Alfred Hitchcock biography

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Alfred Hitchcock biography

Film director. Born August 13, 1899, in London, England. The son of William Hitchcock, a grocer, and his wife Emma, Hitchcock studied engineering at St. Ignatius College, a Jesuit school in London, and later took art courses at the University of London. In 1920, after briefly working as a technician at a cable company and in the advertising department of a department store, he was hired as a draftsman for a London film studio. Hitchcock moved quickly up the ranks from scriptwriter to art director to assistant director. He directed his first film, a low-budget melodrama called The Pleasure Garden, in 1925.
Hitchcock first gained a reputation as an up-and-coming director in 1927, when he released his first hit, The Lodger, a film about the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper. In 1929, he directed Blackmail, Britain’s first widely successful non-silent film. During the 1930s, Hitchcock was the leading director in Britain and had garnered international acclaim for his spy thrillers, including The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), and The Lady Vanishes (1938). In 1939, the prominent producer David O. Selznick (flush from the tremendous success of Gone With the Wind) convinced Hitchcock to move to Hollywood, by then the home of the most advanced filmmaking technology in the world. Hitchcock’s move to America (he later became a U.S. citizen) marked the crucial turning point in his career. His first American film was an adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier’s classic gothic romance Rebecca (1940), starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. The film was a critical and popular success, winning an Academy Award for Best Picture. In the years following his American debut, Hitchcock continued to draw mass audiences to such suspenseful melodramas as Foreign Correspondent (1940), Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Spellbound (1945), Rope (1948), and Strangers on a Train (1951). The consistent commercial success of such films led many critics to undercut Hitchcock’s skill as a director, often claiming that his films lacked substance and relied on slick yet superficial tricks of the camera to grab audiences’ attention. Even his most acclaimed works—Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960)—would be most appreciated during his lifetime not by American critics but by a group of up-and-coming French filmmakers dubbed the New Wave.

François Truffaut, a leading New Wave director, called Hitchcock “the most complete filmmaker” in America, “an all-round specialist, who excels at every image, each shot, and every scene.”

Truffaut’s praise accurately pointed to Hitchcock’s deliberate directorial style and vast technical knowledge. The director was known for his meticulous planning of every shot—before filming, he would sketch each scene with a list of every possible camera angle—and his complete refusal to improvise or deviate from his planned shooting schedule. He was also famous for his dislike of actors, famously stating that “all actors are children” and “should be treated like cattle.” Hitchcock did admire certain actors, however, and worked with them often: his favorites included Cary Grant (Suspicion, Notorious, 1955’s To Catch a Thief, and North by Northwest); James Stewart (Rope, Rear Window, the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo); Vera Miles (Psycho and 1956’s The Wrong Man); and Grace Kelly, an actress whom Hitchcock adored and cast as the elegant blonde lead in Rear Window, Dial M for Murder (1954), and To Catch a Thief. Among the other well-known actors Hitchcock worked with were Olivier, Ingrid Bergman (Spellbound, Notorious, 1949’s Under Capricorn), Gregory Peck (Spellbound, 1947’s The Paradine Case), Marlene Dietrich (1950’s Stage Fright), Carole Lombard (1941’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith), Tallulah Bankhead (1944’s Lifeboat), and Paul Newman (1966’s Torn Curtain).

In addition to the huge successes of his films—many of which he produced as well as directed—Hitchcock gained a greater measure of celebrity as the host of two popular television series: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which ran from 1955 to 1965, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which ran from 1962 to 1965. In addition to Hitchcock’s distinctive personality and sardonic commentary, both shows featured short suspense stories, some directed by such acclaimed filmmakers as Sydney Pollack, Robert Altman, and Hitchcock himself. The rotund, immensely recognizable director also appeared (momentarily, at least) in bit roles in almost all of his own films.

Hitchcock, who never won an Oscar for Best Director, was nominated five times in that category, for Rebecca in 1940, Lifeboat in 1944, Spellbound in 1945, Rear Window in 1954, and Psycho in 1960. In addition to his Best Picture Oscar for Rebecca, which he also produced, Hitchcock was awarded the 1967 Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his contributions as a producer.

With his terse acceptance of that award—after receiving a standing ovation, he simply said “Thank you” and walked off the stage— Hitchcock made evident his understandable resentment of the Academy’s persistent refusal to recognize him as a director. In 1979, Hitchcock was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of his native England.

Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville, whom he married in 1926, was a film editor who served as a writer and adviser on many of his movies and was generally perceived to be his most trusted professional confidante. At the time of his death on April 29, 1980, the 80-year-old Hitchcock had been suffering from arthritis and kidney failure for about a year. While his final film, Family Plot, was released in 1976, he reportedly continued working almost right up until the time of his death. He was survived by his wife (who died in 1982) and their daughter Patricia, an actress who appeared in Psycho, Stage Fright, and Strangers on a Train.

Since his death, Alfred Hitchcock has been generally recognized as one of the greatest directors in the history of film. His much-repeated maxim about the value of suspense over shock influenced an entire genre of movies, as did his uniquely dark sensibility and relentlessly precise directorial style.

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