Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Morton Fine and David Friedkin Part Five: The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling [10.26] and Wrapup

by Jack Seabrook

Morton Fine and David Friedkin's fifth and final teleplay for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was "The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling," broadcast on NBC on Monday, April 19, 1965. The episode was adapted from the famous short story, "The Monkey's Paw," by W. W. Jacobs.

In the story, the White family's peaceful evening at home is interrupted by a visitor, Sergeant-Major Morris, who tells tales of "wars and plagues and strange peoples." Morris takes from his pocket a monkey's paw, "'just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy.'" An old fakir put a spell on it "'so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.'" The first man's third wish was for death, and Morris has had his three wishes as well, but when he throws the paw on the fire, White grabs it off and insists on keeping it. Morris reluctantly complies but urges his old friend to "'wish for something sensible.'"

"The Monkey's Paw"
was first published here
After the old soldier leaves, White wishes for 200 pounds to pay off the house. He feels the paw twist in his hand "'like a snake'" but, by the next morning, no money has appeared. Herbert, his son, goes off to work but has not returned by dinner time. Instead, a solemn man arrives to report that Herbert was "'caught in the machinery'" and killed; he delivers compensation in the amount of 200 pounds.

A week after her son is buried, Mrs. White awakens in the night and demands that her husband use the monkey's paw to grant her wish: "'I wish my son alive again.'" Soon, there is a knock at the door. Mrs. White runs to the door and struggles to open it as her husband begs her not to. He grabs the monkey's paw from the floor and makes his final wish just as his wife opens the door to find "a quiet and deserted road."

A powerful and justifiably famous horror story that most everyone has read or knows from one variation or another, "The Monkey's Paw" still captivates the reader well over a century after it was written. The themes are universal and it is easy to empathize with Mr. and Mrs. White, both grieving the loss of their son, one desperate to see him again, the other knowing the horror that waits outside the door. Jacobs tells the tale sparingly, using five characters and a single setting, working in magic and the supernatural so subtly that the reader hardly has time to question it.

Leif Erickson as Paul White
W. W. Jacobs (1863-1943) was a British author known more for humor than for horror. He worked as a civil servant for the Post Office and his first short story was published in 1885. "The Monkey's Paw" is his most enduring tale and it has been adapted countless times for stage, film, and television, from a 1903 play to films currently in production. The story itself was first published in Harper's magazine's September 1902 issue. Some sources claim that the story's first publication was in the short story collection by Jacobs titled The Lady on the Barge, but British newspapers of the time confirm that the magazine came out in late August 1902 while the book was not published until October of that year.

Why did the creators of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour choose this story to dramatize near the end of the show's final season? Perhaps they thought they could bring something new to the tale. A teleplay was written by Morton Fine and David Friedkin, but it must not have been thought satisfactory, since it was revised by Anthony Terpiloff. In addition, the first four episodes of this series with teleplays by the team of Fine and Friedkin were also directed by Friedkin and produced by the duo; "The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling" is directed by Robert Stevens and has no producer credited. (Norman Lloyd is executive producer, as he was on the other four episodes produced by the team of Fine and Friedkin.)

Jane Wyatt as Anna White
The episode seems like a rush job, with a script padding the story out to the hour length and direction that recalls some of the less impressive aspects of Robert Stevens's work in early, live television. Set on one of "'the islands,'" presumably in the West Indies, the show opens at a mansion where a large, diverse group of party goers watch with cynicism as a gypsy woman and her sons chant, shake a tambourine, and pound a drum. This initial scene is most interesting for its diversity, reflecting the changes in what was acceptable on network television in the spring of 1965. An African-American woman is paired with a white man, while another white man kisses a woman who may be Hispanic or Asian--quite a progressive group for a broadcast during the civil rights movement.

In an adjoining room, Paul White is having a difficult phone call: he owes $150,000 and must come up with it quickly. This is a huge increase from the short story's $200! Meanwhile, at the party, the gypsy woman foresees "'doom and death for one.'" These initial scenes set up conflicts between characters, including Celina, the girlfriend of Howard White (Paul's son), and his mother, Anna, both of whom compete for his affection.

Collin Wilcox as Celina Royce
The rich, rude Celina (who owns the mansion where the Whites are staying as visitors) tosses fistfuls of money at the gypsy woman in an attempt to pry from her the name of the doomed person. The gypsy woman produces the monkey's paw and, of course, it ends up in the possession of Paul, who is desperate for money and who pulls it out of the fire, as did his counterpart in the short story. Later, after he and his wife have gone to bed, Paul impulsively wishes on the paw. Son Howard is a race car driver in this version, and the conflict between Celina and Anna increases as he completes time trials at the track. Anna begs him not to drive, but he does so anyway; viewers familiar with the short story expect his death to occur, but it is delayed.

