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|HITCHCOCK FORUM|| |
|JOSEPH STEFANO, ARTHUR LAURENTS AND EVAN HUNTER TALK ABOUT WORKING WITH ALFRED HITCHCOCK.
WORKING WITH HITCH:
A SCREENWRITER'S FORUM WITH
EVAN HUNTER, ARTHUR LAURENTS,
AND JOSEPH STEFANO
Edited by WALTER SREBNICK
Arthur Laurents, screenwriter of Rope (1948), Joseph Stefano, who wrote Psycho (1960), and Evan Hunter, who wrote The Birds (1963), appeared together on a panel at the 1999 New York University Hitchcock Centennial Celebration to discuss their collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock. They had never met or discussed working with Hitchcock before this event. Hunter and Stefano had both worked on earlier drafts of Marnie (1963), although neither was aware of the other's involvement. The following is essentially a verbatim transcript of their conversation with each other and the audience. Slight editorial changes have been made only in the interest of clarity or grammatical and syntactical coherence. Special thanks to Rahul Hamid for transcribing the tape of this session.
Arthur Laurents has been known as a playwright and stage director, as well as a screenwriter, for more than fifty years. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1918, Laurents began his career writing for radio. Among his best known stage plays and musicals are Home of the Brave (1945), The Bird Cage (1950), The Time of the Cuckoo (1952), A Clearing in the Woods (1957), West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959), and Hallelujah, Baby! (1967). In addition to Rope, his screenplays include: The Snake Pit (1948), Caught (1949), Anastasia (1956), Bonjour Tristesse (1958), The Way We Were (1973), and The Turning Point (1977). In 2000, he published a memoir, Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood (Knopf).
Born in 1922 in South Philadelphia, Joseph Stefano began his career as a performer on the musical stage and as a songwriter before turning to film and television. In addition to Psycho, he has written the screenplays for The Black Orchid (1959), The Naked Edge (1961), Eye of the Cat (1969), Futz (1969), Blackout (1989), Psycho IV (1991), and Two Bits (1995). His original screenplay for Psycho was used virtually intact in Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake, and he received screenplay credit for it. He has also worked extensively as a writer and a producer on television, and was the original writer/ producer of The Outer Limits (1963-64).
Evan Hunter was born in 1926 in New York City. Known principally as a novelist for such works as The Blackboard Jungle (1954), Strangers When We Meet (1958), Mothers and Daughters (1961), Last Summer (1969), Sons (1969), Walk Proud (1979), Love Dad (1981), Lizzie (1984), and Privileged Conversation (1996), he is also the author of more than fifty 87th Precinct novels under his pseudonym, Ed McBain, and more than a dozen Matthew Hope novels. In addition to The Birds, he has written screenplays for Strangers When We Meet (1960), Fuzz (1972), and Walk Proud (1979), as well as plays and television shows, including episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He has written a memoir of his experience with Hitchcock, Me and Hitch (Faber and Faber, 1997).
SREBNICK: We all have heard how deeply involved Hitchcock was in the creation of screenplays. In fact, a recent Sight and Sound article argues that what makes Hitchcock unique is not his suspense or visual style, but his particular combination of the verbal and the visual, even the tension between the two. With that in mind, just what was Hitchcock's contribution to the writing process on your film? How much control did he exercise? How specific was he in laying out scenes? Did you feel that visual or technical considerations overwhelmed narrative ones? Was there a signature writing style or writing practice for Hitchcock, and did it differ from how you worked with other directors? I'll begin with Mr. Laurents.
LAURENTS: I can answer that in one minute. Hitchcock had nothing to do with the writing. He wasn't very interested in it, and that's because Rope was an aberrant picture. I don't think it was a very good idea of how to make a picture; it was a stunt. And I hesitate, because I've just finished my memoir, which is going to be published soon. I wish I had it here. I could just read it to you and make it easier. Anyway, Rope came from an English play called Rope's End by Patrick Hamilton, and Hitch decided to shoot it as a play, which is why there was no interference. All he was concerned with was this trick of no cuts, that each take was as long as a reel. If you have the questionable fortune to see the picture, it's very obvious. The camera comes in on somebody's back while they quickly change the film.
My job was to make this English play American. The play is basically about the Leopold_Loeb murders, which nobody mentioned and nobody admitted. It dealt with these two homosexual boys and their homosexual teacher, which nobody also admitted. Nobody said the word ``homosexual''; it was referred to as ``it'' by Hitch, by the studio, by everyone. They just pretended it wasn't there, but they wanted it there. So, actually translating that English play into an American play, being aware of ``it'' wasn't as easy as I thought it would be because the English use a lot of expressions which sent the censors up the wall. Hitch's producer was a man named Sidney Bernstein, an Englishman, a very nice man. He said, ``I want every word to be a literary gem.'' Well, I thought I was writing a movie, not a literary piece. Since my work was done before the shooting began, I returned to New York after finishing the screenplay. So while I was gone, Sidney restored a lot of the British locutions I had cut, such as the phrase ``my dear boy.'' And everyone of those ``my dear boys'' went to the censor who said, ``homosexual dialogue, out!''
And when they came to shooting the picture, Hitch wanted Cary Grant, Montgomery Clift, and Farley Granger to play the principal characters. He got Farley but he told me Cary Grant and Montgomery Clift were afraid to do it because of their own questionable sexuality, or how it was perceived. So they got Jimmy Stewart, who has no sexuality, which posed a little problem for the picture. Nobody knew that he was supposed to have had a ``relationship'' with these boys.
Hitch was a delightful man to be with. He was consumed with this technical stunt, and we only had two disagreements about the film. One was about these two boys serving dinner on a chest in which there may be a body. Well, after the picture was finished, he shot the murder and put the body inside, which I thought was a mistake because it destroyed suspense. The other was that although the boy was strangled, he wanted somebody to knock over a bottle of red wine on the white tablecloth on the chest so it would spill and you would think it was blood. I said that if the victim was strangled there would be no blood. He wasn't very pleased with that. But he took out the red wine and concentrated on a lot of shots of rope tied around some books.
Obviously, I'm not very wild about the movie, but I had a wonderful time working with him. I don't know how it was with Evan or Joe—in my day, at any rate, when he liked you, you became part of his family. And you were invited to a family dinner, which consisted of himself, his wife Alma, his daughter Pat, his friend Ingrid Bergman, his other friend Cary Grant, and guests like that.
Well, I went and was busy writing home about it to my mother like mad. We became very good friends, and when the picture was finished, he gave me a novel to read called Under Capricorn, which I didn't think much of. I thought we were friends and I could tell him how I felt about it. But when I did, he cut me off. And he never spoke to me again until some years passed and he handed me something called Torn Curtain. I didn't like that either, and he didn't speak to me for a while again. The third and last time he contacted me was about Topaz, which I also didn't like. I live a lot of the time on the beach, and my neighbor then was a relative of Jules Stein, who owned MCA and Universal, I think. Anyway, Hitch was visiting them, and this time he asked me why I didn't think Topaz would make a good picture. We talked and it was pleasant, but he was never really friendly again. I think if you rejected his ideas, he felt you rejected him. End.
SREBNICK: I don't think it's truly the end. I think you are going to get some specific questions in a little while. Thank you. Mr. Stefano?
