ME AND HITCH by Evan Hunter
1997 – Faber and Faber Ltd. – 91 pages
Evan Hunter was much better known by the pseudonym Ed McBain, which he used to pen dozens of novels, primarily crime fiction and police procedurals. He was an accomplished author when Hitchcock reached out to him to write the screenplay for The Birds. Almost a quarter-century after his dealings with Hitchcock, Hunter wrote a small volume relating his experiences working with the master of suspense.
The book in written in a light, anecdotal style, and at just over 90 pages it absolutely breezes by. The biggest surprise to me is how dismissive Hunter is about The Birds. He makes it quite clear that he thinks the film is not that good, and thinks that Hitchcock is partly to blame, for editorial decisions made in the writing process.
Hunter doesn’t mince words, as you can see from a couple of examples (italics are the authors): “The trouble with our story was that nothing in it was real. In real life, birds don’t attack people and girls don’t buy lovebirds to shlepp sixty miles upstate for a practical joke…Even if the script had worked – which it didn’t – Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor were no Grace Kelly or Cary Grant. But Hitch never gave it an honest shot.”
He doesn’t save all of his disparaging comments for the leads in the picture: “Jessica Tandy played the part of the mother like a deer caught in a truck’s headlights, one of the few bad performances she ever gave in her life.”
Wow! Strong opinions indeed. Evan Hunter also details his writing of the first draft of Hitchcock’s next film Marnie, a job which he didn’t complete. He was fired, and not by Hitchcock directly, but by his assistant Peggy Robertson. Hunter had difficulty penning the rape scene; he felt the male lead would not be redeemable in the eyes of the audience afterwards. The woman who replaced him and completed the screenplay, Jay Presson Allen, later told Hunter “You just got bothered by the scene that was his reason for doing the movie. You just wrote your ticket back to New York.”
Evan also includes some correspondence between himself and Hitchcock, and also with Peggy Robertson. Reading Peggy’s letters, one can see that she had a wit every bit as wry and sharp as her boss. In one letter, she corrects a grammatical mistake in his letter to her, saying finally “No, please do not thank me for this lesson. The fact that I am able to rectify even one small mark of illiteracy is reward enough.”
Although my views on The Birds differ mightily from Hunter’s, I thoroughly enjoyed this very slight, but engaging book. Highly recommended for fans of Hitchcock.