Friday, 15 April 2011 00:00
The other day a friend of mine brought up the film making of Alfred Hitchcock, and the discussion brought back to me a personal meeting I had with Hitchcock back in 1956.
Alfred Hitchcock is probably best remembered for movies such as Vertigo, Dial M for Murder, Psycho, The Birds and The Wrong Man. And this list is a short one, because he directed about 67 different films. Beyond his direction, he was also very creative in the way cameras were used during the filming. In addition, he almost always would appear in each film very briefly. In 1980, he died at the age of 81.
Now, back to how I came to meet Alfred Hitchcock personally. It all related to the wrongful indictment of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero for robbery in Queens, New York. “Manny” Balestrero, played by Henry Fonda, was a musician who performed at the Stork Club in New York City. He was in desperate need of money to pay for important dental work required by his wife. That led him to try to borrow money on his wife’s life insurance policy.
As he visited the insurance office, people in the office came to the conclusion that he was the robber who held up the office two times before. The police were called and “Manny” was arrested and charged with the crime of robbery.
His defense attorney, Frank O’Connor, defended “Manny” as a case of mistaken identity. During the first robbery, “Manny” and his wife were away on vacation. The problem was that of the three people who could have testified for the defense, two had died and one could not be located. The pressure on “Manny’s” wife was devastating, and she had to be institutionalized for deep depression.
During the robbery trial, bored with the testimony of one of the witnesses, a juror spoke out causing Judge William B. Groat to grant a mistrial. As “Manny” waited for a retrial, the real robber was arrested while trying to hold up a grocery store. With that arrest, “Manny” was exonerated.
After hearing the story, Alfred Hitchcock decided to make a film. He created, The Wrong Man and wanted to make the film as real as possible. He approached Judge Groat to see if the Court Room in the Queens County Court House could be made available to film a portion of the movie – just as it had happened in real life. Judge Groat said, “Yes, but with one condition.” That “condition” required Alfred Hitchcock to speak at a local Young Republican Club.
Judge Groat asked if I could get my friends to come to the club on the evening of Alfred Hitchcock’s talk. That could not have been an easier assignment. The Club Room was packed with standing room only. And Alfred Hitchcock could not have been funnier and serious at the same time. I will never forget our greeting at the door and escorting him to the front of the meeting room. It was quite an evening.