Thursday, February 7, 2013

John Collier on TV Part Six-Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Maria"

by Jack Seabrook

John Collier's first teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Maria," which was broadcast on Tuesday, October 24, 1961, on NBC, during the seventh and final season of the half-hour series. It was based on "Jizzle," by John Wyndham, which was first published under the pseudonym of John Benyon in the January 8, 1949 issue of Collier's magazine.

The short story begins as Ted Torbey, "member of the circus and a seller of patent medicine" (in other words, a con man living on the fringes of society), awakens with a sore head one morning to see that he bought a monkey for ten pounds the night before. His lover Rosie is not pleased by the prospect of sharing their quarters with an animal. According to Ted, the monkey is named Jizzle, his interpretation of Gisele, the name given to her by the man who sold her. Ted shows Rosie why Jizzle is so valuable; he decides to change his act to take advantage of the monkey's talent.

Days later, he previews his new act for the other circus folk: wearing a bright yellow dress and a blue beret and sitting on a table next to an easel, Jizzle quickly sketches a picture of Ted. Rosie is unhappy at having to dress like Jizzle in the act, but the monkey is a hit, producing sketch after sketch of circus performers. Jizzle becomes the third occupant of Ted's trailer, much to the chagrin of Rosie. Jizzle is popular with the public but Rosie thinks that the sketches of her are unflattering and that Jizzle is "watching and spying" on her, "watching and snickering."

Jizzle takes to sitting on Ted's shoulder and Rosie spends more time away from his trailer. Ted's sudden success blinds him to the resentment that grows between Jizzle and Rosie. Six weeks later, Ted confronts Rosie with Jizzle's latest sketch, which shows Rosie in a compromising position with El Magnifico, the lion tamer; Ted throws her out as Jizzle snickers. The next day, Rosie and El Magnifico are gone and Ted begins to "hate the sight of Jizzle." After a week, he turns Jizzle's act over to George Haythorpe of the rifle range and goes back to his patent medicine act.

Al Moore's illustration from Collier's
After a month of loneliness for Ted, George knocks on Ted's trailer door and confronts him with Jizzle's latest sketch, which shows Ted paying amorous attention to George's wife, Muriel. "George lifted the rifle. On his shoulder Jizzle snickered."

Wyndham's "Jizzle" is a fantasy, where a monkey can not only draw sketches from life but also is malicious and can manipulate the people around it with its drawings. Wyndham revised the story and it was next published in the February 1952 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction under the name John Wyndham. It was collected in The Best From Fantasy and Science Fiction: 2 (1953), then again in Jizzle (1954), a collection of Wyndham's stories, and finally in Tales of Gooseflesh and Laughter (1956), another collection of Wyndham's short fiction.

Born John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris in 1903, the author published short stories in the pulps beginning in 1931 under the names John Benyon or John Benyon Harris, but it was not until the novel The Day of the Triffids was published in 1951 that he became a well-known science fiction writer. He also wrote The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), filmed as Village of the Damned (1960), as well as many other short stories and novels. He died in 1969.

Ted shows Maria's talents to his fellow
circus performers as Carol looks on
When the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents chose to adapt "Jizzle" for television, who better to write the teleplay than John Collier, who had seen five of his own stories adapted for the show by other writers and who had penned the novel His Monkey Wife (1930), a fantasy in which the protagonist marries Emily, a civilized and literate chimpanzee?

The televised version, retitled "Maria," is very different from the story. When we get our first look at the monkey, it is obviously a small actor in a mask and monkey suit; the monkey sketches a picture of Carol (Rosie has been renamed) on the inner wall of Leo's trailer (Ted has been renamed as well) and, when Carol rubs away the drawing, the monkey cries "vandalism!" in a high-pitched voice. To the surprise of Leo and Carol, who are married (this being a 1961 TV show), the monkey removes its rubber mask to reveal that it is a tiny woman. Introducing herself as Amelia Maria Trovatore, the Spanish-accented woman has a doll's face and gazes adoringly at Leo, winking at him in a suggestive manner.

