23 February 2015

Hitch's issues with Paul Newman

Alfred Hitchcock's working relationship with Paul Newman was not a happy one. To begin with, Hitch hadn't even wanted to work with Newman, but Universal insisted that Newman and Julie Andrews (whom Hitch didn't want either) were cast as the leads in the espionage thriller "Torn Curtain" (1966). Newman and Andrews were two of Hollywood's then biggest stars, and Universal wanted real star power since Hitch's latest films "The Birds" (1963) and "Marnie" (1964) with newcomer Tippi Hedren had ended up being box-office failures. 

Thus, Hitch got stuck with leads he didn't want and, on top of that, also found Newman impossible to work with. Newman belonged to a new generation of actors ('method actors') and worked in a way that was very different from what Hitch had been used to with old-school actors like Cary Grant and James Stewart. Throughout filming, Newman constantly criticised the script and questioned his character (at some point this led Hitch to remark: "His character! [...] I thought to myself: 'What does it matter about your character? It's just going to be Paul Newman anyway'"). Later Hitch would say that he found Newman's manner unprofessional and disrespectful. And Newman, in turn, said that he had meant no disrespect towards Hitch and attributed their problems to the bad script ("I think Hitch and I could have really hit it off, but the script kept getting in the way").

On the set of "Torn Curtain" with Hitch, Julie Andrews and 'method actor' Paul Newman. Hitchcock hated method acting and also had problems with Montgomery Clift during production of "I Confess" (1953).
On 22 June 1971, Alfred Hitchcock wrote to Joan Crawford after she had sent him a letter regarding "Torn Curtain". This is his note-- with a snide remark on Paul Newman.

Transcript: 

22nd June, 1971

Miss Joan Crawford
150 East 69th Street
Apartment 22-G
New York.
New York, 10021

Dear Joan,

Thank you very much for your letter about the announcing of "TORN CURTAIN".

You asked what had happened to Paul Newman. I can only think that being a method actor he decided not to turn up for the latter part of the film.

I am sorry to say that Alma has not been well since we got to London- she suffered a slight stroke, but I am happy to say she is recovering.

Love,

Hitch (signed)

*Image letter: heritage auctions (reproduced with permission)
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Note: Another great letter from Hitch to Joan can be read here. And as I was curious to know if Hitch and Joan were friends, I did a little search on the net and found a paragraph in "Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford, a Personal Biography" by Charlotte Chandler (2008), which says they were. In the book Joan is quoted as saying: "Alfred Hitchcock wasn't an MGM director, and our professional paths never crossed, though I did ask him to keep me in mind, and I'm sure he did. We would have had a lot of giggles together because we had the same sense of humor. He was not only a wonderful director, but a wonderful friend." [source]

Alfred and Alma Hitchcock in 1960
Joan Crawford

2 comments:

  1. I tend to believe that Paul Newman was right in thinking he and Hitchcock might've hit it off had "Torn Curtain" had more going for it. There seem to me many issues beyond a weak script, though. One huge problem is that Newman and Julie Andrews had zero onscreen chemistry.

    On the other hand...while it's true that "Marnie" was a big flop, "The Birds" was not a box office failure. In fact, it had the biggest opening weekend box office of 1963 and went on to be one of the top ten grossing films of the year - well ahead of a few other hits (and classics) of the time like "Charade" and "Hud." Sadly, "The Birds"was Hitchcock's last popular film. He was getting older and beginning to suffer health problems (as did his wife, Alma) and times - and filmmaking - were changing dramatically.

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    1. It's been ages since I've seen "Torn Curtain", but I remember not really liking it, one of the main reasons being indeed the pairing of Newman and Andrews and their total lack of chemistry. And Wikipedia called both films box-office "disappointments", I just used a stronger word (admittedly, I didn't read up on their box-office results any further). Thanks for reading!


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