Hitchcock, Wilcox and the
Yellow Canary (continued)

Focus on Alfred Hitchcock

Beginning with Donald Spoto's biography of Hitchcock, The Dark Side of Genius and continuing through the recent West End and U.S. productions of Terry Johnson's play, Hitchcock Blonde, theories and biographies have said that Hitchcock held a private desire to control a screen actress both professionally and privately.  I won't debate the veracity of this observation nor the depth to which this desire was felt or acted upon, but I shall use these statements in my proposal.


The developmental shift of temperament and artistic concerns in Alfred Hitchcock during his postwar years in Hollywood are well-studied and documented by historians, biographers and theorists:  the desires to mentor and control the leading lady, the fetishization of blonde actresses, the heightened investigation of strife between genders, the increased duality and interiority of his protagonists, et cetera. 


Various scholars have established that Hitchcock had concentrated, personal working relationships with at least six leading ladies:  Madeleine Carroll, Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Vera Miles, and Tippi Hedren.  When studied chronologically, the intensity of these relationships shows a marked degree of increasing pressure on the leading ladies over the decades, especially escalating with Hitchcock's relationship with Ingrid Bergman:  there is a definite shift as to the degree of mentorship the director had with these actresses that is roughly bisected by the years of U.S. involvement in World War II.  With the first two stars, Madeleine Carroll and Joan Fontaine, many published works conclude these were relationships in which Hitchcock was in the role of mentor wishing to control various aspects of their working lives.   In working with Ingrid Bergman, the first of the post-war actresses, it has been noted that the realms of Hitchcock's concerns with the leading lady were not limited to the previous areas of career and emotional life, but also expanded into the realm of sexual desire and fantasy.  (Colleagues of Hitchcock have gone on record as saying that he stimulated a rumor to make them believe that Bergman implored the director to have sex with her.) Following in this psychosexual vein of mentorship, the last three actresses (Kelly, Miles and Hedren) were led through a vigilant progressionon the part of Hitchcock in an effort mold their images as actresses, icons and major industry stars.


The breakout film where this shift begins to articulate is Notorious.  Before this, Hitch's leading ladiesin films had almost exclusively been either Gal Pals who helped the wronged innocent man to be cleared of unjust charges, or else a gothicly romantic heroine at the horns of a dilemma regarding whether her husband loved her, despised her, or wanted to kill her. Notorious instead had a central female character who was sexually generous and morally complex:  openly desired yet also icily tortured by the moral gaze of society.   There was also a thematic shift:   Notorious was the beginning of a new and more fierce ideation of tease, torment, and denigration of female characters in his film work.   An iteration of cruelty in male / female relationships was delineated in this film, as were the intertextualities of morality and sexuality.   On a personal level for Hitchcock, this was the first film he had directed on which his wife, Alma, had not been a contributing partner. Spoto cites that longtime associates stated this was not a happy time domestically for Hitchcock, who was having frequent disagreements with his wife.  Added to this was a sexual fantasy projected onto his leading lady.


Hitchcock's use of blonde women on the screen can be traced back as far as his directing career can be researched.  Yet, in looking at the confluence of filmic work and personal life, the blonde was more of a cinematic visual motif in pre-Notorious work, while the use of blondes became (in cases such as Grace Kelly) the answer to his professional fancy and personal fantasy (as Spoto wrote).  Somewhere between the early 1940s and the early 1950s, Hitchcock's blondes segued from serving as on-screen icons to on-the-set fantasies.