STEFANO: As far as writing a screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock, I was totally amazed at how much independence I had. When I first met him, we started having meetings every day, and he was not the least bit interested in what the characters would say or why they would say it. He wanted no background from me in any way. He just wanted to talk about how the movie was going to be filmed. He was totally visual. If I asked him any questions about the characters, his response was usually ``What do you want the audience to think?'' or ``What do you want the audience to feel?'' I perceived early on that the audience was the third person in that room and that we were both kind of slaves to that person. It was an interesting experience because he included me in the actual structure and architecture of the picture so that we both knew every moment what was going on. This went on for about four or five weeks, meeting every day. Most of the time we talked about my morning psychoanalysis sessions. He was very interested in them. It seemed to me that he never met a person before who announced he was in psychoanalysis.
LAURENTS: I told him I was in it too.
STEFANO: He wanted to know what was going on there, and one day I went in and said that I realized that day that the reason I was going to write a fabulous Norman Bates was that I learned while lying on the couch that I would have gladly killed my mother on at least three occasions. He was very shocked and thought it was wonderful and that it would certainly help the movie. That was about it. I went home and wrote.
We had in all, I think, two arguments. One had to do with the budget. I wanted the camera to pull all the way up to the ceiling when Martin Balsam is coming up the stairs about to be stabbed. I wanted this so that we wouldn't know we weren't seeing mother. Instead we'd see her come out from way above and we'd see her wig. If we were on the landing with the two of them, we would ask ``Why aren't we seeing her face?'' So he finally said it would cost us $25,000 more to build this thing up on the ceiling of the sound stage, and I didn't blink because to me if you're going to make a movie, you're going to spend $25,000 to do it right. So he agreed finally, and the only other question he had was the fear that the psychiatrist coming in at the end to explain the story would be a ``hat grabber,'' to use his term for it. And I said I didn't think anybody was going to be grabbing their hats at that point in the movie and leaving the theater. In the novel the sister and Marion's lover kind of theorize about what it would mean, that this young man was wearing a wig when he came in to kill her. I felt that they had no right theorizing about what had happened and we had better tell the audience what had gone on. So he finally agreed to the psychiatrist and that was it.
Then I went home, wrote the script, brought it back and gave it to him. He came in the next day and said that Alma loved it. That was it: that was all he ever said. Then he asked me to change one word and I said ``No.'' Well, first I said, ``Is that wrong for the character? You think the character wouldn't use the word `lurid'?'' And he said, ``I don't think it's wrong.'' And I said, ``What do you think he would say: `We'll write each other dirty love letters' or `sexy love letters' or `pornographic love letters'?'' I liked lurid and he said, ``Well, it's a word I hate.'' I said, ``Well, I don't think we should take it out based on that.'' So it stayed in. He left it in. I found him very amenable to just about anything regarding characters and dialogue.
I gave him a script when we stared production in which I had bracketed lines that I thought could go if we were running overtime. And mainly he shot those lines and then cut them in the cutting room. But it was probably the best experience of my life because until then I had written only one movie and one television show and wanted to work with somebody who could teach me how to make movies. I had seen all of his movies, and on days when he wasn't actually up to working or to talking I'd ask him if I could see Under Capricorn, for instance, or Vertigo or any of the movies, all of which I had already seen. And then I would come back in and ask him questions. ``Why did you do this? And why did you choose this moment to expose the fact that this woman in Vertigo had also been the one in the beginning?'' It was interesting because he was incredibly generous and very giving. He would draw diagrams for me of how he had gotten certain shots in certain movies. He gave me an education that was fantastic because there was no AFI in those days. It was a wonderful way to make a movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and remember most of it.
SREBNICK: Thank you. Mr. Hunter?
HUNTER: I entered Hitch's creative life when he was looking for a respectability which he felt had eluded him. I remember being in his office on the first day. There was a long corridor in his office, and one wall was entirely filled with all the awards he had won all over the world and all the honors he had received. I got in a little earlier that morning than he did and I was having a cup of coffee when he came in and I said, ``Good morning, that's quite a collection you got here, Hitch.'' And he looked at it kind of sadly, nodded, and said, ``Always a bridesmaid never a bride.'' He was referring, of course, to the fact that he had never received an Academy Award.
I had done some stuff for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and when the call from Hitch came and he asked me if I wanted to do The Birds (I had already met him prior to that), he told me immediately on the phone that we were going to throw out the story. He said, ``Forget it, we're only going to stay with the notion of birds attacking people, that and the title. And that is it, so you'd better come out here with some ideas.'' Thus freed of the burden of having to respect someone else's work, I went out with some ideas and he had some ideas, and we shot them down. In the first week of working together, we explored all the ideas and shot them down on both sides and started from scratch. The process was that I would come in to the studio each morning. We would sit down, just the two of us, with Hitch in a big wing- back chair with his hands on his belly and his feet barely touching the floor. He was always dressed immaculately in a dark suit with a white shirt and a dark tie, black shoes and socks. I would start winging the story at him, and he would listen. By the end of the day, I would go back home and type up what we had discussed the day before, and the next day when I'd come in he'd say, ``Tell me the story so far.'' I would tell him the story so far, which was easy in the beginning but got a little more difficult as we went along.
We never ever once discussed camera angles or the pictorial aspect of the film. I asked him at the beginning of the film, ``Do you want me to call the shots?'' A lot of directors just like the master shot and they'll do it themselves, but a lot of directors like you to call each shot: the close shots, the wide shots, and the two shots and all of it. He said, ``Yes, I want you to call every shot in the movie.'' And I did so in the script, which, incidentally, he went very far away from when he was doing the actual shooting.
He would ask surprising questions. I would be in the middle of telling the story so far and he would say, ``Has she called her father yet?'' I'd say, ``What?'' ``The girl, has she called her father?'' And I'd say, ``No.'' ``Well, she's been away from San Francisco overnight. Does he know where she is? Has she called to tell him she's staying in this town?'' I said, ``No.'' And he said, ``Don't you think she should call him?'' I said, ``Yes, you know it's not a difficult thing to have a person pick up the phone.'' Questions like that.
I don't know if you recall the movie. There's a scene where after this massive bird attack on the house Mitch, the male character, is asleep in a chair and Melanie hears something. She takes a flashlight and she goes up to investigate, and this leads to the big scene in the attic where all the birds attack her. I was telling him about this scene and he was listening very intently, and then he said, ``Let me see if I understand this correctly. There has been a massive attack on the house and they have boarded it up and Mitch is asleep and she hears a sound and she goes to investigate?'' I said, ``Well, yes,'' and he said, ``Is she daft? Why doesn't she wake him up?'' And I said, ``Well, he's very tired.'' He said, ``Well, we'll take the curse off it. Here's what we'll do. We'll have her first look at the love birds and see that they're all right. Then, we'll have her check several rooms along the way to see that everything's all right before she opens that door where the attack comes.'' As a matter of fact this isn't the way he did it in the film. She just goes right upstairs and opens the door. That was one of his concerns: that we lull the viewers into a sort of complacency before we bam them with a shock.
