Alfred Hitchcock was one of the few behind-the-scenes Hollywood players who routinely got top billing over his stars. Just take a glance at the movie posters and lobby cards created for his Warner Bros. and Paramount films in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. The title of the film was just about always preceded by the words “Alfred Hitchcock’s,” followed by such classics as “Rope” (1948), “Dial M for Murder” (1954), “The Trouble With Harry” (1955), “Psycho” (1960), “The Birds” (1963), and “Topaz” (1969).
A master of thrillers and black comedies, Hitchcock got his start in the British movie industry during the silent era, writing scripts for flickers like “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog” (1927), which was released in the United States as “The Case of Jonathan Drew.” In the early 1930s, he adapted a series of plays for British International Pictures, and in 1934 he directed “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” which he remade in 1956 for Paramount, with James Stewart and Doris Day in the starring roles. For the record, Stewart and Day got top billing on that one.
Today, the posters and lobby cards produced for these and other Hitchcock films are some of the most popular pieces of movie memorabilia around, and not just for Hitchcock fans. In particular, the poster for “Vertigo” (1958), designed by Saul Bass, is considered an icon of Mid-century Modern graphics. It features a black male figure pursuing a woman in a white, both of whom appear caught in a Spirograph-like whirlpool that’s set against a background of nausea-inducing orange. In other words, perfect.
While Hitchcock’s films earned the respect of movie buffs, the director was probably familiar to most people as the host of a television series called “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” which ran from 1955 to 1960 on CBS and 1960 to 1962 on NBC. A variation of the show, “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” aired on CBS from 1962 to 1965. Hitchcock only directed a handful of these shows, but his presence was felt on every one of them. Each began with the distinctive notes of “Funeral March for a Marionette” as Hitchcock walked into the frame, lining up his rotund profile with an outline of his trademark physical features. Hitchcock would then introduce the drama, sometimes from the comfort of an electric chair, other times wearing a hangman’s noose around his neck.
Thanks to his outsize persona, Hitchcock became a brand for anything having to do with mysteries and the macabre. Beginning in the 1964, he lent his name to series of 30 children’s novels called “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.” And almost two decades after his death in 1980, the U.S. Postal Service honored him in 1998 with a sheet of stamps in its Legends of Hollywood series.