Christina LaneOct 7, 2021
Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock
Chicago Review Press 2020
A platinum beauty with an ugly secret; a tall, dark, and handsome husband with murder in his eyes; starkly lit interiors that may or may not include the silhouette of a rotund British gentleman…. This may sound like a catalog of images from the films of Alfred Hitchcock, but it is just as much an encapsulation of the works of Joan Harrison, a studio-era producer, a prolific cinematic storyteller, and a pioneer of female-centered suspense media at mid-century. Harrison remains best known as Alfred Hitchcock’s right-hand woman—that is, to the extent that she is known at all.
Christina Lane has written the first-ever book dedicated to the life and art of Joan Harrison, entitled Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, The Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock (Chicago Review Press, February 2020). Born into a middle-class family in Surrey, Harrison took a secretarial job with Alfred Hitchcock as an aimless twenty-something, only to become a producer on films including Foreign Correspondent (1940), Rebecca (1940), and Suspicion (1941). In the 1940s, Harrison branched out, building a solo career producing movies for RKO and Universal Studios, only to return to the Hitchcock fold to run TV’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962).
In this discussion, Lane shares how she uncovered this obscure history, placing this “phantom lady” at the center of her own story. She also discusses the trajectory of Harrison’s career and how she adapted her research for a broader readership.
Christina Lane is Professor in the Cinematic Arts Department at the University of Miami and Edgar®-Award winning author of Phantom Lady: Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock. She provides commentary for such outlets as the Daily Mail, CrimeReads and AirMail, and has been a featured guest speaker at the Film Forum, and on NPR and Turner Classic Movies.
Annie Berke is the Film Editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and author of Their Own Best Creations: Women Writers in Postwar Television (University of California Press, 2022). Her scholarship and criticism has been published in Feminist Media Histories, Public Books, Literary Hub, and Ms.