The question he asked over and over again was ``Why are the birds doing it?'' We struggled with this one for a long, long time: Why are the birds doing it? We came up with a hundred reasons for them doing it and they either sounded like science fiction or the supernatural, and we didn't want to do that kind of movie. We decided that we were not going to explain it. There was a scene he never shot where both Melanie and Mitch are outside discussing the bird attacks after the attack down the chimney by the finches. They discuss the problem and try to find some solution to it. They also discuss it in the scene in the Tides restaurant when the bird expert, Mrs. Bundy, comes in. But we never ever tried to explain why they were attacking, and we felt it would be a more meaningful way to go instead of inventing reasons for bird attacks.
He was constantly concerned about Melanie's character, constantly trying to pin her down. In the early days, we were struggling to find an approach to the film. We were then still at Paramount Studios before we moved over to Universal. I went out for lunch one day (he used to take the lunch hour, I should explain, to confer with his secretaries and various other people who came in on projects that had nothing to do with The Birds, because he was running a vast enterprise there), and I was walking around the lot and I had an idea. I came back and I said, ``Why don't we do a screwball comedy that turns to terror?'' It appealed to him; he liked that idea.
He had a marvelous sense of humor. He would interrupt story conferences every day to tell another anecdote about one thing or another. He was a joy to work with. He liked that idea and we started from there. We started building the concept of a madcap heiress who played practical jokes and got involved with this guy who she's immediately smitten with. As in the great screwball comedies, they meet and they argue all the time until they realize they both love each other madly. That was the concept. We built it toward that end, but he kept having doubts about the character. He kept trying to finds ways to give her a more solid base than the person I intended her to be and which I thought he agreed she should be. As the film progressed, and as I learned later that he was showing it to other writers all over the lot and trying to beef up the character of the girl, she began doing things that seemed to me out of character. That's another story.
To answer the question, he was involved in it not toward creating a story but more by way of editing the story; more by way of questioning every twist and turn the plot took; questioning character motivation in every scene; questioning the relationship between Mitch and Annie, the other woman in his life; questioning the relationship between him and his mother—how his mother would react to this sophisticated woman coming from San Francisco. When I started writing it, he would call the house to inform my wife, for example, that a fire was raging in Bel Air in his backyard, or call her to ask if she had finally found a hairdresser, or a place where she could take tennis lessons. He never called me while I was working on it, never once, and never once asked her how the script was going—never, never, never. He would take us to dinner, and take us to the racetrack. He would entertain us lavishly in his home and elsewhere, but he never once asked how the script was going. When I finished it, I delivered it and he gave me notes on it and I rewrote it. I came back to New York, and he called and said he needed a scene where they try to explain it all. I wrote the scene in the Tides restaurant, which I still feel is the best scene in the movie. It's like a one_act play, writing-wise. There are many brilliant scenes pictorially. That was it; that was the extent of our relationship. While he was shooting The Birds, I began working on Marnie.
SREBNICK: Didn't you also work on an earlier draft of Marnie, Mr. Stefano?
STEFANO: Yes. Hitch called me one day and told me that Grace Kelly wanted to make a movie for him. He had a book called Marnie that he thought would be a very good movie. He sent it to me. I liked a lot of it and pictured Grace Kelly very easily playing it. Then he said to me that he felt Miss Kelly would not want to read the book. (Actually, she was more than Miss Kelly at that point.) He said that I should write a very detailed treatment of the movie and we would send it to her. That would be close to a screenplay, and she would have a better idea of what was expected of her. So we discussed it in much the same way as I mentioned about working on Psycho. We spent mornings together and afternoons and dreamed up this movie without much reference to the book, although I did stay pretty close to it. Shortly before I finished the treatment (about two weeks later), he called and told me that Miss Kelly had changed her mind. Apparently, she and her husband had gotten the money they needed elsewhere. So she wasn't going to make a movie. I thought that there were a lot of very wonderful actresses who also could play this part, but he was royally pissed off. He said that he had no interest in doing it with anybody else. Later, when he decided to use Tippi Hedren, I was then producing The Outer Limits on television and didn't even know that he was going to do it. There was no way I could have gotten out of my contract with ABC. So that was the last I heard of it until I heard that the movie was going to be made with Tippi Hedren.
HUNTER: He never showed me Joe's treatment, and I understand—Jay [Presson Allen] can corroborate this—that he never showed Jay my script when she replaced me on the project. I just read the novel. It was a book by Winston Graham, and it was a pretty good suspense novel—actually what we now call a thriller, as opposed to a mystery. I said, ``Yes, I'd like to do it.'' While we were shooting The Birds up in Bodega Bay, I flew to San Francisco and we had several meetings, which is how I happened to be on the set. Directors do not like writers on the set. Directors don't like writers. We discussed Marnie. But there was a scene in the book that bothered me. I told him about that at our first meeting on it. I said that I didn't think I wanted to write that scene. He said, ``Don't worry we'll talk about that later— don't worry about it.'' Contrary to not worrying about it, it kept coming up again, and again, and again.
The scene takes place (I don't know how many of you have seen the film) on Marnie's wedding night. The Sean Connery character rapes Marnie. (This was not Sean Connery at the time. This was just a character named Mark Rutland. Sean was not even in anybody's mind for the part.) He approaches her, while she is just cowering in the corner and terrified. She's frigid. This is part of her psychiatric profile. It's obvious she's not being coy or seductive. She's terrified, and he rapes her. I said to Hitch, ``I'm not sure I can recover this character ever again after this moment. I think he's lost to every woman in the audience.'' He said, ``No.'' He wanted that scene in the film.
I went home and I wrote two drafts. I wrote one draft the way Hitch wanted it with the rape. I'm pretty good at rape scenes, but usually my rapists are not supposed to be sympathetic characters. I wrote the other scene the way I thought it should go, where he comforts her and says ``Don't worry we'll work this out.'' The mistake I made was that I put the rape scene on yellow pages outside of the script and I put my way on white pages in the script. I wrote a long letter to Hitch explaining why I thought my way was a better way to go and that I was certain once he had read my way that he would realize it was the way to go and we could forget all this silly nonsense about a rape. Well, I got fired. Jay will again corroborate that. When she and I were discussing this years later she said, ``Evan, the minute you told Hitch that you did not want to write that rape scene, you bought your ticket back to New York. The only reason he wanted to make that movie was the rape scene.''
LAURENTS: May I interject something here?
LAURENTS: I was listening to you and to Joe, and there's one element that I think is very dominant in Hitchcock in all three pictures, Marnie, Psycho and Rope. He was fascinated by sexual kinkiness. It was almost an obsession with him. Here you tell how he wanted to have a rape scene, and in Psycho you have a murder in drag, and I wrote this picture with two homosexuals under the influence of a third who commit a murder for a thrill. He talked about it all the time, to me anyway. I think it influenced his work a great deal.
HUNTER: The interesting thing about The Birds is that there's hardly a kiss in the film. It's antiseptic. It's a totally antiseptic film.
LAURENTS: Yes, well they get their eyes pecked out.
HUNTER: That's true. I always find that very sexy—having my eyes pecked out.
LAURENTS: I didn't say ``sex.'' I said ``kink.''
STEFANO: Well, as we all know, there certainly wasn't any kink in Psycho!
