Hitchcock and the Cattle Comment

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"Actors are cattle" is what Alfred Hitchcock allegedly said.

George Raft first attributed the quotation to the Master of Suspense in the 1940s, and it stuck with him ever since. But did he actually say it?

Famed Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper seemed to think so, according to her column dated September 23, 1940.

“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.”

In 1972, Dick Cavett asked Hitch about the quote, and he 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.”

Even his own daughter, Pat, who appeared in several of 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.

Hitchcock was a director known for his visual acumen. He would work out the scenes in his head and draw them on paper before a single frame was shot.

Pat Hitchcock said, “When he got on the set, he’d said he’d already made the film."

For a director with the ability to iron out a movie in his mind without actors, his humorous quote certainly makes sense.

Having fun, he said, “Actors are children. 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 laid out 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: “That word is presumptuous. You should say putty.”

While Hitchcock liked to tease with his “Machiavellian quips” and call actors a "necessary evil," his cast still enjoyed working with the tongue-in-cheek director (read their comments about him here).

So whether he actually said it – or perhaps more importantly, actually meant it – Hitch was still able to stay on his cast's good side, at least, for the most part.