Many in Santa Cruz County know that legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock had a retreat in Scotts Valley, and with the city’s new performing arts center providing a worthy setting, locals aim to burnish that connection March 10-11 with a celebration including film screenings, historical presentations and a costume contest.
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He was one of the most recognizable figures in the world, and that was only partially due to his towering achievements as a filmmaker. With an instinctual, proto-Warholian understanding of midcentury celebrity culture, he often indulged in a talent for sly self-promotion, making full use of his jowly, impassive countenance and his beach-ball-shaped physique.
There is no more abused term in writing about popular culture than “icon.” But if you can be identified in nearly every corner of the English-speaking world with a simple line drawing — as Alfred Hitchcock often was — then, congratulations, you’re an icon.
In Scotts Valley, however, Hitchcock is more than an icon. He’s a neighbor. In 1940, shortly after relocating to Hollywood from his native Britain, Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, purchased a remote oak-and-redwood-strewn 200-acre property northeast of Scotts Valley, which they called “Heart O’ the Mountain” and used as a beloved retreat and family home until it was sold in the mid 1970s.
Now, more than 40 years after Hitchcock’s death, Scotts Valley is making the most of that deep, yearslong connection. On March 10 and 11, Scotts Valley will host what it hopes will become a celebrated annual event. It is the first-ever Alfred Hitchcock Festival, featuring consecutive screenings of two Hitchcock classic films — 1943’s “Shadow of a Doubt” and 1958’s “Vertigo” — with presentations by Scotts Valley historian Jay Topping, Hitchcock’s granddaughter Tere Carrubba of Aptos, and Shelley Stamp and Logan Walker of the UC Santa Cruz Film & Digital Media department. Also planned is a dessert-and-wine party with a Hitchcock-related costume contest, and even a Hitchcock impersonator.
The idea for a Hitchcock-related film festival in Scotts Valley has been around for many years. But it was only since the opening of the new Scotts Valley Performing Arts Center in the fall of 2022 that the city had a proper space for a festival. The new festival will take place the two days directly preceding National Hitchcock Day on March 12 (the date is neither Hitchcock’s birth date nor death date, so its significance is obscure).
Organizers have decided to start modestly, with a two-day event. “This is our first time,” said Dave Hodgin of the Scotts Valley Community Theater Guild and one of the event’s chief organizers. “We’re building it as best we can. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot, so hopefully No. 2 will be more spectacular.”
Hitchcock’s link to Scotts Valley isn’t exactly a secret. Most who’ve lived in the area for any length of time have heard something about it. But the emergence of the new Hitchcock Festival has spurred a renewed interest in all things Hitchcock. Forty-year resident Jay Topping has studied and written widely about Scotts Valley’s history, and Hitchcock has loomed large in his imagination as a historian. He said that since the announcement of the festival, he has learned of some locals’ connection to Alfred and/or Alma Hitchcock that he didn’t know about before.
“I’ve been getting testimony from locals that is amazing,” said Topping. “We’re getting a lot of new local history, people telling us of interactions they had with Hitchcock. The more we put information out there, the more we get people coming back with leads.”
The Heart O’ the Mountain estate was sold to artist James Scoppettone in the mid 1970s and is now owned by Robert Brassfield and a small portion of the property is leased to the local vintner Armitage Wines. The estate is in a remote area near the end of Canham Road. During the Hitchcock years, the road leading to the estate was a dirt road. “It’s only been paved in the last 20 to 30 years,” said Topping. “When Hitchcock would have, say, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier for a visit, which they did many times, he would pay to have the road oiled to keep the dust down.”
For years, Hitchcock nurtured a particular love for Northern California, particularly San Francisco and the Bay Area. He shot many of his later films in the region, including both the films to be screened at the upcoming Hitchcock Festival. He used Scotts Valley as a kind of home base during his shooting adventures around the Bay Area.