HUNTER: Actually, I intended Mrs. Bundy to be the sex object in The Birds.
SREBNICK: One issue, I think, that this raises is the relationship of the screenplay to the original source. Mr. Laurents, if I understand you correctly, you think that Rope was a sort of slavish attempt to remake the stage play?
LAURENTS: Not quite that bad, but the reason he wanted me was because I was a playwright and he was going to film a play. Actually, I wrote a whole other screenplay or dialogue for all these characters to say in the background on the set. He wasn't much interested in anything on that picture. Again, he loved the whole kinky idea of it, but it was the camera that was the star. They had a great presentation for the press about how thoroughly this thing had been rehearsed. Jimmy Stewart, who was a very affable man and very quiet (drank a lot, too), said that the only thing that has been rehearsed around here is the camera. And it was perfectly true. As everybody knows, on a Hitchcock picture he saw everything on the screen without a viewfinder. He knew it all before the picture was shot. He was usually bored because it was all done in his mind. On Rope it was very difficult to coordinate the movements of the actors, who instead of being concerned with acting were more concerned with not tripping over cables and getting out of the way of the camera, which was all he was concerned with. It was very interesting, but weird.
SREBNICK: I would also ask Mr. Stefano and Mr. Hunter, since you both worked with source materials, what were the major issues in adaptation? I assume you were both asked to read the source material.
STEFANO: I was sent a copy of Psycho by Robert Bloch. As I read along, I was very fascinated with this young man and his mother and their continual arguing and her murderous hostility toward him. I thought it was very fascinating. Then, when I got to the end of the book, I found out that the mother had been dead and that Norman was his mother. It presented an incredible visual problem, because I didn't see how you could have him talking with his mother for the first twenty or thirty minutes and not show her. How long would an audience put up with that? I thought it was unfilmable until I was on my way to my first meeting with Hitchcock. I thought, ``What if this movie was about a young woman who's in a relationship that's not going anywhere because her boyfriend has all kinds of problems?'' By the time I got to the studio, I had worked out the first twenty minutes of the film, all about Marion Crane, up to that point when she gets murdered. I told my idea to Hitch who was quiet for a moment, then he leaned forward and said, ``We could get a star!'' I loved the idea because at that time nobody ever killed stars in the first twenty minutes of a movie. It was unheard of that this would happen.
I knew at that moment that I had the job because this was probably the problem he was wrestling with: how to get the audience involved in this character. I found out many years later that he had already had a script for Psycho. (You're never told this: according to the Writer's Guild you're supposed to be told, but nobody ever follows that rule and nobody ever reports them to the Writer's Guild if they don't follow the rule). The movie then became possible because there was no reason to directly see the mother. We think we see her during the murder. So for the rest of the movie, for me, the job was to keep the audience from wondering why we were not having any scenes with the mother. It was very important to me that you didn't know that she wasn't there. Other than that, we never discussed the book again. I kind of went at it as if it were an original screenplay, which the first thirty pages are. I thought that it worked that way and Hitch did too. Fortunately, he liked the idea. That's pretty much the story of the source material.
SREBNICK: Thank you. Mr. Hunter, what about Daphne du Maurier's novella?
HUNTER: Poor lady. As I said, it was thrown out. The only thing we kept from it was the finch attack down the chimney, because this happened in the novella. We used it to good effect in the film. Hitch once said to me, ``Evan, there are only two stars in this film: the birds and me!''And then he hesitated and said, ``And you of course.'' I was reminded of this when Joe was talking about Hitch saying ``We could get a star.'' That's a stroke of genius. I remember when he came up with the advertising slogan for the film and he called in all the executives at Universal. They came into his office and he said, ``This is what it's going to be: `The birds is coming.' '' One of the young Turks in the office said, ``Excuse me, Mr. Hitchcock, sir, you mean `The birds are coming,' don't you?''
What happened to the story? It was gone. I don't think Daphne du Maurier was too thrilled about that. I wouldn't have been happy. I've been on both ends of this. I've had my novels translated to the screen by other writers. I've done other people's novels for the screen or television. Whenever I'm doing it, I think of it as translating the book—just using the book and translating it to another medium, making it visual and not internal as most novels are. A lot of writers come to the task as if they must rewrite the whole book. I didn't try to do that when I was doing Marnie. With The Birds I had carte blanche to throw it away and come up with a whole new story.
SREBNICK: At this point, unless there are more comments from the writers, I would like to open up the discussion and invite questions from the audience.
QUESTION: I'm a fan and a psychologist, which is maybe why I'm a fan. I have two questions about The Birds. First, there was always a hint that maybe Melanie coming to that town is what caused the birds to attack. Even some of the townspeople say that. I'm wondering if that's really in there or I'm just seeing it. The second thing I want to know is your vision of what happens after The Birds ends.
HUNTER: That lingering suspicion that perhaps Melanie is causing all this was sort of a remnant of one of the ideas I had gone out to the coast with that we shot down and discarded. The thought was that Melanie would not be a sophisticated madcap heiress, but a schoolteacher coming to this little town of Bodega Bay who begins to teach. Suddenly bird attacks start. Because she is a stranger in town and the alien force in a sense, they begin blaming it on her. This probably lingered as an unconscious element in the final movie. Hitch added a scene to the Tides restaurant sequence where the mother of the two children accuses Melanie. He added a line there that I had not written about how she's the cause of all this before Melanie slaps her.
The other question, about the ending: there were ten pages of script that were not shot at the end of the film. They indicated a much wider attack of birds than just on this little town of Bodega Bay. There is some uncertainty as to whether the birds would be in San Francisco when they get there. I later thought of doing a sequel to The Birds where Tippi and Rod Taylor are married and their daughter is Tippi's real daughter, Melanie Griffith, and she's marrying Tom Cruise. They're back at the farmhouse for the wedding too. Veronica Cartwright is all grown up now and a very good actress, and she's there for the wedding. Birds attack again. Tom Cruise and Melanie Griffith flee the house and start cross_country. It's an apocalypse. The birds are taking over everywhere. It would have been a sort of a metaphor for nuclear warfare. But we never did it.
QUESTION: I have a question for Mr. Laurents about Rope. It was inspired by the Leopold_Loeb murders, which in turn were inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's writings. There's an explicit reference to Nietzsche in the film, which seems very unusual, given that he was a very obscure philosopher in the nineteen-fifties in the United States, and not very popular. I just wondered if it was your decision to put that in. Did Hitchcock ever talk about Nietzsche's influence upon him?
LAURENTS: I put that in. I tried to lay in as much as I could about homosexuality without saying it, and about the whole superman theory. Actually, I didn't think that I'd get away with as much of it as I did. He didn't care. As Joe and Evan said, he wasn't interested in the words really. They may disagree, but I think he was just fascinated with the idea of a kinky murder. What I said about it was up to me. Does that satisfy you?
QUESTION (continued): I guess so. He never asked questions, didn't give you any input? He just let you run with it then?
LAURENTS: Oh yes. He gave me a free rein there.
QUESTION: I'm wondering if the three of you could say to what extent you were present on the set during the shooting. To what extent, if any, was there rewriting going on during shooting or even restructuring of scenes?
