10 Facts About Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Good evening. Before Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone presented cautionary tales of arrogant people behaving badly and getting their comeuppance, there was Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The 10-season anthology series debuted in 1955 on CBS and featured sharp crime tales culled from short mystery and suspense fiction. While Hitchcock directed only a handful of episodes, he introduced each one: Those morbidly amusing host segments helped the filmmaker behind Psycho and The Birds become an iconic figure in pop culture. Prior to the series, Hitchcock estimated that he received a dozen fan letters every week. Afterward, it was several hundred.

You can find the first four seasons on Hulu or the first seven in syndication on the MeTV channel, but a complete collection may require some DVD hunting and a region-free player. Some seasons were only released on home video overseas. While you build your library, check out some intriguing facts about the series, including its little-known connection with The Twilight Zone and why one episode was deemed too intense to air on 1960s network television.

1. Alfred Hitchcock shot different host segments for American and international audiences.

Although Alfred Hitchcock Presents was an anthology series with a rotating cast, it maintained continuity for the audience by keeping the director front and center for introductory segments. In these dryly witty sequences written by Hitchcock collaborator James Allardice, Hitchcock helps set up the episode’s premise and often addresses the audience directly, regularly making derogatory comments about the need to cut to commercials. (In one segment leading into a story involving medicine, he braces the audience to prepare for an ad break, a “one-minute anesthetic.”) For international audiences who couldn’t see American product advertising, however, Hitchcock instead used alternate footage that eliminated the sponsorship jabs and instead poked fun at Americans.

Why would sponsors put up with his barbs? Alfred Hitchcock Presents drew consistently high ratings, delivering plenty of eyeballs to their products.  

2. Hitchcock drew his own silhouette.

Director Alfred Hitchcock stands in front of a drawing of his silhouette
Central Press/Getty Images

The title sequence of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was an exercise in simplicity. A silhouette of the robust director appears, accompanied by a selection from composer Charles Gounod’s 1872 instrumental “Funeral March of a Marionette.” Hitchcock then steps into his side profile portrait, which dissolves into the introduction. Hitchcock drew the silhouette himself.

3. Hitchcock's direct involvement in the series was very limited.

In style and substance, Alfred Hitchcock Presents shares a lot in common with Hitchcock’s films, particularly the scheming characters with murder on the mind in 1948's Rope and 1951's Strangers on a Train. Despite the Hitchcock aesthetic, his direct involvement in the show was limited. Because he was so busy with his movie career, he was convinced by MCA executive Lew Wasserman that lending his name and likeness to the series would not take up much of his time. Producers and frequent Hitchcock collaborators Joan Harrison and Norman Lloyd handled most of the production chores, though Hitchcock did direct 17 episodes over the course of the series. The director later said his supervision of the show extended to delivering “fatherly words of advice without trying to usurp their position.”

Viewers, however, seemed to infer he wrote and directed much of what they saw, sending fan letters to the director stating as much. While his effort was not as significant as they believed, it proved to be lucrative. Hitchcock drew a reported $129,000 per episode from CBS and sponsor Bristol-Myers. 

4. But Hitchcock did have some hard and fast rules for the show to follow.

Director Alfred Hitchcock is photographed sitting behind a desk
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Alfred Hitchcock Presents was about to go into production, Hitchcock decided that its tone of darkly comic and suspenseful narratives could be maintained with a simple set of guidelines for researchers looking for short stories to adapt. The stories, Hitchcock wrote, “should definitely be of the suspense, or thriller type” with a climax that “should have a ‘twist’ almost to the point of a shock in either the last line or the last situation.” 

5. It could have been titled Henry Slesar Presents.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents drew primarily from published short stories it optioned from writers. One such author, Henry Slesar, was a frequent contributor to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, the monthly short story collection that had the director’s endorsement. When producer Norman Lloyd realized the prolific Slesar and three other authors had a story in the magazine every month, he invited all four of them out to California for a meeting about writing teleplays based on their stories. According to Lloyd, only Slesar showed up. This was because the other three writers were all his pseudonyms. Slesar ended up writing 55 scripts for the series, the most of any contributor.

