Cover image for Writing with Hitchcock : the collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes
Writing with Hitchcock : the collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes
DeRosa, Steven.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Faber and Faber, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvi, 334 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1998.3.H58 D47 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In spring 1953, the great director Alfred Hitchcock made the pivotal decision to take a chance and work with a young writer, John Michael Hayes. The four films Hitchcock made with Hayes over the next several years - Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry and The Man who Knew Too Much - represented an extraordinary change of style. Each was distinguished by a combination of glamorous stars, sophisticated dialogue and inventive plots, and resulted in some of Hitchcock's most distinctive and intimate work, based in large part on Hayes's exceptional scripts.

Author Notes

Steven DeRosa is a writer & former film archivist. He previously managed the MGM & Warner Brothers outtake collections for an archival footage library & also worked as an editor of movie theater previews. He lives in Westchester County, New York.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

When Alfred Hitchcock directed Rear Window (1953), he embarked on his most commercially and critically successful period and first worked with John Michael Hayes, whose previous experience had been mostly writing radio dramas. The collaboration continued through three more films, only to end abruptly when Hayes challenged Hitch by going to arbitration over his onscreen credit. Hitchcock's career flourished subsequently, but he never made consecutive films with a single screenwriter again. Meanwhile, the highlights of Hayes' later work were adaptations of the panting pop novels Peyton Place and The Carpetbaggers. DeRosa interviewed Hayes extensively, and the screenwriter's anecdotes about his four films with Hitch are the prime attraction here, though film scholars will appreciate DeRosa's comparisons of the screenplays to the final films. Hitchcock is perhaps the leading proof case of the auteur theory of film criticism, which maintains that the director is the ultimate author of a film, and his collaborators have gotten short shrift over the years. DeRosa's book modestly starts to redress that situation. --Gordon Flagg

Publisher's Weekly Review

Alfred Hitchcock: The name conjures up incredible suspense, mordant laughs, the surprise ending. But Hitch's unique vision was not his alone. In this detailed analysis of the filmmaker's collaboration with screenwriter Hayes, DeRosa reveals how Hitchcock's basic artistic instincts were often radically reshaped and transformed by Hayes's nimble writing. The Hitchcock-Hayes collaborationsÄRear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry and The Man Who Knew Too MuchÄform a transitional period in the director's career, with the writer contributing a kinder vision of the human condition, highly sophisticated dialogue and a sense of humor to Hitchcock's works. DeRosa, a former film archivist, has soundly researched his subject and carefully compares the original versions of each film with its ensuing treatments, scripts and multiple revisions. Relying heavily on interviews with Hayes as well as on studio memos and production notes, DeRosa gives us not only an in-depth portrait of this working relationship but a comprehensive look at the industry in the late 1950s, when it was struggling to reassert itself after the emergence of television. The author also engagingly describes the cultural politics of the time (Joseph Breen and the Production Code were vigilant in attacking Hayes's edgy, urbane representations of sexuality). DeRosa also brings convincing drama to Hayes and Hitchcock's breakup and charts Hayes's later career writing such films as Peyton Place and The Children's Hour. While overly specific for the general reader, this is an important study for film and Hitchcock scholars. