Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Hitchcock Project--An Introduction

by Jack Seabrook

Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ran for ten seasons on CBS and NBC from 1955 to 1965. I was born in 1963 and was thus too young to see it or even be aware of it on its first run. I was also too young to see Hitchcock's Frenzy when it was released in 1972, so my first exposure to a Hitchcock film was his last, Family Plot, which came out in 1976. At some point around that time I discovered reruns of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on local New York TV stations, and I was hooked right away.

Star Trek fans were probably the first to compile and publish detailed episode guides to a TV series, but I first encountered such guides in Don Rosa's Information Center, a regular column that ran in the fanzine, Rocket's Blast Comic Collector (RBCC), beginning in the mid-1970s. These were followed by Gary Gerani's book, Fantastic Television, which was released in 1977. I bought that book and wore it out, combing through the pages and checking off episodes I had seen. As good as Gerani's book was, it was missing one thing--an episode guide to Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Undaunted, I began to compile one. I spent hours after school in the public library, poring over microfilm rolls of the New York Times TV listings to collect details about the series. On weekends, I took the train to New York City, where I became a regular visitor to the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts, home to a bound collection of old TV Guides, which provided more details about the shows. One Saturday, as I sat flipping through TV Guide volumes taking notes, Tony Randall sat down across from me and Jerry Stiller sat down next to me. They were there to do research of their own.

It was there that I discovered what I think was the first attempt to study the Hitchcock TV show in a scholarly fashion: an article from the fall 1971 issue of Cinema called "The Television Films of Alfred Hitchcock." This article only discussed the episodes directed by Hitchcock himself. Much to my dismay, the RBCC began to publish an episode guide to the Hitchcock series in 1978 ("based on data submitted by Bob Reed"). I had corresponded with Don Rosa about my intention to complete such a project, and he was kind enough to telephone me about it. I have never forgotten that phone call from someone I greatly respected and who would go on to become a well-known creator of comics himself.

After the initial disappointment of the RBCC episode guide, I decided to continue my work with the intention of publishing a book on the TV series. In the late '70s and early '80s, Alfred Hitchcock Presents could be seen in the middle of the night on New York stations. I would try to stay up, usually falling asleep at some point during The Tonight Show, or else I would set my alarm for 2:30 A.M. On the rare occasions when I actually managed to wake up and turn on my TV, I saw classic episodes like "The Dangerous People" and "A Night With the Boys."

By the early 1980s, publications such as Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine had begun to publish more detailed episode guides of series like The Twilight Zone, and books ("companions") about specific shows began to appear. Marc Scott Zicree's The Twilight Zone Companion and David J. Schow's The Outer Limits: The Official Companion were favorite examples. I made a trip into the CBS offices in New York City, where I was given access to their old microfilm files on the Hitchcock series but, once again, I was "scooped" when John McCarty and Brian Kelleher's book, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: An Illustrated Guide to the Ten-Year Television Career of the Master of Suspense, was published in 1985, with a foreword by Robert Bloch.

McCarty and Kelleher's book led me to discard all of the notes on the series that I had compiled over the years. Their volume was a great resource; it lacked air dates and detailed credits and occasionally got plot details wrong, but it was the only place that collected so much information about the series and it made for a very handy checklist. On television, Alfred Hitchcock Presents returned, first on NBC and later on USA, with new episodes that ran on and off from 1985 through 1989. The series used colorized versions of the Hitchcock introductions from the original series and featured new versions of old episodes interspersed with original stories.

My hopes for writing a book on the Hitchcock show appeared dashed but my love for the series continued unabated. My wife and I married in 1988 and moved into an apartment where we spent most nights watching The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in reruns on the USA network. In the 1990s, Alfred Hitchcock Presents began to turn up here and there on emerging cable networks such as Nick at Nite and TV Land. I watched the occasional episode, such as "The Contest for Aaron Gold," but these runs seemed always to start with season one and rerun the same bunch of shows, petering out before reaching the later--and less familiar--seasons.