STEFANO: I was on the set almost every day for one reason. Hitch had seen a television spectacular, as they were called in those days, that I had done with Tony Curtis and wanted to know if we could do a two hour Ford Startime movie. He was fascinated by the idea of doing a movie_length piece for television. During the shooting of Psycho, we were talking about the possibilities of what this could be. I had hit upon a couple of thoughts. Whenever he finished a scene and said ``cut,'' he would come to where I was or he would go to his chair and I would go over to him. We would be discussing this. We rarely discussed Psycho. I think in both our minds the movie was finished.
When I finished the script, he said that he would like me to go to his house one morning and we'd just break it down into shots so that they could put it on the board. I had written mainly master scenes and we broke them down together. Then when we were finished, he asked Alma if they had any champagne in the house. She said they did, but that it was warm. He said that if I wouldn't tell anybody we'd put it over some ice cubes and toast this movie that was about to start the following week. He said that the fun part is over, which I thought was a little bit sad. At the same time it did, at that moment, turn into work for him because he had to get these people to do what he had seen in his mind. It is a little easier and more pleasant to do it if you're discussing how you're going to shoot a scene or what the people are going to say in it. He was always dressed the way he was described. That's the way he was on the set. He was very quiet. His set reminded me very much of a hospital waiting room. There was hardly any talk. Nobody ever said anything that they didn't have to say. It was very formal, but warm. It was nice. Nobody was in a bad mood. Everybody there seemed to be so perfectly happy to be working with Hitchcock.
One day, he asked me to look at the scene where Marion goes into the ladies room of the used car dealership to go through her papers. He said, ``Do you like the way this is set up?'' I was surprised because he didn't usually ask me questions like that. I said, ``No, I don't like it.'' It was very blank, and it looked like a TV set (which is what it was, incidentally). So he said, ``All right we'll take care of it.'' I went back out and a little bit later I saw the set and I saw the camera. I saw he had tilted it and put a mirror in the room so that when Janet is going through her bag we're seeing her in the mirror as well as her activity, showing the dual personality that had suddenly exploded. She had gone ``a little mad.''
It was interesting that he involved me in what he was doing, especially in the shower sequence. At the same time, he didn't seem to involve anybody else. He didn't involve the actors in what they were having to do. I think his attitude was that he and the writer created the movie and when their work was finished, the movie was finished. He rarely went far away from where he had been. This was maybe more true with Psycho than The Birds and other movies that cost a lot more. Psycho, in his mind, would cost less than a million dollars, preferably $800,000. He wanted to do it that way because a company called American International was making very inexpensive movies and making a lot of money on them. He said, ``What if we did one?'' So it was his notion that he would do one of these very low budget movies, but that it would be good. And he was right. It was a wonderful way to make a movie. I've since felt that life would be better if every movie could cost under a million dollars.
HUNTER: You were a tough act to follow, Joe. I think audiences who came to see The Birds were expecting the same kind of screams and thrills that they had gotten in Psycho. If I had to do it all over again, I would have started immediately with a bird attack. Frame one, boom, a bird hits somebody on the head.
STEFANO: Didn't a bird almost hit her in San Francisco?
HUNTER: No, they just look up at the sky and she smiles, ``My, isn't it unusual all these birds up there? They sometimes get lost in the fog,'' or whatever the language was.
STEFANO: Well, maybe you should have started with her in a hotel room shacking up with her boyfriend.
HUNTER: Yes. Speaking of silence on the set, I rarely saw Hitch give any direction to anyone. Did you?
STEFANO: I didn't either.
HUNTER: He and Tippi had a code word: it was ``Gorki.'' G_O_R_K_I, the writer. Her voice had a tendency to get strident sometimes because she wasn't a trained actress. He would just say ``Gorki'' very quietly, ``Gorki,'' as he passed her by. She knew that when they did the next take she had to watch the level of her voice. But I rarely saw him giving direction to anyone.
STEFANO: I never saw an actor ask for direction.
LAURENTS: I saw a lot of it.
STEFANO: You did?
LAURENTS: I obviously had a very different experience. I was on the set every day. There weren't many days because it was all shot on one set. Incidentally, about his manner of dress, I spent several weekends at his country house in the mountains north of San Francisco, and he wore that same black suit, black tie, and white shirt, and so forth. But on the set there was one interesting thing.
STEFANO: He had only one suit, Arthur.
HUNTER: No, he had eighty of the same suit.
LAURENTS: Yes, probably. Anyway, there was one interesting thing, not about him, but about the character of the maid in Rope. Most of the time on the set everybody sat around while, as Jimmy Stewart said, ``the camera was rehearsed.'' But the other actors made the maid sit apart from them. They treated her like a maid. Anyway, he would direct each one of them. It was a combination of what he wanted from them and what he wanted them to do for the camera. He would say, ``And you smile here and it goes!'' That was acting! What I had to do was write background dialogue for this party that was going on all the time. I must say I had a lot of fun with it. I thought it was much funnier than anything said on the screen. It's a pity you can't hear a lot of it.
HUNTER: I was on the set by accident when they were shooting The Birds because I was working on Marnie and we were having discussions. You asked about what kind of rewriting was done. A lot of rewriting was being done, but not by me. Rod Taylor came over one day and said, ``Did you write this scene?'' And I read it and I said, ``No, I didn't.'' And he said,'' Well, we're shooting it today.'' So I went over to Hitch and said, ``Hitch, I just read this scene and I really think it has no place in the movie. I really think it's badly written.'' It's the scene at the birthday party before the birds attack the children. Tippi and Mitch go up on a dune with martini glasses and drink martinis. She begins telling him about her awful childhood when her mother ran off with quote, ``a hotel man from the east'' unquote. I said, ``it doesn't sound like her; it doesn't even sound American. I really don't think you should shoot this Hitch.'' He looked at me and said, ``Are you going to trust me or a two_bit actor?'' They shot it and it is in the movie. I think Hitch wrote the scene himself. I strongly suspect it.
STEFANO: I'd like to tell you about something that happened on the first day of shooting. Hitchcock came over to me and said, ``Mr. Gavin would like to make a change in your script.'' He said, ``Maybe you'd better talk to him.'' So I said, ``Is this anything serious that I need to really pay a lot of attention to?'' And he said, ``Well, it's up to you.'' So I went over to John Gavin and said, ``What's our problem here?'' He said, ``Everything's fine, except must I appear naked from the waist up?'' I said, ``Well, you know, you've just had sex with this woman and you're coming out of the bathroom and the only reason you have your pants on is because otherwise we would not have gotten a go on this.'' And he said, ``Well, I just don't like to be without a shirt.'' I said, ``That's what the scene calls for,'' and I never heard another word about it. He appeared, as you know, without a shirt. Hitch never said a word about it. He apparently did not go back to Hitchcock to see if I was crazy, or if I could be thrown off the set, or something. It was an interesting thing because Hitch changed things visually, but he never changed the dialogue. The only thing he did was cut some stuff when it got near the final cut.
QUESTION: I have a question for Mr. Stefano and Mr. Hunter. There are two beautifully choreographed scenes that you wrote: the shower scene and the jungle gym scene outside the school with the birds coming in—the juxtaposition between the songs the children are singing and her nervous cigarette smoking. I'm curious. How much was this detailed out in your original scripts? How choreographed was it in its original form?
