Saturday is my mom’s birthday. She always hated that her birthday was on Christmas Eve, and not because she’s a nice Jewish Bronx-born girl. She envied the idea of a person’s birthday being months away from Christmas or Hanukkah, of the celebration of your life – along with gifts – being upstaged by a major holiday (also with gifts). Fortunately, my mom has been blessed with a wide circle of friends, and for years the birthday lunches extended to June. On Saturday, my brother and I will take our mom to lunch at a hallowed San Francisco restaurant, and the tradition begins anew. 

What wise man once said, “A boy’s best friend is his mother?” Oh yes, it was Norman Bates – which segues us right into Alfred Hitchcock, my favorite director, and his mother. If you try to figure out Hitch’s relationship with his mom through a close examination of his films, you’re just going to get confused, but the same uncertainty might await you by reading about it. Part of that is the director’s own fault: he surrounded himself with apocryphal stories throughout his professional life, tossing them off to interviewers in order to explain his macabre sensibilities. 

If you were raised on Donald Spoto, as I was, you might imagine that Emma Hitchcock was a rather scary figure. Spoto’s biography, after all, is called The Dark Side of Genius, and he lays stress on every possible event that could turn a lonely, fat little boy into a genius horror-meister and neurotic fat man who wielded his power to torment the beautiful women who acted for him. Spoto stresses all the negative aspects of Hitchcock’s parents and childhood: how they would call him “Fred,” which he hated; how his father may or may not have sent him with a note to the local jail to have him locked up, the truth of this story mattering less than what it revealed about Hitch’s feelings for his dad; how his mother would make him stand before her bed every night for what he described as “evening confession,” something that Spoto insists happened well into Hitch’s young adulthood:

It tells us something about the degree of their psychological intimacy, although there seems something overwhelming about it, something too intimate, a devotion exacted by a mother whose interest in her son’s life imprisons rather than frees, investigates rather than encourages – and inculcates guilt of a scrupulous and neurotic type.

Turn to a later biography, like Patrick McGilligan’s A Life in Darkness and Light or Edward White’s recent The Twelve Lives of Hitchcock and the artist’s childhood is colored differently. For one thing, Alfred has fun. According to White: 

Despite the emphasis on hard work and self-discipline, but Hitchcocks were not Puritans. In addition to the theater outings, classical recitals, fairs, and circuses were common family activities. There were also plenty of day trips along the Thames and into the Essex countryside, as well as seaside holidays in Cliftonville in Kent where his Uncle John rented a large house in the summer.

McGilligan, who describes both parents as “kind and loving” has this to say about those “evening confessions”:

“Even calling this an evening confession – wasn’t this, besides the language of Catholicism, the Hitchcock sense of humor? His nightly confession was no less than proof of a mother’s abiding affection. ‘You know how families always spoil the youngest,’ the mother says in Shadow of a Doubt, speaking of the fatally spoiled Uncle Charlie.

When people talk about women in Hitchcock’s films, they invariably speak of the Hitchcock Woman – the beautiful but icy blonde whose initial distaste for the Hero in Trouble thaws until she offers willing assistance and unbridled passion. As early as The Lodger (1927), Hitchcock staked his claim on the blonde as the recipient of the viewer’s most ardent gaze, and these viewers included some horrific killers (the Avenger in The Lodger targets blondes) and the auteur himself. He honed this character in his English period with the likes of June Tripp, Anna Ondry, Edna Best, Nova Pillbeam and, perhaps most significantly, Madeleine Carroll and then went to America and worked with great and so-so blonde actresses of the time. And when he had run through them, he invented one of his own from scratch. 

I love the blondes – especially Grace Kelly, now and forever – but today is my mother’s birthday, and I Confess! . . . to a partiality for the other women who feature in Hitchcock’s films. There are the literal “other women,” of course, most of them gorgeous brunettes (like Mom) who are wonderful people but never get the guy. Sorry, Diane Baker. Better luck next time, Suzanne Pleshette. Midge, we hardly knew ye. 

Today, however, for reasons that escape me, I want to talk about those mother figures in Hitchcock, played by a fabulous array of character actresses (and one actor) who, in parts large and small, can all but steal the film from the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. Not all of them are actual mothers, but they provide the counsel and advice and support (or dysfunctional lack of it) that a good or bad mom tends to give. I can’t go through ALL of them today, for Christmas is coming, and those packages from my Secret Santa await, but today I can give you my ten favorites. And just to keep things on an even keel – you know, somewhere between Donald Spoto and Patrick McGilligan – this list that corresponds to the twelve days of Christmas is evenly divided between Bad Moms and Good Moms. 


