• Cecil B. DeMille

Ready for My deMille: Profiles in Excellence –Alfred Hitchcock, Part 2

"Arial",sans-serif;color:#550016″>  was presented to its namesake visionary director, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has awarded its most prestigious prize 66 times. From Walt Disney to Bette DavisElizabeth Taylor to Steven Spielberg and 62 others, the deMille has gone to luminaries – actors, directors, producers – who have left an indelible mark on Hollywood. Sometimes mistaken with a career achievement award, per HFPA statute, the deMille is more precisely bestowed for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment”. In this series, HFPA cognoscente and former president Philip Berk profiles deMille laureates through the years.

Gregory Peck who called it, “the one picture of mine I’d like to burn.” Initially intended for Greta Garbo and Robert Donat, Selznick cast key roles with his newly acquired contract players Alida Valli and Louis JourdanCharles Laughton in a supporting role. All told it was an unhappy experience, but he quickly put it behind him, buoyed by Warner Bros. who had agreed to bankroll his Transatlantic Pictures.

Jane Wyman, who had just won the Oscar for Johnny Belinda. When her costar Marlene Dietrich commandeered the film, Hitchcock didn’t intervene. And even worse, after viewing the early rushes Wyman demanded that she be made to look more glamorous even though the role she signed up for was that of a mousy plain Jane (no pun intended). Stage Fright did well at the box office, however, and Warner Bros. was happy to pay Hitchcock his fee, now up to $600,000 per picture.

Jennifer Jones, in that role. The film was tailored to Hitchcock’s genius and as was his practice he sought out a celebrated author to work on the script. That writer was Raymond Chandler who however didn’t get along with Hitchcock and the feeling was mutual. Hitchcock tolerated him for months, and then took his completed script and threw it out. He hired an unknown writer to replace him, and the film, without Chandler’s contributions, became one of his most beloved classics. Of course, Chandler’s name remains on the credits thanks to the WGA’s intervention.

Jack Warner held on to Hitchcock who he had signed to a long term contract, even allowing him to make his next film for Paramount, one of a few bad decisions he ever made. The film was Rear Window, and it presaged the greatest artistic period in Hitchcock’s dazzling career.

Grace Kelly in a screen-test she had done for Fox and never forgot her. He borrowed her for peanuts from MGM for Dial M, and he did not hesitate to use her again as James Stewart’s costar. Rear Window was one of the year’s biggest moneymakers, a film everyone had to see. Hitch was excited by a new screenwriter he had discovered and had signed him to a three-picture deal. However, when John Michael Hayes turned in his script for Rear Window, based on a Cornell Woolrich short story, Hitch was so pleased he tore up the contract and made it a four-picture deal.

Billy Wilder, William Wyler, George Stevens, and Cecil B. deMille, allowed him total independence, but he was granted one guarantee the others didn’t get. After eight years he would own the pictures he made for them outright, and of course, this arrangement eventually made him a very rich man, the deal orchestrated by his newly acquired agent Lew Wasserman on whom he relied upon for the rest of his career.

Cary Grant, who by now was a very demanding star, and Grace Kelly. The film was a surprise hit and Paramount was so happy with their partnership they allowed him to make the quirky The Trouble with HarryShirley MacLaine and Broadway actor John ForsytheThe Trouble with Harry is most memorable for introducing Hitchcock to composer Bernard Herrmann, who went on to score his most famous films including Vertigo and Psycho. He and Hitch were inseparable for seven years until they had a falling out over Torn Curtain and never spoke to each other again.

Doris Day, another Wasserman client. Meanwhile, John Michael Hayes contracted to script four Hitchcock films, was reluctant to share screen credit with MacPhail, and after a bitter showdown with Hitch, the two of them worked out their contract and never spoke to each other again. The film was again a big hit thanks in part to Doris’s Oscar-winning song “Que Sera Sera, sung twice in the film. And she and Hitchcock developed a close relationship during and after the shoot.

Edward Dmytryk’s Obsession, who clinched the deal. Although in the final analysis, Vertigo is Hitchcock’s baby. He expended more creative juices on this film than any other, and it is no wonder he later acknowledged it as his best film.

Kim Novak, a hot property, no doubt a Wasserman client, but someone he was not enthusiastic about.

Ernest Lehman, by no less than Bernard Herrmann, that North by Northwest became a reality. Wasserman had engineered a deal whereby Hitch would make the film for MGM. At the time the studio was on its knees, so they offered him unprecedented ownership of the negative after eight years, once again Wasserman’s doing.   

Vertigo justifies its revered reputation. On no other film did Hitchcock devote so much of his time, and even throughout post-production he made endless adjustments, most notably allowing for longer stretches of Herrmann’s score, the love theme of which has since been compared to Wagner. In so doing he transformed the film into a haunting emotional allegory.  

Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh for the leads, he supervised every aspect of the production and distribution, thrilled by Herrmann’s score, which has often been imitated but never equaled. On its initial release it became the years second-biggest moneymaker, only Spielberg’s Jaws would top it. And critically it was considered a masterpiece.

The Birds and critical success with Marnie – on both he found his ideal successor to Grace Kelly in Tippi Hedren (before eventually falling out with her) – the other four films he made never quite jelled.