I believe I’m a leading man. I’m tall and have a well-shaped nose and patrician features and a deep distinctive voice and can plausibly win the girl or, if compelled, send her where she’ll no longer displease me. I should star in the finest movies. Perhaps someday I shall.
For the moment, a decade or so into my career, I do concede, unless one wants to dominate B movie backlots, that it’s necessary to tacitly accept a handful of actors are simply prettier or more charismatic or dramatically gifted. Laurence Olivier, the gentleman starring in Rebecca, is a sublime example such genetic good fortune. I often overwhelm lesser players but when I sign for this supporting role I in essence concede the other man is king.
I nevertheless sense a way to at least temporarily take the throne. I’m a cad in life and becoming typecast as one on screen so am rather comfortable telling Alfred Hitchcock I’d appreciate a brief but critical, and confidential, script change late in the movie.
“Our audience wouldn’t like that,” he says.
“Nor would they find this congenial,” I counter, offering a personal letter in his hand that would distress Mrs. Hitchcock, his professional as well as personal partner.
Burdened by fifty kilos of fat, much of it in his face, Hitchcock generally bears an ominous expression and this one darkens. As he begins to turn away I snatch the letter and say, “I may add screenwriting to my resume.”
For the present we all proceed as planned and reveal that Olivier may be involved in the mysterious death at sea of his beautiful wife Rebecca. He replaces the charming lady with a new and dear wife and continues to fool authorities until they discover the corpse of Rebecca offshore in Olivier’s boat whose bottom was punctured with holes to facilitate sinking. That would be a strange not to mention physically impossible way for a distressed lady to commit suicide.
At this moment it is my profound duty to produce a letter, handwritten by Rebecca and dated the day of her death, in which she expresses love for me and her joy in living. This is not, I state at the inquest, the note of one planning to end her life that night. I could’ve suppressed this missive if Olivier had been of a more generous nature, but a star must always be dignified and victorious. Conversely, humble actors like George Sanders usually fail in ignominious ways.
Not this time. I disclose the name of Rebecca’s doctor in London and lead a variety of relevant people to his office. She used a pseudonym but the doctor checks dates of appointments and remembers her great beauty and delight in being pregnant. What a wonderful experience she and I and our child could’ve enjoyed. The sheriff apologizes to wealthy Olivier for placing him under arrest.
Eyes opening wide as those of a provincial ham, Olivier says, “Alfred, what the devil is this? We agreed that Rebecca bore terminal cancer rather than a child and despondency overwhelmed her.”
“Recent creative impulses have enabled me to improve the ending,” says the director.