‘An Interesting Idea’: Marilyn, Hitchcock and Marnie

While reading a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (which turns 60 this year) by Tim Gray in Variety, I found an interesting snippet regarding another of his films, Marnie (1964.)

“In 1956, at the height of her career, Kelly left Hollywood to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. There were repeated rumors of a comeback, and Hitchcock in 1961-62 offered her the title role in the psychological suspense film Marnie. It’s hard to imagine that Her Serene Highness Princess Grace would have seriously entertained the idea of playing an aloof, neurotic kleptomaniac, but she liked the idea of making a film with Hitchcock again.

When it was clear that Kelly wouldn’t do it, Marilyn Monroe expressed interest in the role. Hitchcock gave Variety a noncommittal ‘It’s an interesting idea’ and it might have been an fascinating film, with an even more fascinating set: Hitchcock was a meticulous planner, while Monroe was famous for being late.

The role eventually went to Tippi Hedren, a Hitchcock discovery. Before casting Hedren in The Birds (1962) and Marnie (1964), he tutored her in every aspect of filmmaking, from pre-production to editing. Hedren later said he was sadistic while filming the attic scene in Birds, and soured on her after she rebuffed his sexual advances, even blocking her opportunities in other films by holding her to a seven-year contract.

Hitchcock no doubt used extreme methods to get memorable performances from his preferred group of blonde actresses, some of which would be continued unacceptable and abusive today.”

Hitchcock was already on Marilyn’s list of approved directors, drawn up as part of her renegotiated contract with Fox in 1956. Her 1953 thriller, Niagara, has been described as Hitchockian, and she had convincingly portrayed the disturbed heroine of Don’t Bother to Knock (1952.) However, as her own emotional problems worsened, revisiting this darker territory may have been hazardous. Even as she gave a brilliant performance in her most personal movie, The Misfits (1960), the psychological toll was devastating.

For his own part, Hitchcock had reportedly described Marilyn – along with Elizabeth Taylor and Ingrid Bergman  – as one of the few genuine female stars in the industry at that time. Nonetheless, with her frank sex appeal, combined with warmth and vulnerability, Marilyn didn’t really fit his preferred type of blonde. And as an established star, Hitchcock couldn’t have controlled her as he evidently liked. “It’s more interesting to discover the sex in a woman than it is to have it thrown at you, like a Marilyn Monroe or those types,” he told one reporter, adding, “To me they are rather vulgar and obvious.”

Marnie opened to mixed reviews, although its reputation has grown with time. In her autobiography (see here), Tippi Hedren describes her only encounter with Marilyn, at the home of photographer Milton Greene circa 1955.

“It was a Sunday afternoon, and hours passed before Marilyn emerged from her suite on the second floor. I looked up to see her descending the stairs, presumably to come down and join the group.

Instead, she stopped on the landing, where she sat down in the corner and stayed there.

End of story.

Seriously, she never said a word, she just sat there on that landing with a rather blank, unwelcoming look on her face. I never saw anyone approach her, and I kind of lost track of her. Later I noticed she’d just disappeared, perhaps back to her room or who knows where.

I have no idea what was going on with her. I wrote it off to terrible shyness or insecurity and left it at that. Milton and Amy didn’t seem to think a thing about it, and I wasn’t about to ask them. It was none of my business, and frankly, I wasn’t that interested.”