One of my hobbies is watching old movies and television shows and googling the key players to see 1) how old they were when the project came out 2) whether they’re still living and 3) if not, how they died. This admittedly morbid pastime combines my love of classic film, dead celebrities, and sometimes (when I’m lucky), true crime. I know you also love these things (even if you won’t admit it), so I thought I’d compile the information here.
NOTE: This is awkward, but I just realized I stole the whole idea for this feature from Steve Weddle, who wrote a “Where Are They Now” for DOUBLE INDEMNITY post on Do Some Damage in September 2017. And here I thought I came up with it on my own, dammit. Sorry, Steve, but I’m TOTALLY taking this idea and running with it. Of course, you can probably catch me because you’re in much better shape than I am. xoxo
DIAL “M” FOR MURDER
Wikipedia tells me DIAL “M” FOR MURDER (1957) is an American crime film directed by Alfred Hitchcock (duh). As a writer, I’m interested in knowing where stories originate, and in this case, the screenplay was based on a stage play of the same name written by Frederick Knott that debuted on BBC Television in 1952. Knott also wrote the film’s screenplay.
Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), an English professional tennis player, is married to wealthy socialite Margot (Grace Kelly), who has had an affair with American crime-fiction writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). When Tony retires from tennis in response to Margot’s complaints about his busy schedule, he secretly discovers the affair and decides to murder her, both for revenge and to ensure her money will continue to finance his comfortable lifestyle.
One thing to note is that STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (which I’ll write about at some point) also features a professional tennis player. Coincidence, or did Hitchcock have a secret passion for tennis?
Ray isn’t one of my favorite actors, although I recently watched THE LOST WEEKEND (for which he won an Oscar) and my opinion of him improved somewhat. I just don’t find him that appealing, particularly in DIAL “M” FOR MURDER. Maybe I’m shallow but I can’t see a woman like Grace Kelly being attracted to a man like him, especially since he married her for her money, not the other way around (how’s that for reinforcing stereotypes). Originally, Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant to star in the film but Warner Bros. thought he’d be miscast as a villain. I’m not so sure about that, but so be it.
Born January 3, 1907 in Wales, Ray was 50 when DIAL “M” FOR MURDER came out. I’d say he looks his age, more or less, although most men have some gray by that age. Ray seems to have made good use of his Grecian Formula. (Had to check to see if they still make that. They do).
Ray died at age 79 on March 10, 1986. At the time of his death, he’d been married to his wife, Muriel, for 53 years, which is a remarkable for Hollywood marriages, both then and now, although he apparently had a torrid affair with Grace Kelly during the filming of DIAL “M” FOR MURDER. Kind of disappointing. The Millands separated for awhile because of it, but eventually reunited.
According to his LA Times obit, Ray “died quietly in his sleep” of lung cancer. He’d been diagnosed a few years earlier but aside from some issues with back pain, he was doing well. He only began to deteriorate a couple of months before his death at Torrance Memorial Hospital in Torrance, California. There were no funeral services, his body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Redondo Beach.
In 1970, Ray’s son, Daniel, committed suicide at age 41 with a shotgun blast to the head. I mention it because I often find such tragedies when I’m reading celebrity bios. Does it happen more with them than in the general population? I don’t know. But I think it’s interesting and reinforces my belief that fame is not generally conducive to a happy life.
Grace Kelly’s cause of death is more well known than most. But before we get to that, she was 25 when DIAL “M” FOR MURDER came out, which for some reason surprises me. It’s not that she looks older, or maybe, it is. Women’s style and bearing have gotten less formal over the years, making it hard to compare the looks of a 25-year-old woman in 1950 with one in 2018.
With that said, Grace was one of the most beautiful women to ever appear on film, regardless of age.
Hitchcock apparently offered the role of Margot Wendice to Deborah Kerr first. Not sure how I feel about that because I find Kerr very meh. How different would the film be if Kerr and Milland had been cast together vs. Kelly and Grant? Or for that matter, Kerr and Grant? We’ll never know, although we get hints in films like AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (Kerr & Grant) and TO CATCH A THIEF (Kelly & Grant).
Oh, and Olivia de Havilland was also offered the role, but she wanted too much money.
Much has been written about Grace’s life and death, far more than I care to synopsize here. But for a quick and entertaining read, check out Find A Death. It’s one of my favorite websites ever and I’ll no doubt be referring you to it often (I hope you appreciate irreverence as much as I do).
