Oriana Fallaci interviewed Alfred Hitchcock in 1963 when his movie The Birds screened in Cannes
Oriana Fallaci interviewed the British suspense master in 1963 when his movie The Birds screened in Cannes, but while she had a good understanding of the cruelty beneath the surface of the filmmaker she so admired, she clearly was hoodwinked by his narrative of being a devoted, even sexless, husband, entitling the piece, “Mr. Chastity.”
by Oriana Fallaci
For years I had been wanting to meet Hitchcock. For years I had been to every Hitchcock film, read every article about Hitchcock, basked in contemplation of every photograph of Hitchcock: the one of him hanging by his own tie, the one of him reflected in a pool of blood, the one of him playing with a skull immersed in a bathtub. I liked everything about him: his big, Father Christmas paunch, his twinkling little pig eyes, his blotchy, alcoholic complexion, his mummified corpses, his corpses shut inside wardrobes, his corpses chopped into pieces and shut inside suitcases, his corpses temporarily buried beneath beds of roses, his anguished flights, his crimes, his suspense, those typically English jokes that make even death ridiculous and even vulgarity elegant. I might be wrong, but I cannot help laughing at the story about the two actors in the cemetery watching their friend being lowered into his grave. The first one says to the other, “How old are you, Charlie?” And Charlie answers, “Eighty-nine.” The first one then observes, “Then there’s no point in your going home, Charlie.” …
My opportunity to meet him and really kiss his hand came at the Cannes Festival, where Hitchcock was showing The Birds, a sinister film about birds that revolt against men and exterminate them by pecking them to death. Hitchcock was coming from Hollywood, and I rushed to Nice airport to greet him. Three hours later I was in his room on the fourth floor of the Carlton Hotel, gazing at him just as my journalist colleague, Veronique Passani, had gazed at Gregory Peck the first time she met him – and she had subsequently managed to marry him. Not that Hitchcock was handsome like Gregory Peck. To be objective, he was decidedly ugly: bloated, purple, a walrus dressed like a man – all that was missing was a mustache. The sweat, copious and oily, was pouring out of all that walrus fat, and he was smoking a dreadfully smelly cigar, which was pleasant only insofar as it obscured him for long moments behind a dense, bluish cloud. But he was Hitchcock, my dearest Hitchcock, my incomparable Hitchcock, and every sentence he spoke would be a pearl of originality and wit. In the same way that we assume that intellectuals are necessarily intelligent, and movie stars necessarily beautiful, and priests necessarily saintly, so I had assumed that Hitchcock was the wittiest man in the world.
He’s isn’t. The full extent of his humor is covered by five or six jokes, two or three macabre tricks, seven or eight lines that he has been repeating for years with the monotony of a phonograph record that’s stuck. Every time he opened a subject, in the sonorous voice of his, I foresaw how he would conclude; I already read it. Moreover, he would make his pronouncements as if he knew it himself: hands folded on his breast, eyes cast up toward the ceiling, like a child reciting a lesson learned by heart. Nor was there anything new about his admission of chastity, of complete lack of interest in sex. Everyone knows that Hitchcock has never known any woman other than his wife, has never desired any woman other than his wife; because he’s not interested in women. This doesn’t mean that he likes men, for heaven’s sake; such deviations are regarded by him with pained and righteous disgust. It only means for him sex does not exist; it would suit him fine if humanity were born in bottles. Nor, for him, does love exist, that mysterious impulse from which beings and things are born; the only thing that interests him in all creation is the opposite of whatever is born: whatever dies. If he sees a budding rose, his impulse, I am afraid, is to eat it.
With the blindness of all disciples or faithful admirers, I took some time to realize his failings. In fact our interview began with bursts of laughter for a good half-hour. But then the bursts of laughter became short little laughs, the short little laughs became smiles, the smile grew cold, and at a certain point I discovered that I could no longer raise a laugh, nor could I have done so even if he had tickled the soles of my feet. That was when I realized the most spine-chilling thing about him: his great wickedness. A person who invents horrors for fun, who makes a living frightening people, who only talks about crimes and anguish, can’t really be evil, so I thought. He is, though. He really enjoys frightening people, knowing that every now and then somebody dies of a heart attack watching his movies, reading that from time to time a man kills his wife the way a wife is killed in one of his movies. Not knowing all the criminals whose master he has been is sheer torture to him. He would like to know about all such authors, to compliment each one and offer him a cigar. Because he can laugh about death with the wisdom of the sages? No, no. Because he likes death. He likes it the way a gravedigger likes it.