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Despite Hitchcock's well-known flair for visual filmmaking, the director insisted on employing topnotch writers, including Raymond Chandler and Thornton Wilder. Hitchcock was particularly productive during the 1950s, when he collaborated with the young John Michael Hayes on four films: the innovative (Rear Window), the witty (The Trouble with Harry), the stylish (To Catch a Thief), and the stodgy (the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much). These films proved popular with audiences. Unfortunately, however, Hitchcock could be egotistical and unforgiving, and a disagreement over the writing credit for Man abruptly ended their personal and professional relationship. Hayes continued to work but eventually grew disenchanted with Hollywood; meanwhile, Hitchcock went on to direct three of his greatest films toward the end of the decade. Here, DeRosa, a writer and film archivist, outlines the careers and creative partnership of Hayes and Hitchcock and analyzes the four screenplays. He notes that Hitchcock envisioned a film as a "mosaic" of set pieces or highlights more than a coherent whole, which led to problems for scriptwriters like Hayes. A supplementary purchase for libraries with large holdings on the film suspense master.DStephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One A Perfect Treatment On the morning of September 9, 1965, Alfred Hitchcock sat in his office at Universal Studios confounded that after a detailed treatment, three complete drafts, and one set of revisions, the screenplay he had been preparing for Torn Curtain was not up to par. Hitchcock had spent four months working on the scenario with the novelist Brian Moore, and then engaged the screenwriting team of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall to do a hasty rewrite, but still found the script lacking. Peggy Robertson, Hitchcock's personal assistant, knew her employer was in trouble, especially after Marnie had flopped a year earlier. Robertson was Hitchcock's most valued associate during his tenure at Universal and had remained part of the director's entourage since serving as script supervisor on Vertigo during happier times at Paramount. At Hitchcock's request, Robertson prepared a short list of writers she thought were skilled enough to retool the second-rate script. Hitchcock surely trusted Robertson's judgment, but was adamantly opposed to calling one of the writers she had put on her list, even though a little more than a decade earlier the writer had been responsible for the scripts of some of Hitchcock's major successes. For some reason--pride, anger, principle--Hitchcock refused to call John Michael Hayes. Hitchcock felt he became the Master of Suspense on his own and did not require assistance from someone whom he had made a star.     In the spring of 1953 Hitchcock had faced a similar career crisis. His independent production company, Transatlantic Pictures, had failed, and his years at Warner Bros. were a mixed bag of mostly box-office failures. With its track record on the stage in London and on Broadway, Hitchcock hoped that a film of Frederick Knott's Dial M for Murder would bring the change of luck he desperately needed. Warner Bros. purchased the rights for Hitchcock, but the studio was in financial trouble. In March the studio halted production on all new projects for ninety days, and the following month they asked their executives to take a salary cut of up to 50 percent.     In a business where you're only as good as your last film, Hitchcock could not afford to let his career come to a standstill. He instructed his agents at MCA Artists to shop around for another studio contract. In his business dealings, Hitchcock was handled personally by the agency's president, Lew Wasserman, in addition to Arthur Park and, later, Herman Citron. In spite of the fact that Hitchcock's performance as his own producer in Hollywood had not yet lived up to his reputation, Wasserman and company shrewdly arranged what became over the next few years a lucrative multipicture contract with the Paramount Pictures Corporation.     Eager to obtain Hitchcock's services, Paramount offered to make a deal if he would develop a script out of a story from a collection called After Dinner Story by mystery writer Cornell Woolrich (who wrote under the pseudonym William Irish). Taking Wasserman's advice, Hitchcock chose "Rear Window." Eager to find the perfect writer to dramatize Woolrich's short story, Hitchcock recalled a name he heard often on the radio in connection with comedy, suspense, and detective shows. "Do you know John Michael Hayes?" he asked his agents. The response was that they certainly did--Hayes was also an MCA client. The Meeting Through much of his first decade or so in Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock worked with a number of distinguished writers, including Robert Sherwood, Thornton Wilder, Dorothy Parker, Ben Hecht, and Raymond Chandler. Impressive as this list of collaborators may be, Hitchcock still found himself in the late 1940s and early 1950s with a string of commercial failures. Hitchcock's agents were therefore perplexed by their client's request that they arrange a meeting with John Michael Hayes. By the spring of 1953, the thirty-three-year-old Hayes had been a popular and prolific writer of radio dramas, and although his potential as a screenwriter had been recognized, there was little evidence in his first film credits to indicate he had much to offer Hitchcock. Nevertheless, there was something about Hayes's style that Hitchcock responded to and felt he needed.     