Grace’s numerous affairs are likewise well-documented, and while I take no issue with her apparently vast appreciation of men (in fact, I applaud her for it), a number of these relationships were with married men, to which I say no bueno. I guess I’m old fashioned that way. I still love her, though.
She married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in April 1956, which effectively ended her acting career. Alfred Hitchcock offered her the lead in MARNIE in 1962 and she was interested in taking the role, but the public in Monaco gave that idea a hard no. Tippi Hedren (who I also love but not as much as Grace Kelly) got the role instead.
Grace died on September 14, 1982 at age 52. On September 13, she was driving back to Monaco from her country home with her daughter, Princess Stephanie, when she lost control of her Rover P6 and sped off a cliff. I’ve known the basic story since it happened in 1982. What I didn’t know (and learned just now) is that doctors believe she suffered a minor stroke, resulting in the loss of control. I’ve heard the rumor that Princess Stephanie was actually driving the car, but it seems she only tried to unsuccessfully wrest control of the vehicle. And apparently, under normal circumstances, neither of them would’ve been driving (they had a chauffeur who was driving behind them and witnessed the accident) but Grace and Stephanie had been arguing about which school Stephanie should attend and Grace suggested she drive home alone with her daughter so they could hash it out.
Neither of them were wearing a seatbelt and so were bounced around the car’s interior, resulting in multiple injuries to both. Stephanie exited the vehicle herself while Grace was pulled out by an emergency crew. She was taken to what is now called Princess Grace Hospital Centre in Monaco with injuries to the brain and thorax and a fractured femur. Prince Rainier chose to take her off life support the following day, after which, she died.
Her funeral was held at Saint Nicolas Cathedral in Monaco, with Cary Grant, Nancy Reagan, Princess Diana, and over 400 others in attendance. In his eulogy at a later memorial service held in Beverly Hills, James Stewart called Grace “just about the nicest lady” he’d ever met.
Grace is buried in the Grimaldi family vault.
Robert Cummings (as he was known for his dramatic work) and Bob Cummings (his billing for lighter fare) was born on June 9, 1910, making him a Gemini, just like me. He was 47 when DIAL “M” FOR MURDER came out, which makes me believe the claim he was a health-food fanatic who carried a small suitcases of vitamins around with him in an effort to live longer and preserve his youthful looks. Because I never would’ve guessed he was 47 and I want some of what he’s having.
Or maybe not because he was reportedly a methamphetamine addict. That’s not my speed (heh heh, see what I did there). While working in New York in the 1950s, he began receiving injections from Max Jacobson, aka Dr. Feelgood. Jacobson maintained the shots contained only “vitamins, sheep sperm, and monkey gonads,” but in truth they also contained a substantial dose of methamphetamine. Cummings continued the injections with Jacobson’s son when he returned to Los Angeles and his subsequent addiction led to eventual collapse of both his career and his third and fourth marriages. This seems like a good time to mention was married five times and fathered seven children. Cummings also wrote a book called STAY YOUNG AND VITAL, published in 1960.
Bob died at age 80 on December 2, 1980. Cause of death: kidney failure and complications from pneumonia. He was living at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California at the time, a place where many entertainment industry notables spent their last years. He’s interred at the Great Mausoleum in the same niche as his parents at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.
I won’t be focusing on directors much here but Alfred Hitchcock is an exception. But since he’ll undoubtedly be making numerous appearances in this feature (as will Grace Kelly, but oh well), we’ll start with the basics and limit the discussion to DIAL “M” FOR MURDER.
Hitch was born on August 13, 1899, which turns out to be a Sunday (I was so hoping it was a Friday), making him 58 when DIAL “M” FOR MURDER came out. Always known as a director obsessed with detail, he chose every prop personally. At the studio’s insistence, it was to be filmed in 3D and he knew it would capture objects in ways his previous films hadn’t.
Filming lasted only 36 days. It was his first film with Grace Kelly, but thankfully, not the last.
Hitch died at 9:15 a.m. on April 29, 1980 in his Bel Air home. He was 80. It was reportedly due to “natural causes” and his death certificate cites heart failure, noting that he also suffered from atherosclerotic heart disease and a couple of other typical conditions. He was survived by Alma, his wife of 54 years, daughter Patricia, and three grandchildren.
He was cremated on May 1, 1980 and his remains were scattered off the California coast. Memorials were held at the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills and at Westminster Abbey.
There is obviously much more to tell about Alfred Hitchcock, some of it not so nice. I’ll get to that in later posts.