Oriana Fallaci: I have seen your last movie, Mr. Hitchcock. Yes, the one about the birds who eat humans. Phew!… The spectacle of the corpses whose very eyes have been devoured by the birds!… The scene of the children in flight, torn to shreds by a cloud of ferocious crows!… And to think you seem so innocuous, so innocent, incapable of even imagining such fearful things. Tell me something, Mr. Hitchcock: Why do you always make movies based on terror and crime, full of macabre scenes and anguish? Why do you always want to horrify and terrify us?
Alfred Hitchcock: Firstly, because if I made any other kind of movies, nobody would believe them. I explained this to Ingrid Bergman, when she asked me the same question: “Obviously, my dear, I could make a film of Cinderella. I’m a professional, good at my job. But if I make Cinderella, people will immediately start looking for the corpse.” In the second place, because I’m a philanthropist: I give people what they want. People love being horrified, terrified. Have you never noticed that terror and horror have the same effect on the human species as a caress? Take a three-month-old baby. His mother bends over him and says, “Boo! I’m going to eat you up.” The baby cries with fright and then smiles blissfully, while his mother smiles, too. Now take a six-year-old child on a swing. He drives the swing higher and still higher. Why? Because this frightens him and is more fun. Now take an adolescent on a roller coaster. Why does he ride on the roller coaster? Because every bend, every drop, fills him with horror, and this is fun. Now take a man racing in a car and risking death at any moment. Why does he race in a car? Because risking death gives him an exquisite shudder, and that is fun. People would pay, indeed they do pay — consider my movies — to have fun with fear. And lastly . . .
And lastly because, in spite of looking like a nice, innocuous man, you have fun yourself making these movies.
I don’t deny it. I admit it. I don’t get such a kick out of anything as much as out of imagining a crime. When I’m writing a story and I come to the crime, I think happily: now wouldn’t it be nice to have him die like this? And then, even more happily, I think: at this point people will start yelling. It must be because I spent three years studying with the Jesuits. They used to terrify me to death, with everything, and now I’m getting my own back by terrifying other people. And then it must be because I’m English. The English use a lot of imagination with their crimes. They have the most amusing crimes in the world. I remember that adorable case against that adorable Christie, a necrophiliac who had murdered eight women. Concerning the eighth victim there occurred the following dialogue between judge and accused: “So you knocked the woman down in the kitchen, Mr. Christie.” “Yes, Your Honor.” “There are three steps down into the kitchen.” “Yes, Your Honor.” “The poor woman fell.” “Yes, Your Honor.” “And you killed her.” “Yes, Your Honor.” “And assaulted her, too?” “I believe so, Your Honor.” “Before, after, or during death?” “During, Your Honor.” Oh, England’s fantastic for this kind of thing. Pity that they never managed to conceal the corpse. It’s much easier in America. I always suggest the rubbish disposal chute, straight into the incinerator. Or else eating it, but then it has to be tender.
Mr. Hitchcock do you realize that criminals make use of your lessons and your movies? Do you know that, years ago, in Ankara, a journalist killed a diplomat using a revolver concealed inside a camera, exactly as you did in your movie, Special Envoy [Foreign Correspondent)?
Yes I know. And I was very flattered. Oh, I don’t know what I wouldn’t give to know about all the times I’ve been copied. The trouble is that every day someone commits the perfect crime: one that isn’t discovered. As the crime isn’t discovered, I don’t know whether they’ve copied me. But three years ago, in Los Angeles, some man who had murdered three wives said he’d murdered the third after seeing Psycho. The journalists telephoned me: “So now you’re happy?” “No,” I told them. “He didn’t say after which of my films he murdered the second. Maybe he murdered the first after drinking a glass of milk.” From the glass of milk to the revolver, how often that’s happened.
