I look into my mirror as little as possible, because the person who looks back at me has always seemed something of a stranger who doesn’t look at all the way I feel. But, somehow, he kept getting into my mirror.
Alfred Hitchcock's movies were as memorable as the way he looks. Carrying so much excessive fat, he turned heads in times when obesity was nowhere near as frequent as it is today.
American audience was especially shocked when the chubby director came to the United States. But they quickly moved past it. That peculiar figure quickly went from being a point of ridicule to becoming his identification mark.
Even if the whole world would cheer for every pound that he gains though, he despised his figure and himself for not exercising enough control to keep his weight in check. At his best, he clocked at 180 pounds (80kg). When most obese, he weighted 340 pounds (154kg), which was a lot for a small man.
Below is a short history of his struggles with obesity.
The director liked to eat since early childhood. As far as his memory goes, he enjoyed stuffing himself with food. His metabolism was by no means forgiving, so he grew up a portly boy.
His father William might give him first lessons in food appreciation, as he was a gourmet himself, but it probably was something Alfred would discover on his own anyway.
At the age of fifteen, Alfred was already carrying plenty and extra emotional baggage came when William died. Losing a parent was very tough for the teenager, even harder was the fact that he had to sustain himself from then on.
One positive side effect of this tragedy was that Alfred got a lesson in mortality. His father ignored doctor's orders and driven himself into a corner health-wise.
The real problem is not my size, but my shape.Alfred Hitchcock
The great director in the making realized that if he continues to hold no regard for his health, similar fate might await him sooner than expected. So at that time, he decided he's going to change his habits.
Another experience ensured the aspiring director that he is on a necessary course. Once, he was running to catch a train and was so determined in doing so that he fell on his side. His giant mass of uncontrolled fat went crushing on a hand which tried to control the fall and crushed it against the ground.
That enormous burden he experienced first-hand helped him realize how serious his problem is and how much he desperately needs to lose.
When Hitchcock started becoming a recognizable brand first as an assistant director to Graham Cutts and then making great movies on his own, the press wasn't picking up much on his weight, instead focusing solely on his works.
When he met David O. Selznick on his first business trip the United States, the American producer had mixed feelings about the director, privately saying that Hitch is not the kind of man you would want to take on a fishing trip. He thought of marketing the talented Brit, but was that peculiar man really marketable? The doubts of course started with his looks - his obesity.
During that visit, the director did not hold his appetite on a short leash at all, instead indulging himself on food almost as much as on sightseeing with his family.
More than that - he already presented himself to the American press as a man who likes to eat. Setting a series of interviews in a prestigious New York restaurant 21 Club, food orders to his table kept coming as frequently as journalists did. First, he ate three big steaks (his favorite food) and then three bowls of vanilla ice cream.
Practically unintentionally baiting the press to pick up on his weight as an angle to their articles, invited journalists did just that. The Britishman became a subject of semi-irreverent jokes. Oh the irony, considering the country's modern struggles with obesity! At the time though, his weight was an exotic sight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Contract negotiations before the director's move the United States made him travel there once more a year later, and then the press saw different Alfred Hitchcock.
During that period, he managed to control his appetite more and slimmed down considerably, weighing 179 pounds (80kg), which was probably as little as he ever did in his adult life. This time, he arranged interviews at a restaurant too, but did not eat as much.
Bad eating habits crawled back in shortly after the director finally moved to the country he was so fascinated with since early childhood. Desperately wanting to deliver a perfect introduction to the U.S. audience with his American debut Rebecca, he was working very hard and there were plenty of tensions between him and the producers about the final shape of many aspects of that film, which almost guaranteed sleepless nights.
Just like every human being struggling with addiction (and food for Hitch was certainly one), the stress caused him to retract to his bad ways and he acted out on his stomach. In barely more than one year, he regained everything that he had lost and then went far north of that, ultimately reaching 300 pounds.
With this came first warning signs from the director's body. His back was hurting from carrying all that weight. He started visiting doctors more frequently and they begged him to stop eating so much. Not able to look at himself in the mirror and again worried about his health, he was determined to do so.
The diet which accompanied Hitchcock through much of his adult life was one many modern doctors and dieticians would certainly not approve - he was ordered to eat just one meal per day, but a solid one.
Even to this day, it is a hotly debated topic among the scientists and the statisticians, but there is a lot of evidence clearly suggesting that it's not a good idea.
Many experts argue that it is in fact contributing to gaining weight and not losing it, so perhaps Hitchcock was doing himself a great disservice by following this particular doctor order.
In the following three years (1940-1943), Hitch slimmed down considerably, losing 100 pounds (45kg). As his financial situation stabilized, his U.S. reputation as one of the most talented modern directors got established and he settled in his new home, iron grip over eating habits was retained. The following three years saw the star director occasionally gaining minimum weight only to lose it quickly.
Between 1946 to 1951, he gained 30 pounds (13kg). He was now again fat by every definition of the word, but that was still nothing compared to what he waged the most. Come 1954, he again slimmed down to 189 pounds (86kg).
Even sex is embarrassing for a person who looks the way I do. There weren’t enough light bulbs to turn off.Alfred Hitchcock
Even in those times, he liked to eat good though. When his financial situation was safe, he had a personal cook who made delicious meals for him. For example, during the filming of To Catch a Thief, he had a German cook was regularly making meals for him and the screenwriter John Michael Hayes while the two were working on the script.
Since then, he kept getting weight again, but in an unnatural manner for him. Instead of jumping up and down on the scale, he gradually gained small amounts, but those were adding up. In 1964, he was entering the danger zone again. The director was motivated enough to restrict himself to one meal per day, but the content of that meal went completely out of hand.
Realizing that, Hitchcock again switched back to conservative mode, even going overboard, as in 1972 he was just torturing himself with his favorite steak and salad every single day.
Anthony Shaffer, an English playwright with whom Hitchcock worked on the script for Topaz definitely got a short end of the stick compared to Hayes and at one point politely asked for more diversity in the menu. In response, Alfred executed great restraint - he began ordering lavish meals for the screenwriter while restraining himself to steak and salad.
Last years of his life, Hitch spent above his average weight, but comfortably below personal record.
Throughout the years, Alfred Hitchcock spent a small fortune on food. He was a regular customer at Chasen's and many other restaurants, had personal cooks and even imported some food from Great Britain after he moved to the United States. There's no doubt that outside filmmaking, the director's favorite passion (and weakness) was food.
Some suggested that glandular condition might be the reason for the director's obesity. Even when he ate little, he still retained an above-average weight. But even if that's true, he certainly added to the problem by eating way too much for extended periods of times.
It was a constant struggle for him, with motivation coming in and leaving him as if it had a will of its own. If only he had a healthy metabolism, his obsession with food might instead be called a passion - after all, there are people who weigh 1/4 of him and still eat twice what he did in the fattest years. But the sad reality was that food was a battle which he had to take part in for his entire life.
Good thing was that food wasn't what killed him. What's more, looking at Alfred Hitchcock in his most obese times from today's perspective, nobody holds him in contempt because of his weight and instead it serves as an integral part of Alfred Hitchcock.
Being fat is nothing to be proud of for sure, but it is now hard to imagine Alfred Hitchcock looking differently. Not only it didn't hurt his image, but it actually made it more vocal.