Of course Alfred Hitchcock was a misogynist, or at least had a neurotic compulsion to mistreat women in his films: everyone knows that.
Or do they? If so, one must assume also that most of his heroines were masochistic, in that nearly all his leading actresses seem to have adored him. And if there was mistreatment, it mostly seems to have been meted out, and perceived by its apparent victims, as all in the spirit of innocent merriment.
Ivor Montagu, longtime friend and script collaborator of Hitch, told me that one of the first famous examples, the ordeals undergone by Madeleine Carroll while handcuffed to Robert Donat in The 39 Steps, arose because he and Hitch had known her before she went off to Hollywood as very much one of the lads, and suspected she might need to be jollied out of any Hollywood big-star nonsense. And, moreover, that she gave as good as she got, involving Hitch in succession of practical jokes. Well, what about that snippet of sound test for Anny Ondra in Blackmail, in which he reduces her to helpless giggles with a couple of off-colour jokes?Subject to passionate feminist condemnation, it yet seems to be perceived by both participants as whimsically flirtatious, and Ondra and her husband, the boxer Max Schmelling, remained close friends of Hitch’s for the rest of their lives. True, there appears to be little fun in Tippi Hedren’s ordeal in the attic with the birds, but then that arises inevitably from the dramatic situation in the film. And even Hedren, despite her quarrels with Hitchcock over his more-than-professional possessiveness, had no complaints about the support he normally gave her.
In his private and professional lives Hitchcock was always surrounded by women. He and his wife had just one child, a daughter, and she produced three grandchildren, all daughters. But where choice was available, in his professional dealings, his office was entirely staffed by women. There was a succession of female personal assistants, as well as the usual complement of secretaries, and his wife Alma was always his most professional, as well as personal, assistant of all. An experienced film editor when he was mainly making the tea, she was always appealed to as the ltimate authority in the cutting room. When the composer Bernard Herrmann first met Alma at Hitchcock’s unit office he later observed: “There will be trouble. That woman is consumed with jealousy.
” So how had she felt about, say, Joan Harrison being Hitch’s personal assistant? For Harrison, whom Hitchcock brought over from England with him in 1939, was a cool blonde with a sizzle underneath. She launched immediately into a blazing affair with Clark Gable, while John Houseman assured me that she was never Hitchcock’s mistress – “and I can say that, because for some time she was mine”.Peggy Robertson, Hitch’s last and longest personal assistant, was the opposite: a jolly-hockey-stick kind of English lady. When she came to Hollywood she asked Hitch whether she would be expected to follow Joan as his mistress. He replied: “I can say with complete conviction that I was never between the sheets with Joan. ” “Well, that’s not saying much,” said Peggy; “What about on the hearth-rug, in the haystack, over the kitchen table? ” Hitch gave a convincing look of horror: “Do people really do things like that? ”The playwright Rodney Ackland, who worked with Hitchcock on the script of Number Seventeen in 1932, was exceptional in that he was openly gay. Hitch was fascinated, and once said to him: “I think I would have been a poof if I hadn’t met Alma at the right time.
” An exaggerated view of his coming to terms with his feminine side? Who can say? But undeniably he was more at home with women. Happy as he might be with his leading men, they were not the ones he identified with, and for his bosom buddies you have to look entirely on the other side of the gender gap.