John Michael Hayes; Writer Worked With Hitchcock

Director Alfred Hitchcock, left, listens to screenwriter John Hayes on the set of
Director Alfred Hitchcock, left, listens to screenwriter John Hayes on the set of "To Catch a Thief" (1955). The two also collaborated on the 1954 film "Rear Window." (Courtesy Of Steven Derosa)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

John Michael Hayes, 89, a screenwriter who added sexy sophistication to Alfred Hitchcock's films "Rear Window" and "To Catch a Thief" and toned down explicit material for movie adaptations of the popular books "Peyton Place" and "Butterfield 8," died of renal failure Nov. 19 at a retirement community in Hanover, N.H.

Mr. Hayes was credited with writing more than 1,500 radio scripts, including comedy and detective shows, before his work for Hitchcock propelled him to the front rank of screenwriters in the 1950s.

They forged a partnership that created some of the director's most engaging films of his greatest professional decade, said film scholar David Sterritt. Mr. Hayes, he said, "successfully mediated between Hitchcock's imagination and the requirements of a polished Hollywood screenplay."

Often that meant building character and adding humorous diversions to Hitchcock's concern with visual storytelling.

It was Mr. Hayes's idea to add sly romantic banter -- even a love interest at all -- to "Rear Window" (1954), which he helped transform from a slender Cornell Woolrich short story into what many critics regard as a masterpiece of suspense.

Although an early version of the film made the protagonist a sportswriter who thinks he has seen a murder from his apartment window, Mr. Hayes turned the leading man into a wheelchair-bound photographer to emphasize the theme of voyeurism.

James Stewart played the photographer, and Grace Kelly was his girlfriend, a high-fashion model based on Mr. Hayes's wife.

When Kelly makes her entrance in early evening, she whispers into Stewart's ear, "How's your leg?"

"Hurts a little.

"Your stomach?"

"Empty as a football."

"And your love life?"

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company