22 May 2024

I told you long ago that Walt Disney has the best idea

In a 1972 interview with Dick Cavett, Alfred Hitchcock was asked about the remark "Actors are like cattle" he had supposedly made in the 1930s. Hitch famously told Cavett: "I would never say such an unfeeling, rude thing about actors at all ... what I probably said was that all actors should be treated like cattle." Later Hitch would make another derogatory remark about actors to filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich: "Actors are like children. They have to be coddled, and sometimes spanked." What seems clear is that Hitch didn't think very highly of actors and considered them a necessary evil in order to make films. It wasn't "the acting" or "the subject matter" Hitch really cared about, but most important to him were "the pieces of film ... all the technical ingredients that make the audience scream" (said Hitch in a 1973 interview with Oui Magazine). 

Hitchcock certainly didn't care for stars or their egos. While he realised that stars were necessary to draw audiences to theaters, during his long career Hitch had several times complained about the star system, especially when stars who were not suitable for their roles were forced upon him by the studio. For Torn Curtain (1966), Hitch was very unhappy with his leads Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, but Universal insisted they were cast. At the time the actors were two of Hollywood's biggest stars and much to Hitchcock's dismay— received a combined salary of $1.5 million, cutting very deeply into the film's $5 million budget. When Newman, a method actor, repeatedly asked Hitch for his character's motivation, the director (who hated method acting) famously retorted, "Your motivation is your salary".

Hitch with Julie Andrews and Paul Newman on the set of Torn Curtain

The exorbitant fees of Newman and Andrews were on Hitchcock's mind when he wrote the following letter to Grace Kelly. With Torn Curtain about to go into production shooting would start on 18 October 1965 Hitch complains to Grace about the salaries of his leads eating up a large part of his budget. Also, he talks about the salary demands of Shirley MacLaine, another big box-office star at the time. Hitch concludes his letter saying that Walt Disney had "the best idea". With his actors drawn on paper, if Disney didn't like them, he could just erase them or tear them up.

Source: Alamy


Her Serene Highness
Princess Grace of Monaco
Palace Monaco
Principality of Monaco

Dear Grace (handwritten),

Alma and I want to thank you so much for your thoughtful telegram.

I'm just about to start another movie, starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. But the money these people get these days! Between them, they are collecting as much as I have to make the whole picture. You would be astonished if you knew some of the sums of money now being commanded on account of the acute shortage of "names". It was told me, I believe by her agent Herman Citron, that Shirley MacLaine refuses to read any material of any kind unless a million dollar fee, against a percentage, was agreed upon.

You'll remember I told you long ago that Walt Disney has the best idea. He just draws them, and if he doesn't like them, he tears them up.

Love, Hitch (handwritten)


Grace Kelly had left Hollywood almost ten years earlier to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. She had been Hitch's favourite actress, having worked with him three times, i.e. on Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). Grace and Hitch got along quite well and became close friends. While the pair had wanted to make a fourth film together, in the end they never did. In 1962, when Hitch was preparing his next film Marnie (1964), he asked Grace (by then already Princess of Monaco) to play the female lead. She accepted but ultimately had to withdraw from the project, due to the objections of the citizens of Monaco. (Grace's correspondence with Hitch about their failed project can be seen here.) The role eventually went to Tippi Hedren.

Above: Hitch and Grace Kelly on the sets of their mutual films, clockwiseTo Catch a Thief, Dial M for Murder and Rear Window, in the latter photo also with leading man James Stewart. Below: 29 April 1974, Hitch with Princess Grace of Monaco on the occasion of Hitch's tribute at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York. 

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