Of course you fire a revolver like a champion, Mr. Hitchcock, and during the war you were doubtless a very demon.
I’ve never so much as held a revolver or any other kind of weapon in my hand. I don’t even know what a trigger looks like, and I was never in the Army. When World War I broke out, I was too young, thank God. When the World War II broke out, I was too old, thank God. I’ve never done any shooting. People who go shooting … you don’t go shooting by any chance?
Well, actually. . . yes.
You’re a criminal, irresponsible, heartless woman. My God! I can look at a corpse chopped to bits without batting an eyelid, but I can’t bear the sight of a dead bird. Too heartrending. I can’t even bear to see them suffer, birds, or get tired. During the making of my movie, in which I used fifteen hundred trained crows, there was a representative of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on the scene at all times, and whenever he said, “That’s enough now, Mr. Hitchcock, I think the birds are getting tired,” I would stop at once. I have the highest consideration for birds, and, quite apart from the movie, I think it very right they should take their revenge on men that way. For hundreds of centuries birds have been persecuted by men, killed, put in the pot, in the oven, on the spit, used for writing pens, feathers for hats, turned into bloodcurdling stuffed ornaments… Such infamy deserves exemplary punishment.
I see. In other words, your movie has a profound philosophic and moral significance: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t like done to you.
Not in the least. If there’s one thing I’ll never be able to do, it’s turn my collar back to front and play the part of preacher. When people ask me what I think of movies that administer philosophic and moral lessons, I say, “Don’t you think it’s up to philosophers to teach philosophy and priests to teach morals?” People don’t go to the movies to listen to sermons. If that were the case, then instead of buying a ticket they’d put a coin in the collection plate and make the sign of the cross before taking a seat in the stalls. People go to the movies to be amused. And they pay a lot to be amused. Morality, you know, is much less expensive than amusement.
Yet I know you are very keen on morality, at least on a certain kind of morality. You have never been divorced, your life is untouched by scandal, and I know that one day, when you happened to go with your wife to the Folies Bergère, you left, saying, “This is a world of perdition.”
No, no. The story didn’t go like that, it was much funnier. I was thirty-one at the time, I’d been married five years, and I was writing the scenario for a movie about a young couple who go on a world tour and consequently visit the Folies Bergère, where, in the interval, the girls also belly dance. Since I’d never seen this belly dancing and couldn’t even imagine what it would be, I said to my wife, “Let’s go to Paris.” So we went to Paris, and while we were there, we went to the Folies Bergère. The interval came, and I asked a man I took to be the manager, a fellow in a tuxedo, if we could see some belly dancing. The fellow said, “Come with me,” and put us into a taxi. The taxi immediately made off through winding streets, but my wife and I were an innocent pair, and we didn’t understand. Then the taxi stopped outside a house that was one of those houses where … well… anyway … my wife and I had never been in that kind of place, you see, and so we stood there watching in horror, you see, while those girls did things that weren’t exactly belly dancing, you see, until I exclaimed, “But this is a world of perdition!” I was thirty-one. And I’d never been with any woman other than my wife.
I see. Of course, you’d judge the whole thing very differently today.
Oh no! I’m sixty-four now, and I can swear that I’ve never known any woman other than my wife—neither before nor since our marriage. When I married, I was a virgin, I promise you, and sex has never interested me much. I don’t understand how people can waste so much time over sex: sex is for kids, for movies, a great bore. And since I’ve always avoided anything boring … I remember the day I had to write the screenplay for the movie Woman to Woman: the story of a man who has a mistress in Paris who bangs his head, loses his memory, and starts going with another woman, who gives him a child. Well, I was twenty-three years old, I’d never been with a woman, and I didn’t have the slightest idea what a woman did to have a child. I had even less idea what a man did when he was with his mistress in Paris or when he was with another woman who was giving him a child. And so . . .
Now you know, Mr. Hitchcock?