Norman Lloyd as Leo
This big change in the story was suggested by Alfred Hitchcock himself, according to Norman Lloyd, who was both the show's associate producer and its star, portraying Leo. In a video interview from 2000, he explained that he and producer Joan Harrison would present synopses of stories that they liked to Hitchcock, who would pick the ones that would go into production. Lloyd recalled that Hitchcock suggested that they change the story of "Maria" to replace the real monkey with a woman in a monkey suit who would fall in love with her owner.

As a result, Maria can never remove more than her mask, since Leo fears that another member of the circus might enter his trailer unannounced and see that his act is a fraud. The friction between Carol and Maria thus finds a basis in jealousy between two women rather than between a human and a chimp. The fantasy element of the short story has been removed and replaced by an unhappy marriage, a theme with which John Collier was very familiar. The teleplay follows other adaptations of stories by Collier in removing some of the subtlety of the print source: Leo explains that Maria can only draw what she sees, which sets up later scenes where men believe that her sketches depict actual events.

Nita Talbot as Carol
Another change in the story occurs near the end, when Leo learns that Carol did not cheat on him with El Magnifico, since the lion tamer had been rushed to the hospital with appendicitis at the time. He confronts Maria, who brazenly admits her deceit, happy to be alone with him at last. Benny, a cowboy with the circus who replaces George from the story, walks in and sees Maria partially out of her costume; he buys her act anyway, and returns at the end to shoot and kill Leo.

In one scene near the end, we see an actual monkey scampering about as we hear Maria's voice on the soundtrack; Lloyd later said that they used a chimp named Joe but never clarified the rationale for having a real chimp in a couple of shots.

The real chimp who pops up in a couple of shots.
Norman Lloyd (1914- ) is still living. he was a major contributor to Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, acting, directing or producing many episodes. Nita Talbot (1930- ) plays Carol, and was active on TV and in the movies from the late 1940s through the late 1990s. She appeared in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and she was also featured in "The Werewolf" on Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Boris Sagal (1923-1981) directed this episode, one of three he did for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He also directed two episodes of The Twilight Zone and the 1971 feature, The Omega Man. His daughter Katey Sagal is a TV actress to this day, having appeared in regular roles on Married . . . With Children and Sons of Anarchy. Boris Sagal was killed in a freak accident in 1981 on the set of the miniseries World War III, when he was decapitated by the tail rotor blades of a helicopter.

Venus de Mars, sans tassels
Saving the most bizarre for last, the role of Maria was played by an actress who went by the name of Venus de Mars. You won't find any other film or television credits for her, but Norman Lloyd explained that she was a Mexican striptease artist who performed at the Main Street Follies burlesque house in Hollywood. She also turns up in a 1961 article about the Sunset Strip, where John Weaver reports that she stood 37 inches tall and was "known for her extraordinary tassel work."

"Maria" is not yet available on DVD but can be viewed online here. The original story "Jizzle" can be read here.


"ASK THE OLD PRO." New York Post. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2013.
Benyon, John. "Jizzle." Collier's 8 Jan. 1949: 10-11+. Print.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2013.
"Maria." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 24 Oct. 1961. Television.
"Norman Lloyd." Archive of American Television. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2013.
Weaver, John. "The Sunset Strip." Holiday. July 1961. 57.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2013.

She really does have talent!


Harvey Chartrand said...

MARIA is absolutely repellent. Norman Lloyd and Nita Talbot overact like little theatre players in this lurid tale of a midget's revenge.

Jack Seabrook said...

I'll agree that it's odd and that it looks low-budget, but repellent? That's pretty harsh. I think Norman Lloyd deserves a lot of credit for his work on this series, so I'll give him a break.

Grant said...

I've only seen it once, but I think I'd watch Nita Talbot in almost anything, because she always comes across as very entertaining. She seemed to make a partial career out of playing the sidekick of the lead actress in comedies. Which is just a little odd, since she comes across as incredibly hot herself, including the voice, of course.

Jack Seabrook said...

Grant, I'm going to let you and Harvey duke it out! Winner gets a date with Nita Talbot.

Harvey Chartrand said...

Nita Talbot's sexy good looks notwithstanding, MARIA is the most objectionable and distasteful episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. I admire Norman Lloyd and salute his prodigious talent, but he's all wrong for the role of drunken con man Leo Thorby.

