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Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies Hardcover – October 28, 2008

3.3 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this enthralling third installment of his Hitchcock trilogy (after The Dark Side of Genius and The Art of Alfred Hitchcock), Spoto paints a portrait of a man as talented as he was troubled. Spoto examines each film in terms of its leading lady, but focuses especially on the three cool blondes with whom Hitchcock was famously obsessed: Ingrid Bergman (Spellbound, Notorious and Under Capricorn), Grace Kelly (Dial M for Murder, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief) and Tippi Hedren (The Birds and Marnie). While Bergman never returned Hitchcock's romantic advances, the pair struck up a lasting friendship. With Kelly, Hitchcock felt he had molded the young actress into his ideal woman with just the right mix of elegance and sexuality. When Kelly left Hollywood, Hitchcock sought a replacement and found newcomer Tippi Hedren, whom he both fawned over and humiliated during their two films together. Relying on hours of personal interviews with both Hitchcock and his various players, Spoto shines an admiring yet unflinching light on one of the most celebrated directors in history. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Spoto’s third book about Hitchcock includes material he “felt obliged to withhold” from his widely praised biography, The Dark Side of Genius (1983), in deference to sources who told stories they didn’t want repeated while they were alive. It focuses on Hitchcock’s sometimes troubled, sometimes perverse, always manipulative relationships with his leading ladies. Some of its revelations are well-known among cinephiles, including Hitch’s fetish for blonds—so strong that even blond actresses had to have their hair lightened to fit the director’s ideal—and his attempts to play Svengali to young, beautiful blonds, especially Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren, and subsequent frustration when they incompletely submitted to him. But Spoto also brings to light aspects of Hitchcock’s life and personality unsuspected and, some of it, unprintable in his lifetime, including overt and subtle sexual harassment dating as far back as Hitchcock’s earliest films, during the production of which he told dirty jokes and pretended to expose himself to actresses to provoke (and film) their shocked reactions. According to Spoto, Hitchcock’s perversity increased as he grew older, culminating in his twisted, tragicomic relationship with Hedren. The chapters on his behavior during the filming of The Birds and Marnie are riveting and deeply troubling, revealing an artist at once losing his touch and losing touch with reality. --Jack Helbig

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Archetype; 1 edition (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307351300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307351302
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,325,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Daniel W. Sneed on December 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I have to agree in large part with Mr. Anez's review of this book, particularly regarding its mean-spiritedness dressed up in the guise of responsible journalism, as defined by Mr. Spoto of course.

One particular discrepancy stands out for me and it's related to the author's description of the alleged "make yourself sexually available" incident with Tippi Hedren: In "The Dark Side of Genius" this incident is stated as having taken place in "late Feburary" of 1964. "Alone with Hedren in her trailer after the day's work, he made an overt sexual proposition that she could neither ignore nor answer casually, as she could his previous gestures." In "Spellbound by Beauty" Hitchcock's and Hedren's relationship is stated to "have reached its breaking point in March 1964, near the end of production on the day Tippi was drenched with water for the closeups in the scene in which Connery saves her from an attempted suicide by drowning..." Regarding Hedren's recollection of the incident, Spoto states "Her memories are acute and indelible. 'We were ready for the scene when Hitch called me into his office on the set.' She then goes on to describe his request she be sexually available to him and her reaction to that statment.

So which is it, in February or March? Alone in Hedren's trailer at the end of the day or in Hitchcock's office on the set during the workday? Spoto, who claims to be a responsible journalist in presenting a less than flattering portrait of the director, makes no attempt to reconcile his previous account with his newest one. How is this disregard for reporting facts responsible and how, as a result, are we expected to accept any of his reporting as accurate and responsible?
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Format: Hardcover
A vulture is a bird of prey that feeds on the flesh of dead animals. This brings to mind Donald Spoto whose third book on Alfred Hitchcock, "Spellbound by Beauty," is a shabby rehash of his second Hitch book, "The Dark Side of Genius," which itself is an exercise in sleaziness. Interestingly, Spoto's first Hitch book, "The Art of Alfred Hitchcock," is an enlightening critical analysis of Hitchcock's movies. And since Hitchcock was still alive when Spoto wrote it, he had only praise for the director.

(This is the same Donald Spoto to whom Hitchcock gave the rare privilege of watching him direct his last feature, "Family Plot." On the book jacket of "Spellbound" is a photo of Spoto with Hitchcock, who is smiling, unaware that that this writer that he has befriended would repay that kindness years later by savagely attacking him and his family.)

After Hitch died, Spoto's claws emerged and he wrote "The Dark Side of Genius," in which he construed every aspect of his subject's life in derogatory ways, using pseudo-psychology to paint a portrait of a mean-spirited serial lecher. The book has an abundance of gaffes, probably because many of those closest to Hitch suspected Spoto's motives and didn't speak to him. Ultimately, it is more fantasy than serious biography due to the author's fabrication of murky sexual motivations for virtually everything Hitch did - on screen and off. Like all artists, Hitch was human and had flaws but Spoto's portrait is simply not the man that his friends and colleagues knew.

Following publication of "Dark Side," friends like James Stewart (who said that he "never saw a dark side"), Cary Grant, Norman Lloyd and numerous others vehemently denied Spoto's horrendous portrait.
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Format: Hardcover
For the record, Donald Spoto has already penned two books on legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

Apparently he can't quite get off the subject, because he got around to writing a third -- "Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies," a seething little memoir about Hitch's assorted leading ladies and his reputed sexual obsessions with them. But he can't quite keep the vitriol out of his writing.

The women themselves are an intriguing bunch -- they range from cinematic legends such as Ingrid Bergman, Joan Fontaine, Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich to lesser-known actresses like Alida Valli, Margaret Lockwood and Teresa Wright. This exploration of these assorted actresses stretches from the very earliest movies of Hitchcock's fledgling career to his last few movies.

That, for the most part, is the good stuff.

Unfortunately Spoto clearly has some issues with Hitchcock himself. Not only does he lovingly pore over the accounts of Hitchcock's sex life, blonde fetish and crushes on his actresses, but also over any sexual jokes or pranks he played to get the required response from them. Oh horrors -- he brought a pumpkin pie to make someone look grossed-out on set.

And Spoto's obvious contempt for his subject explodes all over the pages with the birds. Spoto seems almost infuriated with Hitchcock for his crush on Tippi Hedren, and works hard to portray him as a revolting old pervert who wants to utterly control the beautiful women in his movies. And his rather lackluster last movies are portrayed as being the sole result of a man who got rejected and fell to pieces. Spoto must really have a crush on Hedren.
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