When Hitchcock Banned Audiences From Seeing His Movies

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When the National Film Theatre wanted to pay tribute to Alfred Hitchcock in 1969 by screening a number of his films, the event’s organizers made a curious discovery: Vertigo, his 1958 thriller starring Jimmy Stewart, was owned outright by Hitchcock himself. To show the film, they would need permission from the director.

Hitchcock was willing to grant their request on one condition: That they disclose where they had found a print of the movie. He wanted to destroy it.

From 1961 until 1983, five of Hitchcock’s most well-known films—Vertigo, Rear Window, Rope, The Trouble with Harry, and The Man Who Knew Too Much—were almost never seen by the general public. In an unusual deal for a filmmaker, Hitchcock had secured full ownership of the works. But rather than attempt to profit from their distribution, he banned them from being exhibited. In London, fans took to “secret” underground screenings to avoid his legal wrath. It would take Hitchcock's death in 1980 for audiences to rediscover a large portion of his filmography. And only two men knew why.

Universal

When Hitchcock signed a five-picture deal with Paramount Pictures in 1953, his agent at the time, Lew Wasserman, was able to secure a nearly unprecedented contingency. Exactly eight years following the initial release of each picture he directed, all ownership would be stripped from the studio and transfer to the director.

From Paramount’s perspective, not much was being left on the table. In the days before home video, movies typically had a window of profitability that would span a few re-releases or a series of international sales before drying up. By the time Hitchcock acquired them, their ability to generate revenue would be exhausted.

Under those terms, Hitchcock made 1954’s Rear Window, 1955’s The Trouble with Harry, 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1958's Vertigo, and 1960’s Psycho. In 1963, Hitchcock sold the Psycho rights to Universal in exchange for a sizable portion of company stock; the other four joined 1948’s Rope—produced by Hitchcock’s own Transatlantic Pictures—in a library that critics would later dub the “forbidden five.”

It was not immediately apparent that Hitchcock had designs on keeping the movies from being screened. It was only when theaters would approach the director that they found him completely uninterested in cooperating. Herman Citron, the agent who succeeded Wasserman, fielded hundreds of offers each year from film festivals, television networks, college campuses, and small art-house institutions looking to revive Hitchcock’s films for contemporary audiences. They were either denied outright, or were allowed to make a financial offer that Citron would inevitably declare underwhelming.

While some of the films saw sporadic releases depending on their age or the rare thaw in Citron’s icy disposition, the highest-profile title in Hitchcock’s collection—Rear Windowremained off-limits for almost a quarter-century. Re-released in 1962 at the conclusion of Paramount’s eight-year ownership, it sat dormant for the next 21 years. Some theaters in London were known to screen illicit prints and advertise them in roundabout language: With no mention of the title, patrons would come to see the “Hitchcock movie that will have you looking behind your back.”

By 1973, all of the “forbidden five” had been taken completely out of circulation. Hitchcock’s resolve was such that not even Jimmy Stewart—who starred in four of the withheld films—could persuade him to loosen his grip. When Stewart was being honored at a film festival and asked the Hitchcock estate for a clip from Vertigo, he was turned down.

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When Hitchcock died at the age of 80 in 1980, he was said to be reconsidering the prohibition on his own movies. Reporting on the rumor, The New York Times asked Citron why the director had been so adamant about keeping them from view. “Private reasons” is all Citron would say.

Citron’s negotiation skills were so hard-nosed that it would be another three years before the “missing” Hitchcocks returned to circulation. Universal acquired all five for a rumored $6 million. By 1984, it had proven to be a wise investment: Rear Window had reappeared in theaters and grossed an impressive $9.1 million. (It was accompanied in some markets by an appearance from Jimmy Stewart, who didn’t appear to hold a grudge.) Vertigo made $4.5 million. With cable and home video sales, the films netted Universal upwards of $50 million in revenue.

Neither Hitchcock nor Citron ever disclosed the reasoning for delaying the releases. While some speculated Hitchcock would have gotten bogged down in a lopsided British tax system (which took as much as 91 percent of income) by distributing them himself, it’s more likely that he saw the films as a kind of trust fund for his heirs. By preventing them from being circulated on television, interest would only increase. Like the implied violence of Psycho, it’s what Hitchcock didn’t show that left the audience wanting more.

