Alfred Hitchcock? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest movie directors of the twentieth century in my opinion. A controversial quotation about actors has long been attributed to him:
All actors are cattle.
Did he really say this? Who was he speaking to?
Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that Alfred Hitchcock did refer to actors as cattle by 1940, and his astringent remark became widely known in Hollywood. Eventually he provided elaborations and playful variations. Details are given further below.
Hitchcock was not the first person to describe actors as cattle. A book published in 1900 discussed a court case between a prominent actor named William Charles Macready and a stage manager named Bunn. The manager was portrayed negatively because of his harsh attitude toward actors:
The plaintiff in the case got little or no sympathy from the public, for he belonged to the order of manager, not yet totally extinct, who looks upon actors as cattle and plays as mere pens wherein to exhibit them at so much profit.
The earliest instance located by QI of Hitchcock using the phrase was reported by the popular gossip columnist Leonard Lyons in the Washington Post in July 1940. The remark was contained within a larger joke that zinged the acting skills of George Raft who often portrayed gangsters in melodramas:
When Raft, incidentally, appeared in “The House Across the Bay,” his director was absent for one day, and Alfred Hitchcock was asked to help, by directing some closeups. “You know,” Hitchcock warned Raft, “that I think all actors are cattle?” Raft replied, “Yes, I know—but I’m no actor.”
In October 1940 an Associated Press article with a Hollywood dateline included an instance of the quotation. The George Raft joke was altered, and the location of the anecdote was moved from a film set to the home of a well-known actress:
There is a locally-famous story about this Englishman’s attitude toward actors. One evening at Norma Shearer’s, breaking a conversational lull, Hitchcock pulled himself up portentously and announced: “All actors are cattle.” He hoped to provoke a stimulating argument.
After a stunned silence, George Raft, so goes the story, said “But no one ever called me an actor.”
And Hitchcock replied, quietly: “Yes, I know.”
Every actor in town knows the story, but all who have had the pleasure of working with the pudgy director say that whatever he may think of them as a class, he certainly is one of the few who can get the most out of all actors at all times.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.