6. Bernice Edgar (Louise Latham) in Marnie (1964)

A common theme in Hitchcock is that of the man who cannot cut the symbolic umbilical cord, who uses his mother as a reason/excuse not to find romantic love with a suitable partner. Only by undergoing a trial by fire – say, being falsely accused of murder – does the man have the opportunity to grow up, find romantic love, and but Mother in her place.

Not until 1964 does Hitchcock delve into a psychological nightmare involving the relationship between a mother and her daughter. The film is Marnie – and I have to say right here that it is difficult for me to speak about this one because I do not like this film. I have tried to get past fandom into scholarship, to focus on the good aspects of it, but the movie leaves me cold on so many levels, particularly Tippi Hedren’s performance and the idea that we’re supposed to view Sean Connery’s Mark as her savior. He rapes the woman! 

Anyway, none of this detracts from the fact that Marnie is the other side of Psycho, involving a child becoming mentally disturbed over a shockingly violent incident involving mom, sex, and death. This time it’s a girl, and this time “Mother” actually did the killing rather than getting killed. But this is all murky past stuff and comes out at the very end of a very long film. What works so well is Louise Lathem’s performance as Bernice, who is trying so hard to stuff down the horrible memories of a misguided act of love and guilt on her daughter’s behalf and who doesn’t know how to deal with the scars it’s left on her child.  

This is a very adult story – one poster labels it a “suspenseful sex mystery.” I know Hitchcock loved to titillate and be titillated. Still, I would rather watch a short clip of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint on a train going through a tunnel over and over than submit to Marnie again. However, it is fair to say that Bernice Edgar is one bad mother.

5. Madame Anna Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin) in Notorious (1946)

Notorious is a romantic drama wrapped in a espionage thriller. The “notorious” figure is Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), whose father has been exposed as a Nazi spy, tried and executed. Ironically, her notoriety allows Alicia to be the only non-secretive character in the movie, at least for a while. Then she meets two men: Devlin (Cary Grant) leads her on and turns cold; Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) is courtly, charming and besotted with her. This being Hitchcock, the cold fish is our hero, an American agent, and the charming guy is a Nazi.

Despite her lack of self-worth, caused by her father’s treason and nurtured by Devlin and his cronies, we see the truth shining in Alicia’s eyes: she is warm, she is heroic, she wants to live and love. 

We see the truth as well in Madame Sebastian’s eyes the first moment we meet her, in a point of view shot from Alicia’s perspective. She has been invited by Alex to a dinner party given by his mother. It is only their second dinner together, but Alex is eager to pick up the spark of a previous obsession and make Alicia his own. What better way than to invite your girl to meet your mother on the second date? In Hitchcock, this way lies madness.

Mme. Sebastian’s first words to Alicia are welcoming, but her eyes are dead cold. In seconds, she is grilling the girl over why Alicia did not testify on her father’s behalf, and through the dinner party she deftly protects the house’s secrets from this intruder. Alex’ next date with Alicia is at the race track, and yet he sits with Mme. Konstantin, who grouses like a jealous mom (“I thought I was behaving very well. Has she been complaining about me?”). 

We know this relationship is a sham, that Alicia has fallen for Devlin, that she would do anything for him and to somehow atone for her father’s crimes and wipe the stain of notoriety from her family name. What she doesn’t know is that her willingness to help the American government by marrying Alex has branded her with a different sort of notoriety in the eyes of the CIA. It turns out, however, that Alicia isn’t as good as the others at wearing a mask. Looking through field glasses at Alicia and Devlin on the track, Alex is certain that she loves the guy, and yet he proposes anyway. His mother protests, and Alex demurs, “You’ve always been jealous of every woman I’ve ever shown any interest in.” 

Madame Konstantin is chilling throughout, imbuing her dark motherhood with the fanaticism of a loyal Fascist. Notorious is brilliant in how it weaves together the political plot elements with the romantic. For the first half of the film, you can’t help but feel some sympathies for Alex Sebastian, saddled with this horrible mother and choosing the wrong side. But things take a different turn after Alex exposes Alicia’s own “treason” in both cuckolding him with Devlin and in discovering the secrets of the wine cellar. In the film’s creepiest scene, Alex appears in his mother’s bedroom and watches her sleep, then calls, “Mother . . . mother” to wake her. Mme. Sebastian’s first thought is that Alicia has been unfaithful, and it brings an eager smile to her face. Her grim joy reaches its climax when Alex tells her Alicia is a spy, and she lights a satisfying cigarette.