Hayes recalled, "Hitchcock had his agents and my agent get together for lunch and they handed me this book which had the short story in it called `Rear Window.' They told me, `You're to meet Mr. Hitchcock on Friday night at the Beverly Hills Hotel for dinner. Read the story and be prepared to discuss it with him.'" Hayes virtually memorized the story in order to anticipate what Hitchcock would ask. What color were the eyes of the hero? How many steps up to his door? How many windows across the way? Hayes prepared for a thorough examination.     The dinner was scheduled for seven-thirty in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Hayes dressed as well as he could, memorized his notes and ideas, and drove from the San Fernando Valley, over the Santa Monica Mountains, to Beverly Hills, arriving a few minutes early. By seven-thirty, Hitchcock hadn't arrived. At quarter of eight, he still wasn't there. And by eight o'clock, there was no sign of Hitchcock. The young writer thought he might have gotten the night or, worse, the hotel wrong, which only added to his feelings of anxiety about meeting the famous director. In need of something to calm his nerves, Hayes went into the hotel bar and explained his predicament to the bartender.     Unlike many of his contemporaries in Hollywood, Hayes was a neophyte when it came to liquor and wisely set his limit at two drinks. Unaware of the potency of martinis, which the bartender prescribed as a good drink to calm one's nerves, Hayes knocked back his drink and returned to the lobby as quickly as he could, not wanting to miss Hitchcock. Having skipped lunch that day in anticipation of a big dinner, Hayes quickly felt a warm glow from the liquor as he continued to wait. By eight-thirty, Hitchcock still hadn't arrived, prompting the writer to retreat to the bar for one more drink before returning home.     Having consumed his second martini--his limit--Hayes walked out of the hotel and down the path toward his car, when suddenly a taxi pulled up and out came Alfred Hitchcock, who started up the walk hurriedly. Hayes tried to interrupt him. "Mr. Hitchcock?"     "No. Sorry. No autographs. I have a very important meeting."     "You have it with John Michael Hayes."     Hitchcock stopped and said, "Are you John Hayes?"     "Yes," the writer replied.     "Well, come on. Let's get going," commanded Hitchcock, who never apologized for being late. The two proceeded to the dining room, with the headwaiter fussing over Hitchcock, whose reputation as a big spender and gourmand had been well established even before he arrived in America. As they sat at the booth reserved for the star moviemaker, Hayes must have been impressed, if not intimidated, by the attention he commanded, which made it all the more surprising when the first words out of Hitchcock were "Do you drink?"     Taken aback, Hayes replied, "Well, I've been known on occasion to take a drink."     "Well, what do you drink?"     "I think the last drink I had was a martini."     "Oh, wonderful, my favorite drink," said Hitchcock, adding mischievously, "I like a man who drinks." Hitchcock called the waiter to the table and ordered two double martinis. When the drinks arrived, the two men tipped glasses, and Hayes sipped as cautiously as he could.     Soon after, Hitchcock called for hors d'oeuvres and another double martini for each of them. Hayes had finally gotten the first cocktail down and by now was bleary-eyed, praying he would not get sick. "Mr. Hitchcock, I don't--I think one--" protested Hayes.     "Oh, come on," Hitchcock encouraged, "we've got to relax and get to know each other. As I told you, I like a man who drinks." Along came the second round of double martinis. Hayes kept imagining he was going to get sick and that Alfred Hitchcock would never speak to him again. And to this point, the director hadn't mentioned Rear Window at all. Pouring sweat, trying to keep sober and sound intelligent, Hayes recalled the director asking, "Have you seen any of my movies?"     "Yes, I have, Mr. Hitchcock."     