Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Sarett Rudley Part One: The Baby Sitter [1.32]

by Jack Seabrook

In the first four seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Sarett Rudley (1917-1976) wrote nine teleplays; they were broadcast between May 1956 and February 1959.

Born Sarah Teichmann in Colorado Springs, she was graduated from the University of Southern California at age fifteen and married Bob Hirsch, who owned a chain of Los Angeles department stories, at age eighteen, in 1935. After divorcing Hirsch in 1938, she married a doctor named Milton Tobias in 1939. They were divorced in 1943, but she kept his name and, as Sarett Tobias, she became a contract writer at Columbia Pictures, where she was credited as one of the writers of She Wouldn't Say Yes (1945) and Tars and Spars (1946). In 1947, she met Joan Harrison, who would later produce Alfred Hitchcock Presents and, in 1948, she married an actor named Herbert Rudley, with whom she co-wrote a play called How Long Till Summer, which had a very short run on Broadway at the end of 1949.

Sarett Rudley in 1950
As Sarett Rudley, she wrote episodes of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse for producer Joan Harrison in 1954-1955 and, in addition to her work for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, she wrote teleplays for other shows up to 1960, then she returned in 1968 to write one more episode for another series produced by Joan Harrison, Journey to the Unknown. She had divorced Rudley by 1954, married New York City attorney Daniel Glass in 1955 and later divorced him, and married novelist Richard Mason in 1961, when they moved to Wales and raised sheep. She later divorced Mason and married Armando Russo, to whom she was married when she died in New York City in 1976.

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"The Baby Sitter" was
first published here.
The first Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode with a teleplay by Sarett Rudley was "The Baby Sitter," which was based on the story of the same name by Emily Neff that was published in the May 1953 issue of Cosmopolitan. As the story opens, Lotte Slocum has a headache from answering questions all day on Sunday, so when her daughter Jane answers the doorbell and admits Mrs. Armstedder, Lotte is relieved not to see another policeman and tells her guest, "'I'll never baby-sit again.'" The night before, she had babysat for Clara Nash, watching her son and being driven home by Clara's date, Mr. de Mario.

This morning, the police arrived at nine a.m. to tell Lotte that Clara was dead, having been murdered in her bed. Lotte and Mrs. Armstedder discuss Clara, who had had several boyfriends since her husband left three months ago. Jane tells her mother that Mr. de Mario has been arrested and is unable to prove that he drove around for two hours after dropping Lotte at home at two a.m. Clara's estranged husband told the police that he had not seen her in a month. Lotte tells her guest that Mr. Nash was always good to her, driving her home and giving her tips. She confirms that Clara's eight-year-old son, Buddy, found her strangled in her bed this morning.

This Alex Ross illustration
accompanies the story.
Lotte recalls, but does not say out loud, that Mr. Nash had shown up at the house around one a.m. He had been drinking and he and Lotte were surprised to see each other at that hour. When Clara got home with de Mario around two a.m., Mr. Nash gave Lotte a tip and hid in the back of the house. As Lotte rode home with de Mario, she wondered what had happened when Clara discovered her estranged husband in the house.

Mrs. Armstedder's chatter snaps Lotte out of her reverie and the visitor leaves with Jane, whom Lotte has asked to buy the early editions of today's newspaper. Left alone, Lotte wonders why the police never asked her if anyone else was at Clara's house. Lotte has little sympathy for the late Clara, and sits down to write a letter to Mr. Nash, suggesting that he start paying her $100 a month to keep her mouth shut. Just as she is putting the letter in an envelope, the bedroom door opens, but it isn't Jane returning--it's Mr. Nash.

Thelma Ritter as Lotte Slocum
"The Baby Sitter" is an excellent mix of humor and suspense, featuring believable characters in a fascinating situation. Neff dies a great job of contrasting what Lotte says with what she thinks, demonstrating that the mature woman is motivated by money. Lotte thinks of her other daughter, Carol, who lives far away in California and who pays little attention to her mother; Lotte equates Clara with Carol and judges the dead woman harshly. Clara's sin is her habit of dating more than one man in the short time since she has been separated from her husband, and Lotte prefers Mr. Nash over his wife. That is why Lotte does not volunteer important information to the police, not realizing that her secret knowledge makes her a target for a man who has killed once and who will kill again in order to keep his secret. The dialogue between Lotte and Mrs. Armstedder is amusing, in contrast to the subject being discussed, and this light approach to the storytelling makes the ending more surprising.

