Alfred Hitchcock: 7 Things You Need To Know

By Martin Dean

O ne of the 20th century's most iconic filmmakers, Alfred Hitchcock remains a major, if mysterious, figure in the history of cinema. His films, famous for their technical brilliance and mastery of suspense, are highly regarded to this day by critics and film-lovers alike. A selection of original promotional posters and lobby cards for Alfred Hitchcock's films goes on sale as part of Sotheby's Original Film Posters Online sale, beginning on 23 August. But how much do we know about the man himself? Read on for 7 facts about this unusual star.

VERTIGO (1958) TRADE ADVERTISEMENTS, US, Estimate £800–1,200

1. He was jailed, aged 6

At 6 years old, after some childish misdeed, Hitchcock’s father sent him to the local police station with a note addressed to the duty officer. The note requested that the young Alfred be jailed for 5 minutes as a punishment, and the duty officer duly complied. This event most likely contributed to Hitchcock’s lifelong fear of the police and authority figures, along with the motif of wrongful imprisonment that featured in many of his films.

2. He repeatedly refused to meet Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg idolised Hitchcock and repeatedly tried to meet with him, but Hitchcock repeatedly refused. He even went so far as to have a hopeful Spielberg removed from the set of his last film, Family Plot, where he’d been lingering on the off-chance of a meeting, his confidence bolstered by the success of Jaws. Hitchcock eventually revealed the reason to Bruce Dern, an actor in two of his films, saying that after being paid a million dollars to voice the Jaws ride at Universal Studios, he felt too ashamed to meet the film’s director.

3. He had a dark sense of humour

Hitchcock’s sense of humour was very dark, bordering on cruel. He loved playing practical jokes, and on one occasion handcuffed stars Robert Donat and Madeline Carroll together as part of a scene and pretended he’d lost the key for an entire day. It was perhaps fitting then that he joked about his own death. After winning the AFI Lifetime Achievement award in 1979, he joked with friends that it must mean he didn’t have long left to live. He died a year later.

4. He had big plans for Abraham Lincoln’s nose

Hitchcock chose to work on North by Northwest largely in the hope that he would be able to shoot a scene he’d planned on Mount Rushmore. In the scene, Cary Grant’s character would hide from his pursuers by climbing into the large stone nostril of Abraham Lincoln, then give away his position by sneezing. The scene was scripted, but permission was not given by the National Park Service, who considered it disrespectful to the monument.

5.  He was afraid of his own creations

In an interview in 1963, Hitchcock said “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”.

6. You can spot him in most of his films

Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in 39 of his 52 films. In films where he couldn’t logically appear (such as Lifeboat, where the film takes place at sea) he would be featured in image form, such as a newspaper.

7. He went to great lengths to avoid spoilers, and expected audiences to be punctual

After Hitchcock had decided to work on Psycho, he ordered his production assistant to buy up every copy of the book it was based on — a novel by Robert Bloch — so that nobody would know the ending before his film was released. He was so eager that people receive the maximum impact of the film that he had theatres display a warning. It said that the theatre director had been instructed, at the risk of his life, not to let anybody enter after the film had started.

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