HUNTER: I wrote all the shots for the jungle gym sequence. In fact, I also got the song from my children, who were in elementary school at the time. This was a song they used to sing, that they were taught in whatever grade they were in. I got a call from the coast saying that we needed some more lyrics. I'm a member of ASCAP now because of this. So I wrote another whole twelve sets of lyrics so that the birds could keep gathering on the jungle gym. So that was all really choreographed in the script. What was not choreographed in the script and what is one of the most brilliant scenes in the movie is when Tippi Hedren is trapped in the telephone booth and the birds are smashing into it and the man comes by with blood streaming down his face. This was all Hitch's invention, and it was marvelous, I thought.
STEFANO: We discussed the shower scene and Saul Bass did a storyboard on it. Hitch told me I was not to put it in the screenplay. He didn't want anybody to know what this scene was going to look like. There was a tremendous air of secrecy on the set. Nobody ever talked about it outside the sound stage. If you went to lunch, you did not discuss what was being done. It was an incredibly secret affair. He felt that scripts, somehow, always managed to get out. Everybody in all the studios always has a copy of the script that you just started shooting. Nobody ever knows how they get it, but they get it. He said, ``Indicate that she's going to get murdered, but spread it out and make it longer. Say whatever you want to say, but don't say anything to indicate that this is going to be a very brief, very violent scene.'' That was it.
LAURENTS: You guys seem to have been much more fortunate than I was. You guys both seem to have been very involved in the making of the movie. I was not. Just on a few occasions and again, as I said, just by accident.
STEFANO: That's more typical actually that the writer is not involved in film making.
QUESTION: Two brief questions, one for Mr. Stefano, the other for Mr. Hunter. Mr. Stefano, you also mentioned that you were involved in the remake of Psycho. I will not enter into that topic now. It just interests me. One horrible point in the remake, and one I consider almost a stroke of genius. Did you have anything to do with them? The horrible point is Norman observing Marion through the peephole while masturbating. It's not out of moralistic reasons that I think this is wrong, but, to put it in vulgar terms, if he were able to satisfactorily masturbate there would be no cause for him to slaughter her. What was your relation to that? The stroke of genius, I think, and the only one in the film is at the very end, the long final credits in the style of the nineties with a guitar improvising and a long crane shot withdrawing from the scene. That, I think, gives the specific flavor of the nineties. Did you have anything to do with these two features?
STEFANO: I was involved in Gus Van Sant's remake in that he called me and told me what he was planning to do and that he would like to talk with me. We had lunch, and I asked a question that many people later asked, which was ``Why?'' He said, ``Well, you know if Psycho had been a play, your play would have been done 2000 times by now in different places.'' I thought, ``Yes, that's an attractive idea, and it is nice to write a play and have people do it all over the world and see all these different interpretations of it.'' I somehow envisioned that Gus Van Sant was going to direct this movie. I had not envisioned Gus Van Sant subserviently copying every single thing in the original. I found out rather quickly that he really was not interested in any rewrites I had in mind. I felt that there were things that needed to be changed slightly.
I thought my best suggestion to Gus Van Sant was not to have the psychiatrist come in and tell these people on the set what he had just heard from Norman Bates as his mother in the cell. Instead, my idea was to have the psychiatrist go into the place where Norman was and have him talk with Norman, who has totally become his mother. The ``mother,'' then, would be telling the audience what they need to know. Gus liked that idea very much, but he said that it was a shame we didn't do it that way the first time. I said, ``Well, you know, isn't that what this is about? Aren't we going to fix some things here?'' It finally wound up that he agreed to change just one thing: that the amount of money to buy the house should be different. Marion would steal $400,000 instead of $40,000. I told him, ``First of all, this man whose money it is that she steals talks about buying his child a house for a wedding present and I don't know where he's going to find one for $40,000.'' So, we made it $400,000. Then he changed some motel prices, very practical things. But he wouldn't give the detective a cell phone. The detective still had to use a public phone booth somewhere. Early on, I realized that we weren't going to see much of Mr. Van Sant in the new version. We were going to see almost a replica, except it was going to be in color.
When I was on the set, I also saw that suddenly actors were now involved in changing their characters. Anne Heche had no desire at all to play the character as written, but she still had to say the same dialogue. So, a different person was saying Marion's dialogue. It was so jarring. I offered to rewrite the scene so she could play it with the character that she wanted to play. I began to get very tired of the project because it seemed to me that the actors were just doing whatever they felt like, and that if Gus was going to do it shot for shot and line for line, then let's see it done correctly. Let's do that then. But you have to play the same characters; otherwise I'd have wanted to change the dialogue. It was strange. In post_production he added some things that were not in the original movie. It was a very strange experiment. I felt that it had gone terribly awry.
LAURENTS: I thought the picture worked best the same place the original worked best, until Norman Bates arrives. I think Tony Perkins is so stamped on that part that you could not possibly make another picture. They made a musical of Big, but they didn't have Tom Hanks and they should have stayed home. When a personality gets so identified with a role, I think you're dead, and I think that's what happened there.
STEFANO: And Tony played it twice again, so it was really indelible.
QUESTION (continued): Mr. Hunter, you said everything was to be erased from the novella by Daphne du Maurier. I like to make mental experiments. One of my favorites is to imagine The Birds without the birds. I think it functions. We get, I admit, a slightly boring melodrama of the fifties with the son and the oppressive mother and so on. The first quarter of an hour is screwball comedy. It then develops into a kind of Tennessee Williams drama. So, it stands on its own. I'm not saying it's very good drama, but I can imagine The Birds without the birds. But, unfortunately, there are birds. It's easy for you to say we didn't disclose the meaning, but you must have an idea. I know this is an intrusive, politically incorrect question. But why do the birds attack? You must have a theory.
STEFANO: My answer to the question as to why the birds did it? Because Alfred Hitchcock told them to.
HUNTER: I always thought that the whole story in The Birds was marking time between attacks. I always felt that way, anyway. We were constructing some kind of story that nobody was interested in at all. We just wanted to see birds hitting people. I did, anyway.
QUESTION: This is a question for all the members of the panel. You spoke of Hitchcock's interest in your psychoanalytic sessions . . .
LAURENTS: I didn't.
QUESTION (continued): Did you have discussions with him where he talked about his films in psychological terms?
STEFANO: I didn't. As I said, he was not really that interested in why the characters were doing what they were doing. He was not really interested in that. He liked to think that he was above what Arthur calls ``kink.'' No one ever said to him that this is rather kinky business here, which was strange, because I think that off the set Mr. Hitchcock also liked kinky things and he liked kinky stories. A lot of our time together was spent gossiping about the kinkiness of the people we all knew. It was great fun for him, but he never acted as though he were putting it on screen.
LAURENTS: I never heard him talk about anything psychological—a lot about kink. His main concern was about what he called the ``icebox trade.'' That was, he said, when ``they get home from the picture and he takes a beer from the icebox and she takes a soda and one of them says `Why didn't they call the police?' '' Curiously enough, if you see Strangers on a Train, why didn't they call the police?
