10 Facts About Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Good evening. Before Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone presented cautionary tales of arrogant people behaving badly and getting their comeuppance, there was Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The 10-season anthology series debuted in 1955 on CBS and featured sharp crime tales culled from short mystery and suspense fiction. While Hitchcock directed only a handful of episodes, he introduced each one: Those morbidly amusing host segments helped the filmmaker behind Psycho and The Birds become an iconic figure in pop culture. Prior to the series, Hitchcock estimated that he received a dozen fan letters every week. Afterward, it was several hundred.

You can find the first four seasons on Hulu or the first seven in syndication on the MeTV channel, but a complete collection may require some DVD hunting and a region-free player. Some seasons were only released on home video overseas. While you build your library, check out some intriguing facts about the series, including its little-known connection with The Twilight Zone and why one episode was deemed too intense to air on 1960s network television.

1. Alfred Hitchcock shot different host segments for American and international audiences.

Although Alfred Hitchcock Presents was an anthology series with a rotating cast, it maintained continuity for the audience by keeping the director front and center for introductory segments. In these dryly witty sequences written by Hitchcock collaborator James Allardice, Hitchcock helps set up the episode’s premise and often addresses the audience directly, regularly making derogatory comments about the need to cut to commercials. (In one segment leading into a story involving medicine, he braces the audience to prepare for an ad break, a “one-minute anesthetic.”) For international audiences who couldn’t see American product advertising, however, Hitchcock instead used alternate footage that eliminated the sponsorship jabs and instead poked fun at Americans.

Why would sponsors put up with his barbs? Alfred Hitchcock Presents drew consistently high ratings, delivering plenty of eyeballs to their products.  

2. Hitchcock drew his own silhouette.

Director Alfred Hitchcock stands in front of a drawing of his silhouette
Central Press/Getty Images

The title sequence of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was an exercise in simplicity. A silhouette of the robust director appears, accompanied by a selection from composer Charles Gounod’s 1872 instrumental “Funeral March of a Marionette.” Hitchcock then steps into his side profile portrait, which dissolves into the introduction. Hitchcock drew the silhouette himself.

3. Hitchcock's direct involvement in the series was very limited.

In style and substance, Alfred Hitchcock Presents shares a lot in common with Hitchcock’s films, particularly the scheming characters with murder on the mind in 1948's Rope and 1951's Strangers on a Train. Despite the Hitchcock aesthetic, his direct involvement in the show was limited. Because he was so busy with his movie career, he was convinced by MCA executive Lew Wasserman that lending his name and likeness to the series would not take up much of his time. Producers and frequent Hitchcock collaborators Joan Harrison and Norman Lloyd handled most of the production chores, though Hitchcock did direct 17 episodes over the course of the series. The director later said his supervision of the show extended to delivering “fatherly words of advice without trying to usurp their position.”

Viewers, however, seemed to infer he wrote and directed much of what they saw, sending fan letters to the director stating as much. While his effort was not as significant as they believed, it proved to be lucrative. Hitchcock drew a reported $129,000 per episode from CBS and sponsor Bristol-Myers. 

4. But Hitchcock did have some hard and fast rules for the show to follow.

Director Alfred Hitchcock is photographed sitting behind a desk
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Alfred Hitchcock Presents was about to go into production, Hitchcock decided that its tone of darkly comic and suspenseful narratives could be maintained with a simple set of guidelines for researchers looking for short stories to adapt. The stories, Hitchcock wrote, “should definitely be of the suspense, or thriller type” with a climax that “should have a ‘twist’ almost to the point of a shock in either the last line or the last situation.” 

5. It could have been titled Henry Slesar Presents.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents drew primarily from published short stories it optioned from writers. One such author, Henry Slesar, was a frequent contributor to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, the monthly short story collection that had the director’s endorsement. When producer Norman Lloyd realized the prolific Slesar and three other authors had a story in the magazine every month, he invited all four of them out to California for a meeting about writing teleplays based on their stories. According to Lloyd, only Slesar showed up. This was because the other three writers were all his pseudonyms. Slesar ended up writing 55 scripts for the series, the most of any contributor.

6. censors forced the show to state that crime doesn’t pay.

Director Alfred Hitchcock speaks with actor Richard Todd during the filming of 'Stage Fright'
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the myriad murder plots that populated Alfred Hitchcock Presents, killers would often get away with their deed by the end of the episode. In one memorable segment, “Lamb to the Slaughter,” a woman batters her abusive husband with a frozen leg of lamb, which she then cooks and serves to the police officers looking into his disappearance. These macabre conclusions didn’t sit well with censors, who pushed Hitchcock to deliver a spoken-word coda at the end explaining how she—and other criminals—were ultimately brought to justice. In “Lamb to the Slaughter,” he explains that the woman tried a similar attack on her second husband. Unfortunately, the lamb had already defrosted.

7. A famous episode inspired a morbid playground game.

In “Man From the South,” based on a short story by Roald Dahl, a man (Steve McQueen) low on funds decides to wager he can open his lighter 10 times without fail. Because he has no money, the compulsive gambler (Peter Lorre) making the bet insists that McQueen risk his pinky finger instead. The 1960 episode led to a playground activity played by children called the “Zippo game” where they attempted to light the flame 10 times. They did not, however, wager their fingers.

8. One episode was deemed too gruesome to air.

 Director Alfred Hitchcock poses for a publicity photograph
Baron/Getty Images

While none of the criminal deeds depicted in Alfred Hitchcock Presents were explicit, one episode in season 7 written by Psycho author Robert Bloch inferred something so disturbing that it was kept off the air by NBC. (Spoilers follow.) In "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice," a boy who dreams of becoming a magician is coerced into murdering his stage idol by the performer’s cheating spouse. She convinces him to do it by telling the boy—who is none too quick of mind—that he will absorb her husband's “powers” once the deed is done. He believes it, and proceeds to saw her in half despite not having much of an idea about how the illusion is actually supposed to work. At the conclusion, Hitchcock makes a characteristically grim observation that the scheming widow must be “beside herself.” The episode later ran in syndication.

9. It adapted the same story used in an episode of The twilight Zone.

In writer Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a confederate in the Civil War is captured by the Union and faces execution, only to escape and be reunited with his wife. Owing to its suitably twist ending, Alfred Hitchcock Presents adapted the story for its fifth season in 1959. The story was then adapted into a short, virtually silent French film in 1962 that became the only episode of The Twilight Zone produced outside of the oversight of the show. Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling’s Cayuga Productions paid $20,000 for the rights to air it as part of the show’s final season in 1964. In addition to being the only story adapted for both series, the French version managed to pull off the near-impossible trick of winning both an Oscar and Emmy.

10. Ultimately, there was too much of a good thing.

Director Alfred Hitchcock sits in his chair on the set of the film 'Topaz'
Harry Benson, Getty Images

In 1962, Alfred Hitchcock Presents expanded to an hour-long format. Hitchcock was pleased with the decision, saying it “gives time for a full story” and that episodes could be culled from novels, not just short stories. Retitled The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, it aired for three seasons before NBC, which had taken over airing of the program, pulled the plug. The primary problem was the increased production costs, but fans of the series were also sensing a loss of the suspense and urgency that had been threaded throughout the shorter episodes. Hitchcock himself directed only one of the hour-long episodes before the show was retired. He uttered his final “goodnight” on May 10, 1965.

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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