12 Bizarre Moments From Oscar Award Ceremonies Past

La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz announces that Moonlight is the real winner of the 2017 Best Picture Oscar.
La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz announces that Moonlight is the real winner of the 2017 Best Picture Oscar.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The unforgettable 2017 snafu where La La Land was erroneously awarded Moonlight's Best Picture Oscar might very well be the strangest thing to ever happen at the Academy Awards, but it’s definitely not the only one. Gear up for the 92nd Oscars, which will be handed out on February 9, by revisiting 12 other unexpected events from ceremonies past.

1. When Will Rogers didn’t specify which Frank won Best Director.

frank capra
Frank Capra photographed in the 1930s.
Columbia Pictures, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1934, Oscar host Will Rogers revealed the winner of the Best Director award by casually saying “Come up and get it, Frank!” Unfortunately, two Franks had been nominated that night, and Lady for a Day director Frank Capra had nearly reached the open dance floor before he realized the spotlight had spun around to illuminate the real winner, Cavalcade director Frank Lloyd. Capra would bounce back to win Best Director the following year for It Happened One Night, but he took the loss pretty hard at the time.

“I wished I could have crawled under the rug like a miserable worm,” he wrote in his autobiography. “When I slumped in my chair, I felt like one. All my friends at the table were crying.”

2. When Hattie McDaniel became the first black Oscar winner—and needed special permission to attend the ceremony.

When Hattie McDaniel was nominated for her unforgettable performance as Mammy in 1939’s Gone With the Wind, producer David O. Selznick had to call in a favor to get the Ambassador’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub to break its "no blacks" policy and let her attend the ceremony. That favor, however, didn’t secure McDaniel a seat at the table with her fellow cast members. Instead, she sat at a tiny table in the back with her escort and agent, and to trek a fairly lengthy distance to accept her Best Supporting Actress award later that night.

3. When the Oscars ended 20 minutes early and Jerry Lewis had to kill time.

When the final award of the 1959 Oscars ceremony was given out a full 20 minutes early and producers scrambled to figure out how to fill the time, co-host Jerry Lewis was left to his own comedic devices. Standing center stage among a sea of presenters and award winners, Lewis announced that they’d be singing 300 choruses of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” before watching a Three Stooges program to “cheer up the losers.” He then politely hijacked the conductor’s baton and led the orchestra in song until NBC finally cut to a sports review show for the rest of the time.

4. When Sacheen Littlefeather refused Marlon Brando’s award for him.

When Marlon Brando was announced as the winner of the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Godfather in 1973, Native American Sacheen Littlefeather refused the award on his behalf and explained that he was boycotting the Oscars to bring attention to the deplorable treatment of Native Americans in the film industry. Her statement was met with a smattering of applause and a chorus of boos, and Brando was criticized for the stunt. It did, however, succeed in drawing attention to the cause, and the trend of politically-charged acceptance speeches has definitely only gained popularity since then.

5. When a streaker snuck onstage behind David Niven.

In 1974, conceptual artist and photographer Robert Opel snuck into the Academy Awards ceremony disguised as a journalist and jogged across the stage in his birthday suit, flashing a peace sign and interrupting co-host David Niven. Niven laughed it off, joking, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen,” before introducing presenter Elizabeth Taylor, who admitted it would be a “pretty hard act to follow.”

6. When Rob Lowe sang with Snow White.

An opening number centered around Snow White singing a rewritten version of “Proud Mary” with her “blind date” Rob Lowe seems like a recipe for confusion at best, and disaster at worst. At the 1989 Oscars, it was both. The long, painful performance baffled the audience, and certain high-profile Hollywood actors—Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, and Julie Andrews, to name a few—even signed a letter to the Academy condemning the program as “an embarrassment.” On top of that, Disney filed a lawsuit against the Academy for not officially licensing Snow White, though they backed down with a simple apology.

7. When Jack Palance’s acceptance speech included push-ups.

A genial Jack Palance ambled up to the podium in 1992 to accept his Best Supporting Actor award for City Slickers and treated the audience to a demonstration of three one-armed push-ups in the middle of his speech. The 72-year-old actor was attempting to illustrate what casting directors sometimes make younger actors go through during auditions, but the septuagenarian’s impressive athletic feat no doubt made a much bigger impression than anything he said.

