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, of all places, in John Steinbeck's non-fiction account "In Search of America," where he 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.

Sources:


"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. IMDb.com, 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.
Steinbeck, John. "In Search of America." HolidayDecember 1961. 57.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2013.

She really does have talent!

8 comments:

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