6. censors forced the show to state that crime doesn’t pay.

Director Alfred Hitchcock speaks with actor Richard Todd during the filming of 'Stage Fright'
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the myriad murder plots that populated Alfred Hitchcock Presents, killers would often get away with their deed by the end of the episode. In one memorable segment, “Lamb to the Slaughter,” a woman batters her abusive husband with a frozen leg of lamb, which she then cooks and serves to the police officers looking into his disappearance. These macabre conclusions didn’t sit well with censors, who pushed Hitchcock to deliver a spoken-word coda at the end explaining how she—and other criminals—were ultimately brought to justice. In “Lamb to the Slaughter,” he explains that the woman tried a similar attack on her second husband. Unfortunately, the lamb had already defrosted.

7. A famous episode inspired a morbid playground game.

In “Man From the South,” based on a short story by Roald Dahl, a man (Steve McQueen) low on funds decides to wager he can open his lighter 10 times without fail. Because he has no money, the compulsive gambler (Peter Lorre) making the bet insists that McQueen risk his pinky finger instead. The 1960 episode led to a playground activity played by children called the “Zippo game” where they attempted to light the flame 10 times. They did not, however, wager their fingers.

8. One episode was deemed too gruesome to air.

 Director Alfred Hitchcock poses for a publicity photograph
Baron/Getty Images

While none of the criminal deeds depicted in Alfred Hitchcock Presents were explicit, one episode in season 7 written by Psycho author Robert Bloch inferred something so disturbing that it was kept off the air by NBC. (Spoilers follow.) In "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice," a boy who dreams of becoming a magician is coerced into murdering his stage idol by the performer’s cheating spouse. She convinces him to do it by telling the boy—who is none too quick of mind—that he will absorb her husband's “powers” once the deed is done. He believes it, and proceeds to saw her in half despite not having much of an idea about how the illusion is actually supposed to work. At the conclusion, Hitchcock makes a characteristically grim observation that the scheming widow must be “beside herself.” The episode later ran in syndication.

9. It adapted the same story used in an episode of The twilight Zone.

In writer Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a confederate in the Civil War is captured by the Union and faces execution, only to escape and be reunited with his wife. Owing to its suitably twist ending, Alfred Hitchcock Presents adapted the story for its fifth season in 1959. The story was then adapted into a short, virtually silent French film in 1962 that became the only episode of The Twilight Zone produced outside of the oversight of the show. Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling’s Cayuga Productions paid $20,000 for the rights to air it as part of the show’s final season in 1964. In addition to being the only story adapted for both series, the French version managed to pull off the near-impossible trick of winning both an Oscar and Emmy.

10. Ultimately, there was too much of a good thing.

Director Alfred Hitchcock sits in his chair on the set of the film 'Topaz'
Harry Benson, Getty Images

In 1962, Alfred Hitchcock Presents expanded to an hour-long format. Hitchcock was pleased with the decision, saying it “gives time for a full story” and that episodes could be culled from novels, not just short stories. Retitled The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, it aired for three seasons before NBC, which had taken over airing of the program, pulled the plug. The primary problem was the increased production costs, but fans of the series were also sensing a loss of the suspense and urgency that had been threaded throughout the shorter episodes. Hitchcock himself directed only one of the hour-long episodes before the show was retired. He uttered his final “goodnight” on May 10, 1965.

7 of the Best Double Features You Can Stream on Netflix Right Now

Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire in Rocky (1976) and Liev Schreiber in Chuck (2016).
Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire in Rocky (1976) and Liev Schreiber in Chuck (2016).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and IFC Films

For many of us, movie night can turn into a movie marathon. If you’re logged into Netflix and pondering what to watch, check out these double feature suggestions that each offer a perfect pairing of tone, topic, or an ideal double dose of Nicolas Cage.

1. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) // The Highwaymen (2019)

In Bonnie and Clyde, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway star as the famous outlaw couple who livened up Depression-era America with their string of bank robberies. More than 50 years later, The Highwaymen shifts the focus to the retired Texas Rangers (Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson) charged with bringing them down.

