Sunday, March 11, 2007


Chapter 2 takes us up to Alfred Hitchcock's 21st year, the point at whichwe traditionally think that a person's life really gets going. Our boy Alfred, however, has no intention of sitting around waiting for that to happen.

Aftera several months of higher education, 14-year old Hitch decides he's had just about enough of school life, and lands a job with the W. T. Henley Telegraph Works, where his job is to measure the size and voltage of cables. For those of you considering going to USC Film School to break into the movie business, you may want to consider an alternate route.

Of course, he doesn't stay with this drudgery. He soon moves up through the ranks, and he does three crucial things that will pave the way for his future.

1. He moves into the design department. He ends up working on industrial publications and advertising material, and learns a great deal about how to use layout and imagery to capture people's attention. One of his noteworthy products was an elaborate brochure advertising lighting for churches, which he illustrated with -- in a nice bit of career foreshadowing -- a coffin.
2. He gets along great with everybody. Hitch was very popular at Henley, and people would go to great lengths for him (which will become relevant in a moment). He led many of the company's intramural activities, including sports teams. Most crucially, however, was his role as founder and editor of the Henley Telegraph, the in-house magazine. It was a very popular publication, and for it...
3. He wrote several short stories. This is perhaps the most noteworthy part of this chapter, because McGilligan reprints several of Hitchcock's first published writings. It's our first look at Hitchcock the Storyteller, and as our biographer goes to great pains to point out, these early tales give us a sneal peek at popular Hitchcockian themes. Confinement, voyeurism, twist endings, they're all in here.

This is fascinating, because unlike, say, an M. Night Shyamalan, Hitchcock never wrote his own movies. So it's tempting to say that he was skilled at setting a mood more than telling a story. However, these short stories prove that Hitchcock was quite capable of acting as writer. He clearly just didn't feel the need to spend time writing specific plots and dialogue. Someone else could do that; Hitch would then do the real writing on film.

Speaking of film, the movie business also makes its first appearance here. The Famous Players-Lasky Company announces plans to open up a studio in London, and begins hiring for all positions. Meanwhile, young Alfred Hitchcock, after seven years in the electrical business, has been reading screen trade magazines and writing stories. The next step is obvious.

Hitchcock's actions show a great deal of confidence and chutzpah. Applying for a job as a title card designer (the movies were still silent, you see), Hitch gets word that Famous-Lasky is going to make a certain book into a film. So he buys a copy, reads it cover-to-cover, and proceeds to turn the whole book into a title card script. The movie people admire his spunk, but do not hire him. Undeterred, he does it again for another book. This time, he even convinces several of his co-workers to help him assemble his portfolio. So respected is Alfred Hitchcock among his co-workers that not only do they help him, but management blithely looks the other way. I can hardly imagine a similar scenario today. It definitely pays to be nice.

This second effort persuades Famous-Lasky that they've got a real dedicated fellow on their hands, and this takes us to 1921. Alfred Hitchcock has a new job in the movies. He's going to write title cards. He's only 21. I predict big things for this guy. We may very well be watching a film soon.

Oh, and he might even have his eye on a girl. Stick around.