Now I know. I have a daughter of thirty-five and three little grandchildren. Between you and me, I’m a grandfather. Still, when I think that my daughter was born when I was nearly thirty, and it was only then that I realized that babies aren’t found under gooseberry bushes…. You won’t believe it—no one ever believes it, they say it’s an act to make myself a character—but until I was twenty-four, I had never tasted a drop of alcohol; until I was twenty-five, I had never smoked a cigar. I was very shy, more shy than I am today. If people told dirty stories, I used to blush like a rose. So my friends would always tell them when I wasn’t there, and if I arrived, they’d say, “Silence, Hitchcock’s coming.” As for my wife, I married her because she asked me to. We’d been traveling around and working together for years, and I’d never so much as touched her little finger.
Hut why on earth? Don’t you like women, Mr. Hitchcock?
Indeed I like them, more than men. In point of fact, I feel less shy with them than with men. For example, I could never talk like this to a man. But I like them to talk to, to dine with, not for sexual reasons. When people ask me, “Mr. Hitchcock, why are the stars in your movies always blondes? Is it because you have a weakness for blondes?” I tell them I don’t know, it must be coincidence or the fact that they are ladies; I’ve thought since I was a child that ladies are blonde, my wife is blonde. I don’t have a weakness for anyone, neither for blondes nor redheads nor brunettes nor sexy women… You know who are the sexiest women, I mean the most wrapped up in sex? Nordic women. Evidently the cold makes them hot. Consider Englishwomen: they all look like schoolmistresses, but heaven help the poor fellow who finds himself in a taxi with one. At best he’ll get out of it minus his clothes.
Forgive my asking, but how do you know these things, Mr. Hitchcock?
What a question! I listen to what people say, I find out about things. Obviously the information is secondhand. Scientists know that if you mix one powder with another powder, you’ll be blown up. But they don’t have to be blown up in order to know it.
Too right. Your wife must be very grateful to you, Mr. Hitchcock.
I hope she is. Apart from the fact that in thirty-seven years I have never been unfaithful to her, not even in thought, there aren’t many husbands like me. Just think: as we only have a daily maid, my wife has to do the cooking. But when she’s getting a meal ready, I help her, and after we’ve eaten, I wash the dishes. I wash them and dry them and put them away.
Well done. If you get divorced, I’ll marry you myself.
Thank you, it’s always nice to feel one’s wanted. But if you marry me, don’t be under any illusion. For me a good stew is worth more than a pretty little nose, and the first thing I expect of my wife is to be good at cooking. Are you a good cook? My wife is an excellent cook, and I could die eating. The things that make me happiest in the world are eating, drinking, and sleeping. I sleep like a newborn babe. I drink like a fish, have you seen what a red face I have? And I eat like a pig. Even if it does make me look more and more like a porker myself. Some days ago, walking along in New York, I saw myself reflected in a window, and before I recognized myself, I let out a yell of fright. Then I called to my wife, “Who’s that porker on two legs?” I didn’t want to believe it when she replied, “It’s you dear.”
I imagine you don’t often yell with fright. Practiced as you are in frightening other people, fear must be completely unknown to you.
On the contrary. I’m the most fearful and cowardly man you’ll ever meet. Every night I lock myself into my room as if there were a madman on the other side of the door, waiting to slit my throat. I’m frightened of everything: burglars, policemen, crowds, darkness, Sundays… Being frightened of Sundays goes back to when I was a child and my parents used to put me to bed at six o’clock so that they could go out and eat in a restaurant. I used to wake up at eight o’clock, my parents weren’t there, there was only that dim light, that silence of an empty house. Brr! It wasn’t accidental, when I married, that I said to my wife, “Every Sunday I want a fine dinner with lots of light, lots of people, and lots of noise.” Being frightened of policemen started when I was about eleven. I had been on a bus ride as far as the terminal, and I didn’t have the money for the return fare. I made my way back on foot and reached home after nine. We used to live in the district of Soho, in London; my father was a poultry dealer. My father opened the door and didn’t say a word, not a word of reproof, nothing. He just gave me a note and said, “Take it to Watson.” Watson was a policeman, a family friend. He’d no sooner got the note than he shut me in a cell, shouting, “This is what happens to bad boys who get home after nine o’clock.” Brr! It was fifty-three years ago, but every time I see a policeman, I start shaking. And then I’m frightened of people having rows, of violence. I’ve never had a row with anyone, and I’ve no idea of how to come to blows. And then I’m frightened of eggs, worse than frightened; they revolt me. That white round thing without any holes, and when you break it, inside there’s that yellow thing, round, without any holes… Brr! Have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid? Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting. I’ve never tasted it. And then 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.
