Saturday, November 15, 2008
“Get ready for your close up.” That was the subject line of an e-mail Dr. Jack Sullivan received from a Wall Street Journal editor last spring. With those words, the Hitchcock expert’s summer was about to change course, and it was just a matter time before his Summer Session I class AMS 215: Alfred Hitchcock in America would be pushed into the spotlight.
Sullivan, professor of English and director of the American Studies program at Rider, appeared in a segment about Alfred Hitchcock, inspired by the 50th anniversary of Hitchcock’s classic thriller Vertigo, on CBS News Sunday Morning on November 2. The report, The Master of Suspense: a Look at the Timeless Work of Legendary Director Alfred Hitchcock, also featured a clip from his Hitchcock class. The magazine-format news program also featured interviews with Hitchcock stars Eva Marie Saint, who appeared in the 1959 classic North By Northwest, and Tippi Hedren, who appeared in the 1963 horror The Birds.
Sullivan’s appearance was a culmination of lengthy phone interviews and on-set shots. He was thrilled by the opportunity, but during the nearly five-month wait, Sullivan tried not to get his hopes up.
“It just seemed exotic to me that they would put Hitchcock’s Music on CBS News Sunday Morning,” recalled Sullivan, who has taught English at Rider since 1983. Sullivan knew, though, that he could not pass up this opportunity.
It all started with his public relations assistant from Yale University Press pitching his acclaimed book, Hitchcock’s Music, which analyzes the way music played a role in Hitchcock films. The book recently received an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Deems Taylor Award.
In May, The Wall Street Journal picked up Sullivan’s article about music in Hitchcock films, and not long after, CBS, who had seen the piece in the Journal, started knocking down Sullivan’s door – or, rather, his inbox. The network wanted to do a show on Hitchcock’s Music to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Vertigo. And they wanted Sullivan.
CBS interviewed Sullivan for hours over the phone, talking about Hitchcock and himself. Following their conversations, CBS developed a whole new direction. Instead of focusing on the music, they would put together a special all about Hitchcock and his films. Sullivan also pointed CBS toward other acknowledged Hitchcock experts.
“I kept on giving them fussy information about Hitchcock like theme and point of view,” Sullivan said. “I thought it was really boring.” But CBS loved it. The network offered to fly Sullivan out to Hollywood to do a taping on a set that looked like a 1940s movie theater.
In the beginning of the taping, Sullivan said he was nervous, but the production team and interviewer Seth Doane put him right at ease. Immediately, the crew made him feel confident, telling him to say whatever he wanted to and to dress the way he liked. For one and a half hours, Doane and Sullivan talked Hitchcock.
After the interview in Hollywood, CBS contacted Sullivan and insisted that an essential part of the story was to include his Hitchcock class. A CBS crew came to Rider’s Lawrenceville campus one night in early June to film his entire class, which included a viewing of Vertigo and a discussion. Sullivan said his class was excited.
“The crew didn’t leave until 10 p.m., which was about the time the class was leaving,” Sullivan said. “What really touched me was that they brought the camera here to Rider to film the students.”
During the special, Sullivan talked about Hitchcock’s ability to tap into the psychology of his characters. Sullivan used an example of the drunken-driving scene with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Notorious. In the film, while she is driving, Bergman’s vision is blurred, but it’s because there is hair in her eyes. Hitchcock focused on the vulnerability and flawed nature of humans in his characters, even such heroes as Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, he added.
Since the segment aired, Sullivan said he has received a lot of e-mails and phone calls, even from people he has never before met. In fact, on the same day the show aired, Sullivan took some of his students to see the play The Glass Cage in New York City, and a woman in the audience recognized Sullivan from his appearance on CBS News Sunday Morning.
Looking back, Sullivan said writing Hitchcock’s Music and appearing on CBS News Sunday Morning, was a very personal and scholarly experience. He enjoyed interviewing Hitchcock colleagues like John Williams and Janet Leigh for his book, and going to Hollywood for his CBS debut.
“I’ve been a Hitchcockian ever since Bernard Herrmann’s main title music for Vertigo blew me out of my chair as a kid,” Sullivan said. “More than a book, Hitchcock’s Music was the culmination of many lifelong interests and obsessions.”