Whitfield Cook was a talented writer, but he didn't have too many triumphs to his credit. At some point, he decided to extend into Hollywood and started trying to land script gigs for large movies. He wasn't particularly successful in that area, but one good thing coming from it was that his professional relationship with Alma and Alfred Hitchcock started some time after he had gone star-chasing.
Even better: he became included into the couple's tight inner circle and began frequenting their elite private little parties. Alma liked working with him and was seeking his help when her husband was not around.
I remember meeting Pat, Hitch and Reville for the first time at the exact same time. I went to [their] house and the first thing I realized was that they were all real people—no Hollywood stuff, very real and very, very nice.... I was quite crazy about Alma because she was so gentle and yet so strong. I don't think she cared that people thought she was working in the shadow of Hitch. She adored Hitch and she loved working with him.... Alma was very short but extremely attractive, and part of that attraction came through her intelligence and warmth.... One thing I did notice about her was that she never talked about herself and she never talked about the past. She had been a pioneer in the silent era, but she never made a point of mentioning it.Whitfield Cook
At some point, professional meetings became more and more private. The two found a common tongue, the enthusiasm towards each other was shared. Alma started pushing to get this relationship into the next level and start a full-fledged romance. Cook was torn apart - a woman of his dreams was knocking on the door, but should he open? Not only was it not a decent thing to do, but what would Alfred do had he found out? He could pull few strings to make sure that Cook's name will never again be seen in any Hollywood movie.
Shortly after the release of Under Capricorn, doubts in his mind have probably disappeared, or at least they stopped being an obstacle. The two tried to make up (phonecall killed the mood then) and began spending huge amounts of time together, both professionally and privately in their free time.
The latter suggests that it was more than just an affair on the side, that it must have been romantic. In his Hitchcock biography, Patrick McGillian summarized contents of the letters that the two sent to each other. Unfortunately, they aren't easy to get ahold of.
Whitfield Cook hit a professional breakthrough when he was engaged by Hitch to one of his movies. What's more, Marlene Dietrich was to star in it! The script work on Stage Fright was a joint effort between Cook and Reville. It was a good opportunity for them to spend more time together, but that's when things ended, actually. This, or they became incredibly good at hiding, because there are no more mentions of any fooling around together.
There is some misinformation regarding this relationship. Helen Mirren, who played Alma Reville in the 2012 biopic Hitchcock, had this to say about the affair:
[Cook] certainly existed, and they did write a script together. And there’s a suggestion in one of the biographies that possibly they’d had an affair, but it’s not remotely proved. I suspect the way we define it is exactly what happened, something innocent that got right to the edge of something maybe happening. But probably not.
McGillian had read the private correspondence though and concluded that they had a deep relationship without a doubt, the only question being: how far did they go? A lot of circumstantial evidence proves it well even without taking a peek at those letters.
Because of the amount of clues, it's hard to imagine that Alfred Hitchcock, a person superbly-trained in designing schemes, would not sniff it out, or at least have strong suspicions. But if there ever was a direct marital confrontation about the romance, it has been kept perfectly private because it looks like nobody ever talked about it publicly.
Given that Hitch was impotent and the couple's sex life was at least close to non-existent, it would be more natural (although of course not justified) for Alma to look for sensual chemistry elsewhere. Alfred, who loved his wife dearly, could sit quietly through it tormented by guilt. After all, isn't it his fault that she looks elsewhere for what he can't give to her?
Potential motives are of course pure gossip speculation. We have no way of knowing the spicy details and probably will never find out.
Importance of her work
Even though her husband was making films left and right, after Stage Fright Alma decided that it's time to go, both professionally (by ending working on scripts) and personally (by finishing a romance with Whitfield Cook). Five years after the mentioned movie, active participation on set was a thing of the past for Reville.
To everyone's surprise, she got incredibly engaged with To Catch a Thief when the chase scene was being brainstormed. Her ideas were not only used in the movies - they raised the Hollywood chase scene bar, which was quite demanding at the time already.
Three years later, she got hooked again. When the film Vertigo was being made, Alma functioned as a filter and after witnessing its private projection, she said that it is going to be a hit. One scene she claimed has to go though was with Kim Novak running, supposedly exposing the fatness of her legs. Her husband had no other choice but to comply. On top of that, Mrs. Hitchcock made few other minor contributions to the movie.
Another two years later, the classic picture Psycho was being made. Bernard Herrmann's music for the movie (which was a controversial topic by itself during the filming) was most memorable at its simplest. In the cult scene when Crane's shower came to an abrupt end, Hitch was adamant that no music should be played during the murder. His wife, on the other hand, was strongly convinced that the basic string section ripping needs to accompany it. She got her way and thus an important and now considered inseparable part of Hitchcock's most famous scene was attached.