In 2001, The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion by Martin Grams Jr. and Patrik Wikstrom was published, with a foreword by Patricia Hitchcock. Despite receiving mixed reviews, this massive tome contains more information on the Hitchcock series in one place than any other source and is much more detailed than the 1985 book that preceded it. The most exciting development regarding Alfred Hitchcock Presents occurred in 2005, when Universal released season one on DVD. I am sure I was not the only Hitchcock fan who thought his dreams had come true! After decades of watching the shows on TV in syndicated reruns, I could at last possess all 39 episodes of the 1955-1956 season, to watch and treasure at leisure. The production of this first set was not perfect, since they were burned on two-sided DVDs that sometimes caused problems with quality (my copy of "Breakdown" does just that), but it was a thrill nonetheless, made more exciting by the prospect of future releases of the rest of the series.

In subsequent years, seasons two (2006) and three (2007) were released annually, just in time for Christmas. Then the delays began. It took two years for season four to come out (2009) and over two years for season five to appear (early 2012) Each series was a thrill to see, and I can only hope that the rest of the ten seasons will be released in time.

In the meantime, I had been writing about popular culture. My first book, Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown, came out in 1993, and my third, Stealing Through Time: On the Writings of Jack Finney, was published in 2006. In late 2010, I stumbled across the blog, A Thriller a Day, while looking for online reviews of the TV series Thriller, which was just then being released on DVD. I began following the blog and commenting, and this led to an invitation from Peter Enfantino, one of the authors, to write for another blog, bare bones e-zine. I began with a series of articles on Fredric Brown, supplementing my book with material I had uncovered in the years since it was first published. This led to my first series on classic TV, Fredric Brown on TV, which included Brown's work for Alfred Hitchcock Presents along with other series where his stories had been adapted.

When this series ended, I began a series called Robert Bloch on TV, which focused solely on that author's work as shown on the Hitchcock series. By this time, I had discovered that episodes that were unavailable on commercial DVDs could often be found online on channels such as Hulu or You Tube, placed there by fans. I also discovered that the final five seasons of the Hitchcock series were available from other fans on DVDs whose quality was not up to the Universal standard, but whose rarity made them irresistible.

As the Bloch series continued, I decided that I would finally fulfill a lifelong dream and write about the entire ten-year Hitchcock series, dividing it up not chronologically but rather by subject, whether it be by author or by another creative personality. Bloch was followed by a series on William Shatner's appearances on the show (Shatner Meets Hitchcock), then by a series on the Ray Bradbury episodes (Ray Bradbury on TV) and, most recently, by a series on the John Collier episodes (John Collier on TV). Along the way, I made a few decisions.

1. Enough has been written about the introductions by Alfred Hitchcock. The 2001 Companion transcribed all of Hitchcock's introductions, following the trend set by Zicree back in 1982. Yet next to nothing had been written discussing the actual episodes themselves in detail. I determined to focus on the stories rather than the frames.

2. Detailed cast and crew information is easily available on sites like imdb. I chose not to include detailed credits in my articles, instead focusing on important or interesting contributions and giving background on creative talents of interest.

3. Pictures are important. I chose to illustrate each article with a combination of magazine or book covers and screen grabs from the DVDs themselves. I am confident that this represents a fair use exception to any copyrights that exist. The website Galactic Central is an excellent source for old magazine covers.

4. Title cards are not necessary. After reproducing title cards for my first several articles, I gave up the practice because I don't think it adds anything to the analysis and is visually dull.

5. Links are useful. Whenever possible, I include links to a source to purchase a DVD of the episode being discussed or a place to view it online. This allows interested readers to watch the episode that inspired each article.

6. Read the stories or the books. In preparation for each article, I track down and read the short story or book from which the episode was adapted. This allows for a comparison with the filmed episode.

Now that I am committed to doing the entire series, I have decided to change the umbrella title for these articles to The Hitchcock Project. Articles will appear every other Thursday on the bare bones e-zine website for many years to come, as long as the site remains viable and I remain conscious, until every episode has been discussed. When it is all over, I hope to collect the articles into a book, either paper or an e-book. I offer sincere thanks to Peter Enfantino and John Scoleri, founders of bare bones, for providing a place to publish this work, and to everyone who reads and/or comments on the articles. Suggestions for topics are welcome. Henry Slesar, surely the most prolific writer on the series, will be profiled next, in a group of articles that will take about two years to complete.

Every so often I will update the episode guide, which begins below. I will provide links to the articles I have written on each episode in order of their network airing. The episodes will be coded with two numbers, the first representing the season aired, the second representing the order within that season (for example, the first episode of season one is coded 1.1, etc.). Happy reading!