8. When Tom Hanks outed his former drama teacher, which inspired the 1997 film In & Out.

Tom Hanks accepted his Best Actor award for Philadelphia in 1994 by thanking (among others) his former high school drama teacher, Rawley Farnsworth, and calling him one of the “finest gay Americans.” Though many people thought Hanks had accidentally outed Farnsworth, Hanks had actually gotten his permission beforehand. Still, the confusion inspired screenwriter Paul Rudnick to create In & Out, a 1997 movie about a closeted teacher (Kevin Kline) whose secret was accidentally disclosed during a former pupil’s (Matt Dillon) acceptance speech.

9. When South Park's creators dressed as Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Trey Parker, left, dressed in drag as Jennifer Lopez, and Matt Stone as Gwyneth Paltrow, center, arrive at the 72nd Annual Academy Awards, March 26, 2000 in Los Angeles, CA.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone dressed as Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow at the 2000 Oscars.

David McNew, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 2000, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone celebrated their Best Original Song nomination (for “Blame Canada” from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut) by showing up to the Oscars clad in iconic ensembles from other red carpets. Parker rocked a recreation of Jennifer Lopez’s Versace dress from the Grammys earlier that year, and Stone glowed in a low-cut, pale pink number that mirrored Gwyneth Paltrow’s from the 1999 Oscars. The pair later admitted that they took LSD right before the event, but they didn’t mention whether or not drugs were involved when they chose their outfits.

10. When John Travolta called Idina Menzel “Adele Dazeem.”

If John Travolta had just stumbled through Idina Menzel’s name during his introduction of her performance of “Let It Go” in 2014, we might have simply let it go. However, he quite clearly enunciated a completely different, fictional name, “Adele Dazeem,” which has cemented itself in the minds of anybody who watched the ceremony and many people who didn’t. Menzel exacted good-natured revenge on Travolta at the 2015 Oscars by calling him “Glom Gazingo.”

11. When the “In Memoriam” segment featured a living woman.

jan chapman in the 2017 oscars in memoriam segment
ABC

The 2017 “In Memoriam” segment should’ve been an especially somber affair. Not only did the slideshow feature both Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, but it was backed by Sara Bareilles’s emotional rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” However, it also featured a photo of Australian film producer Jan Chapman—who is still alive—next to the name of costume designer Janet Patterson. Chapman, who worked with Patterson on 1992’s The Last Days of Chez Nous and 1993’s The Piano, said at the time that she was “devastated” by the mistake. “I am alive and well and an active producer,” she told Variety.

12. When La La Land won Best Picture, and then it didn’t.

The “In Memoriam” error could’ve been the wildest Oscars fail for decades to come, but it was unseated later that same night, when presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced the wrong winner for Best Picture—and the mistake wasn’t corrected until after the La La Land cast and crew had waltzed onstage, accepted their awards, and delivered heartfelt speeches. Then, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz declared to a rightfully puzzled audience that Moonlight was the real winner, brandishing the correct results card and repeating “This is not a joke.” We’d later find out that Beatty had accidentally been handed a duplicate envelope for “Best Actress,” which Emma Stone had won for La La Land. (Amazingly, this was far from the first or only time the wrong winner had been announced at a major award ceremony.)

10 Facts About Alan Alda

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

America’s funniest military doctor is now America’s funniest great-grandfather—a perpetually vibrant screen presence who’s still crafting memorable performances as an octogenarian. Born Alphonso D’Abruzzo on January 28, 1936, Alan Alda has graced us with some of the best movie and television performances of all time.

Nearly a half-century before the term “prestige TV” first entered our pop culture conversations, Alda was making us laugh and cry on M*A*S*H. He was also building a bigger shelf for all the Emmys he scored (he won a total of five for the series, plus another in 2006 for The West Wing). After M*A*S*H ended, Alda continued to build a formidable career improving every role he’s been in with his trademark charm and guile.

Here are 10 facts about the man behind the second Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce.

1. Alan Alda smoked a pipe at age two for publicity.

Alan Alda’s father was a singer in burlesque shows, so the family was constantly on the road. Before performances in Toronto when Alda was a toddler, his father hit upon the idea of posing the two-year-old Alda with a pipe for a Toronto Daily Star photographer to spark a minor sensation. The headline read “CHILD OF TWO SMOKES PIPE; ONCE BROKE MOTHER’S NOSE."

2. Alan Alda had a stage name waiting for him.

A lot of actors change their names, but Alda’s stage name was already in the family. His father, Alphonso Giuseppe Giovanni Robert D’Abruzzo, acted under the name Robert Alda—“Alda” being a portmanteau made from the first two letters of his first and last names.

