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Movies, Television and Broadway


MOVIES
The Trouble with Harry
My first film

Paramount 1955

When my parents enrolled me in dancing classes to strengthen my weak ankles they had no idea I would learn to dance and eventually become a chorus girl and understudy to Carol Haney in the Broadway musical, The Pajama Game. Carol had a reputation for going on no matter what, but she had weak ankles and sprained one very badly. I was thrust into her role in the play. I never understood, or for that matter, thought much about the ankle karma. But that was how I became a star.

Unknown to me, there were two men in the audience of that Pajama Game performance that would change my life forever. Hal Wallis, the Hollywood producer who discovered Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Doc Ericson, a representative for the legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock.

Here I was, a nineteen year old chorus girl, with no acting experience. Hitchcock put me in a room with Mildred Natwick, Edmund Gwenn and John Forsythe. These were the premiere actors on Broadway and now were my co-stars. We were together during the first reading and having no previous experience, I just read it instinctively. When we were finished, Hitch, in his quirky sense of humor, said, "You have the guts of a bank robber." Because of Hitch's reputation, I knew I had the job!

I was scared, but curious, and yearned for the learning experience as I joined the film crew in Vermont. I have fond memories of all the cast. In the beginning John Forsythe tolerated me as an amateur, but then realized I had an instinct for acting and started to appreciate this gift. I learned so much from all of them.

Hitchcock was a connoisseur of food and had great knowledge in this area. We shot in Vermont because the hotel we stayed in, The Lodge, was famous for the best food in Stowe, Vermont. He liked the leaves of Vermont, but he really appreciated the food. There was always plenty on the set and I ate all of it because it was free. In my days as a chorus girl I hadn't had much to eat. I existed on graham crackers and peanut butter. When I began the picture I was svelte and lithe, but by the time I buried Harry for the last time, the head of the studio called me... I think the word was blimp.

Hitch had a mind-tease code that kept you alert. One morning he came waddling toward me, eyes twinkling, roly-poly stomach well out in the lead.

"Pleasant period following death."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Genuine chopper, old girl, genuine chopper."
"Excuse me?"
"And after your first line - dog's feet."

Finally, Hitch explained his version of cockney rhyming slang:

Good mourning. (Pleasant period following death)
Real-Axe. (Genuine chopper)
After you start your first line, paws. (Dog's feet)

What a mind. I have the greatest appreciation for this mystery meister who gave me the freedom of artistic expression, to seek and learn from some of the best. Hitch, wherever you are, I love you and will see you again...

About Shirley
Shirley in The Trouble with Harry
Shirley in The Trouble with Harry
Shirley in The Trouble with Harry
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