Alex:    I must have been insane, mad, behaving like an idiot to believe in her with her clinging 

kisses – 

Mom:   Stop wallowing in your foul memories.

After this, mother and son are joined together in a common purpose: to murder his bride. Yes, it is a political act of self-protection, but the psycho-sexual aspects underlying their actions are fascinating.

4. Mrs. Antony (Marion Lorne) in Strangers on a Train (1951)

Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) meets tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and develops strong feelings for him, somewhere between homoerotic and homicidally adjacent. He proposes that they swap murders: Bruno will gleefully kill Guy’s troublesome wife if Guy then kills Bruno’s commanding father. Guy, who hasn’t watched enough Hitchcock, dismisses Bruno as a nutjob. His judgment is spot on; only his measure of the degree of Bruno’s insanity is off. 

Movies about psychopaths are divided into those that present the character with no guide and the rest that try to explain the killer’s psychopathy. If I were to tell you that Strangers is an example of the latter, I’d probably be lying. But the presentation of his mother certainly gives us a good sense of how Bruno came to be the man(iac) he is today. 

I think Notorious is one of Hitchcock’s great pictures, but I have always been slow to warm to it due to its complete lack of humor. Strangers on a Train has a different problem: the villain and his mother are so hilarious that you can’t help but root for Bruno over the hapless, cute-but-dull Guy and his drip of a girlfriend (Ruth Roman, one of the least successful “Hitchcock women” of all time). What saves Guy is that the girlfriend’s father (Leo G. Carroll) and sister (Patricia Hitchcock) are delightful . . . oh, and all that stuff about good prevailing over evil. 

Mrs. Antony is a small part, but Marion Lorne is a treasure, and she makes her three or four scenes sparkle. Hitchcock can turn anything prurient, and that’s what happens in the scene where Mother gives Bruno a manicure. It’s a deliciously macabre and disturbing moment that is also made funny by Lorne’s personality and Walker’s blithe lunacy. 

Mom:  “Well, I do hope you’ve forgotten about that silly little plan of yours.

Bruno: “Which one?

Mom:  “About blowing up the White House.”

Bruno: “Oh, ma – I was only fooling. Besides – what would the President say?

Mom:  You’re a naughty boy, Bruno, (giggling) – but you can always make me laugh.”

That’s the old boy, all right – that’s Father!”

And, while we can’t hold her responsible for her son’s madness just because she’s dithery, the moment when she unveils her portrait of Bruno’s father (“Bruno, I do wish you’d take up painting – such a soothing pastime.”) is as insightful as it is funny.

3. Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) in Rebecca (1940)

One of my most favorite moments in film occurs in The Little Princess (1939) when Shirley Temple’s father asks Miss Minchin, the headmistress of a private school, if she will take special care of his dear little Sarah. With a malicious glint in her eye, Mary Nash as Miss Minchin says, “I am a mother to all my girls.” 

That’s the kind of mother Mrs. Danvers is. Her maniac devotion, first to the deification of her beloved Rebecca and then to the destruction of her mistress’ successor (Joan Fontaine), is something to behold. How many scenes have we beheld in movies when a beloved child dies and her parents maintain her room as a shrine? Much is made of Mrs. Danvers handling Rebecca’s underwear (“They were made especially forward by the nuns from the convent of St. Clare.”) as a Sapphic gesture. Perhaps, but . . . I don’t know who bought and washed your underwear as a kid; my mom even purchased my jock straps for gym class.

That central scene where Mrs. Danvers gives the new Mrs. de Winter a tour of Rebecca’s boudoir epitomizes her character as a bad mother. Her voice is oozing and unctuous, her body in supplication. Only those eyes burn with the fierceness of her love and hate. The effect is compounded by Fontaine’s performance: she renders the new wife as little more than a child. And while many girls become women after marrying their husbands, it is actually the machinations of “Mother” Danvers that spur the wife from innocence to experience, much more than the moody doldrums she encounters with Max. It is a mother’s job to train her children in order that they may ultimately leave home. Mrs. Danvers literally burns down the house.

