Book Review: Phantom Lady

HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER JOAN HARRISON, THE FORGOTTEN WOMAN BEHIND HITCHCOCK

By Alexandra Petrache

“Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock” written by Christina Lane (“Feminist Hollywood”), is named after the first film Joan Harrison produced. The metaphor draws on Harrison’s career debut and her ghostly legend and myth. Hired initially to be Hitchcock’s secretary, her insight and eye for good stories made her one of his most valuable collaborators as she worked with him and his wife Alma Reville, writing and producing.

In her book, Lane takes Harrison a step out of Hitchcock’s shadow and presents her achievements and fabulous story to the world. One must be mindful, as well, that while today it seems that Harrison was in Hitchcock’s shadow, cloaked by his fame, in reality, during her career she was one of Hollywood’s forces, as she didn’t let anything and anyone stand in the way of her vision and fought for a more inclusive and bold industry.

“Lane’s writing is fluid as she unpicks Harrison’s fascinating story with flair…The author paints the image of a woman who inspires by example, of an auteur-producer who had a vision and stuck by it, who made it in an industry in which she started as one of only three producers at the time.”

Apart from crafting her own story and career, Joan Harrison help craft the fame and success of Alfred Hitchcock. She worked closely with the director and with Normal Lloyd on the television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, which cemented the director’s standing among the public.

Lane’s writing is fluid as she unpicks Harrison’s fascinating story with flair. The narrative draws one in, as the author expertly crafts an alluring journey that goes through time and spans two world wars. The book starts intriguingly with a day in the life of Joan Harrison, who appears fed up with living with her parents when a new opportunity presents itself in the form of an interview with Alfred Hitchcock. It wouldn’t be a spoiler to reveal that she “nailed” it- that afternoon marked the start of her career. The author paints the image of a woman who inspires by example, of an auteur-producer who had a vision and stuck by it, who made it in an industry in which she started as one of only three producers at the time (in Hollywood, the other two were Virginia Van Upp and Harriet Parsons).

This is a very good read for anyone even vaguely interested in film, inspiring figures (women or not) or just a good story that would keep one at the edge of their seat if it were a movie. Unfortunately, no movie yet has portrayed her story accurately or in fact given her a proper and deserved spotlight.

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