As Hitchcock the movie starring Anthony Hopkins is released internationally, with a premiere date of February 8 in the U.K., the focus now is on Alfred Hitchcock more than ever. Some of his closest colleagues who knew and worked with him during the making of Psycho have spoken out about his portrayal for my new book Alfred Hitchcock's Movie Making Masterclass to be published this spring.
"What was he really like?" queries Marshall Schlom, Hitchcock's script supervisor on Psycho. "That's the question interviewers ask me more than any other. He had so many facets to his personality. I felt he was a pixie, a real pixie. On the one hand he could be one person, and the next moment he could be someone else." Perhaps this accounts for the conflicting interpretations of the director as a sensitive collaborator or a sadistic Svengali.
"His life was divided into two halves," says long time friend Norman Lloyd and producer of the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. "The artist and the bourgeois. He liked to sit at the kitchen table and have a glass of white wine with chicken and read Time magazine. He led his life like a bourgeois -- and he didn't even have a swimming pool." This contradicts the movie's version of Hitchcock and his wife Alma (played by Helen Mirren) lounging around their swimming pool, whilst in reality the house and grounds were modest by Bel Air standards.
The film also depicts Hitchcock as a director who allowed his conflicted emotions to interfere with him on the set. One man who knew him better than anyone was Hilton Green, assistant director on Psycho and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. "I was with him a long time, I was very close to Hitch and I never ever saw him as the way they portrayed him," says Hilton. "When he came on the set, and blurted out and raised his voice, that never happened. The only instance when I saw him raise his voice was when we were filming the swinging light bulb in Psycho. He wanted a flash across the lens, but it took two different shooting days to get it. The camera operator kept saying he'd got it, but he hadn't and Hitchcock was angry with me."
The only time Hilton saw Hitchcock emotionally upset on the set was when they were filming A Dip in the Pool, an episode of his television series in 1958. "I was the assistant on the show, and [Hitchcock] had tears in his eyes and he couldn't go on. He had just found that Alma had cancer. That was the only time I saw him emotionally upset. And he left that afternoon. He told me to carry on and he just left." It should be noted that Hitchcock and Alma enjoyed a 54-year-old marriage which was singular and unusual in Hollywood.
In Hitchcock the movie, there is a controversial scene where Hitchcock is ill and doesn't show up for work on the set of Psycho. The movie attributes this to Hitchcock's emotional turmoil, but the simple case was he had the flu. Also Alma is depicted as coming to the rescue, when in reality Hilton Green took over the directing. "The day he became ill, I directed that. He had a bad cold," explains Hilton who was instructed by Hitchcock over the phone to follow preplanned storyboards (they filmed the sequence of Martin Balsam going up the stairs that day). "I didn't want him to come to work because we were insured. He was very professional. He knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it and there wasn't this guessing. There was none of that. He could tell you right down to the frame where he would cut the movie."
Then there is Hitchcock the over eater as portrayed in the movie, raiding the refrigerator and gorging on ice cream in the middle of the night. "He would gain a lot of weight," acknowledges Hilton. "And before liposuction he would have a similar technique done to him. He would come back not trim, but a lot different and within six months he would be back to his weight again. It didn't make him better."
Was Hitchcock aware of his looks or did he really think he was Cary Grant? Hairdresser and friend Virginia Darcy says, "He had no compulsion about his looks. He knew what he looked like. But maybe he had a drive deep inside that he was a handsome being. Inside he may have thought he was Cary Grant, and if people didn't react that way to him, it was like 'What's the matter with them?' He had a lot of good points and was good to a lot of people. Yes he went over the side sometimes, but I don't know anybody who doesn't."
As wardrobe supervisor Rita Riggs says, "Because of the extent of his career, I have nothing but really kind words about Mr. Hitchcock." About the sadistic rumours she says, "It's like newspapers it sells, and I never really thought that he was serious. He was a jokester and a prankster." Marshall Schlom agrees, "I think he found Janet Leigh a bit tense. She wanted to make sure that she did the right thing for Hitchcock. She was a very nice lady, and very accessible. He occasionally went up to her and tell her a dirty joke and she started to laugh. She did soften because she had to stop laughing and that worked very well for her."
"He had his fantasies," says Hilton Green. "But they were just fantasies. I feel they are just trying to exploit him today, the man is dead, he had a great career, he was a genius of a director, he was not in the in crowd because he didn't go to parties, and I felt he was more of an introvert."
"Alfred Hitchcock's Movie Making Masterclass" will be published by Michael Wiese Productions on May 1, 2013.