Thursday, September 8, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Kathleen Hite Part Two: Tea Time [4.10]

 by Jack Seabrook

Tea for two and two for tea...
Oh, can't you see how happy life would be?

from "Tea for Two," lyrics by Irving Caesar, 1924

The two women who share tea in "Two for Tea" by Margaret Manners do not spend any happy time together, nor do their lives end happily. The story begins as Iris Teleton, wife of Oliver Teleton, meets Blanche Herbert for tea at the Blenheim. Iris knows that Blanche is her husband's lover and is surprised to see that her rival is not younger than herself. Over tea and cakes, Blanche suggests that Iris grant Oliver a divorce, but Iris refuses. Blanche threatens to reveal Iris's affair with Robert Cressant, a man Iris loved before she married Oliver. He did not have much money, but Iris continued to see him for months after her wedding, and Blanche produces and reads from a love letter that Iris wrote. Blanche threatens to show the letter to Oliver and Iris decides that she must kill Blanche.

"Two for Tea" was first
published in the May 1957
 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's
Mystery Magazine
Iris agrees to the divorce and then follows Blanche, offering to take some jewels from a safe deposit box so that Oliver will not keep them. Iris offers to give some of the jewels to Blanche in exchange for the letter and they agree to meet in the park. After buying a sharp knife, Iris meets Blanche and they walk to a remote spot, where Iris stabs her rival in the back and kills her. Iris takes the letter from Blanche's bag, along with money to make it look like a robbery, and returns home to the apartment she shares with Oliver.

Alone in her room, Iris discovers that the letter is a copy, not the original. Hoping to find the original letter, Iris decides to look for a key to Blanche's apartment among her husband's things and overhears him talking on the phone to another mistress, revealing that he paid Blanche to ask Iris to divorce him. Iris tells Oliver that she will agree to a divorce and confesses to murdering Blanche. He orders her to bring him the money, the knife, and the letter, explaining the ease with which the police will track her down and prove her guilt. Oliver suggests that she go to the police; instead, Iris takes an overdose of sleeping pills and commits suicide.

Margaret Leighton as Iris
Kathleen Hite adapted "Two for Tea" as "Tea Time" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the show was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, December 14, 1958. The teleplay makes major changes to the story and, with strong direction by Robert Stevens and solid acting by Margaret Leighton as Iris, this episode is a fine entry in the series.

While the short story seems to take place near Oxford, England, where Blenheim Palace is located, the TV show opens with an establishing shot of the fountain in front of New York City's Plaza Hotel. There is a dissolve to the tea room inside the hotel, and an orchestral version of "The Anniversary Waltz" plays in the background, an ironic choice in light of the events about to transpire. The camera moves slowly from table to table, establishing the location as one frequented by wealthy, happy patrons. Blanche arrives and the maitre d' leads her to a table where Iris awaits. The TV version thus eliminates the story's opening passage, in which Iris dresses and says goodbye to Oliver, travels to the tea room, thinks of her former lover, and is disappointed at arriving first. Hite chooses to move directly to the meeting between the two women and to establish the background through subsequent dialogue.

Marsha Hunt as Blanche
Both women wear fur accessories and look well cared for; Iris sports a fur wrap and a large string of pearls and uses a long cigarette holder. Iris's reaction to Blanche is similar but less coarse; in the story, she thinks that Blanche is "Not blonde and busty with long legs and lashes," while in the teleplay, Iris says, "'I've always imagined Oliver taking up with someone...younger, someone a bit...fluffier, if you know what I mean.'" In both story and teleplay, Blanche criticizes Iris for not allowing Oliver to continue to enjoy "a 'real' marriage," which seems to be code for sex. Iris exudes the confidence of a wealthy, comfortable woman at first, while Blanche is cold and direct.

In the story, they remain seated at the table for the second part of the conversation, when Blanche confronts Iris with the letter. In the show, they get up and leave the table before exiting the dining room and sitting together on a sofa in a hallway. Blanche makes no effort to conceal the letter from Iris, taking it out of an envelope and reading from it aloud while Iris sits next to her. If the letter is clearly a copy, Iris should notice, but she does not. Iris nervously takes a cigarette out of her purse and smokes it without a holder this time.

Murray Matheson as Oliver
At this point, the show diverges from the story. Blanche agrees to give Iris 24 hours to consider her proposal. Iris does not follow Blanche and there is no murder in the park. Instead, Iris goes home and, when she enters the foyer, the camera is placed at the top of a staircase looking down on the large, tiled entranceway. The black and white checkerboard floor suggests that the small figure of Iris is a pawn in her husband's chess game. Oliver greets her and offers her a drink, and Iris pathetically suggests that they go on a cruise together, trying to salvage their marriage, but Oliver responds that he is too busy. She brings up their honeymoon cruise to Hawaii but he is unmoved and leaves her alone, suddenly deciding to go to the club to play bridge.

Next morning, Iris snips a button off of the cuff of one of Oliver's coats (did Hite read "The Goldfish Button," which was published less than a year before this episode aired and which featured a similar incident?) before he leaves for work. Iris telephones Blanche while taking jewelry out of her jewelry box and invites herself to her rival's apartment that afternoon. As she puts a piece of jewelry in her purse, a gun is glimpsed inside the bag. Later, as Iris approaches Blanche's apartment building, there is a closeup of a workman using a noisy jackhammer on the street outside. Upstairs, Iris enters Blanche's apartment and the noise of the jackhammer can still be heard. The tasteful, modern furnishings in Blanche's apartment contrast with the elaborate, ornate furnishings of Oliver's home.

