By Steve Palopoli, Good Times July 5, 2017
Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s ‘The 39 Steps,’ Hitchcock Week, and the director’s connection to Scotts Valley
In Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Northern California was a downright terrifying landscape, full of rooftop chases, murderous relatives and berserk birds. But in real life, nothing could have been further from the truth.
“When he had the house in Scotts Valley, this is where he came to get away,” says Hitchcock’s granddaughter, Tere Carrubba, who lives in Aptos. “There wasn’t paparazzi. It was peaceful, and he could relax.”
Carrubba will be part of Hitchcock Week, which runs July 7-13 and is meant to both celebrate the legendary director’s connection to this area, and kick off Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s first production of their 2017 season, an adaptation by Patrick Barlow of Hitchcock’s film The 39 Steps. On Saturday, July 8, Carrubba will be at the play’s opening night at the Grove, and she’ll also introduce the screening of Psycho at the Nickelodeon on Wednesday, July 12.
Other screenings during Hitchcock Week include Spellbound at 515 Kitchen and Cocktails on Sunday, July 9; an outdoor viewing of The Birds on Monday, July 10 at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing; and Vertigo at the Crepe Place on Thursday, July 13. On Tuesday, July 11, there will be a discussion of both the film and play The 39 Stepswith GT film critic Lisa Jensen and Santa Cruz Shakespeare scholar Maria Frangos at the downtown Santa Cruz library.
Carrubba says Hitchcock loved the Bay Area in general, but he discovered Santa Cruz through actress Joan Fontaine, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Hitchcock’s first American film, 1940’s Rebecca. Fontaine was raised in Saratoga, attending Los Gatos High School, and lived in the Carmel Highlands for years before her death in 2013 at age 96. Alfred and his wife Alma Hitchcock purchased their 200-acre Scotts Valley home, not coincidentally, the same year Rebecca was released.
It was definitely a retreat for the Hitchcocks, and they tended to avoid social functions when they came to Santa Cruz, Carrubba says.
“They just wanted to be up there by themselves,” she says.
Still, it’s clear that they did a fair amount of scouting around the Bay Area, as Santa Rosa became the shooting location for 1948’s Shadow of a Doubt, San Francisco for 1958’s Vertigo, and Bodega Bay for 1963’s The Birds.
Oddly, Hitchcock’s attraction to Northern California went mostly unnoticed by the general public for decades. Perhaps it was because he used so many locations over the years—including some notably exotic international ones—but it’s all the more strange because he didn’t change the names of any of these cities in the film. While it’s been a point of pride locally for decades, the director’s fondness for the Bay Area didn’t get proper attention from the world at large until the 2002 book Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco.
“I still don’t think it’s gotten its due,” says Paul Mullins, director of Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s The 39 Steps. “I didn’t even know until we started talking about this play that he had this connection to Scotts Valley.”
Mullins had to get into Hitchcock’s head a little bit to direct the adaptation, but there were also times he actually had to put the film entirely out of his mind when staging The 39 Steps, because he knew there was no way he could recreate what Hitchcock had done in the film.
While the play is in many ways true to the film (much more so than the book of the same name on which Hitchcock based it), there is what Mullins calls a “madcap” comic vibe to the adaptation that both pays homage to and sends up certain elements of the original, Mullins says. But he was very surprised when he went back to watch Hitchcock’s film after not having seen it for years to discover that the sharply funny edge is much more prevalent in Hitchcock’s version than he remembered.
Fans of Hitchcock—in other words, everybody—will discover quite a few Easter eggs of interest in the play. “There are references all through it to other Hitchcock films,” he says.
Given Santa Cruz’s unshakeable streak of Hitchcock pride, The 39 Steps seems like a natural for this area. But sometimes we do go overboard. Like that long-standing rumor that the Psycho house was modeled on the Hotel McCray, which used to stand on Beach Hill? Hitchcock did once say that the family home of Norman Bates was modeled on a style he called “California Gothic.” But he certainly never placed his inspiration for it in Santa Cruz, despite what you might read on the internet. And Carrubba says that as far as she knows, it’s not true.
“It’s more of an urban legend,” she says.
‘The 39 Steps’ runs July 5-Sept. 3 at the Grove, 501 Upper Park Road, Santa Cruz. For more details about this season of Santa Cruz Shakespeare or about Hitchcock Week, go to santacruzshakespeare.org.