There are two films currently making the rounds about Alfred Hitchcock.
One is HBO’s The Girl, about the famed director’s obsession with actress Tippi Hedren, star of 1963’s The Birds and Marnie, made the following year (and costarring Sean Connery).
The other is Hitchcock, a feature starring Anthony Hopkins about the making of 1960’s Psycho.
Do either of these titles capture the real man?
Hello everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back again with a rare treat. Today and tomorrow Joe will reveal his personal encounters with “Hitch” and Alma (Mrs. Hitchcock.)
Back in 1965, Joe was working for Universal Pictures. He had one of the greatest jobs in America — arranging movie premieres.
Joe was dispatched to Boston where Universal was going to open 1966’s Torn Curtain, Hitchcock’s first film after The Birds and Marnie.
Torn Curtain co-starred two of the biggest box office names of the era, Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, and while there were great expectations for a mega hit, the rumors were it was a dud. The studio thought a real old time premiere would give the film the boost it needed.
There would be a full week of publicity and parties before the actual opening. Joe had been there for a month — prepping the press, starting radio and television promotions and stoking the flames in general — before Hitchcock and his wife were set to arrive. There would be a special screening for local critics, a wine tasting party, and a host of other activities.
My colleagues and I had arranged for two limos to meet them at the airport and take them to the Ritz Carlton, the only hotel he deemed suitable for his visit. The rest of us were staying across town at the Copley Plaza.
Hitchcock sat up front with the driver and Mrs. Hitchcock and I sat in the back of the limo. The second car took their luggage. For the entire week that was the arrangement. Hitchcock up front. She and I in the back. The second limo just following us in case we needed it.
Hitch and the driver, a young French Canadian lad from Montreal, hit it off immediately and each day traded bawdy stories and jokes. Of course the middle window was up and Mrs. Hitchcock and I heard nothing except the laughter.
On the second day we hit a snag. Hitchcock learned that the studio had already screened the film for a few key critics, without his knowledge or permission. He was furious. But he saved his ire for the higher ups and didn’t take it out on us worker bees. I appreciated that. I noticed that whenever he became a bit pretentious or irritated Mrs. H would gently poke him in the belly and say “Now, Hitch…” And he’d quickly change his mood and his tone. It was as if she were poking the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
No stars were coming in for the premiere and I soon understood why. We didn’t need them. Hitchcock was the star. His television program had made him world famous. No other film director was as recognizable as Hitchcock. People flocked to us on the street, in restaurants, everywhere. We almost needed police protection.
His wit was sharp and sometimes cruel, BUT never to the public. He might whisper a scathing comment before or after a fan approached for an autograph, but while they were with him, interrupting his dinner, he was gracious and charming. He knew the public expected him to be the character on TV and he obliged.
The premiere was a huge success. But, alas, the film WAS a dud and no amount of publicity could make it a hit. I’ll always treasure my week with the Hitchcocks.