Known best for his masterful work as a director of suspense, the name of Alfred Hitchcock is often associated with his days as a successful Hollywood director. In fact, Hitchcock originally attended St Ignatius College in London, there studying engineering and writing on the side. His skill with broken characters and twist endings eventually attracted attention. Soon, he found his niche in filmmaking, working his way up from holding title cards in silent films in 1920, to directing in 1925. He is credited with writing and directing the first British “talkie,” Blackmail in 1929.
Unfortunately, Hitchcock’s fascination with swirling emotions, harsh punishments, and macabre discoveries seems to have root in his own childhood. Raised by strict parents, young Hitchcock often found himself isolated, due in large part to his constant struggles with obesity. Hitchcock’s early distrust, and even fear, of the police is rooted in an experience where his father sent him to the local precinct with a note requesting that police lock him up as punishment for unruly behavior. He also describes erratic punishment from his mother, including being forced to stand for hours at the foot of her bed (reminiscent of Norman Bates in Psycho).
Although this early trauma may have created an enigmatic and skillful director of suspense, it is no surprise that Hitchcock had difficulties with personal relationships, particularly with the women on his set. Tippi Hendren, mother of Melanie Griffith, recently opened up about her experiences working with Hitchcock. She describes several instances of sexual blackmail, resulting in the ruination of her career when she refused his advances. Perhaps most shocking is that Hendren not only implies that this behavior was common for Hitchcock, but that his longtime partner, Alma Reville, was well aware of it.
Despite his personal flaws, no one can doubt that Hitchcock truly was an artistic master. His use of shadow, angles, and framing to create both beauty and suspense has never been matched. In fact, Hitchcock’s first Hollywood movie, Rebecca, earned him the first of five academy award nominations. He died on April 29th, 1980, one year after winning the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award.