by Christina Morgan Cree
Alfred Hitchcock came to California in 1939 to film his first American production, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1940) starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. Most people know he lived near Hollywood in Bel Air with his wife, Alma, and daughter, Pat, and it is well known the he found inspiration in and around the Bay Area as a backdrop location for several of his films. What people don’t know is that for over 30 years the “master of suspense” called Scotts Valley his home. From 1940 to 1974, the Hitchcocks lived on a sprawling ranch in Vine Hill and played host to several of the biggest stars of the day there. Here’s how it happened:
In 1920, Alfred Hitchcock worked as a title card designer for what would become the London branch of Paramount Pictures. He directed his first film in 1922, Number 13, and after several disappointments had his first major success, The Lodger (1927), in which he made the first of his famous cameo appearances when it was realized they were short one extra during filming. The 39 Steps (1935) drew critical acclaim and in 1937 he made The Lady Vanishes which earned him the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director, the first and last time he would be awarded for his brilliant direction.
In 1939, David O. Selznick, who had just produced the monumentally successful Gone with the Wind, signed Hitchcock to a 7-year contract. They moved to California to start work on Rebecca starring Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier. Following normal protocol, the movie, which was set in England, would be filmed at Selznick Studios and various California locations including Del Monte in Monterey County substituting for the grounds of Manderley and Point Lobos as a stand in for the rugged cliffs of Monte Carlo where Joan Fontaine’s character first meets Laurence Olivier’s Maxim de Winter. Joan Fontaine’s family lived in Los Gatos and both she and her sister Olivia de Havilland attended Los Gatos High School.
When Hitchcock was looking to buy land where he could grow a vineyard and have horses, it was Joan Fontaine’s parents who suggested Scotts Valley. After filming Foreign Correspondent in the autumn of 1940 he purchased 200 acres in Vine Hill for $40,000. Established in 1881 by Pierre Cornwall and called Heart O’ the Mountain, the property had a nine room adobe-style house, stables, tennis court, and winery. The Hitchcocks expanded on the house and renovated and restyled with contemporary designs and works of art. Many Hollywood legends visited the Hitchcock’s Scotts Valley estate including Grace Kelly (Princess Grace of Monaco) and Prince Rainier, Ingrid Bergman, Bob Cummings, Kim Novak, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant, among others. They sold the estate in 1974. Since 1978 it has been owned by the Brassfield family, who have kept the estate “very much the same way Cornwall and Hitchcock left it.” They produce hand-crafted, Estate grown Pinot Noir. .
In and Around Santa Cruz
Once Hitchcock put down roots in Northern California, he took the opportunity to find filming locations close to home. Here are some of his movies with locations near his Scotts Valley home.
Rebecca (1940) Filmed at Selznick Studios, Del Monte (the grounds of Manderley) and Point Lobos (the rugged Monte Carlo Cliffs). (The Hitchcock Zone/wiki/Rebecca (1940) Locations)
Suspicion (1941) The coastline of Big Sur (south of Santa Cruz) was used for the setting of the fictional English location of Tangmere-by-the-Sea in West Essex. (The Hitchcock Zone/wiki/Suspicion (1941) Locations)
Vertigo (1958) Filmed at San Juan Batista and Big Basin. You can see the well known cross section of the giant Sequoia in the film. (The Hitchcock Zone/wiki/Vertigo (1958) Locations)
Psycho (1960) The eerie setting for the mansion on the hill overlooking the Bates Motel was supposedly designed after the old Hotel McCray, now Sunshine Villa, on Beach Hill near the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
For more information on Hitchcock’s Bay Area film locations see Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco.
Some of my favorite Hitchcock films:
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Hitchcock’s favorite of his films
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Rear Window (1954)
To Catch a Thief (1955)
North by Northwest (1959)
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