Friday, May 11, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock

It was during the filming of HURRY SUNDOWN (Otto Preminger post May 2012) in 1966 that I became acquainted with Bo. I can’t remember Bo's full name, but “Bo” was his nickname and he was working either props or wardrobe on HURRY SUNDOWN.  Anyhow Bo told me about a bizarre experience he had while on the special effects crew of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic PSYCHO some 7 years earlier.

In the 1950s and 60s the industry’s “decency” code imposed very strict rules when a story-line involved nudity. If you saw PSYCHO, then no doubt you’ll remember the famous shower scene when Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, is brutally stabbed repeatedly while showering. Leigh refused to allow her near-naked body to be filmed. So Myra Jones was contracted to be Leigh’s “body double”. The decency code barred any exposure of female breasts or pubic regions. Bo’s job was to assure that this code was complied with.

Before I continue with the “Bo adventure” I’ll treat you to a little known anecdote about the PSYCHO  filming.  At the very end of that bloody, shower stabbing scene Janet Leigh’s character falls forward out of the shower, dead and open-eyed onto the bathroom floor. At this point you see a slow twisting camera zoom-back from her open-eyed lifeless face. Hitchcock wanted Leigh to be stone cold still during this zoom which began on a closeup of her eye. She couldn’t blink. But she had difficulty controlling her blinking. And also, when she was able to keep her eyes open, the eyes would begin to water and tears would roll down her face. So Hitchcock, the master, had an idea. Let’s snap a black and white picture of her open-eyed face on the floor, enlarge it to life-size, then the camera can do its zoom in on the picture. Ingenious! When I saw the film I seem to recall seeing some photo grain in this shot, but not enough to affect the integrity of the scene. It worked.

OK, back to the Bo story. The body double, Myra, was well paid to perform this body double task. Her pubic region was to be completely covered as well as her breasts. To effectively accomplish this, Bo used a special adhesive on a piece of diaphanous (vaguely transparent) material that had been cut in the shape of an isosceles triangle to fit the double’s pubic area. At the apex of the triangle a slender cork was mounted so that … (well I’m sure you get the idea).

Bo was a little guy, probably not more than 5’ 4” tall. On the week that the shower scene was to be shot Bo and Myra were assigned a special room in the studio. This room was exclusively for the purpose of preparing the body double each day. Gynecology stirrups were acquired to facilitate the effective placement of the diaphanous triangle material onto its designated “location”.

The table on which the stirrups rested was rather high. Bo had to use an apple box to comfortably position himself so he could do his job properly. The adhesive he used was instant drying and required a special solvent for removal.

On the first day of the “shower scene” filming Bo and Myra began their preparations. First he had to shave her pubic area. Bo said he always got these raunchy assignments. Poor guy. Covering the nipples was not a problem. The material showed just enough nipple shadow to convey nudity while not violating code. Now for the pubic region. He placed the cork gently into its anchoring orifice (I’ll spare you the details). He then painted the adhesive onto the triangle, then began pulling the triangle up and over onto the target area.

But whoops! His apple box toppled and Bo’s chin fell onto the remaining exposed triangle. You can use your imagination to visualize where his face was now resting. He is stuck there and unable to reach the bottle of solvent. Myra is now laughing while Bo is yelling (very muffled yelling) for someone to come help. Finally the room door opens and Hitchcock himself looks in. Before retrieving the solvent bottle for Bo Hitchcock says with his renowned dry wit: “Bo, lunch is not for another hour yet.


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