By now they'd finished the hors d'oeuvres and had started a second course of Dover sole with a rare white wine. Hitchcock extolled the virtues of the wine as he poured a big glass for the writer, who tried to sip it politely and act as if he truly appreciated it. Returning to the subject of his pictures, Hitchcock said, "For example?"     Recalling his experience as an Army theater projectionist, Hayes replied, "Well, for example, oh, Shadow of a Doubt ."     "What did you think of it?" asked Hitchcock.     Hayes began to give an analysis of Shadow of a Doubt from frame one to the end of the picture, telling Hitchcock what he thought he had done right and what he thought he had done wrong, where it was strong, where it was weak, and that he didn't particularly like the casting. The young writer continued his assessment of Shadow of a Doubt straight through the next course of steak with red wine. Blurred by the combination of martinis and fine wines, Hayes started going through Hitchcock's movies, one by one, indicating some things that he could have done better in Notorious and telling the director that he thought the bullet stopped by the Bible in the hero's pocket in The 39 Steps was kind of corny. While Hayes talked, Hitchcock said nothing and just continued eating and drinking and munching and crunching and slurping.     At the conclusion of the meal, Hitchcock ordered dessert to be brought with a concoction of brandy and Drambuie. Amazingly, Hayes hadn't gotten sick, but Hitchcock still had said nothing about Rear Window --not a single word. Finally, with the dinner finished, Hitchcock said, "Well, I've got to go home." Hayes offered to drive him, but shrewdly Hitchcock decided to take a taxi. After a considerable amount of coffee, Hayes got into his car, put the top down, and drove slowly over the Santa Monica Mountains back home. Upon his arrival, Hayes's wife, Mel, asked, "How did it go?"     "Well, we had one of the great feasts of all time. But I am through, not only with Alfred Hitchcock, but maybe forever in this town. I'd better start thinking of a new profession. Because," Hayes said, "I analyzed his pictures, and I analyzed them like a reviewer, critically." Hayes spent the rest of the weekend waiting to hear how miserably it went. On Monday morning Arthur Park telephoned him and said, "You're in. Hitchcock loved you. You start work tomorrow. Report to Warner Bros., where he's preparing Dial M for Murder ."     In disbelief Hayes responded, "Are you sure you have the right John Michael Hayes?"     "Why?"     "We never talked about Rear Window , or anything."     "You're fine."     The next day Hayes arrived at Warners, and he and Hitchcock discussed Rear Window for the first time. Baffled by the experience, Hayes needed a year before he had the temerity to ask Hitchcock about that night. "Well, let me tell you what happened," Hitchcock said. "I went to a cocktail party at Jules Stein's house. That's why I was late. You know, I was dieting and I had several drinks. I remember meeting you and going in to eat, but I don't remember anything after that. But you talked a lot, and on the assumption that a man who talks a lot has something to say, I hired you." Not one to leave an associate completely at ease, Hitchcock added, "But don't forget, if I didn't like you, two weeks later I could have let you go." A Partnership Is Formed Based on their first meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Alfred Hitchcock could not have known how fortunate he was in selecting John Michael Hayes as his screenwriter. Hayes's youth and enthusiasm might have reminded Hitchcock of his years at Gaumont-British in the 1930s; perhaps he recognized that they were just the right qualities he needed to get his batteries "well charged," as he later said of this period. Hayes was a sharp dresser who deferred to the director's imperious presence by at first calling him "Mr. Hitchcock," although he was quickly granted permission to call him "Hitch." What's more, Hitchcock could get him cheap.     