3. Alan Alda served in Korea.

American actor, director and writer Alan Alda in the driving seat of a jeep, surrounded by Loretta Swit and other cast members of the hit television show M.A.S.H, in costume as members of a US Army medical corp.
Keystone/Getty Images

Before acting in the fictional 4077th medical unit stationed in Korea during the war, Alda served a six-month tour in Korea in charge of a mess tent as part of the Army Reserve. “They had designs of making me into an officer, but, uh, it didn’t go so well,” Alda later said during a Q&A at Southern Connecticut State University.

4. Alan Alda's first major nomination was for a Tony Award.

We think of Alda as a TV and film star, but he began his career doing live theater, first at the Cleveland Play House and then on Broadway. He starred in The Owl and the Pussycat on Broadway in 1964 and scored a Tony nomination in 1966 for The Apple Tree. He’s won Emmys and Golden Globes, but he’s also been nominated for an Oscar and several Tonys, putting him at times within arm’s reach of an EGOT.

5. Alan Alda was the only M*A*S*H cast member who knew what would happen to Colonel Blake.

For three seasons, McLean Stevenson played the affable, laid-back Lt. Colonel Blake, whose ultimate fate was a shock to fans. It was also a shock to cast members who filmed the finale but weren't given the last page of the script. As a writer, director, and main star on the show, Alda knew that producers were planning to kill Blake off-camera.

“After three years of showing faceless bit players and extras portraying dying or dead servicemen, here was an opportunity to have a character die that our audience knew and loved, one whose death would mean something to them,” producer Larry Gelbart said.

6. Before Alan Alda was on The West Wing, he was almost on The West Wing.

Actor Alan Alda circa 1999
Newsmakers/Getty Images

Alda joined the The West Wing in its sixth season after showrunner John Wells asked the actor if he wanted to “run for President as the Republican nominee.” He played Senator Arnold Vinick until the series finale, where he spent most of his time on the series trying to become President. But he almost got the job when the show began. Before Martin Sheen signed on to play President Josiah Bartlet, Alda was in the running to play the POTUS, but turned the part down because he didn’t want to be tied down to a regular series.

7. Alan Alda is the only person to win acting, directing, and writing Emmys for the same program.

An astonishing feat (technically rarer than the EGOT), Alda’s dedication to 11 seasons of M*A*S*H resulted in five Emmys—three for acting, one for writing the episode “Inga,” and one for directing the iconic episode “Dear Sigmund” (which he also wrote). More than mere trophies, Alda also had a hand in writing the series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” which was viewed by more than 121 million viewers, making it the most-watched finale of a TV show ever.

8. Alan Alda helped the BBC report on the Large Hadron Collider.

As a sincere science enthusiast, Alda hosted Scientific American Frontiers for PBS for years. So when CERN launched the Large Hadron Collider, the BBC called on Alda to offer his perspective alongside Britain’s most famous public intellectual, Professor Brian Cox. Alda also got to visit the Collider a few years later. His favorite part? “Standing on that platform, looking at that giant device, and this frightening millisecond I had when I heard that after the collision the particles are flying through the air to get to the detector,” Alda said. “They would have been going through me."

9. The Boston Globe dubbed Alan Alda an "honorary woman."

Actor Alan Alda speaks during 'Bridge Of Spies' Q&A on Day 5 of the 23rd Annual Hamptons International Film Festival on October 12, 2015 in East Hampton, New York
Matthew Eisman, Getty Images for Hamptons International Film Festival

Alda is a staunch feminist who spent years campaigning aggressively for the Equal Rights Amendment and co-chaired the Equal Rights Amendment Countdown with First Lady Betty Ford. He also served on the National Commission for the Observance of International Women’s Year in 1976 after an appointment from President Ford, and his involvement as an early, highly public ally led one Boston Globe writer to name him “the quintessential Honorary Woman: a feminist icon.”

10. Alan Alda hosts a podcast.

Alda is 84 years old—and he hosts a podcast. Clear + Vivid is focused on how we communicate with each other and how we can all do better. The actor has spoken with guests as diverse as violinist Itzhak Perlman, Judge Judy, and novelist Ann Patchett to learn how they listen and communicate. Alda may have to make room on that shelf for a few podcasting awards.

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