Free Movie: Alfred Hitchcock's THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY
Film and TV icon Jerry Mathers will attend our free screening of Hitchcock's 1955 comedy
Mathers, best known for his role on the beloved family show Leave It To Beaver, played a key role in Hitchcock’s 1955 comedy, which also marked the film debut of Shirley MacClaine. While The Trouble With Harry did not find the box office success of Hitchcock’s classic thrillers (Rear Window, Psycho, North By Northwest), it’s still a fascinating film from the Master of Suspense. Shot in Vermont in the fall, it’s also one of the most gorgeous films you will ever see on a big screen.
Mathers will share stories about his career before our April 10 screening of The Trouble With Harry at the Orinda Theatre. Admission is free—so please arrive early for this very special event. The program begins at 7 p.m. with a Q&A with Jerry Mathers, and cupcake trivia prizes from Republic of Cake. We're expecting a big turnout!
Meanhwile, I recently caught up with Mathers to talk about working with Alfred Hitchcock.
Q: Jerry, great to speak with you. Legend has it you met Alfred Hitchcock because of a cup of water.
A: Yes, I have a lot of Hitchcock stories and that’s one of them. I was doing a live TV show, and Mr. Hitchcock came to the studio to do a live commercial on the show. At that time, nothing was pretaped, we did it all live.
So, I was standing backstage and I saw a water fountain with paper cups. I tugged on my mom and whispered that I wanted a drink. She told me to shhh, because they were filming live, but this jolly man, a little overweight, came over and whispered to her that he would take me. It was Alfred Hitchcock. He walked me over and got me a drink of water. Many months later I received a call to go on an interview, and it was with the same guy. He said, “Mr. Mathers, how would you like to go to Vermont and make a movie?”
I said that sounded like fun, even though I did not know where Vermont was, or even what it was.
Q: You were so young—did you have any idea who Alfred Hitchcock was?
A: No idea, I just knew that he was a very important man. He was definitely somebody big in the industry.
But he kept in touch with me over the years, long after we made that movie together. When I was doing Leave it to Beaver, he used the Leave It To Beaver house for a couple of his intros and outros on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, so I would see him around the set.
Tony Dow and I might be outside and his limo would drive up, and the window wold roll down and he would say, “Mr. Mathers, how are you? Mr. Mathers, how is the world treating you?”
He was a really nice guy, almost like a kind uncle. He was also the first person to call me Mr. Mathers. My dad retired as a superintendent from Los Angeles city schools—he was always Mr. Mathers.
Q: Did you go to public school or was your school on set?
A: I was in public school for about five weeks during Leave It To Beaver. But when the show ended, I was just about to go into high school and I said that I did not want to keep acting. I wanted to have a normal high school experience and play sports. I did well in high school and did football, swimming and track team, then I spent six years in Air Force and National Guard, and put myself through college with the money I made from Leave it to Beaver.
Q: I’m so excited to show The Trouble With Harry because so many people have not seen it.
A: It’s strange because it is a really nice movie, but people seem to expect something else from Alfred Hitchcock. He did not really make another comedy, and this really is a dark comedy. Audiences seemed to expect something much darker from him.
He produced this movie himself. He could not get any of the Hollywood studios to do that movie. And we had some production issues—we arrived in Stowe, Vermont in the fall and were ready to start filming. The locals would say, “Wait until tomorrow, the leaves in the trees will be prettier.”
So we waited, and they got prettier, but the locals would say, “just wait until tomorrow.” When we could not wait any longer, we scheduled filming—and a huge storm came in and blew down all the leaves. If you look in that film, there are scenes where I am up to my neck in fallen leaves.
There are trees in Germany that keep those beautiful leaves year round, so they had to order branches filled with leaves to be chopped down, flown over, and nailed to the trees in Vermont that had no leaves.
Q: Amazing. As sweet as The Trouble With Harry is, there are some things that were very daring for its time. For example, Shirley MacLaine—who plays your character's mother—was playing a single mom in the film. You never saw that in Hollywood films of the time.
A: That was innovative for Hitchcock to put that in at the time, I agree. But he wanted the possibility of romance with John Forsythe’s character, so she needed to be single.
Q: How closely did you get to know the rest of the cast?
A: John Forsythe, I actually got to know much better when he did the Bachelor Father show. I remember Edmund Gwenn being really nice, I would sit on his lap and he would tell me these wonderful stories.
When you work with a film crew, especially in a little town like Stowe, Vermont, you get to spend a lot of time with everyone. I got to know the crew a lot better on that film than some of the others I had done—it was an absolutely great experience.
Q: Besides The Trouble With Harry, what is your favorite Hitchcock film?
A: One of the ones I got to work on, in a way, was Psycho. How familiar are you with Leave It To Beaver?
Q: Very familiar.
A: Ok, then you remember in the first season, there is an episode where Beaver cuts his own hair?
Q: Greatest episode ever.
A: Well, we had a guy named Bob Dunn come in to make the skull cap with the bad haircut. Bob Dunn was the premiere makeup artist in the industry, and about the same time he worked on Leave It To Beaver, was hired to create the skull for Psycho.
I was right there when he received this medical skull, which was pure white. I have a photo of me holding it somewhere. And he had to age this human skull, and he had me help him with it. I glued a lot of the hairs on that skull, very carefully, one at a time.
Q: Well, Jerry, that’s about the greatest story I’ve ever heard. I simply can not wait to have you come visit the Orinda Theatre to show The Trouble With Harry.
A: I’m looking forward to it as well. People will love to get to see this movie in a theater. Because if you have not seen this film in Technicolor, in a theater, you’ve really never seen it. It’s just a magnificent film.
For more information about Jerry Mathers, visit jerrymathers.com.