HUNTER: We never had any psychological discussions about The Birds, but when I was working on Marnie he asked me to write a letter to Tippi explaining the character's psychology. She was a strange character who committed robberies and was frigid and had witnessed a murder in her youth. He asked me to write a letter explaining her psychology after Tippi had gotten the part. But when the thought of who was going to play Marnie first came up, I asked him who he had in mind. As if we were being eavesdropped upon, he mouthed the word ``Grace.''
QUESTION: What do you think will be the lasting appeal of Hitchcock films for audiences in the next century, and do you think that Hitchcock has a status he deserves or do you think it's been overblown?
LAURENTS: With the risk of getting stones thrown at me, I think movies are overanalyzed. I mean this business about The Birds. It was obviously made for the birds! Why make a big deal about it? That's what it's about. It's clearly there, and either you went for it or you didn't. I did a picture once called Caught, and it ran out of money. We had to shoot twelve days in four and I had to rewrite it. It was directed by a man named Max Ophuls. To save money everything had black velours and a lot of mist. Pauline Kael, who is the dean of the whole tribe of film critics, commented on the scenic murkiness, which commented on the psychological murkiness. Well, it was money! There wasn't enough money, so we had murky sets! It's that simple. So far as Hitchcock, I don't know, and I frankly think what does it matter? The man's gone and he's not going to enjoy it or know one way or the other.
HUNTER: I think that's the irony of it—a man who when I was working with him was so concerned with recognition and gaining respectability—that we are sitting here together thirty-seven years later, or whatever it is, and paying great homage to him. I think this would have pleased him enormously if he were still alive.
STEFANO: I think the sadness of Hitchcock's hundredth birthday is that he didn't live to see it. I don't think anybody would have enjoyed the fuss that's been made this year more than he would. He would say, of course, that he didn't enjoy it. He would pass it off and change the subject, but there would be a look in his face and in his eyes that would say it's about time.
LAURENTS: You have to remember that this is a man who found a way to put himself into every one of his pictures, which says something about ego.
QUESTION: I have two questions for Mr. Hunter. I'm fascinated with the idea that The Birds began as a screwball comedy. The other questioner's words are ringing in my ears: ``a boring Tennessee Williams melodrama.'' I didn't find it boring by any means. But this austere melodrama that it winds up being for the most part, I just can't imagine the road from screwball comedy to that. I'm curious about how this took place. For Mr. Stefano, did you and Hitchcock ever discuss the influence of the French picture Diabolique on Psycho? Did that ever figure in any of your conversations together?
HUNTER: Screwball comedy. When I first proposed the idea, he liked it, and in our minds we were thinking of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, although we knew we weren't going to get them. (We were not going to get Cary Grant because Hitch said, ``I'm not going to give him fifty percent of the movie!''And Grace Kelly we were not going to get because ``She's off in Monaco being a princess, isn't she?'') But these were the characters in our heads when I was writing The Birds and when we were discussing it. We did not get them, and I think it suffered somewhat. I felt the chemistry was totally lacking between Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren. I think they were missing the point, and I think Hitch may have missed the point along the way too. I think he had grave misgivings about the script as the movie was being shot. I think, more and more, he began to lose confidence in my script and began to turn it in different directions which may have resulted in Tennessee Williams. I still think it's a good idea. I still thinks it's a lovely idea that suddenly somebody gets hit on the head in the midst of what we think is going to be a boy_girl love story. What I did not realize was that I really had the burden of Psycho. I was not joking when I said that it was a tough act to follow. I think the audience was sitting there and getting itchy about when the birds are coming. When are they coming? Why are we listening to all this silly nonsense between these two people? Where are the birds? That was a grave error, perhaps.
STEFANO: In regard to Diabolique. At one point toward the end of our work on the script, Hitchcock asked me if I thought there was anything that might be compared to Diabolique in any way or related to it in any way. I didn't think so and he didn't think so either, but he felt that maybe we'd better look at it. So we went into a screening room and watched Diabolique. There wasn't really anything similar in what we were talking about and that movie. My recollection is that Hitch shrugged it off. Maybe somebody had said something to him about Diabolique, but he wasn't terribly impressed with it.
QUESTION: I just wanted to comment to Mr. Laurents: not to worry. We're really used to being accused of over-analysis. I wrote a book on Ophuls which is very over-analytical. My questions are little, nagging, detail questions. As we watch these films again and again, especially with our students, they say, ``But they didn't intend that. That detail doesn't mean anything.'' We, of course, argue with them. One of the details, Mr. Stefano, that bothers me every time I see the film is in the scene you were discussing where Marion is selling her car. Was there discussion of the license tags of the cars—that ANL was chosen as one of the license tags?
STEFANO: I have no idea. I don't even remember what it says. The interesting thing to me is that at the time you're making this movie you have absolutely no idea that people might be seeing it a year hence—we're talking about 1960—let alone forty years later, or that people would ever be analyzing the movie so closely. Everybody does what they like in making a movie and what they think is good. Somebody gets the job of going out and getting the cars that we need. In the used car lot, cars would have license plates on them. The only thing we were concerned about with regard to the plates was the change from Arizona to California. It was very important that you understand that she was now in California. And I'll tell you why that was important, and that is because we have told you she only sees her boyfriend when he flies in on business. I felt that if we changed the state that it would make more sense. Certainly in 1959 it made more sense that he flew in from another state than from somewhere in California. I wanted it to start out in Arizona and end up in California.
QUESTION (continued): Okay. I have just another couple of detail questions. First, in writing the screenplay for Psycho, do you remember reading another work by Robert Bloch, a story called ``The Real Bad Friend,'' which is also about a male character with a multiple personality? There have been claims that it was another source.
STEFANO: No, I never read that.
QUESTION (continued): My final question: in the novel of Psycho, Marion is decapitated in the shower. Who decided not to decapitate her in the film?
STEFANO: I decided that I didn't want to see this woman in the shower getting killed and having her head cut off. Hitchcock agreed that it would be nothing he would want to put on film.
QUESTION (continued): One final, small question about The Birds for Mr. Hunter. Do you remember whose idea it was for Mitch's mom to go out in the truck and find the guy with his eyes gouged out? Because we're all very fascinated by moms in Hitchcock.
HUNTER: Yes, it was mine. The long journey home was to cover a love scene between Mitch and Melanie outside. In a scene that was cut, Melanie looks at Mitch from the window. We see him doing something outside, and what he's doing is raking up dead birds. We couldn't come close in on it because of the animal rights people. She then comes out and they try to work out together why this is happening. There's a comic scene where they conjure up a bird revolutionary in the hills getting all the birds together to rise and attack: ``We have nothing to lose but our feathers,'' that kind of thing. They end up frightening themselves, or at least frightening her. He grabs her and they're kissing when the truck appears. If you recall, we see them breaking apart through the windshield of the truck, although we never saw them getting together. Throughout the rest of the film, she's calling him ``darling'' and we have no idea why. We never have seen them kiss or embrace or anything, and now she's calling him darling and we go, ``Huh?'' After that long drive out, mother comes back and we then cut away to the two of them while she comes into the driveway, still at top speed.
QUESTION: I have a question for all three gentlemen. You've all spoken about the story conferences that you would have with Hitchcock before you wrote the screenplay, apparently usually over lunch. Since we're all wondering how much of a contribution he made to the screenplay, not necessarily the dialogue but the story and the characters, could you all give us an estimate as to how much of the screenplay came from him in terms of plot and character and how much was from you?
