May 30, 2015
Fear, fat and Alfred Hitchcock’s self-mythologizing
Hitchcock was an inveterate practical joker. Mercifully, the jokes themselves now seem too boring to merit much attention. But they certainly had a part to play in the publicity campaigns which transformed a film director into a media brand. Jan Olsson has shown in great detail how Hitchcock consistently manipulated celebrity gossip in order to project the image of a creative genius who was as much ‘prankster’ as ‘master craftsman’. The biggest prank of all was his own body. Despite periodic bouts of binge-dieting, Hitchcock remained until the end of his life mountainously fat. In the mid-1930s, as his ambitions turned increasingly towards a career in Hollywood, he began to parlay his corpulence – and the appetites which had brought it about – into an instantly recognisable public persona. ‘His film fame, food reputation, and fabulous physicality were supreme assets,’ Olsson observes, ‘when he signed up for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1955, on the cusp of Hollywood’s television era.’ His Englishness, too, presumably: no more of a mere hoax than Larkin’s, it had nonetheless to be kept in full working order, like the corpulence, by constant reiteration (the sober suit and tie worn to work every day, regardless of the weather). Not everyone would accept Olsson’s linking of the food and the physicality to the films. Introducing the most recent of the two indispensable collections of articles, essays and stories by Hitchcock and interviews with him that he has edited, Sidney Gottlieb notes that he has chosen to exclude material concerned primarily with food, weight and family life, topics ‘perhaps worth investigating’ as an element in the construction of a public persona, but not as important as the comments on cinema.