Hayes met with Hitchcock on the Warner Bros. lot twice before starting work on the treatment for Rear Window . At a salary of $750 a week, with no guarantee, Hayes was officially put on the Paramount payroll on June 8, 1953. At this time, Paramount assigned Rear Window a story fund number, 84001, to keep an accounting of all costs. (Once the studio approves a project for production, it is assigned a production number.) During their preliminary meetings Hayes discovered that Hitchcock's main concern--as was true of nearly all his films--was with creating a love story. The Story First published in the February 1942 issue of Dime Detective under the title "It Had to Be Murder," the short story by Cornell Woolrich was anything but a love story. Instead, Woolrich's story is a pure oscillation thriller, its primary objective being manipulation of the reader. The story is told in first-person narration. The protagonist, Hal Jeffries, is confined to a single bedroom with an unscreened bay window. The uncomfortably warm weather and lack of exercise have left him with an inability to sleep, and so, to ward off boredom, he takes to observing the nameless, faceless "rear-window dwellers" around him. After noting the abnormal behavior of one neighbor, a salesman named Thorwald, whose sickly wife has been confined to her bed, Jeffries suspects that the man may have murdered the woman.     Jeffries continues to observe the salesman, soliciting the aid of his black houseman, Sam, and a detective friend, Boyne. However, nobody else is convinced a murder has taken place, and at times even Jeffries doubts his conviction. Soon Jeffries stumbles upon a clue of sorts and comes to believe that the murdered woman is buried under the new cement floor laid in the apartment above the murderer's. Before he can share his theory, the murderer discovers Jeffries spying and tries to shoot him. Jeffries is saved when Boyne and his men arrive, and the salesman is killed while attempting to elude the police. It is not until the end of the story that Woolrich reveals the reason Jeffries is confined to his apartment. The doctor says, "Guess we can take that cast off your leg now. You must be tired of sitting there all day doing nothing."     In his biography of Woolrich, Francis M. Nevins, Jr., suggests that the inspiration for the story can be traced to an event Woolrich himself described in his memoir Blues of a Lifetime . On a hot summer evening Woolrich was sitting in his room busy at the typewriter, dressed only in trousers and an undershirt, when he heard the sound of muffled giggling. When he moved to the window, he found two teenage girls staring at him from the apartment building next door.     This experience of being spied on, according to Nevins, made its way into several of the author's earlier works. For example, in "Wake Up with Death," published in 1937, Woolrich's main character wakes up in a hotel room with a hangover, finding the lifeless body of a woman on the floor beside his bed. He then receives a telephone call from someone claiming to have seen him kill the woman from a window opposite his.     In "Silhouette," published in 1939, a middle-aged couple waiting for a bus late one evening believe that they have seen a man strangling a woman behind the window shade of a house on the other side of the street. Woolrich keeps the reader guessing throughout, wondering whether or not a crime was committed. Like "Rear Window," the story is rich in the vivid details of everyday life and--again as in "Rear Window"--the protagonist-witness has no emotional connection to the suspected killer.     Later that year Woolrich's novelette You'll Never See Me Again was published. It concerns a newlywed couple who have a quarrel that begins innocently enough but escalates to the point where the bride packs her belongings to move back with her mother and stepfather. A few days later the husband calls in the hope of effecting a reconciliation, but is told that his wife never arrived. When the husband frantically tries to find out what became of his wife, a homicide detective is convinced that he killed her.     While the act of being spied on may have influenced Woolrich, it is also likely that he had read a short story by H. G. Wells called "Through a Window," which is remarkably similar to "It Had to Be Murder." Published in 1895, Wells's story concerns a man named Bailey who is confined to a couch in the study of his London flat before a window that overlooks the Thames. With his legs wrapped like a "double-barreled mummy," Bailey watches the comings and goings of the boats and ships outside his window.     Like Woolrich's protagonist, Bailey comes to know the intimate details of those he watches and at times regards the activity out his window as an entertainment to help him pass the time while he recovers from his illness. As does Jeffries, Bailey has regular visitors--a housekeeper named Mrs. Green, who brings him meals, and a friend named Wilderspin, to whom he complains about his idleness and comments on his newfound "eye for details."     