That’s rather illogical, Mr. Hitchcock. Come to that, your movies are illogical, too. From the logical point of view, not one of them can stand inspection.
Agreed. But what is logic? There’s nothing more stupid than logic. Logic is the result of reasoning, reasoning is the result of experience, and who’s to say whether our experiences are the right ones? My dog doesn’t understand music, Bach bores him to death. Does that mean that my dog is illogical? It only means that his experiences are different from Bach’s. I don’t attach any importance to logic. None of my movies is based on logic. They are based on suspense, not on logic. Give me a bomb, and Descartes can go boil his head. There’s nothing like a good bomb for creating suspense. Suspense, not surprise.
Enlighten me and our readers, Mr. Hitchcock. Explain suspense to us.
Right. Suppose this interview were a scene in a movie. We’re sitting here talking, and we don’t know that there’s a bomb hidden inside your tape recorder. The public doesn’t know either, and suddenly the bomb explodes: we’re blown to bits. Surprise, horror of public. But how long does it last, the surprise and the horror? Five seconds, no more. With suspense, however, we’re sitting there, and we don’t know that there’s a bomb hidden inside your tape recorder. But the public knows, and it also knows that it will explode in ten minutes. Obviously the public gets worried, anxious, says, “Why do they sit there talking, those two? Don’t they realize there’s a bomb hidden inside the tape recorder?” Suspense. But a second before the ten minutes are up, I bend over the tape recorder and say, “Aha! There’s a bomb inside here.” I pick up the tape recorder and fling it away. End of suspense. The secret is never to let the bomb explode. I had it explode, once, in the hands of a child who had boarded a bus, three minutes after the arranged time, and it was a very grave mistake. I’ll never make the same mistake again. People must suffer, sweat, but at the end they must heave a sigh of relief.
And do you like suspense, Mr. Hitchcock?
Far from it. I hate it. I hate it so much that I can’t even bear to stay in the kitchen when my wife is making a soufflé. Will it rise? Won’t it rise? I bought an oven with a glass door so I could see whether it was rising, but it hasn’t helped. I can’t bear to wait the necessary eighteen minutes to see if it’ll rise.
On the subject of bombs, Mr. Hitchcock. In your movie Notorious you talked about the atomic bomb, which, if I’m not mistaken, hadn’t yet exploded on Hiroshima.
That’s an extraordinary story, I really must tell it to you. Because MacGuffin comes into it, too. Have you got enough tape left?
Yes, there’s enough tape. Mac … what?
MacGuffin. You must know that when I’m making a movie, the story isn’t important to me. What’s important is how I tell the story. For example, in a movie about espionage what the spy is looking for isn’t important, it’s how he looks for it. Yet I have to say what he’s looking for. It doesn’t matter to me, but it matters a great deal to the public, and most of all it matters to the character of the movie. Why should the character go to so much trouble? Why does the government pay him to go to so much trouble? Is he looking for a bomb, a secret? This secret, this bomb, is for me the MacGuffin, a word that comes from an old Scottish story. Should I tell it to you? Is there enough tape?
Yes, yes. There’s enough tape.
Well, two men are traveling in a train, and one says to the other, “What’s that parcel on the luggage rack?” “That? It’s the MacGuffin,” says the other. “And what’s the MacGuffin?” asks the first man. “The MacGuffin is a device for catching lions in Scotland,” the other replies. “But there aren’t any lions in Scotland,” says the first man. “Then it isn’t the MacGuffin,” answers the other. Clear? Logical?
Very clear, very logical.
