After showing his pen skills in peculiar magazines, the young writer named Whitfield Cook switched to writing novels. He had an interesting style, but didn't look like a star on the rise by any stretch of the imagination.
That has changed when Cook was spotted by Alma Hitchcock, who read one of his magazine stories and was impressed. Shortly after meeting him in person, she introduced him to her famous husband.
Mentioning Whitfield in the context of Alfred Hitchcock biography is important for two reasons. First, he was involved with them professionally and his work was very important in shaping one of Hitch's undeniably best movies, Strangers on a Train. Second, in one of the best Hitchcock biographies, Patrick McGillian provided a sensational story about Alma Reville's romantic relationship with the writer when they were working together.
If you want to read more about the latter, read first section of this article. If you're not interested, let's just sum up that the story is not a tabloid sensation and the writer's private letters alone appear to leave no doubt about the fact that sparks were indeed flying between the two.
Cook's story is unique in that career-wise, he was not a black and white character. He was not like Hitch who was extremely talented from the start and people around him quickly noticed that he is a prodigy on the rise (and few even started hating him because of that). Whitfield's early works were definitely above average, but he was no second coming of Christ.
His Hollywood beginnings were ordinary. There is always an abundance of talent knocking on the door and he didn't stand out enough. Having good contacts, or bearing a powerful name surely opens possibilities, Cook was on his own though. That is, until he met Hitchcocks.
The fact that the writer of his caliber managed to suddenly land two big ones: Stage Fright with Marlene Dietrich and Strangers on a Train, would suggest that he must have been a smooth talker to get in. And he definitely got in, both with Alfred and with Alma.
People who knew the Cook him didn't describe him as particularly charming, just an average Joe. As for his writing skills, the writer's second movie with Hitchcock proves that he definitely had more talent in him than anything he had done before would suggest. In other words, it would be an exaggeration to say that Whitfield was a prodigy waiting to be discovered, but he wasn't the opposite either.
Due to the writer's highly non-linear career, we will never know what exactly Cook was deep down. We definitely know that he hit an incredibly high note with Strangers on a Train. His input was very important in shaping it into the movie that we know and love so much.
Because he wasn't popular long enough to become memorable and because he was important for both Hitchcocks, Cook will always mostly be commemorated in places like this one - as a side mention in Alfred Hitchcock biographies.
Whitfield Cook started writing at a young age and continued doing so while fulfilling academic ambitions - he studied at Yale University. His first professional forays were in three magazines: American Mercury, Story and Cosmopolitan (hence the word 'peculiar' at the beginning of this article). If you're interested, here is a link to his 12 American Mercury stories. In 1943, the last one on the list called The Unfaithful got an O. Henry Award (Wiki) in the Best First-Published category.
His next output was a series of stories for Redbook (another magazine for women). All of them revolved around a girl named Velvet, her father and his problematic love life.
Alma Reville quickly fell in love with them so much that she looked for his whereabouts and contacted him. When she found out that he is making a play out of it, she offered her help. Naturally, Cook accepted and let her peek onto near-final drafts, with which she did what she was best with - she scanned it for weak points and presented them to Whitfield on a silver platter.
Another thing that came out it, although it surely wasn't planned from the start, was landing her daughter Pat a role in that play.
Two years later, confident with the direction in which things were going and with the fact that he became friends with arguably Hollywood's greatest director, Whitfield decided it is time to try his luck with the big screen.
It is unknown whether Alma and Alfred helped him with landing those first gigs. Maybe Alma convinced her husband to try and find Cook something to groom him for soon-to-come cooperation?
If that was the case, they certainly didn't raise the bar high for the beginning scriptwriter. He became part of a three-movie studio deal.
Among other common elements in those productions, two were most important. First was actress June Allyson, who (just like Cook) soon switched to TV. The other one was writer Ann Morrison Chapin, a 17-years older woman who was approaching her last professional years - Whitfield's first movies were her last. Together with Ann, they wrote scripts for all three films plus another one. Their titles are: The Sailor Takes a Wife, The Secret Heart, High Barbaree and Big City.
By the time the third one was made, he was already knees deep with Reville, working with material for the script of a movie that got finished three years later. That movie was called Stage Fright.
Despite the fact that the movie was a disappointment to many, the writer was immediately included in the next Hitchcock project. Only a year later, a completely different kind of movie was released - a masterpiece called Strangers on a Train.