Later, on the day of the race, Anna wraps her favorite scarf around her son's neck to bring him luck and, despite Paul's reassurances that everything will be alright, Howard dies in a racing accident. Later that day, Anna thinks she hears a race car's engine revving and looks outside to see Howard's friends gathered silently in the yard, surrounded by fog. In a dreamlike scene, she questions them, but they all walk away without responding. A representative from the company that sponsored Howard's race car appears, breaks the news of his death to his parents, and presents Paul with a check for $150,000.

Lee Majors as Howard White
The gypsy is brought back for a seance to try to get Howard's spirit to speak; the extended scene feels like padding and serves little purpose other than to show Anna's desperate wish to contact her son. In the wake of his death, she becomes increasingly convinced of the value of supernatural methods. She has a sudden inspiration to wish on the monkey's paw, despite Paul's warnings; she insists that Paul make the wish and he reluctantly complies. There is an immediate knock at the door and, once again, those who know the short story thinks it is Howard's corpse knocking, but it is only Celina and a companion; the young woman tells the Whites that they must leave.

In this final confrontation between Celina and Anna, it becomes clear that the shallow young woman no longer loves Howard (and perhaps never did), but she recalls and comments on the beauty of his face, something that has been a refrain throughout the show. That night, there is a knock at the door and the show ends as does the story, with the added detail of Anna's scarf being left on the front landing and an emphasis on Howard having no face, in contrast to the beautiful countenance he had while still alive.

Janet MacLachlan
as Gayle
"The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling" features good performances by the two leads, but Collin Wilcox, in an interview many years later, recalled that "'I hated that... I was terrible!'" and it is hard to argue with her characterization of her work in this episode. Lee Majors, who plays Howard, speaks like Elvis Presley in this, one of his very first credits, and Jane Wyatt, who plays his mother, recalls that he was nervous during filming. Robert Stevens, who directs the show, often falls back on extreme close ups of the sort he used so often in his early, live TV work; the effect is to give the show the look of a production that was put together quickly and without much planning. The extreme close ups were necessary in early, live TV due to the small size of screens and the often poor reception, but by 1965, they were not needed and usually avoided.

Stuart Margolin
as Robin
Anthony Terpiloff (1929-1978), who revised the teleplay from Fine and Friedkin's original effort, was born in New York and died in Wales. He wrote for television from 1963 to 1978 and this is one of his two scripts for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in its final season. He also wrote two episodes of The Avengers and five of Space: 1999. There is a website devoted to him here.

Robert Stevens (1920-1989) directed mostly television shows from 1949 to 1987, including 49 episodes of the Hitchcock show; "The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling" was his last and one wonders if he was brought in at the last minute to replace David Friedkin. He won an Emmy for his work on the third-season premiere episode, "The Glass Eye." Stevens directed two live TV versions of "The Monkey's Paw" for the early TV series, Suspense; the first, in 1949, starred Boris Karloff; the second was broadcast in 1950. Both are now lost.

Zolya Talma as the gypsy
Starring as Paul White is Leif Erickson (1911-1986), who was born William Anderson. He performed in vaudeville, sang and played trombone in a band, and was on screen from 1933 to 1984. He also served in the Navy in WWII. He was in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Equalizer," and he was a regular on High Chaparral (1967-1971). He also appeared on Night Gallery twice.

Anna White is portrayed by Jane Wyatt (1910-2006), who was a familiar face on screen from 1934 to 1992. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. She played Spock's mother in a memorable episode of Star Trek and is best-remembered for her co-starring role on the long-running sitcom, Father Knows Best (1954-1960).

Gil Stuart
Collin Wilcox (1935-2009) plays Celina; trained at the Actors Studio, she was on screen from 1953 to 2003 and appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Jar." She was also on The Twilight Zone and had an important role in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).

Lee Majors (1939- ) has had a long career on screen and this was just his second TV credit and his only role on the Hitchcock show. He was a regular on many TV series for almost three decades, starting with The Big Valley (1964-1969), reaching huge stardom as The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978), and continuing into the 1980s as The Fall Guy (1981-1986). Majors is still performing on screen as of this writing.