STEFANO: You mean as a percentage, so to speak?
QUESTION (continued): Just roughly.
STEFANO: If this were being negotiated with the Writers Guild, I would say that his contribution to the screenplay consisted mainly of stopping me if he thought something should be other than what I was talking about. I described the action as it would happen, what the people would be saying, what they'd be talking about, and if he thought something might present a problem, he would then speak about that. I don't ever remember him saying that we should do this, or this is how a scene should work. He just behaved as if it was not his job to do that. He spoke to me once about an actor who had given a very disappointing performance in one of his movies, that he was mainly disappointed because his feeling was that when you got to be in one of his movies, you ought to know what you were doing. An actor who was up there not knowing what he or she was doing was disturbing to him. To him it was like, ``How did he get this far?'' I think he felt that way about scripts too, that you knew what you were doing by the time you were working on a movie with him. It was, at once, a compliment and a way of shutting you up about trying to get him to give you too much information.
HUNTER: I agree. As I said earlier, his role seemed to be more editorial than it was creative in terms of writing the script. I still suspect he wrote that scene on the dunes, but that's one tenth of one percent, perhaps less. I have no proof that he did write it.
LAURENTS: The only thing he asked me was whether the dialogue could cover some visual idea he had, and if it couldn't, could I adjust it. His role was minor, practically non_existent. So far as casting, he was curiously either perverse or contradictory. He wanted an American version of the English stage play and he cast two English actors, Cedric Hardwicke and Constance Collier. He was very worried about Constance. He said, ``Her voice is so low. Will people think she's a lesbian? ``
QUESTION: I'm particularly interested in Hitchcock's television work. This question is for Mr. Stefano and, to some extent, Mr. Hunter as well. You worked with Hitchcock on both his television work as well as film. I was wondering if Hitchcock ever said anything to you about his thoughts generally on television but also on creating television himself and perhaps if he expressed any views on any television programs that you made yourselves?
STEFANO: I never worked on television with him, nor did I ever hear him say anything about any situation or story being right for television or wrong for films or vice versa. I don't think he had any sense of it being any different.
HUNTER: He had adapted two short stories I had written for his half_hour show, one called ``Vicious Circle'' and the other called ``First Defense.'' I also adapted a short story by a man named Robert Turner called ``Appointment at Eleven.'' I adapted that for his half_hour show. He never commented to me on any of them. I always suspected that he hired me for The Birds because of my adaptation of that story. I asked him one time, ``Why did you hire me?'' And he said, ``I make it my business to know what's going on Evan,'' which was very mysterious. I think it was because of ``Appointment at Eleven,'' which took place entirely in the kid's head, which I had to open up, as they say. Since the du Maurier novella took place in a cottage with just an inarticulate farmer and his wife, I think he hired me to open it up, so to speak. We never discussed television or his role in television. We just discussed The Birds and later Marnie. That was it.
QUESTION (continued): I guess I'll just have to keep searching for quotes on television and Hitchcock. The only one I have at the moment is from Mr. Norman Lloyd, a biographical book in which he said to Mr. Lloyd that in television you just get up close. That's the only thing he said to Norman Lloyd about television aesthetics.
QUESTION: I have two questions for Mr. Stefano. First, you said you only had one or two credits before Psycho. I was just wondering how you got the responsibility for an Alfred Hitchcock picture. The other concerns all the underlying humor in Psycho. I haven't read the book so I don't know if it is in the original book, or if it is part of your screenplay, or any influence by Hitchcock?
STEFANO: The humor, as I recall, was not in the book. The characters were very different in the book. Norman was a much older man. He was in his forties, and he was a drunk—nothing like the Norman Bates that you know. I find it hard not to put some humor in things because it just seems to happen when I'm writing. I don't intend to do it very often. I was aware that I was dealing here with a director who was a very witty man and said some very funny things and had some very funny sensibilities. He never said anything that was a big joke, for instance, but he looked at things in a humorous way. I have read that he claimed that Psycho was a comedy. I always thought that it was a charming notion on his part, just the way he said that actors should be treated like cattle. He said things that were rather outrageous but perhaps came to him at that moment to say them. I think that he liked the fact that there was humor. The only humorous line that he ever commented on to me was after the murder of Marion, when we go to Sam's hardware store and her sister comes in. I had a woman buying some insecticide, and she's reading the label. She says something like ``They tell you how it kills them, but they don't tell you whether it's painless.'' He thought that was a marvelous line. If you see the movie again, you'll notice that it gets quiet right at that moment so that the line can be heard. I thought it would probably be lost in the action otherwise. He really liked it.
QUESTION (continued): How did you get the assignment to write Psycho?
STEFANO: I had done one movie and one television show, and I felt people in the business were acting like I knew everything that I needed to know and were depending on me. I thought that this wasn't going to work, so I went to someone I knew at MCA, which was then the biggest agency, and I told them that I would like to be with their agency. I gave them a list of ten directors I wanted to work with, any one of whom I felt could teach me how to make movies. Hitchcock was on that list. I later found out that they had worked very hard to get him to meet me. He hadn't liked the movie I had written, The Black Orchid. He also thought I was kind of a street kid from south Philadelphia (he was right) and that I probably didn't have the sophistication that he was used to. I guess someone from MCA suggested that maybe that was exactly what he ought to have. So he agreed to meet me. As I think I have already said, the first thing I told him was how I would make the picture. I think he kind of liked that.
QUESTION: One final question. Back to the screwball comedy business. The beginning of The Birds always struck me as more of a Doris Day/Rock Hudson kind of thing. It is so prolonged that it must have been part of your intention. You now say that you regret it. I'm wondering, since the whole film seems to me like a satire in a way of that kind of film, whether Hitchcock ever spoke about other films and other directors, and what he said?
HUNTER: I'm trying to remember. I don't recall him ever talking about any other directors. Well, he talked about Truffaut, because at the time I think they were setting up the interviews with Truffaut. While I was working on Marnie, certainly, they were setting up the Truffaut interviews. So he spoke about him. He spoke about actors a lot—actors he had worked with and actors he knew—but I think he was sort of egotistical. He thought he was ``the director.'' I don't recall him ever discussing other directors or other films.
STEFANO: Can I tell you something about other directors? I once asked Hitchcock about the new up and coming directors, many of whom were coming to film from television in 1960. I asked him if he had seen any of their stuff and he said that he had. I then asked him who he liked. He said, ``Well, I can't really judge them as directors,'' but then he named a director and said that he had been invited to a dinner party at this director's house. (I'm not going to tell you his name, so don't even ask me). He said that during the dinner the waiter served wine with a cloth around it, and it was not even cold wine. So why did he have that napkin wrapped around the bottle? I had the feeling that Hitchcock dismissed this man and his work forever. That mistake would be enough to judge his life's work.
SREBNICK: I hope you'll join me in thanking our screenwriters, not only for sharing their ideas with us but for their wonderful part in the creation of these films.
* This piece was originaly published in the Hitchcock Annual, 2001-02, pages 1-37. For comments or more information please e-mail Spgottlieb@aol.com