The story builds up to a point one morning when Bailey, left alone for the day, notices a figure clad in white fluttering in the distance. Bailey soon identifies the figure as a white-robed Malay sailor who has run amok with a knife and is being pursued by a band of armed men. Bailey sits helplessly watching glimpses of the manhunt outside his window. The sailor continues moving nearer and nearer, until he finally comes through the window and into Bailey's flat. All Bailey can do to defend himself is throw medicine bottles at the madman, who is finally shot and killed at the last moment.     In addition to the similarity of an isolated protagonist immobilized before a window, there are two other telling details that point to the influence of Wells's story on Woolrich. The first of these comes when Bailey sees a boat pass by with a married couple on it arguing. Bailey cannot tell what led to the argument, or how it was concluded; he can only fill in the details with his imagination. It would seem that this single detail intrigued Woolrich so greatly that he would explore the theme in several narratives. The other detail comes when Bailey first sees the white cloth fluttering in the distance. He is unsure if it is a flag or a handkerchief, and finally recognizes the material as the white robes of a Malay sailor. Woolrich employs a similar device when Jeffries watches Thorwald packing his wife's dresses, first believing the dresses on triangular hangers to be pennants.     Consistent throughout Woolrich's several explorations of these details is a sense of self-doubt on the part of the protagonist-narrator; thus the stories become "did he or didn't he" stories, rather than conventional "whodunits." These "oscillation" stories are exercises in tension that Woolrich is able to balance delicately until their suspenseful climax.     "It Had to Be Murder" was given the title "Rear Window" when it was reprinted in a 1944 collection entitled After Dinner Story . That autumn Woolrich's publisher submitted After Dinner Story to Paramount Pictures, and the following May, Woolrich sold the movie rights to all six stories in the collection for a total of $9,250 to B. G. DeSylva Productions, Inc. Songwriter-producer Buddy DeSylva was then head of production at Paramount, and although the studio released three films based on Woolrich's work over the next five years, none were made from stories in this collection. In 1950 "Rear Window" was sold to Orange Productions, Inc., which was owned by the well-known producer and talent agent Leland Hayward. The Deal For a short time in the 1940s Hitchcock had been represented by Leland Hayward, until the latter's agency was bought out by MCA. Hayward first tried to arouse Hitchcock's interest in "Rear Window" in October 1951, when the director was in New York taking part in "Movietime U.S.A.," a nationwide promotional campaign by members of the film industry designed to lure audiences away from their televisions and back into movie theaters. The campaign was one of several attempts made by the movie industry to increase ticket sales since it began in the late 1940s to compete with television for its audience. Hitchcock and his longtime friend and Transatlantic Pictures partner Sidney Bernstein met with Hayward to discuss David Dodge's soon-to-be-published novel To Catch a Thief , as well as Cornell Woolrich's story "Rear Window."     While it is unknown how Hitchcock reacted to the story at the time, it is clear he did not immediately pursue the rights (although he did buy the rights to To Catch a Thief , which he intended to make at a later date for Transatlantic). It is likely that after reading it in its present form, lacking a leading female character, Hitchcock did not see enough in "Rear Window" to suit his purposes and passed. Hayward then had playwright and theater director Joshua Logan draft a treatment in February 1952. A treatment is a detailed outline of a film's plot, containing character descriptions and occasional suggestions of dialogue. Logan's thirteen-page treatment remained largely faithful to Woolrich's original, but also made several significant changes that bear similarities to the finished film. (Continues...) Copyright © 2001 Steven DeRosa. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
Prologue: Pittsburg, California, May 1943p. 3
1 A Perfect Treatmentp. 5
2 A Match Made in Hollywoodp. 53
3 You've Never Been to the Riviera?p. 87
4 An Expensive Self-Indulgencep. 125
5 Into Thin Airp. 151
6 Un-Hitchedp. 203
7 The Screenplays--An Analysisp. 223
Appendix I Credits for the Hitchcock-Hayes Filmsp. 283
Appendix II Rules and Rigors of a Book-Fed Scenarist by John Michael Hayesp. 293
Notesp. 297
Selected Bibliographyp. 321
Acknowledgmentsp. 323
Indexp. 327