When working on the same movie, her eye for detail has saved everyone working on the film from embarrassment. After Marion Crane was murdered, there was a frame of her lying on the floor. During that time, the actress swallowed saliva while being filmed, and somehow it got under everyone's radar. Everyone's except Alma Reville's, who instantly noticed and let her husband know.
Those are examples of Mrs. Hitchcock's involvement in the three pictures not far from the end of Alfred's career. They were chosen to show you how big of an impact she had on the critical elements of Hitch's movies. After all, at the time she was already long past writing scripts and deep in the professional withdrawal mode. And yet she still had so much to say, and her work was so important.
At first, she was her own woman and dreamed of being an acclaimed director herself. We know her as Alma Reville and not as Alma Hitchcock because her surname was an established brand at the time and she didn't want to put that to waste.
On the other hand, to some extent, Reville didn't believe in making it as director, to which her own words are a testament:
I’m too small. Not just short, but small. I could never project the image of authority a director has to project. A director has to be able to play the role of a director. (the quote comes from Charlotte Chandler's Hitchcock biography called It's Only a Movie). Nevertheless, she kept pushing.
After her husband became famous beyond of what she could ever personally dream of, she worked on his side, but judging from the recollections similar to those mentioned earlier, many of those were pivotal. Her job was nearly invisible, so it was hard to measure it and therefore put a price tag on it, but her loving husband made sure that it is understood and appreciated. Often when negotiating contracts for his movies, he mentioned that in his salary his wife's hard work is included.
All those compliments aside, we need to be honest too. As mentioned in the previous Alma Reville articles, she wasn't a good scriptwriter. Not only did she had poor feel for which films to pick and work with, but her actual work often led much to be desired. Hitch's limitless belief in her failed them both, as there probably were many writers who could do much better work with those scripts.
But his faith in her did not stem purely from love. Reville had an amazing eye for details and was great at brainstorming critical aspects of the movies she worked on. She was a problem solver that any director would enjoy having on his side. Ironically, except for her solo involvement when her husband's star was not yet established, Alma's shadow work was far more important than what she is written down in credit sections for.
As such, she is an interesting topic to explore. No matter how deep we get to know and understand her, the exact nature and amount of this woman's input will always remain a mystery. But what clearly arises from doing the research is that her impact was quite big and Alfred Hitchcock's films would not be what we know them for if not for her. Because of that, it's a shame that when we talk about all time great directors, Hitch's name is always instantly mentioned, but when asking about Alma Reville, only movie geeks are not puzzled when they hear the name.
Patricia Hitchcock wrote a book Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man, even though she could very well cover her more famous parent. It is a great testament to her love towards Reville and perhaps the need to bring back the important figure that has been kept in the shadows for too long. Still, even that book is not enough to give clarity and bring just examination of her.
- Alma Reville's two favorite movies directed by her husband were Shadow of a Doubt and Notorious.
- Both she and Alfred felt good in America and settled nicely after moving from England. There, they discovered a British filmmaker community and were of course welcomed to it with open arms. The couple didn't grow fond of it and, quickly after getting to know it, distanced themselves from it. The same was true with general Hollywood inner circles. Hitchcocks like to keep to themselves.
- Mrs. Hitchcock was played on screen in biopics twice. First by Imelda Staunton in BBC's The Girl, and another time in Hitchcock by Helen Mirren. Both movies were released in 2012.
- Peggy Robertson, hired by Hitch as his assistant for the making of Under Capricorn and many other later films, was very vocal about the enormous scale of Alma's input for her husband pictures. She went as far as to say that with the work she did, Reville should be considered a co-author of Hitchcock films.
- Hitchcock movies to which Reville wrote scripts had a theme way too common to put it down as a coincidence. The foreground female character is always in some way betrayed by one of the main male characters. In Suspicion, Lina's husband seems to have bad intentions towards her. In Shadow of a Doubt, young Charlie has a misplaced trust in her uncle. In Secret Agent, The General unveils himself as quite a character. In Sabotage, Mrs. Verloc's friendly neighbour has more than just flirting in his mind etc. etc. All get disappointed to some extent when they find out who the men really are.
- When the World War II broke out, Reville rushed to London to try and convince her mother and sister to come and join her in USA. In May 1940, Alma came back alone, but her family joined her five months later. Alfred's negotiations didn't go as well - he tried over the phone and nothing came off it.
- Mrs. Hitchcock's mother was a big cinema lover and she often took Alma to see the movies back when the family lived in Nottingham, particularly when the girl was recovering from chorea. Her aunt wasn't as positive about it though and told her mother:
You mustn’t take young Alma to the cinema, because she will only pick up fleas.Miraculously, she somehow managed to avoid them.
- Pre-1953, Reville was a Liberal, but when Dwight Eisenhower campaigned for presidency (and ultimately won the race), she became a Republican.