Monday, November 16, 2009

Hitchcock Blonde!

Consider...a succession of beautiful blonde actresses...the first few of whom naturally exuded a quality of feminine refinement that appealed to director Alfred Hitchcock and which he incorporated into a character type that he used repeatedly in his films. Ultimately, Hitchcock took possession of and honed this persona to a fine point. His final blonde stars were scrupulously stylized to fit his very specific image.

Joan Barry (Emily Hill in Rich and Strange, 1931)...London-born Barry first worked with Hitchcock when she dubbed Anny Ondra's voice for the sound version of Blackmail. She later starred in another of the director's early sound films, Rich and Strange. In addition to being a blonde, Barry possessed a delicate beauty that Hitchcock would seek again. (Note: This British actress should not be confused with the American actress Joan Barry who was legally entangled with Charlie Chaplin)

Madeleine Carroll (Pamela in The 39 Steps, 1935, and Elsa Carrington in Secret Agent, 1936) Often referred to as the first of Hitchcock's "ice cool" blondes, Carroll bore a striking resemblence to Joan Barry. Her career skyrocketed with the success of The 39 Steps and, following Secret Agent, she signed with Paramount and made several films in the U.S.

Carole Lombard (Ann Smith in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, 1941) Hitchcock's only screwball comedy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith starred one Hollywood's great Golden Age comediennes, the lovely Lombard. She sparkled as the stubborn, beautiful and well-heeled Mrs. Smith; not exactly aloof, she was certainly intelligent and fashionable. Hitchcock directed at Lombard's request and it was the last of her films released during her lifetime.
(Note: Mr. & Mrs. Smith airs today, 11/16, on TCM at 4:15 pm Eastern/1:15 pm Pacific)

Grace Kelly (Margot Wendice in Dial M for Murder, 1954, Lisa Fremont in Rear Window, 1954, and Frances Stevens in To Catch a Thief, 1955) The quintessential "snow covered volcano" that all others are measured against. Kelly, one of the definitive beauties of the 1950s, naturally possessed elegance and refinement - she was also able to effortlessly portray the chilly allure that so appealed to Hitchcock.

Kim Novak ("Madeleine Elster"/Judy Barton in Vertigo, 1958) Novak was a very popular movie star of the 1950s and a departure from the type Hitchcock had previously cast as his blonde love objects. Among other things, she was more voluptuous than those before her. Her sultry allure was toned down with a chic and often subdued wardrobe as well as the application of quiet but precise makeup. In a new "twist," Novak wore her hair in a stylized up-do throughout most of the film - this was the memorable "French Twist" Hitchcock liked to explore with his camera. Novak's enigmatic performance much enhanced the mysteries of Vertigo.

Eva Marie Saint (Eve Kendall in North by Northwest, 1959) Though not a sex symbol like Novak, Saint was also a departure from the actresses Hitchcock had cast before her. A dedicated dramatic actress, she was known for starring in films like On the Waterfront and A Hatful of Rain as well as live TV dramas - what Hitchcock called "kitchen sink" roles. However, she got the full treatment once chosen to play Eve and was transformed into a cool glamour girl whose urbane artifice belies her vulnerability. Saint was coiffed, costumed and made up to seductive, slightly brittle perfection. Being a solid actress, she was able to carry off with ease the role of a government operative while encased in fullblown Hitchcock Blonde regalia.

Tippi Hedren (Melanie Daniels in The Birds, 1963, and Marnie Edgar in Marnie, 1964) Hitchcock's final pale-haired icon, Hedren's was the most controlled expression of Hitchcock's archetype. More model than actress at the time, Hedren's mannequin-like qualities seem emphasized by heavily sprayed bouffant hairstyles, a sophisticated and strictly coordinated wardrobe and fastidious makeup. Hitchcock coached Hedren closely and constantly, intensely involved in her every move. Her career faltered when she bought out her contract with Hitchcock following Marnie.