2. Mrs. Norma Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Psycho (1960)

I suppose you thought that Mrs. Bates would occupy the #1 slot here, much as she did for her son Norman years beyond her death. Here’s the thing: I give her credit for providing the bloody gist for one of Hitchcock’s five best films and for being the most vibrant character at the Bates Motel. But, filtered through the tortured mind of her son, Mrs. Bates is a pretty one-note channel for Norman’s rage and guilt. 

What I love to think about Psycho is the millions of people in 1960 theatres whose  jaws dropped at the climactic revelation. If you watch the movie a hundred times – and, goodness knows, I have – it practically screams the truth at you over and over again. That early scene in the back room of the motel office when Norman and Marian Bates have a talk is breathtaking. The stuffed corpses of predatory birds gaze down on their two victims from the walls – except Norman made these birds himself, right? This is where Norman says that a boy’s best friend is his mother, and where he nearly snaps Marian’s head off for suggesting “oh so politely” that he institutionalize the old lady. “She just goes a little mad sometimes,” he demurs. 

What innocent times those were, not only because most people didn’t understand dissociative personalities or transvestitism, but because a filmmaker could bring to life a character who you never see, except in silhouette and from a bird’s eye view, and fool his audiences completely. The fact is, though, that Norma maintains her #2 status for me because she never fully comes to life. All we see is Norman’s manifestation of her doing her best (or her worst) to make sure that her son remains forever his momma’s boy. 

1.Lucy Drayton (Brenda de Banzie) in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

The second version of TMWKTM gets a bad rap because, frankly, it’s too long. That middle section leading to the discovery of Ambrose Chappell amounts to a shaggy dog story that could have taken up way less time. (Some synopses of the film exclude this section entirely!)

Hitchcock was a loving father himself, which may explain why he rarely endangered children in his films, save for a couple of kidnappings and several massive bird attacks. But he also wasted little time focusing on the loving relationship between a mother and her small child. And then, in 1956, he made two movies where the main female character is a mother. They couldn’t be more contrasting. In The Wrong Man, Rose Balestrero (Vera Miles) breaks when trouble strikes. But in The Man Who Knew Too Much, the outwardly more fragile Jo Conway McKenna (Doris Day) turns out to have the strength of a mother lion in facing down the political terrorists who have kidnapped her son.  

I love Doris Day in this movie, but my favorite character, the one I think lifts this film above the first version in estimation, is Lucy Drayton, the charming British tourist who befriends Jo and then steals her child. Brenda de Banzie is brilliant as a character who wears her deceit beautifully until the stakes get too personal. Her bluff, hearty husband (Bernard Miles, who usually played good country souls) may turn soulless for his cause, but Mrs. Drayton finds her own “inner mother” tapped by the young victim in her charge. You see the torment on her face throughout the second half of the film, and even if we have to listen to “Que Sera Sera” far too many times, her key moment when she dares to defy her evil overlords (“Hank, can you whistle that song? . . . Then go on, whistle it, whistle it as loud as you can!”), even though it surely means her own capture and execution, you find the perfect moment when bad and good mother merge into one. 


6 and 5. Clara Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959) and Jessie Stevens in 1955’s To Catch a Thief (Jessie Royce Landis)

After a distinguished career on the stage, Chicago-born Landis decided, well into her fifties, to break into films. The result, as we see in her two performances as larger-than-life Hitchcock mothers, was delightful. Although her role in To Catch a Thief (as Grace Kelly’s mother) is more prominent, Clara Thornhill in North by Northwest epitomizes the Hitchcock-mother-as-effervescent-socialite to a tee. 

Perhaps, in the end, Mrs. Thornhill is more of a bad mother than a good one. Her relationship with her son is Freudian in the extreme: in fact, it is because he is answering a call from his mother that Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) finds himself in such a deadly predicament. And then, once he escapes death, Mother (like Norman Bates the following year, Roger calls her “Mother”) doesn’t even believe her son. But take a look at that scene in the elevator again, the one where Clara stands bemused, unaware that her son is being flanked by two murderous spies. 

When he states plainly that these men are killers, her laughter dispels the danger – and saves her son’s life.

