Do you know your neighbors?
The family with the dog that barks all night, the child who rides through your yard on his bike or the woman who sends flowers when a relative dies?
Stuck in his wheelchair with a broken leg, James Stewart’s character in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) got acquainted with his neighbors through a telephoto lens.
In a New York flat, the injured photographer passes the hours watching other apartment dwellers who live around a courtyard.
While spying through his zoom lens, L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies ( James Stewart) may have stumbled across a murder. Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), who lives across the courtyard, had an invalid wife who suddenly no longer exists and Jeff wants to know why.
While James Stewart in his wheelchair and Grace Kelly in her Edith Head gowns take center stage-flanked by Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr- those being peeped upon are equally important in this “Is this woman dead?” story.
But who were these people? As “Rear Window” celebrates its 60th birthday in Aug. 2014, premiering on the big screen Aug. 1, 1954, let’s take a look at who “Miss Torso,” “Miss Lonelyheart” and the amorous newlyweds are.
-Miss Lonelyheart: Miss Lonelyheart is the middle aged woman in the courtyard who longs for love but has yet to find it. Jeff watches her pantomime that she is on a date and then cry that she doesn’t have a lover. When she finally has a date, the man aggressively tries to make love to her and she pushes him from the house and sobs.
Miss Lonelyheart is played by Judith Evelyn who also performed in the films “The Egyptian” (1954), “Giant” (1956) and “The Tingler” (1958). Evelyn had a career on Broadway in the plays “Craig’s Wife” as Mrs. Craig in the 1947 revival and “The Shrike” as Ann Downs in 1952. Evelyn won the Drama League’s Distinguished Performance Award in 1942.
Evelyn was married to Canadian radio performer Andrew Allan. Allan, Evelyn and her father were aboard the Athenia in 1939 and were traveling through the Irish Sea, the body of water that separates Ireland and Great Britain. The ship was torpedoed by a German submarine on Sept. 3, 1939, three days after the Germans invaded Poland. This was the first British passenger liner sunk by Germans. Six out of 85 passengers survived, including Allan and Evelyn, but her father died.
-The Songwriter: The Songwriter has the lavish apartment with large windows. His piano music serenades the apartment courtyard for much of the film as he composes. It’s in the Songwriter’s apartment where director Alfred Hitchcock makes his cameo. The Songwriter’s composing stops Miss Lonelyheart from committing suicide…and distracts Lisa (Grace Kelly) from doing some investigative work.
The songwriter is played by Ross Bagdasarian, who actually was a composer. Bagdasarian is also known as “David Seville,” father and creator of Alvin and the Chipmunks. He wrote the “Chipmunk Song” (Christmas Don’t Be Late) in 1958, which he won a Grammy Award. Bagdasarian was also the voice of David Seville in the 1960s “Alvin and the Chipmunk” cartoon.
Along with the Chipmunks, Bagdasarian wrote songs including “Come On-A to My House” made famous by Rosemary Clooney and “Alfi and Harry,” which was the theme of the Hitchcock film “The Trouble With Harry” (1955).
-Miss Torso: Miss Torso is the sexy ballet dancer who lives directly across the way from Jeff. She dances her way through her morning routine, entertains men and is happy to see her military boyfriend at the end of the film.
The pretty blond dancer is played by Georgine Darcy, who studied with the New York City Ballet. Her mother, however, encouraged her to be a stripper to make a “fast buck,” according to her 2004 obituary.
When cast as Miss Torso, she didn’t know who director Alfred Hitchcock was. She was paid $350 for the role, and Hitchcock encouraged her to get an agent and study acting, but she didn’t. She was only in a handful of films and television appearances from 1954 to 1971. She was married to actor and singer Byron Palmer from 1974 until her death in 2004.
-The Couple on the Fire Escape: On hot summer evenings, this couple sleeps on a mattress on their fire escape. Each night, the wife lowers their small dog down into the courtyard in a basket and then lifts the dog back up in the basket. The dog serves as a turning point in the film.
The husband is played by Frank Cady, best known for his role as Sam Drucker on the TV shows “Petticoat Junction,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres.”
Though best known for his television roles, Cady was also in several films including “Ace in the Hole” (1951) and “The Bad Seed” (1956).
The wife is played by Sara Berner, who was a voice actor in several Warner Brothers animated shorts from 1933 to 1946. Berner was the voice of Jerry the Mouse in “The Worry Song” when Tom danced with Gene Kelly in “Anchors Away” (1945).
-The Newlyweds: One of the first neighbors in the courtyard we are introduced to are the newlyweds. They are moving into their new apartment as the film starts. The landlord shows the couple the apartment, and the two keep trying to steal kisses as the landlord shows them from room to room. When he finally leaves, the husband carries his new bride through their threshold. The shade is drawn to their apartment for a great deal of the film, implying that they are….getting acquainted.
The husband is played by Rand Harper who played several bit parts in “Sabrina” (1954), “The FBI Story” (1959) and the TV show “Sea Hunt.”
The wife is played by Havis Davenport who played bit roles in film and TV such as “A Star is Born” (1954). She retired from acting in 1957.
-Sculpting Woman: The sculpting neighbor uses a hearing aid, appears to maybe be a bit of a busy body and is sculpting odd shapes in the courtyard. At the beginning she tries to say good morning to mysterious Thorwald (Burr) and he practically sneers at her.
The sculpting woman is played by Jesslyn Fax. This was not her only Alfred Hitchock project. Fax appeared in a bit role in “North by Northwest,” three “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episodes and two “Alfred Hitchcock Hour” episodes.
Fax appeared in several films and television shows including “Music Man” (1962), “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955), “An Affair to Remember” (1957), “The Best of Everything” (1959) and an episode of “I Love Lucy.”
Added bonus: When James Stewart talks to his editor on the telephone, the voice is actor Gig Young.