What better word is there to describe Alfred Hitchcock other than genius? He was the true virtuoso of the film industry. His flair for making suspenseful movies is something that film lovers will marvel at for many decades to come. That’s why he’s known the world over as “The Master Of Suspense”
Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born on August 13th, 1899 in Leytonstone, Essex, ( which is now formerly a part of London. ) to parents William Hitchcock and Emma Jane Hitchcock. Even though William and Emma already had their hands full with their two older children, they were still ready for the birth of their youngest son, who they called Alfred, after William’s Brother.
Always uneasy around other children, Hitchcock led a sheltered and lonely childhood. He was bullied at school by the other students about his obesity and teachers regarded it a problem. With arising conflicts at home, Alfred was often perturbed, which made him shy away from other children.
One day when Alfred was about five years old his father summoned him to the local police station with a note instructing the police officer to lock him away as punishment for his poor behavior. This incident instilled a lifetime of fear of cops in Hitchcock that certain scenes from this episode would often be depicted in his movies.
Hitchcock received some of his education at Salesian College, but later enrolled at Saint Ignatius College, a school run by Jesuits. It was here where he would attain a higher degree in education and would go on to excel in most subjects. In 1914, when Alfred was only fifteen his father passed away. Though never a close relationship with his father he still felt at a loss. Shortly after the death of his father, Hitchcock left Saint Ignatius College to study Engineering at the London County Council School Of Engineering and Navigation. At this point he considered Engineering to be his future career.
A year later in 1915, he secured a job at Henley’s Cable Company, where he worked as a draftsman and advertising designer. While under employment at Henley’s, he applied for Military service during the first World War, but was rejected due to his obesity, which was often considered to have been caused by a glandular condition. However that didn’t stop him. In 1917, he signed up to a cadet regiment of the Royal Engineers. Though his time in the military was limited. Due to his weight he was never able to engage in many activities apart from attending theoretical briefings, weekend drills and light exercises. As a requirement for the Military they all had to wear puttees, which Hitchcock could never wrap around his legs properly, so his services with the Royal Engineers were soon unrecognized.
It was during his time at Henley’s that Hitchcock first became interested in cinema. He would visit the theatre in his spare time, which would only make his passion for films maturate. When Henley’s published their first in-house publication in 1919, Alfred often submitted short articles that he had written. These articles gained him prodigal praise and eventually he became one of the company’s most prolific contributors. Hitchcock became enthusiastic in photography and landed employment at the London branch of Paramount Pictures, where he worked as a Title Card Designer. He worked here for a while until he secured a permanent position at Islington Studios, designing titles for silent movies. He was regarded very relishable by his fellow employers and had a popular reputation. After five years his success would escalate and he rose from Title Designer to Film Director.
After a few uncredited productions he made his debut in 1925, when he directed “The Pleasure Garden”. Not a successful directorial role for Hitchcock. The film was a commercial flop and was soon forgotten by audiences. Next he tried directing a Drama titled “Fear O’ God”, but sadly this film was lost. Finally luck came Alfred’s way when he directed his first Thriller “The Lodger” in 1926. The film was released in 1927 and was a huge success and Alfred received many rave reviews for his directorial abilities.
On December 2nd, 1926, Alfred married his assistant director, Alma Reville at the Brompton Oratory in South Kensington, London. This proved to be a happy and convivial marriage and the couple remained married until Alfred’s death in 1980.
On July 7th, 1928, Alma gave birth to their first and only child. A daughter, who they called Patricia. In 1929, a year after the birth of Patricia, Hitchcock began work on his first talkie “Blackmail”. The film was of critical success and is now cited as a landmark film. It is this movie that began the Hitchcock tradition of using famous landmarks as a backdrop for suspense sequence.
As the 1930’s progressed, he directed several more films including “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “The 39 Steps”. Both films were a triumph at the box office and “The 39 Steps” is often considered his greatest film from this period. Hitchcock’s next project was “The Lady Vanishes” starring Dame May Whitty. This was another film that received critical acclaim and by now Hitchcock was not only a big name in England, his success was beginning to sky rocket in the United States and Hitchcock was crowned the best director in the world. With this title, David O’ Selznick, signed him to a seven year contract that was to begin in March 1939. This meant that Alfred Hitchcock would be on his way to Hollywood.
Alfred made his first Hollywood debut in “Rebecca”, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. On it’s release in 1940, the film proved to be a huge success, opening to rave reviews. Winning Two Academy Awards, including best picture and earning Joan her first Academy Award nomination. Today the film is considered one of Hitchcock’s finest works and is known for it’s great cinematography and the true art of movie making.
In September, Alfred and Alma purchased the 200-acre Cornwall Ranch, which is located in Scotts Valley near the Santa Cruz Mountains. This was to serve as their residence for the rest of their lives, although they were still the owners of the Bel Air property, which Alfred had bought when he first arrived in Hollywood.
With his first American production being a success, he went on to direct his second American film “Foreign Correspondent”. The film was nominated for best picture, but in the meantime, World War 2 had broken in England & Hitchcock felt uneasy about working in America while England was at war.
At Carole Lombard’s Request, Alfred directed his first and only comedy titled “Mr & Mrs Smith” starring Lombard opposite Robert Montgomery. While the film was palatable to audiences, many observed that it was not one of Hitchcock’s best directorial efforts and stated “Despite the performances, despite the endless camera magic with which Mr. Hitchcock tries to conceal the thinness of his material, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ have their moments of dullness. The result is a chucklesome comedy that fails to mount into a coruscating wave of laughter.” However reviewers from Variety were more perfervid and noted “Alfred Hitchcock pilots the story in a straight farcical groove without resort to slapstick interludes or overplaying by the characters. Pacing his assignment at a steady gait, Hitchcock catches all of the laugh values from the above par script of Norman Krasna.” “
Mr & Mrs Smith” was the last film released before Carole Lombard’s tragic and untimely death in January 1942. However this was not her final film, she was cast in “To Be Or Not To Be” which was released two months after she was killed in an aircraft crash, while selling war bonds.
Alfred’s next picture was “Suspicion” starring Joan Fontaine and Cary Grant, in his first collaboration with Hitchcock. Grant would become one of Hitchcock’s regular candidates. The film was an immediate success and drew critical acclaim at the box office and this time Joan took home the Oscar for best actress. Apart from succeeding at the box office, the film also marked Hitchcock’s first film as a producer as well as director.
After several more films which drew efficacious acclaim, Hitchcock went to work on “Spellbound” starring Ingrid Bergman. Receiving many accolades, Alfred teamed up again with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious” 1946. The film was a huge success and “Notorious” is regarded as one of Hitchcock’s most acclaimed films. Around this period, Hitchcock formed his own production company called Transatlantic Pictures, where he made his next two films, “Rope” and “Under Capricorn”. His first two movies that were to be filmed in Technicolor. Unfortunately both films were ineffectual. After the decline in pictures, Alfred continued to produce his own films from there on.
In the 1950’s, Alfred’s popularity soared. He continued to produce films of notable success. Some which are now cited as the biggest films in Hollywood history. 1950 saw the release of “Stage Fright”, a film directed and produced in the UK. With a plethora of stars, including Alfred’s daughter Patricia in her film debut. The movie received mixed reviews on it’s official opening. He returned to the USA in 1951 to make “Strangers On A Train”, another film in which Patricia Hitchcock was to appear.
After a few more films that attained fortuitous results, Alfred signed with Paramount Pictures, where he made “Rear Window” in 1954, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. With outstanding performances by all, the film was a hit and is crowned one of Hitchcock’s best. Alfred teamed up again with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in 1955 to film “To Catch A Thief”. Set in the French Riviera, the film won the academy award for best cinematography. As coincidence has it, Grace Kelly was killed in 1982, at the age of 52, after crashing her vehicle on the same Serpentine Mountain Road as the speeding car sequence in the film’s finale.
1955 was a big year for Hitchcock. He became a United States citizen, after sixteen years of living in the country. It was also the year that he tried his hand at television. Alfred was the host and producer of the television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. As legend has it Alfred was among the first prominent motion picture producers to fully envisage just how popular the medium of television would become. The show ran for ten years and was widely celebrated. With the triumphant success, Alfred’s fame ascended to the very top and Alfred Hitchcock was now a celebrity himself. With the popularity that surrounded him, Time Magazine voted “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” one of the 100 best TV shows of all time.
In 1956, Hitchcock did a remake of his 1934 film “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. This time Doris Day and James Stewart were cast in the lead roles. Although not a musical, the movie won an Oscar for Best Original Song for the theme song “Que Sera, Sera,”, which was sung by Doris Day. The song became a big hit for Doris and is known today as her signature song.
After “The Wrong Man”, Alfred went on to direct “Vertigo”, another vehicle with James Stewart and Kim Novak as the female lead. When the movie first opened it received mixed reviews, but as years progressed the film garnered acclaim and has become largely popular among audiences. In 2012 “Vertigo” was voted “The best film of all time”. Followed by “Vertigo”, Hitchcock went to work on “North By Northwest” starring Cary Grant. Opening to rave reviews, the film was instantly cited as one of Hitchcock’s best and most treasured films.
Hitchcock’s next victory was his most well known film “Psycho” 1960. Primarily remembered for “The most famous shower scene” in which Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane, get’s stabbed to death in the shower. Garnering Alfred praise for the horror film medium. The film was an immediate success and audiences were flocking the cinemas for weeks after the films release.
Followed by the success of “Psycho”, Hitchcock directed “The Birds”. Based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier. Premiering in March 1963. The American Film Institute voted it the seventh greatest thriller of all time. Film Critic David Thomson regarded “The Birds” Hitchcock’s last unflawed film. 1964, saw the release of “Marnie” another vehicle in Which Tippi Hedren was cast. The film was partial to audiences, but critics rated it to be way ahead of it’s time and the results were poor at the box office.
By the 1970’s, Alfred’s health was deteriorating. He would go on to produce several more films including “Torn Curtain” and “Topaz”, but Hitchcock was not impressed with the completed productions. With his diminishing results at the box office, Alfred returned to England in 1972 to film “Frenzy”. The production schedule was delayed when Alma suffered a stroke and Hitchcock had to take time off from filming to attend to his wife. On it’s release the film was of moderate success and Variety ranked it 33 on the 50 Top Grossing Films of 1972. His final film was “Family Plot” 1976, starring Karen Black, who went on to appear alongside Bette Davis in “Burnt Offerings” after the filming of “Family Plot” wrapped. Sadly his last film never received much recognition. It was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976, but failed to make it into the main competition.
During his last years, Hitchcock was working on a script for a spy thriller titled “The Short Night”. With his declining health and concerns over Alma, who recently suffered from another stroke, the story was never filmed. However the script was eventually published in a book on Alfred’s last years.
On the morning of April 29th, 1980, at 9:17 am, Alfred Hitchcock passed away peacefully in his sleep, after suffering from renal failure. He was eighty years old, and was survived by his wife Alma and daughter Patricia. Sadly Alma passed away two years later in 1982.
33 years since his passing, Alfred Hitchcock still remains the greatest director and producer of all time. His mastery and undeniable talent still stands the testimony of time.
Rest In Peace Alfred. Thank you for a life time of entertainment.
Written by Crystal Kalyana Crawford.