Massachusetts-born author Stephen Rebello was just a kid when he made his first contact with Alfred Hitchcock, encouraged by movie-loving parents who had introduced him to the suspense maestro's films.
“That's an unlikely story, isn't it?” Rebello said during a recent publicity tour stop in Dallas promoting the new biopic “Hitchcock,” which he adapted from his 1990 book, “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho'.”
“I was growing up in a very small sort of mill city in Massachusetts,” Rebello said. “We weren't wealthy at all but my parents always instilled in me the sense that I could do anything, and if I wanted to go after something that I should. So I didn't really have a strong concept of ‘no,' and I didn't really have a strong concept that you couldn't pick up the phone and call someone, even as powerful and as world-famous as Alfred Hitchcock.
“So as a little boy I would actually call his office at Universal.”
And so began a correspondence of phone calls and letters between the boy and the director that finally led to their first meeting a few years later.
“A film of his premiered in Boston, and I was too young to drive. An older friend drove us and I got to meet Mr. Hitchcock and reminded him of who I was, and he was delightful and remembered and we got to chat.”
The two would not meet again until 1980, the last year of Hitchcock's life. By then, Rebello had become a clinical therapist and department supervisor at a Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital.
It was during a semester-break vacation in Los Angeles that Rebello had his second meeting with the famed filmmaker.
“Someone said to me, ‘Well what would you like to do while you're here? You're on vacation in Los Angeles, Calif., Hollywood is near, you've always been interested in it.' So I said, ‘Well, I think I'd like to do a grown-up conversation with Alfred Hitchcock.'”
“Someone in the room said, “You got a pen?' And he rattled off (Hitchcock's) phone number. And I mean what's the likelihood? And I said, ‘Well how do you know that?' And he said, ‘I'm personal assistant to Cary Grant, I work for Cary Grant, so I happen to have his number and why don't you call? The worse that will happen is that someone will say no.'
“So I called and they told me that he was, quite the obvious, an older man and having health challenges and I probably wouldn't get the interview. And two days later I'm sitting in his office having the interview. They suggested 10 minutes. He kept waving away his secretary and we had kind of a meeting of the minds, if you can call it that. He was obviously brilliant and charming and full of stories, and he was very kind to me and very supportive and interested in me as a person and how I wanted to proceed with my life and career.
“He was a real devotee of — not of psychiatry and psychotherapy in itself — but he was very curious about people who either were in therapy, like Joseph Stefano, who was the screenwriter of ‘Psycho,' or people who actually practiced it. And I was at the time practicing therapy and was working at the clinic and had a private practice, so he found that interesting, that I had this creative streak and talent as well.
“So the very fact that he gave me time, that he thought that I was worthy of time was so empowering to a kid who really wasn't of that world, so that was a tremendous gift because the interview that we did turned out to be the very last one that he ever gave, so I'm very conscious of how precious that time on earth was to him and certainly to me.”
The interview was first published in the Boston underground weekly The Real Paper, then syndicated internationally. That encouraged Rebello to move to Los Angeles and embark on a new career as an editor and journalist affiliated with such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Saturday Review, American Film, Cinefantastique, Cinefex, Biography, Vibe, Los Angeles, GQ, Movieline and Playboy.
The publication of that interview also earned him the trust of Hitchcock's circle of collaborators, including the late screenwriter Ernest Lehman (“North By Northwest,” “The Sound of Music,” “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “Family Plot”), who became a friend and mentor, plus Hitchcock leading ladies such as Kim Novak (“Vertigo”), who has also become a friend and the subject of one of Rebello's celebrity profiles.
Rebello is also the co-author of “Reel Art — Great Posters from the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” and has sold screenplays and teleplays to independent companies and the Walt Disney Company.
“Hitchcock,” starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role and Helen Mirren as his wife and creative partner Alma Reville, is Rebello's first produced screenplay.
“So the portrait certainly that I was trying to paint in the book, and certainly the portrait that is being painted by all of the filmmakers involved in ‘Hitchcock,' is based not only on personal experience of my own but also the personal experience of the many, many people with whom I spoke, and the many people that everyone on the production spoke to,” Rebello said.
“Jessica Biel, for example, sought out Vera Miles and spent a lot of time with her grandson, who's a remarkable guy. And Scarlett Johansson spent a lot of time with Jamie Lee Curtis trying to get at the essence of what Janet Leigh's relationship was with Mr. Hitchcock.
“This was a real labor of love for everyone involved. It was not just a job for anybody. In fact, the actors would come to the set when they weren't working. They just wanted to be around their fellow actors and felt they were part of something special. To me, that's a real tribute to Mr. Hitchcock and to the material.”
Rebello said he hasn't seen the HBO movie “The Girl,” which depicts Hitchcock as a lecher who subjected actress ‘Tippi' Hedren to physical and psychological abuses during the making of “The Birds” and “Marnie” to punish her for her rejection of his alleged sexual advances.
“I don't know what kind of relationship she had with him. I don't know what that looked like, felt like, but clearly from what she has said recently and from the HBO movie ... it was a very painful and difficult time for her. You know, I wasn't there so I don't know what happened, but I do hope that if what she has said is true, that she may come to some peace or some content within her heart and soul about what that was like. Because if it was in fact the way she describes it, that would be a very terrible thing to have happen to anyone.”
As for Hitchcock's taste for cool, blonde leading ladies — and his special affection for Grace Kelly in particular — Rebello observed: ”If you're referring to an implication that he took those relationships beyond that, we have to remember that Mr. Hitchcock said publicly and often said to people on the set of ‘Psycho' that he was impotent. And so those relationships — quote, unquote — were really relationships of the imagination.”
This was a real labor of love for everyone involved. It was not just a job for anybody. In fact, the actors would come to the set when they weren't working. They just wanted to be around their fellow actors and felt they were part of something special. To me, that's a real tribute to Mr. Hitchcock and to the material.”