Well, in 1944, then, I’m making this movie Notorious, with Ingrid Bergman. She’s going to South America, where some Germans are working on something. Ingrid Bergman is going there because she’s a spy and has to find out for the American government what the Nazis are working on. As well as Ingrid Bergman there’s Cary Grant, who has to find out the same thing because he’s working for the FBI. Naturally Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant fall in love, and when Ingrid Bergman has to go to bed with a Nazi to find out what it is, Cary Grant is very unhappy. Well, this thing they had to find out, the MacGuffin, I had no idea what it might be, and in the end I decided in favor of the atom bomb. Ingrid Bergman would have gone to South America to find out if the Nazis were preparing the atom bomb there. Naturally I didn’t even know what the atom bomb might be. But I knew that uranium existed, that since 1929 the atom had been split, and I had read a book by H. G. Wells called The Mighty Atom. So I imagined that sooner or later someone would make the atom bomb. Clear? Logical?
Very clear. Very logical.
Well, I’m making the film with Selznick, and Selznick asks me, “What’s Ingrid Bergman looking for in South America?” “She’s looking for uranium,” I reply. “What’s uranium?” he asks me. “It’s the thing they use to make the atom bomb,” I reply. “What’s the atom bomb?” he asks. “A bomb,” I say. “It’s about Ingrid Bergman, who falls in love with Cary Grant, and since Ingrid Bergman has to go to bed with a Nazi in order to find out if the Nazi has the atom bomb, Cary Grant is very unhappy. The atom bomb is of no importance: it’s the MacGuffin.” “I still don’t like it,” he says. And he sells me, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and the unfinished scenario to R.K.O. for eight hundred thousand dollars and 50 per cent of the profits. But I have to finish the scenario, and as I’m not sure about this uranium and how big an
Very clear. Very logical.
Well, I’m making the film with Selznick, and Selznick asks me, “What’s Ingrid Bergman looking for in South America?” “She’s looking for uranium,” I reply. “What’s uranium?” he asks me. “It’s the thing they use to make the atom bomb,” I reply. “What’s the atom bomb?” he asks. “A bomb,” I say. “It’s about Ingrid Bergman, who falls in love with Gary Grant, and since Ingrid Bergman has to go to bed with a Nazi in order to find out if the Nazi has the atom bomb, Cary Grant is very unhappy. The atom bomb is of no importance: it’s the MacGuffin.” “I still don’t like it,” he says. And he sells me, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and the unfinished scenario to R.K.O. for eight hundred thousand dollars and 50 per cent of the profits. But I have to finish the scenario, and as I’m not sure about this uranium and how big an atom bomb is, I put my hat on and go to the California Institute of Technology, where the most important scientist of all is working: Doctor Milliken, director of the Manhattan project. Naturally I don’t know he’s directing the Manhattan project, I don’t even know the Manhattan project exists; I only know that in New Mexico there exists a secret place where everyone goes in and no one comes out—a journalist told me about it. So I go in, “Good day, doctor. How are you?” I shake hands with the doctor, who has a bust of Einstein in a corner of the room, and I ask him, “Doctor, how big would an atom bomb be?” The scene that follows! He jumps up, yelling, “Do you want to be arrested? Do you want to get me arrested, too?” Then he spends an hour explaining to me that it was impossible to make the atom bomb, that the atom bomb never would be made, and that consequently I should not make the atom bomb my MacGuffin. I said all right. But I still had that bottle of uranium in the scenario, a dramatic sequence. I didn’t want to give up the uranium, and so I made my MacGuffin the atom bomb anyway, and two years later the bomb exploded on Hiroshima. And the movie made eight million dollars.
Admirable, Mr. Hitchcock. But the main ingredients of your movies don’t consist only of suspense and MacGuffin. I’d say your movies also consist of humor, humor mixed with the macabre.