Compare this to Mrs. Stevens in the earlier Thief: she practically throws her daughter into Grant’s arms, and her refreshing attitude toward wealth and finery is part of that film’s charm. When her jewels is stolen and Francie (Kelly) accuses John Robie (Grant) of stealing them, Mrs. Stevens doesn’t even care: “Oh, I’m a little tired of draping those things over me. It was exciting at first, but, you know, now I think it’s more exciting to have them stolen.” And when Robie reveals his true identity to her (she thought he was in lumber), her eyes shine: (“Well, what a wonderful surprise!”) and she gets almost seductive and then defends him to her daughter: “His name is Robie and, for my money, he’s a real man, not one of those milksops you generally take up with!” A good mother trains her daughter to see the world as it is . . . and she never lets Cary Grant get away!

Landis didn’t make a lot of films, but how lucky we are that Hitchcock let her portray an Auntie Mame-sort of mother – twice!

4. Emma Newton (Patricia Collinge) in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Like Jessie Royce Landis, Collinge was a successful stage actress. Her career spanned nearly fifty years, and after her work as Birdie in the original stage cast of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes garnered praise, she was cast in the 1941 film version where she received equal acclaim. Two years later, Hitchcock cast her to play Emma Newton, whose great love for her younger brother Charlie (Joseph Cotten), a serial killer, adds both pathos and humor to one of the director’s greatest films. 

The suspense here comes, of course, from the emerging game of cat and mouse that Uncle Charlie plays with his favorite niece and namesake, played to perfection by Teresa Wright. The emotional weight of the story centers on young Charlie’s “shadow of a doubt” that transforms her idol into her mortal enemy; it is also about how Charlie has to figure out how to defeat her foe without destroying her mother’s false perception of him. 

There’s no way this can end well for a loving soul like Emma. Either she must lose her brother or her eldest child. That Charlie manages to defeat her uncle and prevent the worst from happening – better Emma lose a beloved brother than a monstrous one – makes for one of the most emotional endings in a Hitchcock film. And Collinge is perfection in every scene, reduced to girlish giggles when Charlie arrives and growing more bewildered at the dark atmosphere that pervades her home that she cannot understand. There is something almost motherly in the affection Emma holds for her brother, and the best of mothers view their children with uncontested love. Still, it’s a relief that she is allowed to grieve the myth of Charlie without discovering the horrible truth. 

3. Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes) in Vertigo (1958)

If you haven’t figured by now that I’ve been stretching the definition of “mother,” this will establish that with a certainty. Midge Wood probably belongs in a different sub-category of “the other woman,” along with Annie Heywood in The Birds and Lil Mainwaring in Marnie. In Hitchcock, however, there really are no “healthy” romantic triangles, and the other woman is neutered, usually before the film began. Lil tries to cause some trouble, but it only brings Mark and Marnie closer. Annie, played by the gorgeous Suzanne Pleshette, leaves the city for a life as a spinster schoolteacher, just to live close to the man who rejected her. 

As for Midge, who was engaged to John Scott Fergusson for a minute during college, she has settled for a friendship that isn’t quite as healthy as Scottie might believe. She calls him “Johnny-O” and herself “Mother.” When we meet her, she is at her worktable designing brassieres, but there is nothing sexy about her. She speaks of underwear in terms of physics. When she paints herself into the portrait of the stunning Carlotta Valdez who haunts Scottie’s dreams, she keeps her glasses on. She tries to push her feelings away with humor – who hasn’t done that? – and to simply care for this man who needs a great deal of caring for. It doesn’t work. 

I’ve spoken of this Hitchcockian theme where a man must sever himself from his mother in order to find romantic love and maturity. Vertigo is a nightmare, and Scotty is never going to find that love in a healthy way; in fact, it would have been lovely if he could have seen the perfectly wonderful girl before him and married her. (Perhaps it mightn’t have worked, since James Stewart was 14 years older than Bel Geddes; of course, he was 19 years older than Kim Novak! Bah Hollywood!) As it is, “Mother” Midge tends to Scottie in the mental hospital at the film’s midpoint – and then Hitchcock does the severing by making her completely disappear.

2. Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy) in The Birds (1963)

If The Birds was remade today, it would feature a rugged scientist, a beautiful ornithologist, and a number of teens in danger. It would be a naturalistic gorefest – in other words, for this viewer, unwatchable. 