Todd Mason said...

I'll have to see this episode...I suspect it wasn't Collier who made the usual confusion between monkeys and chimps (who are apes)...

Jack Seabrook said...

Harvey, you've thrown down the gauntlet--in about 10 years, when I finish this project, I'll see if I agree that this is the worst episode of the series.

Todd, it may well have been me who did not know a monkey from a chimp.

Billy Beek said...

I think Maria is a gorgeous Spanish Doll

Sluggo said...

This is THE worst episode of all. I'm not talking about only of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I mean every show in existence. Look at that stupid grin the midget gives every time she takes off that spot from a mile fake chimp mask. I hate hate hate this episode. Nita Talbot is hot tho, very sexy eyes.

Jack Seabrook said...

Sluggo, as you can see from some of the other comments, this episode gets people very worked up! Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

A rather missed opportunity, if I may point out... Our Miss Nita was seen in (at least) one episode of, none other, than The MONKEES. Or, perhaps you didn't want to go for the cheap joke. That's where I come in!
Sherrie Brand, aka "anonymous"

Gary LA said...

Ohhh Geeeeeeeeeeez all you episode detractors it was NOT THAT BAD!!!! Maria was quite eerie and scary I feel. The reason for showing fleeting background scenes of the real chimpanzee is because that was a depiction representation of Maria herself in her normal chimp body to shock and show Maria is the SAME Maria chimpanzee-human whether mask is on or off. Thanks bare•bones e-zine for your great history account of this crazy cockamamy Hitchcock violence with an ugly ending.

Jack Seabrook said...

Sherrie, I think you've found the missing link between the two series!

Gary, I'm glad you like the episode but I have no idea what you're talking about!

Anonymous said...

Cute, Jack - 'missing link'!
But geeeez, I STILL can't get Maria's sickening sweet, yet diabolical giggles out of my head (as you may have guessed the episode came on last night). It was over the air, as I can't justify spending that much on cable, but for a few creepy moments I thought I was watching Night Gallery or the like (seems more their speed, somehow). Anyhow, the Hitchcock episode just prior had Bill Mumy as the littlest gun slinger in his lil town. Real gun, real ammo. Strange pairing of episodes! Of course I had to make it even more strange. In my head, he tries to run away with the circus and takes aims at little Maria! And I called it "Picking on Somemonkey Your Own Size". It's like a bad song ya just can't shake...
yours still,
Sherrie Anonymous

Anonymous said...

PS: As you may've surmised, I've been interchanging 'chimp' and 'ape' and 'monkey' oh, my! Now, if all of this were more highbrow, perhaps... It's not like Alfred, his intelligent-self, is looking over my shoulder...

Er... wait... whoa! What's that?? Thought I heard his theme song for a minute. Still, there IS this odd silhouette outline on my living room floor as I speak. Oh, well.


Jack Seabrook said...

It's funny how every time "Maria" airs this post gets a lot of attention. There are certain episodes that really get people excited. If "Bang, You're Dead" and "Maria" just aired, "The Gloating Place" should be coming up soon, which is a big hit with our readers.

Coacervate said...

Anonymous Harvey Chartrand said...
MARIA is absolutely repellent. Norman Lloyd and Nita Talbot overact like little theatre players in this lurid tale of a midget's revenge.

Hey Mister, can you tell me how to get to the Susquehana Hat company on Bagel Street?

Glenn Lockerby said...

I have recently seen Venus De Mars on Hitchcock. She is so beautiful and striking. I took the time to see the credits to find her name. I wanted to find out more about her on the internet. There is so little.

There was another striking and beautiful woman on John Wayne's movie entitled something like The Angel and the Bad? Man. She was stunning and wonderful and died a sad death at a young age. She would have been in her 80's now.

Jack Seabrook said...

It wasn't easy to find what little information I was able to find about Ms. De Mars. Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment!

Mia Admire said...

Ms. Demars is my mother. Please contact me as soon as possible.

john kenrick said...

Jack: you have been very much the gentleman in this thread. The emotional reactions of many posters here is something I understand but I just wasn't in "that kind of mood when I watched it" (just now, less than an hour ago).

