At the end of Patricia Hitchcock’s first of ten appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, her father’s half-hour television program in 1955, the master of suspense stuck his head back on to the screen to address the viewers: “I thought the little leading lady was rather good, didn’t you?”
So good, in fact, that she had already enjoyed speaking roles in two of his films and would do so again in a third. The first was in Stage Fright (1950) with Sybil Thorndike, Joyce Grenfell and Marlene Dietrich in which she played Chubby Bannister, a friend of Jane Wyman’s drama student who sets out to clear her former boyfriend of murder. She recalled her father asking her to double for Wyman in the “danger driving” scenes, adding: “I drove right into that camera and had to stop at a plate-glass window.”
Hitchcock’s biggest role came in the psychological thriller Strangers on a Train (1951), where her owlish character watches an unhinged man at a cocktail party as he nearly strangles to death a woman she resembles. However, she balked at suggestions of a Freudian reading. “It was a non-strangulation,” she insisted. “It was an acting job … It was just shot a couple of times and it was very easy.” She returned to her father’s studio in Psycho (1960), one of his best-known films, appearing near the start as Caroline, who offers to share her wedding-night tranquilizers with Janet Leigh’s character.
The director’s love of suspense sometimes spilt over and his daughter recalled that while working on one film, he bet her $100 she would not dare ride on the Ferris wheel, “knowing I hated heights”. She immediately did, but then he stopped the wheel with her chair at the summit, turned out the lights and left her there — for an hour, according to Donald Spoto’s unauthorized biography, The Dark Side of Genius (1983), which she detested; but for just three minutes according to her recollection. “The only sadism involved was that I never got the $100,” she added.
Patricia Alma Hitchcock was born at the family’s flat on Cromwell Road, west London, in 1928, the only child of Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma (née Reville). By some accounts the union was celibate but for this conception. “From that day forward, my father called me ‘his finest production’.”
Alma worked on many of her husband’s films and was assistant director on The Lodger (1927), though by The 39 Steps (1935) she had been demoted to continuity. “My mother had much more to do with the films than she has ever been given credit for,” Hitchcock told The Guardian in 1999. It was a subject she returned to in Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man (with Laurent Bouzereau, 2003), while her parents’ relationship was explored in the film Hitchcock (2012) starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren.
“From that day forward, my father called me ‘his finest production.’”
By six months she had a nanny named Gladys and at five she was attending a Catholic school in Cavendish Square. She remembered her father coming home late at night and painting a clown’s face on her sleeping features, knowing that in the morning she always looked in the mirror.
He took her shopping on Saturdays and to Mass on Sundays, while when she was four her mother bought her a pony named Snowball. She continued riding “until my knees gave up”. As a small child she ate alone in the kitchen and at eight was sent to boarding school at Mayfield, East Sussex, which lay behind her antipathy to the land of her birth. “I think they should be shot for sending children at that age,” she said, blaming the system rather than her parents. “That’s the English; that’s what they do.”
In 1939 the family left for America, where her father was to direct Rebecca (1940). It was her favorite of his films, not least because of her nine-year-old’s crush on Laurence Olivier. She was educated at Marymount High School, Los Angeles, though Hitchcock Sr decided that was sufficient education. “I would have liked to have gone to university,” she later said.
Meanwhile, she had taken up acting and with her father’s help appeared in two Broadway comedies, Solitaire (1942) and Violet (1944), though they both ran for only three weeks and he was too busy to see her in either. He sent her back to England where she was at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art with Lionel Jeffries and Dorothy Tutin and appeared on the London stage. “I wanted to act but I never wanted to be a star,” she said in 1984. “I knew that stars aren’t happy and it’s darned hard work too.”
She had already been in her first film, The Case of Thomas Pyke (1949), when her parents arrived to make Stage Fright. Back in the US she did television, stage and radio work and in 2000 was executive producer on The Man on Lincoln’s Nose, a documentary about Robert Boyle, her father’s production designer.
In 1952 she married Joseph O’Connell; they had met on a cruise ship heading to Italy. O’Connell resisted his father-in-law’s attempts to find him work in film and went into trucking while Patricia all but gave up acting, leaving her father to declare: “Alma and I were relieved, in a way, when our daughter decided that being the mother of sticky-fingered children required all her creative attention.”
Alfred died in 1980 and Alma died two years later, leaving their daughter as the keeper of the Hitchcock flame. O’Connell died in 1994 and Hitchcock is survived by their daughters: Mary, who now looks after the family brand; Teresa (Tere) who chairs the annual Alfred Hitchcock memorial golf tournament; and Katie, an executive at Steven Spielberg’s film company.
In later years Hitchcock represented the family on Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, supplied material to approved biographers, and gave interviews about her father’s legacy, though British journalists found her prickly. “It has to be done,” was her brusque response when asked if she enjoyed them.
Small and bespectacled, she lived alone in a large house at the end of a long driveway near Los Angeles, with a bottle-green Jaguar parked outside bearing the personalized number plate, PAT. The drawing room was a concentration of tasteful objets d’art, including crystal lamps, silver bowls and porcelain, while above the mantelpiece hung one of her father’s paintings by Maurice Utrillo and on the opposite wall a Paul Klee drawing.
Speaking of her father’s work, Hitchcock said she only wished that he had believed in nepotism. “I’d have worked a lot more,” she sighed. “But he never had anyone in his pictures unless he believed they were right for the part. He never fit a story to a star. Often I tried to hint to his assistant but I never got very far. She’d bring my name up, he’d say, ‘She isn’t right for it’ and that would be the end of that.”
Patricia Hitchcock, actress, was born on July 7, 1928. She died on August 9, 2021, aged 93