Words of the Week: The girl should be Grace but she is in Monaco being a Princess - Life and Style - The Independent

Words of the Week: The girl should be Grace but she is in Monaco being a Princess

Evan Hunter, aka Ed McBain, wrote the screenplay for the film `The Birds', starring Tippi Hedren, right. He discussed the movie - and Alfred Hitchcock - with Sheridan Morley, at the National Film Theatre

In August of 1961, my agent got a call from Hitchcock's office saying he wanted me to write the screenplay for The Birds by Daphne du Maurier. I read it and I said, "Yes, I'd love to do it". I would have said yes if he said: "Would you like to write a screenplay on the Bronx telephone directory?" He called that same day and explained to me that he did not want to do a movie about two inarticulate Cornish farmers in a cottage being attacked by birds. These weren't his kind of people. He further said: "I don't want to film ever again in England." He said: "So what we're doing, basically, we're throwing away everything but the title and the concept of birds attacking people. So bring out some ideas."

So I went out with two. One was that a murder had been committed and we would somehow relate the murder to this woman arriving. We always knew instinctively that it was to be a woman. We later learnt that women are more frightened of birds than men are. One of the ideas I brought out was that a murder had been committed and for some reason she was there in this town. Hitch shot that down.

He said that'll detract from our major story which is birds attacking people. Then I suggested that perhaps we could do a story about a new schoolteacher who comes to the town. Somehow bird attacks start after she arrives and the townspeople suspiciously and superstitiously relate this to her. Hitch said: "No, I don't like that either."

So we went from there. The schoolteacher has survived somewhat and the superstition and suspicion has survived somewhat, but the story is a very different one.

We're now faced only with birds attacking people. And this is what we did every morning in his office first at Paramount, and then Universal: discuss how are we going to do this?

Sheridan Morley: Was he aware of how he was going to get these bloody birds to swoop? Was it an animatronic area of discussion? Did you actually worry about how things would work?

Evan Hunter: He said: "Don't worry about it, you write it, I'll get it on the screen." As it turned out later down the road, he did not get it on the screen. But you know, this was before Star Wars technology.

There are so many brilliant things in the film that Hitch did that are extraordinary, that were not in the screenplay. The stuff he added was absolutely brilliant. The scene in the phone booth, where she's trapped, trying to get out; that's absolute inventiveness that came from the director on the set at the moment. The scene in the house where the birds are attacking - and we really see a bird - in all the other scenes, we see masses of birds hitting people, in the house we just hear the birds and we see one or two birds pecking at his hand when he's trying to close the window. It's a terrifying scene. Just the sound and the beaks pecking at the door: a frightening scene and true Hitchcock in the truest sense.

SM: I remember, with deep embarrassment, writing a review of it. In those days we all believed that films weren't about what they appear to be about and so we all said, "OK, it clearly isn't about birds". I remember, with deep embarrassment, deciding it was about McCarthyism. Because in those days everybody thought all films were about McCarthyism - ever since High Noon. After a while, I went to the film again and realised it actually was about birds.

EH: Well, not in my head. And not during the discussions when we were discussing the screenplay and working on it, Hitch used to come in every morning - let me explain the working procedure.

He would come in every morning and he would sit down in a big wing-back chair and his feet scarcely touching the floor and he was always dressed in a very dark blue suit and a tie and a white shirt and black shoes and black socks. And he would sit there and he would say: "Tell me the story so far." And in the beginning that was easy. But as it went on and I had to tell him the story from the beginning, it got to be a rather lengthy exercise and he would pick holes in the story so far, and say: "Why does she do this? Why does she do that?" There was never any doubt in our minds that a woman would be the lead. And as a matter of fact, there was never any doubt in my mind that I was writing for Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, and Hitch would have preferred that, too, but we got Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor.

Why? Well, as Hitch put it, when we were talking about what he called "the girl", he said: "Well, the girl should be Grace, of course, but she's in Monaco being a princess, isn't she?" And then he said: "And for the man, Cary, of course, whoever or whatever he may turn out to be, Cary," he said. "But why should I give Cary 50 per cent of the picture?" He said: "There are only two stars in this picture - the Birds and me." And then he hesitated a moment and he said: "And, of course, you."

I first met Tippi at the studio. I'll do it from my point of view: I'm the camera - you came in here, and on this side were his executive offices with his secretaries and all that, and on this side were his private offices where we used to work each morning. One day I came in and his assistant said: "Hitch is in with someone." So I was waiting and the door opened to Hitch's office and he came out and walked down the hall and - I'm still the camera - down there stands Tippi Hedren in her favourite one of two poses from the movie. Hitch said: "That's Melanie." I looked and I said: "Who is she?" He said: "Tippi Hedren." I looked again, and I said: "What is she?" He explained that she had done hair commercials on television. I said: "Do you think she has the range to play the comic scenes that we need at the beginning and then the terror at the end?" He said: "Trust me, Evan." And I thought: "Oy! Go hide the silver."

Evan Hunter was taking part in the Murder Ink series of talks and films at London's National Film Theatre.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

    Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

    Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

    £26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

    Retail Business Analyst

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week