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Alfred Hitchcock caused quite a bit of buzz when he allegedly said, “Actors are cattle.”
George Raft first attributed the quotation to the Master of Suspense in the 1940s, and it has stuck with him ever since. But did he actually say it?
Famed Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper seemed to think so when she mentioned the director in her September 23, 1940 column.
“The best show in town is watching Director Alfred Hitchcock put his actors through their paces,” she wrote. “He can take a simple scene and make his stars suffer more than any other director in the business.”
Many years later, when asked about the quote by Dick Cavett, Hitchcock got the chance to set the record straight.
“I would never say such an unfeeling, rude thing about actors at all. What I probably said was that all actors should be treated like cattle.”
Hitchcock was a director known for his visual acumen and the talent for putting together a film in his head before even one frame had been shot. So for a director who was able to iron out a movie without actors, his humorous quote certainly makes sense.
Having fun, he said, “Actors are children, and they’re temperamental, and they need to be handled gently and sometimes slapped. I always talk things over with them in the dressing room before we go on the set. Otherwise, one too often has all the drama on the set and none in the scene.”
Another time he joked, “Walt Disney had the right idea. If he didn’t like the actors, he tore them up.”
Knowing his sentiment and his famous quotation, Carole Lombard had fun with the director on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith – a film Hitch agreed to do as a “friendly gesture” to the actress.
“When I arrived on the set the first day of shooting,” Hitchcock remembered, “Carole Lombard had had a corral built with three sections, and in each one there was a live young cow. Round the neck of each of them there was a white disk tied on with a ribbon with three names: Carol Lombard, Robert Montgomery, and… Gene Raymond.”
On the corral’s sign, she put “Mr. Hitchcock’s cattle” and in a nearby chair, she put a cowboy costume meant just for the director.
Robert Montgomery tried to join in on the fun too.
Before shooting one scene, he bowed to the director and said, “Mr. Hitchcock, the clay is ready to be molded.”
The director’s response: “The word is presumptuous. You should say putty.”
While Hitchcock categorized his “cattle” comment as one of his “Machiavellian quips,” the tongue-in-cheek director nevertheless enjoyed poking fun at actors who were a “necessary evil.”
Even his own daughter, Pat, who appeared in his films such as Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train,couldn’t escape his amusing comment.
“But Pat is the nicest cattle I’ve ever seen,” he joked.