In smaller roles:
  • Janet MacLachlan (1933-2010) as Gayle, the outspoken African-American party goer; this was her second appearance on the Hitchcock series and she had a busy career onscreen from 1965 to 2003, including a role on Star Trek.
  • Stuart Margolin (1940- ) as Robin, another party goer; he has been on screen since 1961 and is still working today. He also worked behind the camera as a TV director from 1973 to 2010. He was a semi-regular on The Rockford Files and won two Emmy Awards for his role on that series.
  • Zolya Talma (1895-1983) as the gypsy; she was in a couple of films in 1917 and 1920, appeared often on Broadway from 1918 to 1951, and had a career on the small screen from 1949 to 1974. This was one of her two appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Despite the fact that her entire performance on this episode is in another language, she was born in California.
  • Gil Stuart (1919-1977) as the man who brings the Whites the check for $150,000; he was born in London as Derek Grist and he was on screen from 1941 to 1977. He was on Thriller twice and the Hitchcock show three times.
Read "The Monkey's Paw" for free online here and watch the TV version here; it is not yet available on DVD.

British Newspaper Archive,
The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Jacobs, W. W. “The Monkey's Paw.” The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Monkey's Paw,
“The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling.” The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 10, episode 26, NBC, 19 Apr. 1965.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Morton Fine and David Friedkin on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Overview and Episode Guide

Morton Fine and David Friedkin co-wrote five teleplays for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour during its final season. The first three served as the basis for excellent shows, while the fourth was a weaker entry and the fifth had to be rewritten by someone else. The first four teleplays were expanded from short stories that had been published in mystery digests in the 1950s and early 1960s, while the fifth was an unfortunate adaptation of a classic horror story from the early years of the twentieth century.

"Change of Address" tells of a middle-aged man who lusts after a much-younger woman and murders his unhappy wife. In "The McGregor Affair," a man takes advantage of two unscrupulous men who sell bodies illegally to a medical school in order to do away with his drunken wife; unlike the murderous husband in "Change of Address," this man is haunted by his loss. "Crimson Witness" also deals with an adulterous husband, but this time he kills the man who has stolen his wife's affections. The title character in "Thou Still Unravished Bride" is thought to have been murdered by a serial killer but turns out to be hale and hearty, while "The Monkey's Paw" spells death for the son of a man who desperately needs money.

Fine and Friedkin's best teleplays for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour mix murder, marital discord, and humor; they demonstrate great skill in expanding mediocre short stories into longer tales and giving them layers missing from the originals.

It was unusual for the same person to write and direct episodes of the Hitchcock series; David Friedkin co-wrote and directed four, while he and Fine co-wrote and co-produced the same four. This likely gave them an unprecedented amount of creative control over the final product.


Episode title-"Change of Address" [10.2]

Broadcast date-12 October 1964
Teleplay by-Morton Fine and David Friedkin
Based on "Change of Address" by Robert Arthur
First print appearance-The Mysterious Traveler, January 1952
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"The McGregor Affair" [10.7]
Broadcast date-23 November 1964
Teleplay by-Morton Fine and David Friedkin
Based on "The McGregor Affair" by Sidney Rowland
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 1953
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

"Crimson Witness"

Episode title-"Crimson Witness" [10.12]
Broadcast date-4 January 1965
Teleplay by-Morton Fine and David Friedkin
Based on "Crimson Witness" by Nigel Elliston
First print appearance-The London Mystery Selection, December 1962
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Thou Still Unravished Bride" [10.22]
Broadcast date-22 March 1965
Teleplay by-Morton Fine and David Friedkin
Based on "Thou Still Unravished Bride" by Avram Davidson
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, October 1958
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

"Thou Still Unravished Bride"

Episode title-"The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling"" [10.26]
Broadcast date-19 April 1965
Teleplay by-Morton Fine, David Friedkin, and Anthony Terpiloff
Based on "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs
First print appearance-Harper's, September 1902
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

In two weeks: Our series on Harold Swanton begins with "Premonition," starring John Forsythe and Cloris Leachman!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Dip in the Pool" here!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Place of Shadows" here!


Grant said...

I have seen either one many times, but it's strange to see Collin Wilcox play a sort of stereotyped jet-setter here after seeing her as a sort of classic hillbilly girl in "The Jar."

Jack Seabrook said...

She did much better as a hillbilly. In her interview, she admitted that she thought her performance in this one was not good.

Anonymous said...

Great post as usual, accompanied by thorough research. One minor note: You credited Jane Wyatt as Jane Wyman a couple of times in your post.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for catching that! I fixed it.