Photogenics

Bruce Dern, that god among men, appeared at the Telluride Film Festival with NEBRASKA the year Paul Duane and I were there with NATAN, so I got to hear him talk to Leonard Maltin. Dern likes to talk, so my memory is that Maltin asked about four questions and Brucie filled the ninety minutes with ease.

I’ve never gone into his Hitchcock stories here since I assumed they were readily available in the public realm via Dern’s memoir, Things I’ve Said, But Probably Shouldn’t Have. BUT I finally just read the book, which is terrific fun, and the stories I recall aren’t included. So I’m just going to tell them here. I think my memory of them is accurate though of course I can’t vouch for Dern’s. But he seems pretty reliable.

First, Dern reported that on day one of FAMILY PLOT (Hitch’s last movie and his second with Dern), Hitchcock ended the day by thanking his whole crew, individually by name, for their efforts. Sixty people he’d never worked with before. Dern said he’s asked other directors if they thought they could pull off a feat like that, and hadn’t ever gotten a “yes.” He speculated, correctly I think, that Hitch wanted to demonstrate to everyone, aged 76, that he was still sharp.

It’s the other story that’s the real doozy, though. Hitch, said Dern, was approached by Lorraine Gary. You may know her as Sheriff Brody’s wife in JAWS, but she was the real-life wife of Sid Sheinberg Lew Wasserman, Hitch’s former agent and now the head of his studio, Universal — and Spielberg’s casting of her, twice, seems like a shrewd way to keep the boss on-side, though LG is also an excellent actress, well worth casting purely on merit. Anyway, she’s a woman of influence at this time.

Lorraine Gary says to Hitch, reportedly, something like this: “My friend Mary [not her real name so far as I know] is an actress, and she needs to work once a year to keep her union membership, and she would be just perfect for the role of the bra saleswoman in your film.”

“Out of the question,” says Hitch.

“Oh, but-“

“Out of the question.”

But the day comes to shoot the scene, and on the set is not the actor Hitchcock chose for the part, but Lorraine’s friend Mary.

Hitch makes no comment. He sets up his first shot — we’ll be over Bruce’s shoulder on Mary, then at the end of the scene she’ll leave and Bruce will turn and it’ll end as a single on him.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-2019-09-30-18h41m25s188.png
A bra saleswoman.

Take One. It goes fine. Hitchcock says, “Cut,” and walks up to the camera. Opens it. Unspools the film, exposing it: holds it up to the light.

“Oh dear,” he says to Mary, “It appears you’re not photogenic.”

“Wh-?”

“Your image does not appear on the celluloid.”

Mary starts crying and leaves, Hitch returns to his director’s chair to await the arrival of the actor he chose (pictured).

Dern had told Hitch that he wanted his chair right next to Hitch’s so he could study the Master of Suspense at work. So he leans over and asks, “What was all that about?”

“What that was about, Bruce, was DON’T FUCK WITH HITCH.”

7 Responses to “Photogenics”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    I knew the late great Barbara Harris (we had several mutual friends, now alas gone too) who told me she had enormous fun working on the film. As we all know Hitchcock love eccentric actresses — and Barbara was their Queen. She said that in one scene where her “Madame Blanche” goes into a phony trance he wanted her to move about the room as much as possible during the take. So he showed her where the camera was positioned and the areas he wanted covered. He then sad she was free to do whatever she liked in her “trance.” And so she did. Hitch was delighted with her. So much so he rewarded her and the film’s end with the very last close-up he ever created for a motion picture.

  2. Like David Lean and Judy Davis: “This is the end of the film. Fuck Alec Guinness.”

  3. There’s a Dern interview somewhere (I think in an old Rolling Stone) focusing on “The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant” and his heroic efforts to break for lunch early on the last day of filming and get to the bank before anyone else on the set, because he suspected (correctly) most of the checks were going to bounce.

  4. roberthorton Says:

    Gary was married to Sid Sheinberg, Spielberg’s mentor and protector at Universal – which doesn’t change anything about the point you’re making. These Dern stories are great.

  5. Absolutely correct, fixing this now!

  6. Charles W. Callahan Says:

    The name of the actress who played the saleswoman in

    FAMILY PLOT is Marge Redmond AKA Mrs. Jack Weston.

    She played Walter Matthau’s wife in THE FORTUNE COOKIE.

    She had many TV show appearances, most notably

    THE FLYING NUN with Sally Field.

  7. She’s excellent. Hitch was justified in insisting on her, if not in his elaborately cruel methods…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: