Friday, May 13, 2022

Fridays With Hitchcock: John Michael Hayes

Screenwriter John Michael Hayes was born on May 11, 1919 in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Hayes was one of the first screenwriters I noticed. After watching a ton of movies, and realizing that someone had to write them, I started looking at the names of the writers in the credits of some of my favorite movies... and noticed Hayes’ name popping up again and again in Hitchcock films. He scripted REAR WINDOW from a short story I had read by one of my favorite fiction writers, Cornell Woolrich. Because I knew the short story, I also knew what was invented and changed for the movie - a bunch of stuff! Great stuff! Practically the whole movie is new material, since the story is about an invalid man and his male servant and the murder across the courtyard. I realized that for movies, they didn't just take the book and reformat it - they had to completely rethink it for the screen. The short story - "It Had To Be Murder" - takes place almost entirely in the protagonist's mind. He *thinks* he saw a murder across the courtyard. There are no other suspects or characters (except for his male servant), so it's a whole story about what the protagonist think... and that's not a movie! A movie is what we see and hear (that results in what we feel). Hayes also wrote the remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY and TO CATCH A THIEF for Hitchcock.

Hayes began as a newspaper reporter - like many other screenwriters. Writing the news meant dealing with crazy deadlines, and being able to spot the story and why it mattered and how to make the readers care... and doing that day after day after day. Much of that applies tro screenwriting as well, but after serving in the Army in WW2, Hayes moved to California and began writing for Radio Dramas like "Sam Spade" and "Inner Sanctum" - both were top shows. His first credit was for the TV series SUSPENSE in 1951 (adaptations of his radio scripts), and his first film credit was Budd Boetticher's RED BALL EXPRESS in 1952 (about Army truck drivers). The following year, 3 films including Anthony Mann's THUNDER BAY starring Jimmy Stewart, TORCH SONG starring Joan Crawford, and WAR ARROW with Maureen O'Hara and Jeff Chandler... which is a lot of star power for his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th films. Since Stewart was in THUNDER BAY, he might have had something to do with hiring Hayes to write REAR WINDOW.

In the middle of those 4 films for Hitch, was A DOG'S LIFE - a story from the point of view of a dog!

In 1957 he adapted the big best seller PEYTON PLACE into a hit movie.

Then high profile adaptations: Thorton Wilder's play THE MATCHMAKER and Terrence Rattigan's SEPERATE TABLES (1958), Samson Raphaelson's BUT NOT FOR ME (1959), John O'Hara's BUTTERFIELD 8 (1960), Hellman's CHILDREN'S HOUR (hey, Sam Spade!)(1961), Enid Bagnold's CHALK GARDEN (1964), Harold Robbins' THE CHARPET BAGGERS and Harold Robbins' WHERE HAS LOVE GONE? (both 1964), HARLOW (1965), Lawrence Durrell's JUDITH (1965), Harold Robbins' NEVADA SMITH (1966), uncredited work on WALKING TALL (1973), and his final credit was IRON WILL in 1994. He died in 2008... at 89 years old.

One of the interesting things about Hitchcock was that he was loyal to his writers. If he got along with a writer and that writer did good work - he just kept working with them. Because Hitch was turning out movies and later had his TV show and other things that took up his time, he needed screenwtriters who he could trust to go off and write the screenplay on their own. Even in the silent films, you will see the same names again and again (Elliot Stannard!).

But in addition to knowing Hayes from REAR WINDOW, I also knew Hayes from his script of Lillian Hellman’s play THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, the version that starred James Garner. I played that role in my High School theater department version. I was talking about CHILDREN’S HOUR on the day Hayes died, because I had just seen a screening of DOUBT - which is pretty much the same story but set in a Catholic school. And I knew Hayes from HARLOW and THE CARPET BAGGERS and NEVADA SMITH... and WALKING TALL. His name popped up on a bunch of films I’d seen.

Hayes career as a radio writer also had some connections with me - I had some of those SAM SPADE shows on tape when I was a kid) and INNER SANCTUM (had a bunch of those on tape, too). After writing 1,500 radio scripts, he started writing movies and became Hitchcock’s main writer... which made him one of the top writers in town. Intreresting that his last produced script was the Disney dog sled movie IRON WILL in 1994 - which I think I saw on opening night!

What were the first screenwriters you noticed?

- Bill

My books on Hitchcock's films...



Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99 Click here for more info!



We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

Click here for more info!


Anonymous said...

I guess for me it was Billy Wilder. Freaking that the same guy who did Some Like It Hot also did Double Indemnity?

Grant said...

THE CHILDREN'S HOUR didn't star James Gardner. It starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine as HOT LESBIANS! But now you've got me at least somewhat interested in DOUBT. The previews made it look like another movie about the horrors of child abuse. I thought that trend died out 10 years ago.

The first actual writers (not writer/directors) I noticed were probably Paul Schrader (although paradoxically he is a writer/director), since he wrote for Scorsese. Wait a second! He's a big shot director, but he doesn't even come up with his own stories!

Sadly, I'd been a fan of autuer theory so long that I've really ignored writers. I'm trying to change my mindset and catch up. But even more sadly, if I know a writer by name, it's probably because of his blog and not his scripts. Now I'm getting depressed.

I suppose John Sayles is the one guy I really like just because he's so damn consistently great. There isn't a bad movie that bears his name. But then again he's one of those writer/directors.

Dave Ale said...

The first writers I noticed were Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot. I'd come home from Pirates of the Caribbean -- blown away.

Looked it up, and this was probably the first time I clicked on the writers name on IMDB. And BAM -- they'd written three of my top ten favorite movies (Pirates, Shrek, Aladdin).

That's when I started to pay more attention. Gotta love the fact that they have a kick ass site, too.

E.C. Henry said...

Very nice memorial of John Michael Hayes. If you should ever consider a career change eulogist just might fit the bill, Bill.

The first screenwriter that really struck a chord with me is David Koepp. After reading a synopis of "Spiderman" before it was released in theaters I was convinced my favorite cartoon growing up was going to be totally botched on the big screen. BUT to my delight "Spiderman" was anything but botched. The mix of romance, frienship and BELIEVABLE superheros and villians, rocked my world. David Koepp wrote it. And to the victors go the spoils. He will be a hero of mine for the rest of my life for the AWESOME screenplay story he crafted.

Going to a couple Expo events, and TRYING to learn the trade Shane Black make SOME differnce to me, but that was mostly due to fact he's been shoved down my throat by people in the bizz.

Screenwriter I'd like most to be compared to? That's easy, Charlie Kaufmann. He represents what's best about screenwring: creativity in telling movie stories.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Hal Weaver said...

Would be Robert Towne for me when I made the connection that the same guy wrote the screenplays for "The Last Detail" and "Chinatown" I was intrigued.

Happy T-day.


Christian H. said...

Eric Red would have to be my "first."

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