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Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies

by Donald Spoto

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-307-35130-2
Publisher: Harmony

Celebrity biographer Spoto settles scores, rehashes feuds and reevaluates reputations in his third addition to the Hitchcock shelf.

The author launched his career with two major works on the director: The Art of Alfred Hitchcock (1976), a critical study, and The Dark Side of Genius (1983), a biography. This coda reconsiders the master of suspense against recollections that interviewees requested remain unpublished until they or Hitchcock died. Spoto frequently displays ill humor toward his sources speaking from beyond the grave. He is no longer spellbound, for example, by Joan Fontaine. In The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, he lauded her acting in Rebecca as “extraordinarily delicate and fragile.” Now he finds it “a successful example of a one-note performance,” makes a gratuitous reference to her failed marriages and unfavorably compares her acting to that of sister Olivia de Havilland, with whom Fontaine feuded for years. Spoto also snipes repeatedly at Patricia Hitchcock, a vocal critic of his biography of her father. He chides her as “acutely unaware of the constant connection that invariably must exist between the storyteller [in this case, Hitchcock] and his story,” and then condescendingly terms her “denial” of this link as poignant. Balancing the negatives, Spoto delivers encomiums to Ingrid Bergman, Teresa Wright and Grace Kelly. The author remains steadfast in the belief that Hitchcock was a major filmmaker, but insists he was not the sole auteur of his films, praising the contributions of the director’s collaborators. As for the dark side of Hitchcock’s genius, Spoto paints it in even darker hues. Tippi Hedren recalls her discomfort with the director, to whom she was under exclusive contract for seven years. Besides subjecting her to five days of physical and psychic harm in an attic setting for The Birds, Hitchcock stalked her and eventually demanded she grant him sexual favors, she claims. When Hedren refused, the director threatened to destroy her Hollywood career.

Given its origins in material no one wanted published while they were alive, it’s unsurprising that this is a thoroughly nasty reunion.