Film professor Lane (Feminist Hollywood) gives proper due to the legacy of Joan Harrison, one of Hollywood’s first female producers, in this wide-ranging biography. Lane makes a persuasive case that, more than just a creative partner with Alfred Hitchcock in several films and the show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Harrison left her signature on film noir, beginning with the 1944 sleeper hit that provides the book’s title, and paved the way for other female filmmakers. Drawing on original interviews and archival research, Lane follows Harrison’s career trajectory, film by film, while tracing recurring themes in her work, including travel, fashion, and, especially, nuanced female characters. Nitty-gritty details—Harrison’s wrangling with temperamental stars and with overbearing censors, for instance—add heft to the book, while excursions into her romantic and social life add color; Harrison had a fling with Clark Gable and mentored many young female stars such as Ella Raines and Merle Oberon. Hitchcock’s dominating personality occasionally steals Harrison’s spotlight in these pages, though she only worked with him for part of her career. Lane’s lively and loving account of “one of the last great untold stories of the classical Hollywood era” will intrigue film scholars, Hitchcock fans, and general readers alike. (Feb.)
Christina Lane’s Phantom Lady is a revelation, even for those of us who thought we knew Hitchcock backward and forward. I was stunned at how early Joan Harrison came on board, how crucial she was in the evolution of the iconic Hitchcock blonde, and how smart she was both on the script level and in handling the sometimes crass behavior of the man. Lane corrects what we now see as the monumentally biased biographies that minimized Joan’s contribution. And did I mention it’s a riveting read!” —Molly Haskell, author of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies
“A whip-smart beauty, Joan Harrison answered an advertisement and became indispensable to Alfred Hitchcock. This deeply researched and always thoughtful book will engross fans as well as scholars.” —Patrick McGilligan, author of Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light
“Joan Harrison’s contributions to cinema, particularly in the realms of psychological suspense and film noir, have been overlooked and undervalued for too long. Blame a legacy of male-dominated scholarship. All praise, then, to Christina Lane for her diligent, scrupulous research and adroit narrative. Finally this remarkable woman, so much more than ‘Hitchcock’s protégée,’ gets her solo turn in the spotlight.” —Eddie Muller, host of Turner Classic Movies’ Noir Alley
“Christina Lane puts the spotlight on the previously underappreciated Joan Harrison, who threaded the needle of Hollywood as a successful writer-producer and valiant friend when this was no small feat. Harrison worked with and played with all the big names—David O. Selznick, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Joan Fontaine, Robert Montgomery, and John Huston—along with Hitchcock and is an important reminder that film is the ultimate collaborative art.” —Cari Beauchamp, author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood
“Phantom Lady gives us an opportunity to understand the unique and complicated bond Joan Harrison shared with Alfred Hitchcock. She went from secretary to his star writer, collaborator, assistant, and muse. He gave her complete autonomy, but he never gave her credit. Joan Harrison was a remarkable woman of taste and style who helped establish the Hitchcock ‘brand.’ She may be the greatest female producer you’ve never heard of.” —Illeana Douglas, actress, producer, and author of I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies
“Joan Harrison never wrote a bad movie. Joan Harrison never produced a bad movie. And when she moved into television as the producer of Alfred Hitchcock Presents it could honestly be said that she never made a shoddy television episode. Christina Lane’s Phantom Lady brings this fascinating, beautiful, and—most of all—talented woman out of time’s shadow with a biography that navigates Harrison’s life with the same savvy Harrison used to thrive in Hollywood. It restores her to her rightful position as a primary architect of film noir.” —Scott Eyman, author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend
"At last! Since I first stepped into a classroom fifty years ago to teach Phantom Lady, I’ve been waiting for someone to write a book about the film’s glamorous producer who also worked with Hitchcock and DeToth. That book is finally here, and it’s worthy of the subject. Smart, detailed, well-researched and incisive about cinema, it tells the story of an unusual woman and defines her cinematic influence." —Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University and Founder of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives
"A solid addition to the growing literature about women filmmakers, with greatest appeal to Hitchcock fans and movie lovers."— Kirkus Reviews Online "Artful telling."— The Christian Science Monitor Online
British screenplay writer and producer Joan Harrison joins a growing number of women whose contributions to classic cinema are finally being brought to light. Hired in 1933 as Alfred Hitchcock's secretary, Harrison helped the legendary director develop the tightly plotted, suspenseful stories for which he was known. She wrote the screenplays for his films Rebecca and Suspicion, and by the 1940s was a significant Hollywood presence, as a producer of films such as Phantom Lady. Later, she produced Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the director's wildly popular foray into TV. With this carefully researched, candid portrait, Lane (Feminist Hollywood: From Born in Flames to Point Break and Magnolia) explores her subject's rise to prominence during Hollywood's glittering heyday. Harrison emerges as a woman ahead of her time—a female producer thriving in a male-dominated industry and earning respect from stars, directors, and executives. Comprehensive notes and a bibliography offer strong additional resources. VERDICT Harrison's story is a compelling one. This superbly written, absorbing biography of a woman succeeding on her own terms will resonate with fans of Hollywood stories, as well as those who appreciate celebrations of previously unsung women.—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
A close-up look at the career of an influential woman screenwriter and producer in Hollywood.
Lane (Film Studies/Univ. of Miami; Magnolia, 2011, etc.) depicts Joan Harrison (1907-1994) as an unconventional woman who was the most enduring assistant and colleague that Alfred Hitchcock ever had. "Harrison would contribute to all of Hitchcock's late British achievements…and his early Hollywood successes….Together, these films established Hitchcock as a master of the seriocomic thriller and gothic suspense." The author continues, "plainly put, Alfred Hitchcock would not have become ‘Hitchcock' without her." The title refers not only to the "noir gem" that Harrison made for Universal Pictures in 1944, a film that featured a resourceful, independent woman, but also to Lane's desire to restore the reputation of Harrison, who has been largely overlooked in Hollywood histories despite her stature at the time as "the most powerful woman producer in Hollywood." The author closely follows her ambitious and clever subject's career from her initial interview with Hitchcock at age 26 to her death at 87. While Lane's attention to the details of Harrison's career may seem excessive, what she reveals about the making of some of Hitchcock's films is fascinating. As she chronicles Harrison's journey from secretary to screenwriter to producer, she takes readers behind the scenes of such films as The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn, and Rebecca as well as many others that Harrison worked on with Hitchcock. We learn about casting decisions, script changes, the strengths and weaknesses of various actors, and the power of the studio moguls and censors. Lane also shows how Hollywood reacted to the redbaiting scare and the blacklisting that followed. The narrative is not all business, however. The author shows Harrison hobnobbing with celebrities in nightclubs, marrying the novelist Eric Ambler, and living well abroad.
A solid addition to the growing literature about women filmmakers, with greatest appeal to Hitchcock fans and movie lovers.