Hitchcock’s The Birds is a horror movie insofar as it posits a horrific climax to our planet and provides in slightly graphic detail some evidence of how the end will come to be. This being Hitchcock, however, the birds are more of a Maguffin than the main point, which is to show – as most of his thrillers do – the importance of love in overcoming the great and small traumas of life. To that end, Hitchcock focuses on three people. There’s lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) who, in many ways, resembles Roger Thornhill of North by Northwest in that he is handsome, successful in his job, and exalts his mother over other women in his life. Somehow, though, Mitch is pretty content with his situation, and the family unit of mom and two children is solid. On the other side of the coin is the film’s protagonist, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren, still stiff but generally effective here), a spoiled little rich girl who has her own Mommy issues and takes them out on the world. 

But we’re here to talk about Lydia. At first glance, you might think she qualifies more as a “bad” mother. It takes no time at all for her to reveal her inner jealousy of Melanie, her fear that another woman has come to take her son away. (Melanie gets the scoop on all this from Annie Heywood, another of Mitch’s cast-offs.) What’s so intriguing at the start is that, unlike Annie, Melanie resembles Lydia in many ways, from their patrician manner to the identical hair styles. I mean, what’s up with that Oedipal detail?!?

We’re being set up to see how this basically impossible triangle will fare when masses of birds of every species drop from the skies and start pecking at the eyes of farmers and kids alike. Since Melanie is the main character, we see most of this through her eyes and watch her own deep-rooted neuroses melt away as she finds the courage to stand up to all her demons, feathered and otherwise, and to love Mitch whole-heartedly. 

Maybe it’s because of the stellar performance by Jessica Tandy, colored a bit by my own prejudices regarding Miss Hedren, but I’m just as interested in Lydia’s arc as in anyone else’s. If this were another Hitchcock film, she might lose her hold on her son and disappear from the film forever; in another scenario, she might actually consume her child, making him disappear. But here, with the fate of the world at stake (and things don’t look good at the end), Hitchcock shows that a mother’s love can be as much of a balm as romantic love. 

We see Melanie become nurturing toward Lydia after the events at the neighbor’s farm and continue through the mass attack on the family. Then, after the climactic assault in the attic which nearly kills Melanie (and nearly blinded Miss Hedren!), Lydia’s maternal instincts take hold. What’s more, even in her half-comatose state, Melanie naturally reaches out to Lydia, erasing forever (or for as long as they’re allowed to live!) the rage over her natural mother’s abandonment and forging a link with her future mother-in-law. Having seen the relationship my own mother has forged with all her sons’ wives, I can tell you that this is the hallmark of good mothering!

1. Stella (Thelma Ritter) in Rear Window (1954)

Call me biased, but Stella may be my favorite character in all of Hitchcock. (Rear Window is certainly my favorite film – of all time.) She is a “mother” figure to the film’s hero, L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart), and she practices much-needed tough love toward a man who is stuck, both literally and emotionally, at a precarious point in his life. She is the perfect mother to Jeff, as she prods and pushes him toward committing to a life with the fabulous Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly, at her most fabulous). She takes him to task for his voyeuristic ways and dispenses such perfect (and hilarious) wisdom, that I want to share some of it with you now, starting with Hitchcock’s overarching theme of the film: 

We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change.

Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.

You Heard of that market crash in ‘29? I predicted that . . . I was nursing a director at General Motors. Kidney ailment, they said. Nerves, I said. And I asked myself, ‘what’s General Motors got to be nervous about? Overproduction, I says; collapse. General Motors has to go to the bathroom 10 times a day, the whole country’s ready to let go.

Jeff:     She wants me to marry her.

Stella:  That’s normal.

Jeff:     I don’t want to.

Stella:  That’s abnormal.

When I married Miles, we were both a couple of maladjusted misfits. We are still maladjusted misfits, and we have loved every minute of it.

When two people love each other, they come together – WHAM – like two taxis on Broadway.”

That’s just skimming the surface. And what’s more, Stella has a way of bringing out the wit in other characters:

Lisa:    The last thing Mrs. Thorwald would leave behind would be her wedding ring. Stella, 

do you ever leave yours at home?

Stella:  The only way somebody would get that would be to chop off my – finger. Let’s go 

down to the garden and find out what’s buried ther

Lisa:    Why not? I always wanted to meet Mrs. Thorwald.

Underneath Stella’s caustic humor lies a warm heart. She’s the one who notices Miss Lonelyhearts laying out enough pills to knock out half of New York. She’s the one who insists on accompanying Lisa on a dangerous mission to obtain evidence. But, most of all, she’s the spry fairy godmother who pushes Jeff to overcome his reticence at surface differences and make Lisa his misguided misfit. 

You should all be so lucky to have a mom like her (or mine) in your lives!


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