When we last left our story, Alfred Hitchcock had finally come to an agreement with Paramount that would permit him to make Psycho. Two of his concessions were to use his lower cost television crew and the cheaper Universal backlot to make the picture. It’s hard to believe now, but back in the 1950s (and for most of its life up until then) Universal Pictures always seemed just a few steps from insolvency. Founder Carl Laemmle never seemed to be able to jumpstart the studio’s finances into anything that could be described as stable. Long dead by the 1950s, his inability to stabilize the studio’s finances still haunted the company.
Enter Lew Wasserman, a Hollywood mogul on the make. His MCA company was a super agency that represented a who’s who of Hollywood Stars. At the time, MCA could represent talent, package pre-negotiated deals that it could sell to studios and distribute television programming, but it was not permitted to run its own studio due to anti-trust laws. The collapse of the studio system had hit Hollywood hard and many famed backlots were being bulldozed to make way for new development. When Lew had heard that Universal Pictures was looking to sell off parts of its lot, he quickly saw an opportunity. If everyone else was selling off parts of their studio lots, studio space would be at a premium. This could be an amazing opportunity. Lew bought the studio lot and leased parts of it back to Universal Pictures. The other parts were rented out to other studios and used by some of MCA’s television partners.
Lew and Hitch
So what does this have to do with Psycho? Well, by 1960, Lew Wasserman has bigger plans for MCA. If the laws were changed to allow an agency to own a studio, he wanted to snap up Universal Pictures, reuniting it with its storied lot. Lew wanted to finally lift the ghost of Universal’s past by bringing in A-List talent. And Hitchcock was the literal definition of an A-Lister. If Universal could lure him in, it would be quite a coup and a signal that Universal Pictures was a force to be reckoned with. Lew could hardly believe that Paramount had essentially driven Hitchcock right to his front door.
Mother Bates was a bad housekeeper...
While Hitchcock’s production was already saving money at Universal’s “rack rates”, Lew encouraged his staff to go all out. Every available resource was to be made available to Hitchcock and Psycho. He also encouraged the various departments to embellish things for Hitchcock. Lew wanted his staff to give maximum effort for minimal cost. The gambit worked. Frustrated by Paramount and amazed by Universal, Hitchcock made plans to flee Paramount the first chance he got. Universal Studios would be his new home.