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Celebrating Psycho's 50th Anniversary

Published on 6 August, 2010

Authored by Titan Books

Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho celebrated its 50th Anniversary this year, and as a tribute to the iconic movie, check out this thrilling chapter from Robert Graysmith's The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock's Shower:

Chapter One
Stylized Murder

Alfred Hitchcock had cornered the stunning red- haired nude on
Stage 18- A and was chatting her up. Always a bit of a prude, he
still had a lascivious schoolboy attitude toward women in general
and nudity in particular. Adolescent in late middle age, Hitchcock could
still be goggle- eyed about sex and was making the most of this rare op-
portunity to be close to such an unclothed beauty.

Psycho was a reserved set, formal, controlled, polite, and exception-
ally appropriate in tone. All the crew wore dress shirts, dark trousers,
and neckties. Even the on- set strong- arm brigade— charged with rebuff-
ing any interlopers— wore Brooks Brothers. As always Hitchcock was
attired in a black Mariani ensemble, crisp white linen shirt, and slender
black Italian tie (he never wore a wristwatch or rings). Wardrobe super-
visor Rita Riggs usually wore Givenchy- like tunics and skirts, leather
gloves, and Capezios with short leather heels. For Hitch, the external
decorum of dress had become a fetish. In the midst of all this formality,
the “sunbather’’ or “nudist,” as Mr. Hitchcock called the gorgeous red-
head, was extraordinarily underdressed.

“I recall her sitting quite nude,” Riggs said later, “except for this crazy
little patch we always put over pubic hair, talking with Mr. Hitchcock. I
watched Mr. Hitchcock, the model, and the crew one morning standing
around having coffee and doughnuts and thought: ‘This is surreal.’ ”

The tableau was reminiscent of Manet’s notorious Le Dejeuner sur
L’Herbe, which depicted a nude female bather in the company of two
fully dressed men. A hundred years ago, The Luncheon on the Grass had
become a rallying cry for the rebellious young Impressionists. The com-
parison was fitting. Over a week’s time, Hitchcock intended to assemble
an impressionistic forty- five- second montage of quick cuts, close- ups,
wild angles, and fl ashes of naked fl esh, each lasting only two to three
seconds. Hitch hoped the quick staccato cuts on the screen, indicative
of a relentlessly stabbing knife, would galvanize his audience as never

It might as well have been midnight on the movie set of deep shad-
ows, though it was already approaching 10:00 a.m., Friday, December 18,
1959. Everyone spoke in hushed tones or whispered, but that was out of
respect for Mr. Hitchcock, who was held in great reverence by his crew
and stars, many of whom would willingly work for him for free (at least
if the frugal Mr. Hitchcock had his way). As far as they were concerned,
it was an honor just to be included in this production, though they were
being paid scale. Hitchcock, who estimated a thirty- day shoot, was pay-
ing his television unit as if Psycho were a single half- hour episode of
Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was an experiment: Could he shoot a feature
film under the same conditions as a television show?

Silhouettes of grips moving on the gantries and special overhead
scaffolding were barely visible, but every man above was keenly inter-
ested in the set below. It was like every movie set— dust- free air, the
gentle hum of air- conditioning, generators, black cables snaking every-
where, and huge, unwieldy cameras— except for the exquisite model
whose bare skin glowed warmly in the dusk. The woman who was Janet
Leigh’s body double paraded around the set stark naked, which was new
to all of them and, in those repressed times, shocking. Such women
always cause a shock when first encountered, so blinding are they in
their elegance, naturalness, and beauty. One of the redhead’s photogra-
phers wrote she had “an impressive body; her face sports a constant and
wondrous smile.” Others thought she didn’t smile enough, but that only
added to her mystery.

The redhead surveyed Hitchcock with a bold, direct gaze. “Your eyes
are very green,” said Hitch.

“I think of my eyes as blue,” she countered, “but my mother thinks
they are green. Once I had to renew my driver’s license and, being
that my eyes are sometimes blue and sometimes green, I didn’t want
to write down ‘blue- green.’ So I wrote down ‘oceanic.’ ” The redhead
formed the word oceanic slowly, red lips barely parting. It was amaz-
ingly sensual. She had a slender, arched neck and the classic lines of a
great beauty and was full- bosomed with pink nipples. In the cool air
they stood erect from unusually firm breasts. While filming To Catch
a Thief in Cannes, Hitch had similarly ogled vivacious French actress
Brigitte Auber. “She had a casual way of wearing a blouse,” screen-
writer John Michael Hayes recalled, “which exposed her bosom fre-
quently and Hitch of course was delighted with her.” But the redhead
was much, much better.

Seen from behind, her buttocks were taut and slightly boy- like, but
from the front, her hips seemed more fully curved in contrast to her ex-
ceptionally fl at stomach. As she moved in her stretching exercises, she
arched her back where muscles rippled like those of a disciplined dancer.
Her legs were long, a dancer’s legs, well toned with a fine swell of calf
and trim ankles.

Hitchcock methodically studied her feet— well manicured and a
perfect size seven and a half, he estimated, and he knew his feet. He
licked his lips. The size of her feet was important. They would show in
close- up during the Shower Sequence. Hitch had a serious thing about
feet. “Haven’t you ever heard about a foot fetish, my dear?” he once re-
plied when an actress asked about his interest in her feet.

Robust, energetic, and breezy, the redhead exuded health and whole-
someness. Her carriage was erect, graceful, poised, and as limber and
lithe as a cat’s. She was the ultimate outdoors person— a deep- sea fisher-
man, bareback horseback rider, motorcycle rider, and mountain hiker
who spent her days swimming, sunbathing, playing nude volleyball, or
posing under hot lights. She spent her nights parading in elaborate cos-
tumes and on nightclub stages in Vegas or Miami or Manhattan.