Angela Austin
The women discuss Oliver and Iris offers to trade expensive pieces of jewelry for the letter, while the noise of the jackhammer repeatedly interrupts their conversation. Blanche shows great interest in the pieces of jewelry, studying them and assessing their value at $74,000 altogether. She demands $100,000 and tears the letter in half, giving Iris half and offering her the other half when she pays an additional $26,000. Suddenly, Iris pulls a gun from her purse, an all-too-common method of solving a plot conundrum on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The murder is done tastefully and cleverly; there is a shot of Iris pointing the gun at Blanche, followed by a cut to two men using loud jackhammers, followed by a cut to a shot of Blanche lying dead on the floor, with no evidence of a gunshot wound. Iris takes the other half of the letter and places Oliver's coat button in Blanche's hand before leaving, attempting to frame her husband for murder.

Instead of going home, as she does in the story, Iris goes to Oliver's office, where she puts the gun in his coat pocket before she hears him speaking to a private detective on the phone. The show's final scene occurs here, with Oliver glimpsed through a partly open door and Iris listening from the waiting room. She hears him learn from the private eye that Iris went to Blanche's apartment and he reveals that the letter was a copy. In the story, she found the letter herself and saw that it was not the original. Unlike the story, where Oliver speaks with the private detective in person and then calls his lover on the telephone, in the show he hangs up with the private eye and speaks with his lover, who is present in his office.

Fritz Feld
Iris's expressions as she hears the truth tell us all we need to know about her thoughts. Oliver tells his lover, "'Hurry along, now! You promised to cook my dinner tonight!'" The woman emerges from the office and she is young, blonde, and gorgeous, just what Iris had expected Blanche to be. The woman says hello and saunters past Iris, who slumps down in disappointment. With this, the episode ends, without a confrontation with Oliver and without Iris committing suicide. Hite's teleplay is excellent, removing some of the story's more far-fetched and melodramatic incidents and making the sequence of events more credible. Robert Stevens's direction is also excellent, using a mobile camera and a variety of shot types, pulling the viewer's eye to important plot points with closeups and dollies. The acting is strong as well, especially Margaret Leighton as Iris, who shows the woman's journey from being a confident, rich wife to a woman who knows that her marriage is over and she will probably go to jail. The artifice she uses to protect herself is stripped away piece by piece; she starts out behind a fur wrap and uses a cigarette lighter but, by the final scene, there is no wrap and no holder and she looks worn out and defeated.

A viewer of "Tea Time" would be justified in thinking that, in the world of wealthy denizens of New York City in 1958, men ruled the world. Oliver is a rich, successful cad who uses one lover to rid himself of his wife, all while enjoying a younger woman whom he expects to go home and make him dinner! Oliver's position in society and his wealth allow him to treat women in this way. Iris is driven to murder and ends up doomed; Blanche is killed; and the blonde's future does not look very bright, though she is oblivious to that fact.

George Navarro
"Tea Time" was directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), who 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.

Margaret Leighton (1922-1976) had a career on stage and on film that began in 1938 and she won two Tony Awards for Best Actress in her career. She began appearing in TV shows in 1951, won an Emmy Award in 1971, and worked up until her premature death. She had a role in Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949) and was also in one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Where the Woodbine Twineth."

Looking suave and cool as Blanche, Marsha Hunt (1917- ) holds her own with the formidable Ms. Leighton. Hunt began modeling in the 1930s and had a long career on screen from 1935 to 2008, despite being blacklisted in the 1950s. She also appeared on episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Still living at age 104, she is the oldest member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In smaller roles:
  • Murray Matheson (1912-1985) plays Oliver; born in Australia, he had a long career on screen from 1945 to 1983. He was seen on Thriller, The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and The Night Stalker, and he appeared in four episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Murder Case."
  • George Navarro plays the waiter at the tea room; he played bit parts on screen from 1944 to 1961 and also appeared in "The Diplomatic Corpse."
  • Angela Austin plays Oliver's young, blonde mistress; she had a brief screen career from 1957 to 1963.
  • Fritz Feld (1900-1993) plays the maitre d' at the tea room; born in Berlin, he appeared in German films starting in 1917 and in Hollywood films starting in 1928. He played countless waiters and maitre d's and appeared on Batman, The Night Stalker, and The Odd Couple.
Watch "Tea Time" online here or order the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps review here.

The author of the short story, "Two for Tea," Margaret Manners Lippmann (1914?-1974),  mainly wrote short stories, though she also seems to have written poetry and had one novel published, a 1961 paperback original tie-in with the TV soap opera, Love of Life. She wrote under the name Margaret Manners and her husband, Albert Lippmann, was a professor of French at New York University and Princeton University. The FictionMags Index lists short stories by Manners published from 1943 to 1961, and five of her stories were adapted for television, four of which were for the Hitchcock show, including "The Last Dark Step."



Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. IMDb,

Manners, Margaret. "Two for Tea." The Lethal Sex. Ed. John D. MacDonald. NY: Mystery Writers of America, 2018. [1959.]     pp. 50-71.

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,

"Tea Time." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 10, CBS, 14 Dec. 1958.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Alibi Me" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Tea Time" here!

In two weeks: Our coverage of Kathleen Hite concludes with "The Morning of the Bride," starring Barbara Bel Geddes!

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