Truffaut and Hitchcock discuss "the Hitchcock Blonde"

Hitchcock: You know why I favor sophisticated blondes in my films? We're after the drawing-room type, the real ladies, who become whores once they're in the bedroom.
Truffaut: What intrigues you is the paradox between the inner fire and the cool surface.
Hitchcock: Definitely...Do you know why? Because sex should not be advertised...because without the element of surprise the scenes become meaningless. There's no possibility to discover sex.


  1. Eve , what a wonderful post. I'd have to say that Grace, Eva Marie, and Ms Carroll are my favorites. and thanks for the heads up on Mr & Mrs Smith.

  2. And the Hitch just keeps on coming! Terrific list, Eve, of some exceptional actresses who've worked with Hitchcock. While I think they're all talented ladies, my favorite actress of the bunch is Kim Novak. Looking forward to the list of Hitchcock gentlemen and maybe some brunettes (that way, we can talk about Ingrid Bergman!). Thanks, Eve!

  3. Eve, this was an excellent analysis of these fascinating and lovely actresses who undertook the challenge of working with Alfred Hitchcock. I really enjoyed reading your informative post and I loved the pictures, too. Well done!

  4. I don't have a favorite myself, but was more or less inspired to take a closer look at "the blondes" when I saw RICH AND STRANGE on TCM not long ago and realized that Joan Barry was an early rendition of the type...

  5. Alfred's quote was so great on what a Lady should be. Something he could only say and get away with, naturally. I would have to say that grace kelly is mine. I didn't like that she left hollywood for a prince but the famous close-up shot in Rear window gives me chills everytime.

  6. Very interesting post LadyEve. I'm partial to Grace as a lot of people are, but I also enjoyed Carole Lombard's performance in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But not counting blondes, one of my personal favorites is Margaret Lockwood from The Lady Vanishes. She gave a terrific performance.

  7. This was a highly entertaining post, Eve! Your choices are excellent and, for me, I'm torn among Grace, Kim, and Tippi. I feel the need, though, to shower some attention on Tippi...because she often gets overlooked. She's good in THE BIRDS, but certainly her role as a chilly socialite isn't difficult. However, I think Ms. Hedren gives an impressively nuanced performance in MARNIE. Just watch the contrast between the confident Marnie playing a "role" as part of a con and the fragile Marnie trying to show affection to her distant mother. I can't imagine anyone else in that part.

  8. Rick, how did I know you'd tout Tippi!?! If she knew you, she'd love you...While mulling this post over I thought about when it was rumored that Grace Kelly was going to make a "comeback" and work with Hitchcock on MARNIE. I wonder now what would've happened had Hitchcock's favorite blonde actually returned to play a type that had evolved so much and in such an ultra-stylized way in the years since she'd last worked with him. I recently heard a story (on TCM?) that Diane Baker tells about a scene she played in MARNIE - Hitchcock literally came over to her and, with his hands, arranged the expression he wanted on her face. Perhaps he would have been easier on HRH Princess Grace of Monaco than he was on Tippi and Diane...

  9. I've read where Grace was enthused about doing MARNIE, but was talked out of it by advisors who feared it would hurt her image. Honestly, I can't see her in the role. As for Hitch arranging Diane's expression, it reminds of one of his most famous quoes: "I never said all actors are cattle. What I said was all actors should be treated like cattle."

  10. The story then was that "the people of Monaco did not approve" of their Princess returning to movies and so she not only bowed out but was permanently retired. I don't think it would've been wise for her at that particular time to come back and play a character with glaring psychosexual issues. But I wouldn't have minded seeing Grace and Cary work with Hitchcock one more time on some other film...

  11. Lady eve, Alfred Hitchcock, obviously was one gentleman who preferred blonds. ;)

    I saw Mr. and Mrs. Smith, for the first time yesterday. Thank you for posting.

  12. Nice site; keep up the good work.

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