Friday, February 15, 2013

Hitchcock's Ghost: James Allardice

It was forty-seven years ago today that Alfred Hitchcock's ghostwriter, James Allardice, died suddenly of a heart attack. For a little more than a decade, Allardice penned the introductions and closings that helped transform the British filmmaker into a household word in the US through his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and its hour-long incarnation, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Even more than these little vignettes that suited the public persona that Hitchcock wanted to portray, during that time, Allardice regularly wrote speeches, articles and other remarks for the director.

Allardice first made a name for himself as a playwright with the successful run of his comedy At War with the Army, which he wrote while at an Army training camp in Kentucky in 1944, and later revised while attending Yale School of Drama. The comedy hit Broadway in 1949 and a year later it was bought by Paramount Pictures to become the basis for one of the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movies not produced by Hal Wallis. Following that successful teaming, Allardice would go on to write the screenplays for three more Martin and Lewis comedies—Sailor Beware, Jumping Jacks, and Money From Home—each produced by Wallis.

Allardice really hit his stride, though, writing for television, winning an Emmy for Best Written Comedy Material in 1955 for writing The George Gobel Show. While writing the intros for Hitchcock's series, Allardice tried his hand at hour-long drama for such programs as Lux Video Theatre and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. His true talent however was in comedy. Mention Hazel, Gomer Pyle: USMC, F Troop, I Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, My Three Sons, Hogan's Heroes and The Munsters, and it seems that Allardice wrote a handful of episodes for nearly every popular comedy series from the early to mid-1960s.

In many ways, Hitchcock's "ghost" has haunted Hitchcock ever since, as it's the public persona that Allardice helped create which is the impression of the director most familiar to the general public.* That caricature of the droll Hitchcock, spewing out bits of macabre humor, may have been clever branding that helped the director achieve and maintain a certain level of commercial success, but in another way, it may also have delayed what Hitchcock desired even longer—being taken seriously as an artist by the "establishment."

*It is also a myth is that Allardice's untimely death brought about the end to Hitchcock's venture in television, when in fact the series had ended its run more than nine months prior.