The birth of Roger Thornhill

Late theatre critic and arts editor Otis L. Guernsey wrote the following letter to Alfred Hitchcock in 1957. In it, he effectively handed over the rights to a movie idea he had already suggested to the director in the early 1950s, the treatment of which Hitchcock subsequently bought from Guernsey for $10,000. This ‘fake masterspy’ story was later used in Hitchcock’s Oscar-nominated North by Northwest.


PEnnsylvania 6-4000
230 West 41st Street, New York 36

October 14, 1957

Mr. Alfred Hitchcock
c/o M-G-M
1540 Broadway
New York, New York

Dear Hitch,

A few years ago I suggested to you an idea for a movie, vaguely based on something which actually happened in the Middle East during World War II. At that time, a couple of secretaries in a British embassy invented–for the fun of it and to relieve the boredom of an inactive post–a fake masterspy. They gave him a name, and a record and planted information around to lure the Nazis onto his trail.

To their delight and astonishment, the enemy gobbled the bait and spent some valuable time and energy trying to hunt down the non-existent operative.

I suggested to you that this escapade might be built into a good movie melodrama in any one of a number of ways. The actual treatment we discussed at the time involved an ingenuous young American–probably a traveling salesman–who has the fake identity pinned on him by accident and finds that he cannot get rid of it. He is on the spot: the enemy is trying to capture and kill him. and his friends cannot help him because they cannot afford to have their ruse exposed.

However you plan to use the idea at this time, I hereby hand it over to you, blithely and with best wishes, with all rights and privileges, etc., etc., with no purpose of evasion or mental reservations, etc., etc., for such consideration as may have been discussed between my agent and yours, for all the good it may do you which I hope will be plenty.

Cordially yours,


Otis L. Guernsey Jr.