The most difficult scene in Psycho for Janet Leigh required little acting. As water cascaded over her body in the shower, she only had to keep her eyes open and play dead. But when moisture caused the tape covering her breasts to come undone, she had to make a choice. “Did I spoil the difficult shot and move and be modest or did I hold still?” she recalled thinking. “I decided not to spoil the shot.”

The great director Alfred Hitchcock would always be a mystery to some, but the actors who knew him best would go to great lengths for him. “It was a great joy to work with Hitch. He was an extraordinary man,” said Cary Grant, who starred in four of the auteur’s films.

Born in the apartment above his parents’ greengrocer shop on the outskirts of London, young Hitch aspired to be a train engineer before discovering art and writing. He started in film designing title cards and met Alma Reville, a film editor, when they worked together on 1923’s Woman to Woman.

The pair wed in 1926 and became lifelong companions, collaborators and parents to daughter Pat, who was born in 1928. They moved in 1939 to L.A., where hits including The Lady Vanishes and Rebecca earned Hitch the nickname the Master of Suspense.


As a director, Hitch plotted out every frame of film well in advance. He had precise sketches drawn of every scene and every angle, which he discussed in depth with Alma. His wife, who had an ear for dialogue, also wrote or co-wrote several of Hitch’s film scripts, including Shadow of a Doubt, The 39 Steps and Suspicion.

After actress Diane Baker accepted her role in 1964’s Marnie, the director invited her to meet him for the first time at his home with Alma. “I remember vividly. It was quiche à l’oignon — she was cooking it,” Diane says. “We were seated in their tiny little kitchen looking out on the golf course. It was an interesting lunch. Alma said I resembled Grace Kelly.”

In truth, all of Hitch’s leading ladies bore a resemblance to his Nottingham, England-born wife. “My taste is based on English women, outwardly cold, inwardly passionate,” Hitch said, explaining that he didn’t care for bombshells. “I don’t like women who have their sex hanging around their necks like jewelry,” he said.

A year before his death in 1980 at age 80, Hitch received an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award for his long, celebrated career. In his acceptance speech, he gave credit to “four people” for helping him to achieve so much. “The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter, Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen,” he gushed. “And their names are Alma Reville.”