I can’t take any credit for that. For the English it’s normal to mix humor with the macabre. You know the story about the two ladies at the fair watching a man eat the heads of live rats? Well, in horror one of them says, “Doesn’t he ever eat bread with them?” And the one about the famous actor who’s been killed by a bomb, do you know it? Well, there’s the funeral of this famous actor, and all the actors go to it. As the coffin is being lowered into the grave, a young actor leans over to a very old actor called Charlie and asks, “Charlie, how old are you?” “Eighty-nine,” says Charlie. “Then there’s no point in your going home,” says the young actor. And it goes without saying that, if it was up to me, I wouldn’t send any of them home, actors.
I know, you aren’t very fond of actors. You’ve boasted more than once that you have no friends among actors and cinema folk. “Actors,” according to you, “are cows.”
When they aren’t cows, they’re children: that’s something else I’ve often said. And everyone knows that there are good children, bad children, and stupid children. The majority of actors, though, are stupid children. They’re always quarreling, and they give themselves a lot of airs. The less I see of them, the happier I am. I had much less trouble directing fifteen hundred crows than one single actor. I’ve always said that Walt Disney has the right idea. His actors are made of paper; when he doesn’t like them, he can tear them up. If I went around with actors, how could I possibly live a quiet life in Hollywood, in an old house without a swimming pool? Think of Kim Novak. Not that she isn’t an artist, of course; she paints quite nicely and in the second part of Vertigo, when she’s dark-haired and looks less like Kim Novak, I even managed to get her to act. But the only reason I took Kim Novak was because Vera Miles was pregnant.
That’s not much of a compliment to Kim Novak.
Nor for Vera Miles. I ask you! I was offering her a big part, the chance to become a beautiful sophisticated blonde, a real actress. We’d have spent a heap of dollars on it, and she has the bad taste to get pregnant. I hate pregnant women, because then they have children.
And Grace Kelly? Sorry, Her Most Serene Highness Princess Grace? What do you say about her?
Grace is better. She’s sensitive, disciplined, and very sexy. People think she’s cold. Rubbish! She’s a volcano covered with snow. I was sorry I couldn’t make Mamie with her, almost as sorry as she was. She was very keen to do it, you know. In point of fact I wasn’t the one to go after her. It was she who came after me: “Hitch, haven’t you got a part for me?” “Yes, Grace. The part of a lady robber.” “Ah, splendid!” Unfortunately we broke the news at the wrong moment, when Ranieri was having trouble with De Gaulle, and so they said she wanted to leave her husband just when he was having trouble with De Gaulle. Who could have expected it? Too bad. I’ll use another blonde.
But it’s strange, Mr. Hitchcock, that you should be so disparaging about actors. To judge by the systematic way you appear in your own movies, one might think you have a smothered regret that you weren’t an actor.
That’s a custom that I started when I didn’t have enough money to pay my actors, and I had to economize by doing walkons myself. As a result it became a superstition, and I decided always to put myself in my films: I even put myself in Lifeboat, a film that from beginning to end takes place in an open boat in the middle of the sea. It was a bit difficult to justify my appearance on the boat; I resolved the problem like this: one of the actors, William Bendix, finds an old newspaper in the boat. He opens it, and in the middle there’s an advertisement for a slimming treatment, with the photograph of a fellow like a porker. The porker is me. Of course, it’s dear that I also put myself in because I know people look for me, but I do it at the beginning of the film so that people aren’t distracted by looking for me, and I appear briefly because nothing embarrasses me as much as a camera. I wouldn’t have liked to be an actor for anything in the world. A criminal lawyer, that’s the job I’d have liked. I’d have seen so many dramas and…
But, Mr. Hitchcock, aren’t you able every now and then to view life as a drama? Haven’t you ever by chance been involved in a dramatic situation?
No. Never. Only in movies. I never get involved in dramatic situations. You’re the one who’s in a dramatic situation.
Why, Mr. Hitchcock?
Because you have to write an article about me. And you don’t know anything about me.
That’s what you say, Mr. Hitchcock. But I do, Mr. Hitchcock. With all your cordial humor, your nice round face, your nice innocent paunch, you are the most wicked, cruel man I have ever met.
SOURCE: Oriana Fallaci, The Egotists: Sixteen Surprising Interviews, trans. Pamela Swinglehurst (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1963). pp. 239-56.