8/29/22: An updated list of episodes discussed is here.


Marty McKee said...

Looking forward to reading these.

Matthew Bradley said...

Wow! Jack, you and I were born the same year, married the same year, and both enjoy watching rerurns of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR with our wives. I also have connections with John McCarty (whose book publicist I used to be) and Martin Grams (with whose comparable tome on THE TWILIGHT ZONE I lent a modest hand). I covered Bloch's contribution to the Hitchcock series in my FILMFAX analysis of his television career, and of course my "introduction" to you and your fine work via Peter's various blogs was a stroke of the greatest fortune. As Tim Burton's Ed Wood would say, "It's uncanny!"

I'm delighted that you will apply your excellent research and writing skills (most especially your focus, which I share, on the transition from page to screen) to the remainder of the Hitchcock episodes. What you have written here so far has been superb, and I know you will maintain your high standards. Having enjoyed both your Brown and Finney books, you may rest assured that when this material appears between covers, I will gladly purchase my own copy.

Congratulations and good luck, pal!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks Marty!

And Matthew, I'm speechless. Peter will tell us to get a room...

Walker Martin said...

A very worthwhile project and I'm also looking forward to the finished book. I actually viewed most of the Hitchcock TV shows during the original run of 1955-1965 and it was one of my favorites. Since then I've been buying the dvds and thanks to the bootleg market, I have them all.

In fact I got my complete Hitchcock Hour series from Martin Grams at Pulpcon a few years ago.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Walker! I also have the complete series on DVD--that's where I get the screen grabs to illustrate my articles.

jonesh said...

Hi Jack,

It's now 2022 so I don't know if you still check responses to this site (!). Anyway I once read online that Robert Bloch had 'intended' both the "Sign of Satan" and "Water's Edge" for the tentative THIRD season of Boris Karloff's "Thriller". Alfred Hitchcock (alas) had a hand in the cancellation of that much-loved series, but those two stories were subsequently filmed for his "Alfred Hitchcock Hour"(with so-so and outstanding results, respectively).
Have YOU ever heard that Bloch had 'intended' any of his "AHH" work earlier for "Thriller"?

Thanks and best, Hunter J. Jones (Belleville Public Library, Reference)

Jack Seabrook said...

I had not heard that. Perhaps Randall Larson might know? He's the Bloch expert.

jonesh said...

Thanks Jack and keep me- duh- 'posted'. Best, HJ

Jack Seabrook said...

Randall Larson responded:

Here's what Bloch had to say about "Water's Edge" and Hitchcock, from an interview with Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier in Starlog #112 (1986), which was republished in my collection of RB interviews, "The Robert Bloch Companion" (p. 124):

"THRILLER came just a few months after the HITCHCOCK show. I did a dozen episodes. Boris Kar­loff became one of our dearest personal friends. I met him during the show and it was a delight to know this man personally.

I had done a story called "Water's Edge" for the Alfred Hitchcock Magazine and much to my sur­prise they rejected it, so I sold it promptly to another magazine, then offered it to the television show [THRILLER]. And they said, "we can't do that." The next thing I know, I get a letter from the people at the magazine, they want to reprint the story in a collection called Alfred Hitchcock's Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do On TV. So they did. The next thing, the Hitchcock Show bought it and did it on TV."

I don't find any details on "Sign of Satan" but it might have been the same kind of thing. RB didn't write the scripts for either of those episodes (Barre Lyndon did Satan, Alfred Hayes did Water's Edge).

jonesh said...

Oh thank you SO much Mssrs. Seabrook and Larson for your erudition. I probably (ONLY) half-remembered this factoid from reading the "Robert Bloch Companion" a long time ago. Best, HJ

Brent Reid said...

I'd like to link to this article in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents Collectors Guide but the list of reviewed episodes is sorely in need of an update. Any chance of it happening?

Jack Seabrook said...

Here's a link to the annual updated list from a year ago: I'll be doing a new one this month. Thanks for your interest!

Brent Reid said...

Thanks for the reply. It would make sense to replace the incomplete list in your introduction with a link to the updated one!

Jack Seabrook said...

Good idea!

Anonymous said...

Just found your piece on "I saw the whole thing," absolutely fascinating, thanks for the amazing writing, look forward to more✌️

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment!