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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock's Logo
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Just try to imagine what the modern movie would be like if the world had never seen the work of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. Murders would take place off-camera to spare audiences who have yet to be desensitized by the sight of blood puddles. Seemingly tranquil animals would always live together with humans in peace and harmony. Shower scenes would be tacked on and gratuitous.

The “Master of Suspense” shocked and thrilled audiences with his macabre tales of murder and mystery on the big and small screen. His most famous and frightening film, ‘Psycho,’ pushed the envelope in ways that were almost unthinkable for a major motion picture in its time. So as the biopic based on the making of his famous film comes to a theater near you, let’s look back at the man who can still make movie audiences’ hearts skip a beat after all these years.

1. His only Academy Awards acceptance speech was just five words long

It seems unthinkable that a director as beloved and revered as Hitchcock was never able to put an Oscar on his mantle for any of his brilliant movies. He did, however, receive one of the Academy’s highest honors.

Hitchcock received five Academy Award nominations for Best Director in the span of 20 years for movies such as ‘Lifeboat,’ ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Psycho’ but he never won a single award. The Academy tried to correct this in 1968 by giving Hitchcock the esteemed Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his lifetime of achievement, an award that was also given to filmmakers such as Cecil B. DeMille, David O. Selznick and Walt Disney. Hitch walked on to the stage to a standing ovation, accepted the award from ‘West Side Story’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ director Robert Wise and said just five words into the microphone: “Thank you…very much indeed.”

2. He was afraid of his own movies

Alfred Hitchcock In The Arches
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If you think that Hitchcock’s stories of suspense and death are a little too dark and tense for most tastes, you’re not alone. Even Hitchcock couldn’t bring himself to watch his own movies.

He said in an interview in 1963, “I’m frightened of my own movies. I never go to see them. I don’t know how people can bear to watch my movies.” When the interviewer characterized his film fear as “illogical,” Hitchcock agreed but responded, “But what is logic? There’s nothing more stupid than logic.”

3. He loved to pull cruel practical jokes

the 39 steps alfred hitchcock robert donat madeline carroll
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He may have earned a reputation with critics and audiences as the “Master of Suspense,” but his friends, co-workers and even cast members might remember him better as the “Master of Having a Laugh at Someone’s Expense.”

Hitchcock loved pulling cruel and mean jokes on people he deemed to be boorish and pompous ranging from the simple whoopie cushion at parties to massive, elaborately planned jokes that played on people’s fears and gave his actors a reason to fear him while they were filming. During the making of ‘The 39 Steps,’ he handcuffed stars Robert Donat and Madeline Carroll together as part of a scene and pretended that he lost the key. The two reportedly spent hours stuck to each other until Hitchcock felt the joke had run out of steam.

One of his most famous and meanest pranks involved a bet between him and a member of his crew to spend the night in a dark and spooky film set chained to a camera with a week’s salary on the line. Just before the bet got underway, Hitchcock offered some brandy to the man to help him sleep as a sign of good faith but by the following morning, the man and the rest of the crew learned that Hitchcock spiked the brandy with a strong laxative. The crew found the man just where Hitchcock left him, weeping in a puddle of his own…well, you know.

4. He delayed filming for ‘North By Northwest’ so he wouldn’t have to cast Jimmy Stewart

Today’s movie buffs might heap tons of praise on Hitchcock’s famous partnership with leading man Jimmy Stewart and their work together on such classics as ‘Rear Wndow’ and ‘Vertigo.’ The movie buffs of Hitchcock’s time, however, weren’t nearly as kind.

In fact, Hitchcock’s classic ‘Vertigo’ actually didn’t do very well at the box office or among circles of movie critics. Hitchcock felt that Stewart was to blame for the film’s poor performance. So when the time came to start work on his legendary ‘North By Northwest,’ Hitchcock didn’t have the heart to tell Stewart that he wouldn’t be casting him. According to Jimmy Stewart’s biography, Hitchcock delayed the start of the movie until Stewart could be cast in another film, a romantic comedy called ‘Bell Book and Candle’ with Kim Novak. That gave Hitchcock the chance to cast Cary Grant in the lead role guilt free.

5. Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant to crawl into Abraham Lincoln’s nose in the famous climatic scene of ‘North By Northwest’

Portrait of Cary Grant in chair
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One of the main reasons Hitch chose to work on ‘North By Northwest’was a hilarious scene that he had planned to shoot on Mount Rushmore. Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln’s nostrils were considered strictly off-limits.

He originally envisioned a final scene in which Cary Grant’s character would hide from the bad guys by crawling into Lincoln’s large nose. Then just as he thought he eluded them, Grant would sneeze and give away his position. Hitchcock said the National Park Service didn’t approve of the scene deeming it disrespectful to the American monument, so it was cut from the final script. Martin Landau, the actor who played one of the film’s most memorable villains in his first major motion picture role, recalled the title of the movie on the script he received while he was considered taking his part: ‘The Man in Lincoln’s Nose.

6. He had to use a hidden camera to film some of Cary Grant’s United Nations scenes

President Bush Attends UN Security Council Summit
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Another familiar American landmark that was considered off-limits to Hitchcock and his film crew was the United Nations building in New York City.

The powers-that-be at the UN had a strict policy that forbade film crews from shooting a movie on its hallowed grounds after a previous film used footage of the building that cast them in a negative light. So the studio had to build a model of the UN’s lobby for the interior shots and Hitchcock hid a film crew across the street from the real building to film Grant for the exterior shots. All of the people in the exterior shots weren’t extras — they were real people who just happened to walk into the frame as Grant strode into the building. You can even see one of the bystanders doing a double take on screen as one of the world’s most famous faces walks past him.

7. He tried to buy every copy of the book based on ‘Psycho’ so no one would know how it ended

Hitchcock’s most famous film has one of the greatest twist endings, not just for its time but for all time. Hitchcock loved it so much that he didn’t want the book spoiling it before he could film it.

His production assistant Peggy Robertson served as Hitchcock’s eyes on the thousands of scripts and books he was given to read and consider for his next film project. Just before Hitchcock started principal filming on ‘Psycho,’ Robertson was asked to find a subject for a movie that was a “typically un-Hitchcock picture” by her boss. She found a memo from a script reader that described a novel about a brutal serial killer by author Robert Bloch as “impossible for films” and decided to pick up a copy. Robertson was enthralled with the book and passed it on to Hitchcock to read. Hitchcock was particularly impressed with the brutal shower scene and the dark story’s shocking revelation, and immediately marked it off as his newest project. He wanted audiences to experience the same shock when they learned the truth about the notorious serial killer. So he ordered Robertson to buy every copy of the book that she could find from suppliers and stores to keep audiences from reading it.

8. Anthony Perkins wasn’t actually in the famous shower scene in ‘Psycho’

Of course, any film buff or self-respecting movie fan should know ‘Psycho’s’ infamous twist ending by now. If you haven’t, prepare for a major spoiler. Also, stop reading and go watch the darn movie already. You’ve had more than 50 years to avoid “spoilers.”

The infamous shower scene in which Janet Leigh, the movie’s leading lady, is hacked to death with a butcher knife by Norman Bates’ mother near the start of the film became one of the most shocking and famous scenes in movie history. It is revealed in the end that Norman’s killer mother is actually Norman himself dressed in mother’s clothes and wig and the figure in the window of the spooky house behind the motel is actually his mother’s decaying corpse. Perkins actually wasn’t playing his murderous mother in the famous shower scene. He was in New York rehearsing for a Broadway play at the time and Hitchcock used a stunt double to stand in for “Mrs. Bates” instead. The entire scene took place on a closed set and required numerous takes with Leigh practically naked the entire time. Leigh later said that she found the experience so distressing and terrifying that from then on, she took baths instead of showers.

9. The conductor he hired for ‘The Birds’ never wrote any music for it

Hitchcock’s infamous ‘Psycho’ seemed to be his bloody masterpiece and almost incapable of being topped. Of course, no one could have predicted that a flock of sea gulls could even come close to the murderous menace that was Norman Bates.

Hitchcock hired his longtime musical partner and favorite composer Bernard Herrmann for ‘The Birds,’ but he didn’t write a single piece of music for the film. Instead, Hitchcock wanted him to focus on sounds to make the entire film infinitely more creepy and scary such as the chirping and flapping of the birds’ wings just before they attacked. All of the bird noises were made by the composer with electronic sound machines.

10. Five of his most famous films couldn’t be seen in theaters for almost 30 years

Alfred Hitchcock
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Today, Hitchcock’s movies have been reprinted and remastered on just about every film format but the best way to see them is among the crowded hush of a darkened movie theater. Unfortunately, there was a time when that wasn’t possible.

Hitchcock bought back the rights to five of his most notable films including ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much,’ ‘Rear Window,’Rope,’ ‘The Trouble with Harry’ and ‘Vertigo’ after their initial run. That means they could not be screened in any theater without paying a hefty royalty fee to the man himself. Upon his passing in 1980, he willed the rights to these movies to his daughter, Patricia. She held on to them for almost five more years before releasing the rights so the films could be re-released and screened in theaters to a whole new audience. These five films became known as the “Five Lost Hitchcocks” among movie fans who until then had five fewer reasons to be afraid of their favorite movie theater.

Next: 10 Facts About Steven Spielberg

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