Thursday, November 27, 2008

John Michael Hayes: An Appreciation

It was today in the Los Angeles Times that I learned of the passing of John Michael Hayes, a two-time Academy Award-nominated screenwriter best known for his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock on four films, including "Rear Window" and "To Catch a Thief." Hayes was 89.

A former writer for such radio series as "Inner Sanctum Mysteries," "My Favorite Husband" and "The Adventures of Sam Spade," Hayes had four screenwriting credits under his belt when he began the first of four collaborations with famed film director Alfred Hitchcock: 1954's "Rear Window."

The 1954 suspense drama starred James Stewart as a photographer who is confined to a wheelchair with a broken leg and, while idly spying on his neighbors across the courtyard of his Greenwich Village apartment building, comes to believe that one of his neighbors has committed a murder.

The critical and commercial success of "Rear Window" would lead to further corroborations with Hitchcock, resulting in "To Catch a Thief" (1955), "The Trouble With Harry" (1955) and "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956). Unfortunately, what caused the relationship to go asunder was not only the media attention Hayes was getting for his writing, but money issues as well.

Later, Hayes developed a reputation for being one of the best adapters of novels for Hollywood film, one who could take tawdry material deemed too taboo for censors' tastes and transform it into tasteful mainstream fare. Case in point was his 1957 adaptation of Grace Metalious' bestselling novel, "Peyton Place," which dealt with such topics as illicit love, incest, abortion, and social hypocrisy in a New England village town.

His work on the four Hitchcock films and on "Peyton Place" has earned him a place in Hollywood history, and his contributions to cinema will secure it. He will be sorely missed.