A Hitchcock diversion.

Selznick, Joan Fontaine, and the Hitchcocks at the 1940 Academy Awards

The following is a short story I wrote for an undergraduate writing class. I was fascinated by the interaction between Alfred Hitchcock and mega-producer David O. Selznick, a storied rivalry that has since become Hollywood legend. This story is my imagining of Selznick’s notorious memo-writing prowess and Hitchcock’s reaction to his micromanaging techniques. In the interest of storytelling, I have taken liberty with fact and rumor to craft this exchange.

Enjoy!

“Hitch”

Transatlantic Cable Co.
To: Alfred Hitchcock, London, England
From: David O. Selznick, Hollywood, CA USA

Am awaiting confirmation of offer as previously discussed. Script for Titanic is ready for filming. Send word of acceptance immediately. Selznick.

David O. Selznick
Selznick International Pictures
Hollywood, CA USA

My dear Mr. Selznick:

I received your cable today. I know, as evident from the tone of this missive, that you must be quite a busy man. In fact, I have heard good things — yes, even here in cold, rainy London — about the grand opus you are currently producing. Something about wind and the Old American South? The details are a bit fuzzy, though I understand you have generated quite a bit of publicity for this little project of yours. And young Miss Leigh in a starring role! I recently saw her in that overwrought little picture with the Olivier chap–Fire Over England, where she spent the entire film staring at him, moon-faced and cow-eyed. How far she’s come, to be starring in what I hear will be the greatest theatrical spectacular the world has ever seen! Couldn’t have happened to a lovelier girl.

Oh, but here I am going on about your current project, when you are really seeking an answer to your more-than-generous offer. I admit, I am inclined to accept your offer of a seven-year contract with your production company. As you know from our previous correspondence, I really feel as if I have done everything I can in England. For several years now, I have dreamed of traveling to America to pursue the craft of filmmaking in Hollywood, where, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, your technical achievements far outstrip those of my fellow Britons. And in America, a place of dreams and reality, a society that so revels in its own dangerous inequities and mores, I can finally explore the ideas and themes that I’ve only been able to touch on briefly in my previous ventures. The brutality of violence. The power of sexuality. The agonizing need for control, and Man’s dependence on fortune for his ultimate fate. Think of it, Mr. Selznick, if you dare. Think of the things we can bring to the screen!

More so even than aesthetic concerns, however, is my need for a stable environment in which to produce my films. As you know, being a contracted director in Britain is no guarantee of work; neither is it any guarantee of security. It is my hope that working for Selznick International Pictures will afford me the security I seek, not only for myself but for my family.
I have always been an admirer of yours from afar, Mr. Selznick, and it is my firm hope that we will make many fine, thoughtful, and pleasing films together in the years to come. Therefore, I will accept your offer, effective as soon as my wife Alma and I are able to close up our London home and make our way across the Atlantic.

I will naturally wire you upon our arrival in New York, and I remain ever your humble admirer,
Alfred Hitchcock

Trans-Atlantic Cable Co.
To: Alfred Hitchcock, London, England
From: David O. Selznick, Hollywood, CA USA

Glad to receive acceptance of offer. When do you expect to arrive stateside? Wire your answer. Selznick.

David O. Selznick
Selznick International Pictures
Hollywood, CA USA

My dear Mr. Selznick:

Your cable arrived today, quite fortuitously, I might add, as Alma and I have booked passage on the Queen Mary. We are scheduled to arrive in New York in a fortnight’s time, barring any unforeseen delays. We are bringing a rather large entourage, I’m afraid: our daughter, Patricia; the cook and the maid (indispensable, you know — good live-in help is so terribly difficult to find these days); and I am also bringing my personal secretary, Joan Harrison, who has been with me for the last five-odd years. Quite the traveling crew!

I must say, though I am reluctant to leave my home country, I am still glad to be coming across the pond, if only for the opportunity to start anew. Though my film The Lady Vanishes was (deservedly, I believe) a success both here and in the States (an unexpected surprise, that last one, for no one knows better than I that British-produced films do not typically do well in America), my latest effort, Jamaica Inn, had a somewhat lackluster performance. I understand that Ms. Daphne du Maurier is most upset with me about the liberties I took with her original text. I suppose I should offer my condolences to Ms. du Maurier … if only I didn’t wholeheartedly believe that those changes were absolutely necessary to add depth to the somewhat meager plot of her novel.

But … c’est la vie, as the French say.

I am looking forward to my arrival in New York, and I have many ideas regarding the Titanic filming that I anticipate sharing with you in the near future.

Until then, I remain your enthusiastic servant,
Alfred Hitchcock

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: John Thomason, SIP
Subject: Hitchcock

John — Arrange train transportation for Hitchcock and five guests upon their arrival in New York. And for God’s sake, address future cables from yourself, not me. I don’t have time to read his goddamn rambling letters. Selznick.

Memo
From: John Thomason, SIP
To: David O. Selznick
Subject: Hitchcock

Mr. Selznick — Have arranged transport. The Hitchcocks, et. al are due to arrive in Los Angeles on the first of the month. J. Thomason.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: John Thomason, SIP
Subject: Hitchcock

John — Where the hell is Hitchcock? He was supposed to be here two days ago! Find him. Send word that Titanic has been scrapped. Tell him we’re doing Rebecca. Shooting will begin on the 8th. Selznick.

Memo
From: John Thomason, SIP
To: Alfred Hitchcock
Subject: Filming

Mr. Hitchcock — Mr. Selznick asked that I pass along a message to you. The decision has been made to forego filming Titanic. Mr. Selznick has optioned the rights to Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca for you to film instead. Principal photography is scheduled to begin on the 8th. Please contact me at the studio if you have any questions. Thank you, John Thomason.

David O. Selznick
c/o John Thomason
Selznick International Pictures
Hollywood, CA

Mr. Selznick–

I will, of course, respect your wishes as my producer and employer, and will readily lay aside my plans for Titanic to begin planning for Rebecca. However, I would much appreciate it if you could communicate such things with me yourself, whether in person or via writing. Though I am sure that Mr. Thomason is a quite capable young man, I would prefer to correspond directly with you in the future.

Very sincerely yours,
Alfred Hitchcock

Memo
From: John Thomason, SIP
To: David O. Selznick
Subject: Hitchcock

Mr. Selznick — The enclosed letter just arrived for you via messenger. J. Thomason.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: John Thomason, SIP
Subject: Hitchcock

John — Tell Hitchcock he can fuck himself. Selznick.

Memo
From: John Thomason, SIP
To: David O. Selznick
Subject: Hitchcock

Mr. Selznick — Begging your pardon, but considering the publicity blitz we arranged regarding Mr. Hitchcock’s arrival in Hollywood, I don’t think it would be a good idea to alienate him before filming even begins. I think it would be more prudent if I simply forward your memos to him directly in the future. J. Thomason.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: John Thomason, SIP
Subject: Hitchcock

John — He wants correspondence? I’ll give him correspondence. Selznick.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: Alfred Hitchcock
Subject: Rebecca

Mr. Hitchcock — As John stated in his memo to you yesterday, the studio has decided to scrap Titanic and film Rebecca instead. We want Laurence Olivier for the role of Maxim de Winter. Begin searching for actresses for the lead role. I’m thinking another search on the scale of the Scarlett O’Hara casting? Great publicity for the studio and for the movie. Bring in every actress you can, and make sure the trade papers know about the auditions. Selznick.

Memo
From: Alfred Hitchcock
To: David O. Selznick
Subject: Rebecca

Mr. Selznick — I’ve gone with your wishes and have auditioned multiple actresses for the lead role, though it was rather unnecessary since I found the perfect girl immediately. I believe young Miss Fontaine is the exact blend of shyness and fortitude as is necessary to portray the second Mrs. de Winter. As such, I see no need to conduct further auditions, and as the rest of the roles have long been cast, I will begin principal shooting on schedule. Respectfully yours, Alfred Hitchcock.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: Alfred Hitchcock
Subject: Rebecca

Alfred — what’s this I hear about you making changes to the Rebecca script? Ms. du Maurier was already upset enough knowing that you were going to be directing the film. She’s still angry about what you did to her other novel over in Britain. I have had to personally assure her that you won’t screw this up. Do the book and not some botched-up version like Jamaica Inn. Selznick.

Memo
From: Alfred Hitchcock
To: David O. Selznick
Subject: Rebecca

Mr. Selznick — Though I respect the position that you have put yourself in through your assurances to the author, the changes will be made, as they are essential to the plot of the film. Ms. du Maurier should have no concerns, as they are minor alterations to the original story and are necessary to make the story plausible to the audience. Sincerely, Alfred Hitchcock.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: Alfred Hitchcock
Subject: Rebecca

Hitchcock — This goddamned jigsaw cutting of yours has to stop. The editors are frustrated. You are not filming enough footage for them to construct the scenes. You should know by now that I do not condone precutting the film inside the camera. Yours is not the only vision of how this film should turn out. Film from more angles so that the editors have multiple shots to choose from. Selznick.

Memo
From: Alfred Hitchcock
To: David O. Selznick
Subject: Rebecca

Mr. Selznick — I will refrain from telling you how to produce if you will kindly refrain from telling me how to direct. Respectfully yours, Alfred Hitchcock.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: John Thomason, SIP
Subject: Hitchcock

John — Tell that goddamned infantile bastard to get the hell off my set. Who the hell does he think he is? I’ll get someone else to finish the film. Selznick.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: John Thomason, SIP
Subject: Hitchcock

John — Ignore the last memo. We can’t afford the bad publicity. Selznick.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: Alfred Hitchcock
Subject: Rebecca

Hitchcock — The Rebecca shoot was supposed to be finished two weeks ago. What is going on down there? Selznick.

Memo
From: Alfred Hitchcock
To: David O. Selznick
Subject: Rebecca

Mr. Selznick — I apologize for the delay. I didn’t realize my art was being held to a time limit. Filming should be completed in the next two days. Your humble servant, Alfred Hitchcock.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: John Thomason, SIP
Subject: Hitchcock

John — I’m not “communicating” with that bastard anymore. I don’t have the time to deal with him. Handle it. Selznick.

Memo
From: Ridgeway Callow, AD
To: Alfred Hitchcock
Subject: Rebecca

Hitch — Mr. Selznick is steamed! I’m glad I’m not in your shoes. Now that shooting is over, I just wanted to say that I enjoyed working with you. You have a definite plan for what you want to see on the screen, and it shows in your shooting style. Actually, it’s refreshing to work with someone who has such an eye for what looks good on film. Thanks for everything, Reggie Callow.

Memo
From: Alfred Hitchcock
To: Ridgeway Callow
Subject: Rebecca

Mr. Callow — I assure you, the pleasure was mine. You are a bright young man and I am certain you have a great future ahead of you. As for Mr. Selznick, all I can say is, regardless of the schedule, he’ll forget about it if it’s a good picture. And I can say most assuredly that Rebecca is a good picture. Very sincerely, Alfred Hitchcock.


Walter Wanger
United Artists
Hollywood, CA

Dear Mr. Wanger:

My name is Alfred Hitchcock, and I am currently under contract with Mr. David O. Selznick at Selznick International Pictures. I understand that you are looking to receive directors on loan-out from the various studios in town. I would be interested in working over at United. I’ve been presented with a script for an interesting new film — a spy thriller, actually. It’s called Foreign Correspondent. Loaded with potential. Maybe you’ve seen my most recent film, Rebecca, or some of my British films of the past decade? If so, perhaps you would be interested in arranging a meeting. Please contact me as soon as possible.

Very respectfully yours,
Alfred Hitchcock

Memo
From: John Thomason, SIP
To: David O. Selznick
Subject: Hitchcock

Mr. Selznick — Congratulations on your win for Best Picture! Rebecca is quite an amazing little film. Would you like me to forward your congratulations to Mr. Hitchcock? J. Thomason.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: John Thomason, SIP
Subject: Hitchcock

John – To hell with that. I produced the film, I won the award. He had nothing to do with it. I’ll forward my own congratulations to where they are justly due. Selznick.

Trans-Atlantic Cable Co.
To: Ms. Daphne du Maurier, London, England
From: David O. Selznick, Hollywood, CA USA

Rebecca has been awarded the prize for Best Picture of the year by the Motion Picture Academy. I wanted to be the first to send my congratulations. Yours, David O. Selznick.

Alfred Hitchcock
c/o Selznick International Pictures
Hollywood, CA

Dear Mr. Hitchcock:

I know of your reputation, and I have seen several of your films. I think it would benefit us both to team up on your new film. I will work out the loan with Selznick, and I welcome you to United Artists and hope you will enjoy your time working with us.

Sincerely,
Walter Wanger, Producer, United Artists

Memo
To: David O. Selznick
Selznick International Pictures
From: Walter Wanger
United Artists

David — I’m interested in hiring your boy Hitchcock to do a film here at United. Can you spare him for several months? Walter.

Memo
To: Walter Wanger
United Artists
From: David O. Selznick
Selznick International Pictures

Walter — He’s all yours. Good luck. You’re going to need it. Selznick.

Memo
From: David O. Selznick
To: Alfred Hitchcock
Subject: Loaning out

Hitchcock — I’ve arranged to loan you out to Walter Wanger over at United Artists. Try to contain your excitement. Selznick.

Memo
From: Alfred Hitchcock
To: David O. Selznick
Subject: Loaning out

Mr. Selznick — What a surprise. Thank you for setting up such a beneficial arrangement for both of us. I shall enjoy the change of scenery — as shall you, I dare say. Sincerely, Hitch.

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