business and pleasure: alfred hitchcock
In this six-part series, Kiah Meadows takes a look at the relationship between famous directors and their muses throughout Hollywood’s history.
As directors go, no one has addressed women the way The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, has. He worked with some of the greatest actresses of his time, including Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly and Joan Fontaine to name a few. But were these actresses cast for their extraordinary talents, or used as perfect props in his celluloid fantasies?
Alfred Hitchcock was married at the age of 27 to a homely-looking, redhead writer named Alma Reville. Reville was in every way his equal. She was the same age as her husband; they began their careers together co-writing The Ring (1927), and she wrote and edited films that he would direct (including Suspicion, The Lady Vanishes, Shadow of a Doubt and The 39 Steps).
The couple were married before Alfred became Sir Hitchcock: Greatest Director of All Time. But once he became a major player in Hollywood, he wasn’t interested in seeing females as equal; his attitude towards women became grotesque. And so began the era of Alfred Hitchcock: psycho.
‘You know why I favour sophisticated blondes in my films?’ he is recorded as saying in an interview with Francois Truffaut. ‘We’re after the drawing-room type, the real ladies, who become whores once they’re in the bedroom.’
The earliest case of Hitchcock’s bizarre and inappropriate games was in 1935 while filming The 39 Steps. Hitch reportedly handcuffed his leading lady, Madeleine Carroll to her costar, Robert Donat in preparation for a scene when he ‘lost the keys’, forcing the two to be stuck together all day on set.
In 1940, Hitch claimed up and coming actress Joan Fontaine as his next victim during the filming of Rebecca. Fontaine revealed in later years that Hitchcock ‘would constantly tell me that no one thought I was any good except himself,’ indicating the power play he used to keep Fontaine on his leash.
Later, the director set his sights on Kim Novak, the lead of Vertigo (1958), in which the protagonist tries to turn his girlfriend into another woman he once loved—it has been said to be Hitchcock’s most autobiographical picture. Novak claimed that Hitch never made a pass at her, but would complain about his ‘sexless marriage’, allegedly making no secret of his sexual impotence.
The most publicised account of Hitchcock’s abuse is that of his last muse, Tippi Hedren. It was Hitchcock’s wife, Reville, who ‘discovered’ Hedren in a television commercial, commenting that she was the perfect icy-blonde he had been searching for.
Hedren was given the lead role in one of Hitchcock’s spookiest pictures, The Birds (1963), but not without compromise.
‘He made it clear what was expected of me,’ Hedren told interviewers some 50 years after the film, ‘but I was equally clear that I wasn’t interested.’ This disinterest prompted Hitch to throw a tantrum of sorts, making crude jokes on set about his leading lady, persisting with advances and even physically abusing her on set.
One of the most infamous of Hitchcock’s misadventures occurred during filming where he threw birds at Hedren continuously, allowing them to attack her until she was bleeding for the sake of the film.
Hedren told Hitchcock’s personal assistant of the abuse, but she did nothing. Once, she recalls confronting Hitchcock’s wife about the situation: ‘I said, “It would just take one word from you to stop this,” and she just walked away, with a glazed look in her eyes.’
‘He trapped me and ruined my career.’ Hedren claimed. ‘Producers would ring up… offering me parts and Hitchcock would simply tell them that I wasn’t available.’
Alfred Hitchcock was indeed one of the greatest directors of all time. But give a spoiled little boy an inch, in the form of expressing his fantasies on film, and he’ll take a mile.