like working with Vincente Minnelli?
FG: I loved it. He was terrific, terrific. The Clock is a marvellous movie and Meet Me in St Louis is just one of the best musicals ever made and he was wonderful and so intense. He would stand next to the camera and react to what you were doing, and I loved going to Metro or to Warners because Goldwyn would only make one movie and there you are. But at Metro there were all these other movies being made and I remember running into friends Betty Condon and Adolph Greene and I had some time off, and they said "We're going to Singing in the Rain, do you want to come with us?" and I said "Sure" and we went down to a projection room and saw Singing in the Rain
AW: When you started doing musicals on stage did you call Minnelli and ask for advice?
FG: No, I had Ed Boroughs he wouldn't have liked that.
Question 16: What's happening to the Gainsborough studios - are they being developed?
PH: We were there yesterday and it was fascinating seeing all sorts of things including The Lady Vanishes which he made completely in the studio, no location work whatsoever. All that snow which you saw was done in the studio and it was fascinating to see Gainsborough, but I heard that they were remodelling it.
AW: My understanding is that there is going to be a combination of development and part of it is going to be a redeveloped film studio. That's what the BFI has been told. Pat, do you have any memories of being at Gainsborough?
PH: The one I remember best was The Lady Vanishes. I would love going on set. Whilst other children would go and see their father in the office I would go on the set. So it was no big deal for me. I loved it.
Question 17: How did Hitchcock's cameos start?
PH: It was in the olden days when there weren't enough people on the set and they needed a crowd scene everybody would go on set to do the crowd scene and he had such fun doing them he then started doing them in every picture. And actually, he became really very hard for him because he had to be very very careful when he did it. He couldn't do it when he was establishing any mood, especially after the TV show, people would see him come on and go "There he is" ...well, there goes the whole mood.
So he would do it in the beginning of his films. You will notice that in most of the later films it's in the beginning.
Question 17: The tennis in Strangers on a Train looks a bit wooden.
PH: Well, yes it would because they played slower in those days. They didn't smash and bash like they do today.
FG: No, they didn't have those kind of racquets they do now.
AW: You're the first person to complain about that scene.
PH: He wasn't complaining he was just asking.
Question 18: Are there actors now who you think are up to those of the Classic Hollywood era?
FG: I think there are a number of people who are good. We just have to follow them. If you look at 1938 and 1939 it will bowl you over how many marvellous films have been made, including Rebecca, Gone With the Wind, Wuthering Heights and His Girl Friday - one of the funniest films ever made, and we've sort of sunk down from then.
AW: But now the situation is reversed in that actors now are more central than directors. Do you think that's a good thing?
FG: No, not really no, I don't. I don't think actors know the right kinds of film for them to do.
PH: In England I love Joan Plowright. I think she's absolutely magnificent. I saw, just before I left Tea with Mussolini and she is incredible. I think she's a top star over here.
Question 19: Who is your favourite director?
PH: For me Spielberg.
FG: Yes, Spielberg.
Question 20: Did you enjoy your time at RADA?
PH: Oh, I loved it. I came over after I'd graduated from high school and I had a wonderful time. It was the best thing I could have done.
Question 21: Was anyone hurt in the merry-go-round scene in Strangers on a Train?
PH: Oh, I have to answer that! the merry-go-round operator actually did go under the merry-go-round whilst it was going around.
Questioner: I was thinking about the merry-go-round operator who got shot.
PH: Oh I don't think anyone paid too much attention to the man who got shot [laughter]
Question 22: Did Hitch have the final say on most of the actors he worked with?
PH: Yes, he did.
Question 23: Did he discuss Charles Laughton round the dinner table?
PH: Not with me but although they did have problems working together they actually became very good friends.
Question 24: Was Charlton Heston in Strangers on a Train?
FG: No way! No way!
PH: I don't think so!
Question 25: Is there one role you'd particularly like to play?
FG: There's a number of them. I don't want to say why.
Question 26: Have you ever wanted to be a director?
PH: No, I've never wanted to direct movies. I've directed enough musical plays at my daughters' grammer school. First I did Oklahoma then I did Sing out Sweet Land and then I did Oliver. I had high hopes for doing those but pictures no.
Question 27: Should your father have been the umpire in Strangers on a Train?
PH: Well, unfortunately when you do that you take away from the atmosphere and that's what he had to be very careful about doing it right early in the picture.
Question 28: Have you ever been approached by anyone to make a film about the life of Alfred Hitchcock?
PH: No, I haven't. Why, do you want to do it?!