She paused in her stretching, both arms above her head, fingers
reaching toward the rafters where soft murmurs and sighs of apprecia-
tion emanated from the workmen. There were even sharp intakes of
breath from those who had no business up there. She waggled her fingers
at the unseen men, lowered her arms, and confidently placed one open
hand on the long curve of her hip. To Hitch, the redhead was perfectly
sunny faced and radiant, but costumer Rita Riggs, who had the sharpest
eyes in the business (second only to Alma Hitchcock’s), found a flaw. A
faint spray of barely concealed freckles showed across her nose and more
trailed across the hollow of her breasts. Wearing the robe had worn off
some of her body makeup. “Makeup!” Riggs whispered. A thin young
man scurried up with a battered kit and corrected the imperfection. His
hands shook a little as he leaned over her breasts, which shook deli-
ciously from the application of his tiny sponge.

“This first morning,” the redhead recalled, “I had to be in Makeup
at 5:00 a.m. The whole process lasted about five hours (though it got
shorter as the days went on). Off- set, two men worked on me, both full
makeup and wig to match Janet Leigh’s hair, but gray because this was
a black- and- white film.” The short wig they fitted onto her hid the long
fiery- auburn locks that made her such a highly sought photographer’s
model. Lensmen hinted she had “a bit of a temper” to go with the bright
red hair that cascaded to her shoulders.

Hitchcock’s nudist had a mind of her own but little vanity. Hitch was
a most unhappy man because of his restricted diet (his blood pressure
and weight kept him from enjoying the gourmet foods he craved) and
two recent box office flops (The Wrong Man and Vertigo), his determined
attempt at fine art. Hitch suspected the redhead might even be fun. He
envied her since he had very little fun outside of work. Hitch found the
nudist’s coloring a most attractive feature. Her warm, healthy color, she
assured him, was “just a golden tan,” the result of her Scottish, English,
Welsh, and German ancestry. What a shame this symphony of pale reds
and pinks, greens and pure pale whites on a predominant golden field
would be lost in his film. The redhead would have been great in color,
but Psycho was a throwback, shot in black and white (as was Hitch’s an-
thology television show) to make the blood and subject matter less grue-
some. It was also economical. It had to be. Hitch was bankrolling the
movie himself, something no director likes to do, though some do agree
to pay a percentage of any overages. With Psycho, Hitch was on the hook
for all the cost overruns and forgoing his usual $250,000 salary.

He had to admit the redheaded nudist had something— an inde-
finable quality no different from the portrait over the mantel in the
famous 1940s noir film Laura. Laura’s painted image had so enthralled
the detective sent to investigate her murder that he had fallen in love
with a dead woman. In the end, Laura had turned up alive. In the noir
genre, Hitch’s Vertigo was the closest film to Laura. Both had a death
and resurrection plot and an obsessive detective in love with a figment
of his imagination.

“Even in a city swarming with beautiful girls,” one photographer re-
marked of the redhead, “it’s rare to find one with such all- round physical
perfection as this twenty- three- year- old whose natural charm and intelli-
gence make her supple thirty- six/twenty- three/thirty- five contours doubly
appealing.” She stood five feet, three and three quarters inches barefoot,
the same height as Janet Leigh and three inches shorter than Hitch.
More important, her figure approximated the star’s spectacular thirty-
 seven/twenty- two/thirty- five curves, one of the reasons she had been
hired as the star’s body double. Such curvaceousness had its difficulties:
Leigh had difficulty buying swimsuits: “If I fit on the bottom,” she com-
plained, “the top was too small.” In spite of her voluptuous figure, Janet
Leigh had a boyish butt like the redhead’s. The redhead’s breasts were
just as sharply curved so that her nipples (like Janet’s) rested just slightly
atop her breasts rather than exactly on the tips. Janet Leigh’s waist (of-
ficially listed as twenty- one inches) had filled out an inch. The redhead’s
was smaller and, though doubling for the thirty- two- year- old star, she
was considerably younger. Four years earlier, at age seventeen (already a
beauty queen and TV advertising model), she had graduated from Mon-
rovia High a year early. Since then she had been a magazine cover girl
and a chorus dancer at the El Rancho Vegas Casino Hotel, the Interna-
tional Hotel in Miami Beach, and the Latin Quarter in Manhattan.

Marli Renfro, the redhead’s stage and modeling name, was a perfect
name for stardom. Four syllable names like hers were usually composed
in Hollywood with the right letter count to fit on theater marquees.
Alan Ladd’s was. Her name also had a rhythm that made it memorable.
It was only slightly altered from her true first name, Marlys (pronounced
Mar- Less). In childhood, her closest friends had nicknamed her Mouse,
Marlys Mouse, and Marli Ruffles. But for Psycho, her name didn’t matter.
Her identity was to be kept secret. Around the Universal- Revue lot she
became known as the “Mystery Girl.”


The New York Times bestselling author who investigated the Zodiac case now uncovers a real-life mystery of murder, body doubles, and obsession

Marli Renfro was a model who played a part in one of the most iconic scenes in American movies- as Janet Leigh's nude body double in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho-only to fade into obscurity, a footnote in Hollywood history. It wasn't until 1988 that Marli Renfro made news again - raped and murdered by a serial killer with a fetish for the classic Hitchcock shocker. But as Graysmith investigated Marli's story, a nagging doubt entered his mind. What if Marli was still alive? What if another woman had been murdered in her place? And if Marli was still alive, would he ever find her? The line between art and reality is blurred in this astonishing coda to one of the most memorable screen murders of all time, and to a real- life crime that one man was determined to solve.