As to the episode itself. I agree with those who felt that Norman Lloyd was wrong for his part. He was a fine actor, versatile within his range, but tales of the circus, or Damon Runyon or card sharps, worldly stuff, were outside his range, which I don't mean as an insult. The same could be said of Laurence Olivier.

Nita Talbot. Hot, hot and hotter. She's probably what kept my eyes on the screen. Considered as a beauty in the classic sense, nah, but on the babe-o-meter she's off the charts. Egads, she had star quality as well. What was Hollywood thinking when she was young and bodacious? Good actress, too. I've read some things about her elsewhere, and one comment, that she was a Lauren Bacall lookalike/knockoff strikes me as way wrong. Cousin maybe. But sorry, she makes Bogie's baby look like Carol Burnett.

Okay, now to the episode, which I had high hopes for, as it had fine credentials in the gifts of Johns Collier and Wyndham, but something went wrong. It's like no one was minding the store, watching the rushes (do TV shows even have them?). The scenes with the monkey were amateurish, like something out of an Ed Wood movie, and out of sync with the rest of the episode even as it WAS about the monkey,--er, chimp.

Aside from my only having eyes for Nita there was something else about the episode that kept me watching: its story, its carny setting, reminded me of the work of Tod Browning, that master of the macabre, and frequent collaborator of Lon Chaney (the elder, that is). I couldn't help but think of Browning's famous and still shocking 1932 circus picture Freaks, which Maria had a few things in common with. I seriously thought the story would go "that way", get really down dirty, like having Norman Lloyd's dead body shot out of a cannon, Nita disfigured so as to resemble an ape. Something weird, in other words.

The hour long show did get pretty gruesome but the half-hour almost never did. Had they held on to the idea and saved it for the later show, expanded to an hour, with a different actor in the lead (younger, more charismatic), with some tweaking and tuning they might have made a masterpiece. As it is, Maria feels like a rough draft of something that could have been so much better if rewritten, plotted differently, done with style, like The Jar, for instance, or The Life Work Of Juan Diaz.

Anonymous said...

I too just watched this episode and was very attracted to Venus de Mars! The director did a really good job utilizing her natural attributes, in reality, she probably would have been all hot and sweaty (that is a topic for another day) instead of fresh-faced and visually stimulating!

Too bad Miss Mars wasn't on Fantasy Island...

I wonder if anybody ever contacted the poster two entries up to find out if they are actually related to Miss Mars.

excellent information

Thank you


Anonymous said...

I found the ending a little unbelievable, but there was meant to be ironic.

It would have been more amusing if we saw the cowboy in his jail cell strumming his guitar and singing about being tricked by a monkey.


Jack Seabrook said...

Thank you all for your comments. It's a mystery to me why this episode continues to attract so much attention. The woman who commented earlier is in fact the daughter of Venus de Mars and she and I had an enjoyable correspondence.

john kenrick said...

I think because it's the most macabre of the half-hours, Jack. The Glass Eye is strange, too, and, oddly, also features a midget, but it's tone is compassionate, the actors are just right. The Greatest Monster Of Them All works as a sort of B black comedy mixed with horror.

Maria, so promising in its early scenes, its themes and characters so offbeat for a Hitch show, nearer to what might expect from a Thriller or a One Step Beyond, that its disappointment in execution (so to speak) makes it more "infuriating" than a medium quality episode that just happens to fall short.

Anonymous said...

Did your mother do any more screen work? When was she boen and where? Any siblings? Is she still alive? Thank you said...

Gary said...

I've been wondering what ever happened to Venus De Mars. Is she still alive? I thought she was so beautiful and sweet! What a pretty little lady!I can't find any information about her anywhere---not even Wikipedia! Does anybody know??

Jack Seabrook said...

There is very little information online, but her daughter says she's writing a book about her mother.

Anonymous said...

Just watched the episode ‘Maria’ on DVR tonight. I thought it had a very good ending. It would be interesting to read an article on Venus de Mars who played the part of Maria.

Jack Seabrook said...

Last year I corresponded with the daughter of Ms. De Mars. She is writing a book about her mother and did not want to share any information with me because she wanted to save it for the book.