Cook's input was enormous. The writer did big chunk of work, and because many of his friends were gay, he was selected to shape Robert Walker's Bruno character into a convincing homosexual (according to Laurents and Granger, it was Walker's idea to play one in the first place). The job required to do it under the radar too, as studios weren't too happy about the it.
Interestingly, as the writer was making his opus magnum, he was busy on all fronts. In the same year, he wrote a novel called Roman Comedy: An Impolite Extravaganza (you can still get it on Amazon). On top of that, in 1951 he also worked with a radio play Crime Syndicated, providing drafts for nine episodes.
The film Strangers on a Train was very well-received, so job offers surely must have followed. Both Hitchcocks must have been satisfied with him too. Why not hire him for the third motion picture then? For some reason, they didn't and neither did any other director. Cook switched to TV.
We can speculate as to why that was exactly. Did Hitch find out about the affair between Cook and his wife? Or maybe the writer had a private chat with Alma, they decided it's best to part ways and Whitfield walked away from the table altogether?
It's impossible to tell, but it rarely happens that after the biggest achievement in a person's life, he or she chooses to continue a career with mediocre productions in a sub-par medium. (at the time TV was nowhere near of what it is today, with shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones)
Not only the scriptwriter's selection of TV productions was lackluster, but he was too trigger-happy to even settle for anything, or it was the best that he was offered. In later stages of his career, he was usually filling the shoes of others, writing an episode or two for a show and then moving on to the next project.
With time, the list of productions he participated in has grown quite big, but in spite of that there was only a single diamond in that crowd: a wonderful western Have Gun - Will Travel. Still, he only wrote material for two episodes.
In the 60s, the writer slowed down considerably. The year 1965 marked his last input for TV series (Vacation Playhouse). He stopped writing for money completely, but in late years of his life came back to it.
First time he did was in 1981, when he wrote a novel called Taxi to Dubrovnik. It told a rather confusing story centered around a journey from Athens to Dubrovnik, but containing many subplots, some quite absurd. Finally, in 2003 - a year in which he later died - Cook wrote another book, A Choice of Disguises. Old physical copies of both can occasionally be found in online bookstores and the likes of Amazon.
In 1996, a remake of Strangers on a Train called Once You Meet a Stranger was made. It was directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, who usually makes cheesy horrors. Unfortunately, Wallace didn't exactly prove that he has the tools to deal with this kind of movie. Whitfield Cook is present in credits, but he had no direct input. The name is in the credits, because he co-wrote the original script.
Relationship with Hitchcocks
Alma Reville got attracted to Cook's writing skills first, but has quickly grown fond of him on a personal level. On both fronts, the cooperation blossomed for few years. Thanks to her, the writer met Alfred and those two have found a common tongue equally fast.
Throughout their lives, Hitchcocks had a slot by their side for an extra person, often referred to as the third Hitchcock. It always was someone that hanged out with them, accompanied them on all sorts of trips, helped solving everything from tiniest personal matters to big career calls. Whitfield fit the profile perfectly, and so he was quickly added to that long list of close collaborators to fill the void after the previous one: Joan Harrison.
First, he became a regular guest, ate dinners with the married couple and often plenty of Hollywood creme de la creme. Come Sunday, he drove Alfred and Pat to the church. With the daughter, he had good relationship since he got her the acting job. The writer spent some time helping, supporting Pat in many ways, or simply socializing with her, like coming to her high school graduation party.
Other parties he organized, or helped organizing. In 1948, he came to the Hitchcock residence with his mother to spend the Christmas Eve together. They stayed for the night. A year later on New Year's Eve, he threw a large party. A long list of guests, including the names like Charlie Chaplin and a two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters clearly shows that despite a humble scriptwriting experience, he mingled with the very elite in the industry.
With time, he began to spend more and more personal time with Reville. They were often leaving Alma's busy husband and taking strolls when the weather was good. When the writer came to London for the first time in his life, Alma took the responsibility of a tour guide, showing him different parts of the city, talking about its history etc.
In 1951, Hitch and his wife made a trip to St. Moritz, just like they usually did every anniversary. This time, however, it was the 25th one. Cook was invited and joined them on the spot.
Shortly after, the director and his writer went their own separate ways. There are no mentions of an even episodic meeting between them in later years. As abruptly as they started hanging out together all the time, they split and seemed to never even come back to reminisce about their relations. The fact isn't anything to be suspicious about by itself, as third Hitchcocks were dispensable. Hitch was a busy person.
Some time after severing those ties, Whitfield Cook got married. Little is known about his personal life since then.