Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock

by Christina Lane

Publishers Weekly Film professor Lane (Feminist Hollywood) gives proper due to the legacy of Joan Harrison, one of Hollywood’s first female producers, in this wide-ranging biography. Lane makes a persuasive case that, more than just a creative partner with Alfred Hitchcock in several films and the show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Harrison left her signature on film noir, beginning with the 1944 sleeper hit that provides the book’s title, and paved the way for other female filmmakers. Drawing on original interviews and archival research, Lane follows Harrison’s career trajectory, film by film, while tracing recurring themes in her work, including travel, fashion, and, especially, nuanced female characters. Nitty-gritty details—Harrison’s wrangling with temperamental stars and with overbearing censors, for instance—add heft to the book, while excursions into her romantic and social life add color; Harrison had a fling with Clark Gable and mentored many young female stars such as Ella Raines and Merle Oberon. Hitchcock’s dominating personality occasionally steals Harrison’s spotlight in these pages, though she only worked with him for part of her career. Lane’s lively and loving account of “one of the last great untold stories of the classical Hollywood era” will intrigue film scholars, Hitchcock fans, and general readers alike. (Feb.)

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Kirkus A close-up look at the career of an influential woman screenwriter and producer in Hollywood.Lane (Film Studies/Univ. of Miami; Magnolia, 2011, etc.) depicts Joan Harrison (1907-1994) as an unconventional woman who was the most enduring assistant and colleague that Alfred Hitchcock ever had. "Harrison would contribute to all of Hitchcock's late British achievementsand his early Hollywood successes.Together, these films established Hitchcock as a master of the seriocomic thriller and gothic suspense." The author continues, "plainly put, Alfred Hitchcock would not have become Hitchcock' without her." The title refers not only to the "noir gem" that Harrison made for Universal Pictures in 1944, a film that featured a resourceful, independent woman, but also to Lane's desire to restore the reputation of Harrison, who has been largely overlooked in Hollywood histories despite her stature at the time as "the most powerful woman producer in Hollywood." The author closely follows her ambitious and clever subject's career from her initial interview with Hitchcock at age 26 to her death at 87. While Lane's attention to the details of Harrison's career may seem excessive, what she reveals about the making of some of Hitchcock's films is fascinating. As she chronicles Harrison's journey from secretary to screenwriter to producer, she takes readers behind the scenes of such films as The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn, and Rebecca as well as many others that Harrison worked on with Hitchcock. We learn about casting decisions, script changes, the strengths and weaknesses of various actors, and the power of the studio moguls and censors. Lane also shows how Hollywood reacted to the redbaiting scare and the blacklisting that followed. The narrative is not all business, however. The author shows Harrison hobnobbing with celebrities in nightclubs, marrying the novelist Eric Ambler, and living well abroad.A solid addition to the growing literature about women filmmakers, with greatest appeal to Hitchcock fans and movie lovers. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list In a New Yorker article Margaret Talbot observed that one of the stranger things about the history of moviemaking is that women have been there all along, periodically exercising real power behind the camera, yet their names and contributions keep disappearing. Film historian Lane ensures that this will not happen to Joan Harrison, who parlayed a job as Alfred Hitchcock's secretary into a career as a screenwriter and film and television producer. She was twice nominated for an Academy Award (with Robert E. Sherwood for Best Adapted Screenplay for Rebecca and with Charles Bennett for Best Writing, Original Screenplay for Foreign Correspondent). Harrison's other screenwriting credits include Jamaica Inn, Suspicion, and Saboteur. Harrison moved to television to produce Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1955 to 1962 and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour from 1962 to 1963. Lane's research is extensive and includes a number of original interviews. As lively and fascinating as its subject, this is an important addition to the history of filmmaking.--Carolyn Mulac Copyright 2020 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal British screenplay writer and producer Joan Harrison joins a growing number of women whose contributions to classic cinema are finally being brought to light. Hired in 1933 as Alfred Hitchcock's secretary, Harrison helped the legendary director develop the tightly plotted, suspenseful stories for which he was known. She wrote the screenplays for his films Rebecca and Suspicion, and by the 1940s was a significant Hollywood presence, as a producer of films such as Phantom Lady. Later, she produced Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the director's wildly popular foray into TV. With this carefully researched, candid portrait, Lane (Feminist Hollywood: From Born in Flames to Point Break and Magnolia) explores her subject's rise to prominence during Hollywood's glittering heyday. Harrison emerges as a woman ahead of her time—a female producer thriving in a male-dominated industry and earning respect from stars, directors, and executives. Comprehensive notes and a bibliography offer strong additional resources. VERDICT Harrison's story is a compelling one. This superbly written, absorbing biography of a woman succeeding on her own terms will resonate with fans of Hollywood stories, as well as those who appreciate celebrations of previously unsung women.—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ

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