Emily Neff (1922-1999), the story's author, worked as a newspaper reporter and wrote a handful of short stories that were published between 1948 and 1978. Three of her stories were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including "One for the Road"), and one was adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" was also adapted for the 1980s Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. For more about Emily Neff, click here.

Sarett Rudley adapted the short story for television, and "The Baby Sitter," directed by Robert Stevens and starring Thelma Ritter as Lotte, was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, May 6, 1956.

Mary Wickes as Blanche Armstedder
Rudley adds an opening scene with a detective sergeant questioning Lotte about the murder; she is very emotional. She has received flowers from the women's club, along with an invitation to tell them her story in person--her involvement in the case has made her an instant celebrity in the neighborhood. As the sergeant leaves, Mrs. Armstedder arrives (she is given the name Blanche in the TV show), and Lotte makes the most of her situation by reveling in the attention she receives, especially when Blanche shows her today's newspaper, which has Lotte's name in it. Blanche has brought a bag full of milkshakes to share with Lotte, in a humorous attempt to bribe her friend into telling her all about the crime. The conversation between the two women is expanded from that of the short story.

After Lotte tells Blanche that the late Clara Nash was "'never any good,'" there is a flashback to a night before the Nashes separated, when Lotte observed them fighting. Their argument plays out in silence onscreen as Lotte narrates the events in voiceover from a perspective critical of Mrs. Nash. When Lotte tried to intervene, Mr. Nash stepped in between her and his wife and was solicitous with Lotte. Back in the present, Lotte is lost in reverie and demonstrates that she had a crush on Mr. Nash, something that is (at best) only hinted at in the short story but becomes the central focus of the TV show. Blanche mocks Lotte for suggesting that Nash might be attracted to her and Lotte is critical of her own weight, an aspect of the teleplay that does not fit the petite form of Thelma Ritter, the actress playing the lead.

Carole Mathews as Clara Nash
The show's first act ends on a forced note of suspense: after Lotte remarks that a woman would do anything for a man like that, Blanche asks her, "'Lotte, you didn't kill her?'" After the break, Blanche has left, and Lotte shares tea and cake with her daughter, Jane, as Lotte makes more comments critical of her own supposedly excessive weight. After she sends Jane to the drugstore to buy more newspapers, Lotte looks wistfully at another piece of cake before studying herself in the mirror. Mr. de Mario, who does not appear in the story, suddenly appears at the door and enters Lotte's apartment, towering over her in a threatening way and grabbing her as he tells her not to tell the police anything but the truth. In the short story, de Mario has already been arrested for the murder, but in the TV show, this brief scene is used to throw the viewer off the track of the real killer and to try to create some suspense.

The next scene occurs later, as Blanche has returned and is playing solitaire and probing for more details of the murder, while Jane sets the table for dinner and Lotte is out shopping. Lotte comes home, sporting a new hairdo and having bought a new dress in a smaller size for herself, along with a home exercise machine that she proceeds to demonstrate in a humorous moment. The sergeant returns while Lotte lies on the floor with the exercise machine, and he presses her for details that she might have overlooked the first time he spoke to her. She breaks down under the stress of being questioned and he leaves.

Theodore Newton as Charles Nash
Later, Lotte is lying down with a hot water bottle on her head. Jane leaves to cover for her mother on another baby-sitting job, leaving Lotte home alone once again. Lotte sits down to write the letter to Mr. Nash and we see another flashback, this time to the night of the murder--as before, Lotte narrates the events in voiceover. As the baby slept, Lotte passed the time alone in the Nashes' home by eating, reading, and snooping; she was trying on Clara's fur coat when Mr. Nash came in and found her. He hung the coat back in the closet and Lotte's narration demonstrates her crush: "'it was so cozy, just the two of us... and then she came back...'" The emphasis is different than in the short story, since Rudley's teleplay turns Lotte into a lovesick woman who is willing to overlook Mr. Nash's crime on the off chance that she might become his new girlfriend.

Reba Tassel as
Jane Slocum
In the TV show, Lotte's crush on Nash is a significant factor in her decision not to tell the police about his having been present on the night of the murder. As the flashback ends, Nash plants a paternal kiss on Lotte's forehead and leaves the room. Back in the present, Lotte finishes writing her letter and suggests that they get together for dinner--her interest is romantic, rather than financial, and there is no hint of blackmail. The TV Lotte is less mercenary and more romantic than the Lotte portrayed in the short story. She answers the doorbell and is surprised to see Nash. She talks a mile a minute, but he never speaks--in fact, he never speaks audibly in the entire show, since his dialogue in the flashbacks is muted.

Lotte goes to her bedroom to fix her hair and Nash follows her in and closes the door. She hands him the letter that she has just written and he opens his cigarette lighter and sets fire to the piece of paper. She asks what he is doing and he grabs her. As they struggle, the camera pans down to the burning letter and the show ends.

Michael Ansara as de Mario

The ending is more drawn out and obvious than the story's more effective conclusion, yet the needs of the visual medium probably made it necessary to spend more time spelling out what happens. Lotte's motivation in the story is money, while in the TV show, it is love--instead of blackmailing a murderer, she wants to be his girlfriend. Despite a talented director and a superb leading lady, the TV version of "The Baby Sitter" is a disappointment, especially in comparison to the short story.

The show is directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), and it recalls the static camera of his work on Suspense, with tight close ups and confined spaces. Stevens worked in television from 1948 to 1987 and directed 44 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He won an Emmy for "The Glass Eye." He also directed 105 episodes of Suspense in the early 1950s.

Ray Teal as the detective sergeant

Thelma Ritter (1902-1969) was born in Brooklyn and began acting on stage while still a girl in school. She worked on radio in the 1940s and 1950s and she began appearing in films in 1947 and on TV in 1954. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award six times, including each year from 1950 to 1953. Perhaps her most famous role was in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954); she was famous enough to co-host the Academy Awards with Bob Hope in 1955. "The Baby Sitter" was her only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show.

Mary Wickes (1910-1995) was born Mary Wickenhauser and had a long career on big and small screens from 1934 to 1995. She was also in many Broadway shows, mainly from 1936 to 1948. She was a regular on Father Dowling Mysteries (1989-1991) and she appeared on The Night Stalker. This was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In supporting roles:
  • Carole Mathews (1920-2014) as Clara Nash; born Jean Deifel, she was crowned "Miss Chicago" in 1938 and went on the be in movies from 1935 to 1962 and on TV from 1950 to 1978. This was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the other was "The Percentage."
  • Theodore Newton (1904-1963) as Charles Nash; he was on Broadway from 1928-1951, in film from 1933-1963, and on TV from 1949-1963. He was in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "O Youth and Beauty!" and "What Really Happened."
  • Reba Tassel (1928-2017) as Jane Slocum; in 1957, she began using the stage name of Rebecca Welles. She was married to director Don Weis, who directed five episodes of the Hitchcock half hour, including "Backward, Turn Backward." Tassel/Welles was in four episodes of the show and her career was mostly on TV from 1951 to 1964.
  • Michael Ansara (1922-2013) is effortlessly menacing as de Mario. Born in Lebanon, his long career on screen stretched from 1944 to 1999. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "Shopping for Death," and his many other TV credits included starring in Broken Arrow (1956-1958), "Soldier" on The Outer Limits, and a memorable role on Star Trek. He was married to Barbara Eden from 1958 to 1974.
  • Ray Teal (1902-1976) as the police detective sergeant; he has hundreds of credits on IMDb and was on screen from 1937 to 1974, including a semi-regular role on Bonanza as Sheriff Roy Coffee. He made no less than eight appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Revenge."
Read the GenreSnaps review here.

Watch "The Baby Sitter" here or order the DVD here.


"The Baby Sitter." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 1, episode 32, CBS 6 May 1956.


Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. IBDB, IMDb,
Lane, Christina. Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman behind Hitchcock. Chicago Review Press, 2020. 
Little, Frank. Who Was Sarett Rudley?, Oct. 2018, 
Neff, Emily. "The Baby Sitter." Cosmopolitan, May 1953, 88-91.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Our coverage of Sarett Rudley continues with "Mr. Blanchard's Secret," starring Robert Horton!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The Baby Sitter" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "The Indestructible Mr. Weems" here!

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