2. Rocky (1976) // Chuck (2016)

Sylvester Stallone's rousing story of underdog palooka Rocky Balboa pairs well with the biopic of the man who partially inspired Stallone's screenplay. Chuck details the boxing career of Chuck Wepner, a determined pugilist who was given virtually no chance against Muhammad Ali but wound up winning the respect of the crowd. Liev Schreiber stars.

3. Deliverance (1972) // The River Wild (1994)

Water-based getaways become cautionary tales: In Deliverance, Burt Reynolds delivers the performance that turned him into a movie star, a rough and rugged outdoorsman confronted by a group of sinister locals in the backwoods of Georgia. Things don’t get appreciably better in The River Wild, with Meryl Streep as a matriarch forced to navigate the rapids under the gun of criminal Kevin Bacon. Together, the two may have you rethinking your vacation plans.

4. All the President’s Men (1976) // Kill the Messenger (2014)

Newspaper reporting comes under fire in both of these films based on true stories. All the President's Men features Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, The Washington Post reporters tasked with uncovering the Watergate conspiracy. Kill the Messenger stars Jeremy Renner as Gary Webb, the journalist who found a suspicious connection between drug smuggling and the CIA.

5. Carrie (1976) // Gerald’s Game (2017)

After a bad stretch of mediocre adaptations, Stephen King’s work has been seeing an onscreen renaissance. Check out two of the best: Carrie, which stars Sissy Spacek as a telekinetic teen with an overbearing mother and an awkward social life; and Gerald’s Game, which casts Carla Gugino as a woman trapped in handcuffs amid supernatural activity.

6. National Treasure (2004) // The Trust (2016)

Fitting in the very narrow genre of “Nicolas Cage heist movies,” both National Treasure and The Trust are terrific on their own: A double feature contrasts Cage at his blockbuster best with his indie film shades of grey. As Benjamin Franklin Gates in National Treasure, he tries to run off with the Declaration of Independence. In The Trust, he and Elijah Wood are cops targeting a drug money stash. Fans of a more subdued—but still excellent—Cage should find a lot to like here.

7. Inglourious Basterds (2009) // The Imitation Game (2014)

Two very different tales of World War II oscillate from the cerebral to the Nazi-smashing. In Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino offers a revisionist take on the men and women who resisted the Reich. In The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch is real-life scientist Alan Turing, whose work with computers cracked a German code that helped end the war.

How Mister Rogers Used King Friday to Make Friday the 13th Less Scary for Kids

Getty Images
Getty Images

King Friday XIII, son of King Charming Thursday XII and Queen Cinderella Monday, is an avid arts lover, a talented whistler, and a former pole vaulter. He reigns over Calendarland with lots of pomp and poise, and he’s usually correct.

Fans of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood may also remember that the monarch was born on Friday the 13th, because his birthday was celebrated on the program every Friday the 13th. Though the math isn’t perfect—according to Timeanddate.com, Friday the 13th sometimes happens two or three times a year—the heartwarming reason behind the unconventionally-timed birthday celebrations absolutely is.

Fred Rogers explained that he wanted to give children a reason to look forward to Friday the 13th, instead of buying into the negative superstitions that surround the dreaded date. “We thought, ‘Let’s start children out thinking that Friday the 13th was a fun day,’” he said in a 1999 interview. “So we would celebrate his birthday every time a Friday the 13th came.”

Rogers added that the tradition worked out so well partially because the show was broadcast live, and viewers knew to anticipate an especially festive episode whenever they spotted a Friday the 13th on the calendar.

Speaking of calendars: There’s an equally charming story behind the name Calendarland. In the same interview, Rogers disclosed that King Friday once asked children to write in with suggestions for his then-nameless country. One boy posited that since King Friday was named after a calendar date, his realm should be named after the calendar. Then, the lucky youngster was invited to the set, where King Friday christened him a prince of Calendarland.

King Friday might be king of Calendarland, but Mister Rogers is definitely the king of understanding how to make kids feel safe, smart, and special.

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