Aptos’ Tere Carrubba knows the Hitchcock estate more intimately than most. Her mother was Alfred and Alma Hitchcock’s only daughter. Carrubba had already grown to adulthood by the time her grandparents died in the early 1980s, so she got a chance to know them both well. She grew up in the Los Angeles area and, by coincidence, moved to Santa Cruz County the same month that her grandfather died in April 1980. She saw her grandparents often in Southern California, and would visit them regularly in Scotts Valley.
“We spent all holidays together,” she said of her grandparents. “They were our only family anywhere, at least on the West Coast.”
Carrubba, 67, described Alfred and Alma as “homebodies,” who would arrive in Scotts Valley and stay weeks at a time, sometimes entertaining visitors, but mostly enjoying their solitude in the isolation of the Santa Cruz Mountains. “It was their getaway,” she said. “They would just sit and read. She would garden. He would play his classical music. They really enjoyed it in that way.”
Among the high-profile visitors to Scotts Valley, said Topping, were James Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Kim Novak and Grace Kelly, all stars in landmark Hitchcock films. Occasionally, Hitchcock would venture out into Scotts Valley or Santa Cruz to visit local shops or restaurants. “The United Cigar store [on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz] was one of his favorite places to come,” said Topping. “He would stop by and get his newspapers and his cigars. We have stories from a local historian Donald Seapy, who wrote a book about Scotts Valley in the ’70s, that people talked about seeing Alfred going by one of those old-man scooters riding to the United Cigar store.”
All the while that he was chilling at his retreat in the mountains and venturing into town for cigars, Hitchcock was, of course, building one of the singular careers as a filmmaker and director in the history of Hollywood. Perhaps only Walt Disney can approach a similar level of influence and fame as a non-actor in the movie industry.
Shelley Stamp of UC Santa Cruz has taught an Alfred Hitchcock class occasionally. She said that one of the most remarkable things about Hitchcock was the breadth and variety of his career.
“Hitchcock’s career spanned an extraordinary range of production modes in 20th century media,” she said. “He started in silent film in Germany at the height of German Expressionism, worked in the film industry in England in the 1930s, came to Hollywood at the height of its power and immediately became one of the top directors in the industry, was one of the first directors to get involved in television production in the 1950s when nobody in film was doing that, and then continued at the end of his career in the ’60s and ’70s at a point when the film industry was entirely different.
“And I feel like he really took advantage of all possible technological innovations. When sound came in, he made one of the best sound films of the time. He innovated with color when that came in, he innovated with 3-D, with sound, with long takes. It was an astonishing career.”
How many of those ideas and innovations came to him while sitting in the garden or strolling the grounds at Heart O’ the Mountain, perhaps only Hitch or Alma could ever really know. But it’s clear that Hitchcock retains relevance in today’s cinematic world and that many of his films remain cherished classics with audiences, many of whom were not alive during Hitchcock’s time.
The Alfred Hitchcock Festival in Scotts Valley doesn’t have to do the work of reviving a lost Hollywood icon, because Hitchcock has never really gone away in the public imagination. Instead, it can focus on Hitchcock’s career while also illuminating Hitchcock’s presence in Santa Cruz County through the many people who have first- or second-hand stories to tell about encounters with him. This international figure, in other words, could revive the image of Scotts Valley as a distinct place and spur a sense of local pride.
Topping evoked memories of the parades that were from part of the Scotts Valley Cavalcade event of the 1960s and ’70s. “I’ve been hearing all these stories of how Scotts Valley has lost its small-town feel and reminiscing about when everybody got involved in the [Cavalcade],” he said. “Now, I’m feeling that this is being revived, that this festival could bring back that old feeling.”
The Alfred Hitchcock Festival takes place March 10-11 at the Scotts Valley Cultural and Performing Arts Center.Tickets are $30 for Friday and $60 for Saturday (plus fees), with discounts for students, seniors and for two-day packages.
FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this article misstated the current ownership of the Hitchcock estate. The property is now owned by Robert Brassfield.