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The Man Behind 'Psycho,' 'The Outer Limits' [VIDEO]

Patch sat down with Agoura Hills resident Marilyn Stefano, widow of Joseph Stefano, who wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock's thriller 'Psycho' and produced the classic sci-fi TV series 'The Outer Limits.'

On Saturday, July 13, the Agoura Hills Cultural Arts Council will be screening Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller 'Psycho,' written by Joseph Stefano, at the Reyes Adobe. On-hand to answer behind-the-scenes questions will be Stefano's wife, Marilyn, an Agoura Hills resident. Consequently, we've resurrected an interview with Marilyn that was posted a little over a year ago.

Marilyn Stefano vividly recalls the famous shower scene in Psycho. Why? She was on the set when it was being filmed. Her late husband, Joseph Stefano, penned the screenplay, based on a book by Robert Bloch, for Alfred Hitchcock.

"Hitch had this 'little project,' and sent Joe the book," said Marilyn. "He hated much of it."

But thanks to Joseph's genius for drama, the story was turned into a film considered one of cinema's classics.

Upon entering the Stefano home in the Morrison Ranch section of Agoura Hills, one sees evidence of a rich cinematic career. Vintage posters from Joseph's films adorn the walls. Black and white photos, many autographed, sit atop the mantel, on a grand piano and along the hallways and in bedrooms.

Marilyn, who is actively involved with the , met her husband in a very theatrical way, back in 1953 in New York City, where she worked in the music publishing industry.

"I had gone to the movies with some friends, and we ended up at this little bar," she said. "I didn't drink, so I headed over to the jukebox to pick out a song. As I was scanning the selections, I heard a man's voice say, 'Pick this one.' I answered, 'Why?' He said, 'Because I wrote it.' "

When she turned to look at the person belonging to the voice, she was instantly struck. "He was gorgeous, tall with dark hair, wearing a black leather jacket, jeans and boots. No one in those days dressed that way."

They married later that year.

At the time, Joseph had been a songwriter, developing acts for the stage with friend Leslie Stevens (creator of The Outer Limits). It wasn't until one night, two years after the couple had purchased their first television set and were watching a TV drama, that Marilyn recalled Joseph saying, "I can do that."

He then wrote his first screenplay, The Black Orchid, and immediately garnered an agent. The film was produced by Carlo Ponti and starred Sophia Loren.

"It dramatically changed the course of Joe's career," Marilyn said.

The Stefanos moved to Hollywood in 1958, and Joseph had his famous meeting with Hitchcock shortly after having read the Bloch book.

"He was on his way to the meeting at Paramount when he wrote the whole opening scene to the movie in his head," Marilyn said.

According to Marilyn, the book only introduces Marion Crane, the ill-fated heroine, as she's checking into the infamous Bates Motel.

"Joe wanted to develop more of a back-story for the character, so when she dies, the audience misses her," Marilyn said.

When Joseph presented his idea to Hitchcock, he leaned forward and said, "We can get a star [to play Marion]," according to Marilyn. Hitchcock was so impressed that Joseph got the job on the spot, she said.

Marilyn recalled that Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins (who played Norman Bates) and Janet Leigh (who played Marion Crane) were warm and charming people with whom they remained friends.

The only scene Marilyn got to watch being shot was the shower scene. "Janet has always said that she did everything herself, but she did have a body double," she said. "Hitch would never have put his stars through something like that. In fact, he didn't let Tony [Perkins] put on the dress and wig until the very end."

Psycho had a budget of only $900,000, and no one thought it would be the success it is today. "Hitch first showed the film to Joe without the music," Marilyn said. "As he watched it, he said to Hitch, 'This is terrible.' Hitch leaned over, patted Joe on the leg and said reassuringly, 'Don't worry, Joseph, when the music's put in, it'll be very different.' "

With the film's dark cinematography, unique editing style and shrieking music, Psycho left many theatergoers afraid to take a shower, Marilyn said, "including my friends."

Though he turned down offers to work on the two Psycho sequels, Joseph went on to write the prequel, Psycho 4, released in 1998.

He was lured back to television in 1963 when longtime friend and colleague Stevens asked him to produce his new series, called The Outer Limits, said Marilyn.

"Though the show was basically science fiction, Joe brought in his sense of gothic melodrama, leaving his own mark on the series," Marilyn said.

He remained with the show for the first season, and as producer, he wrote and/or polished many of the episodes.

He went on to write a pilot for Martin Landau, The Haunted, that William Paley, then president of CBS, found "too scary for television," Marilyn said. The pilot was later expanded and sold to overseas markets as The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre.

"We still get requests from Japan for the DVD rights," she said.

Joseph developed Swamp Thing for television, wrote for popular television series including Star Trek: The Next Generation and was senior adviser for the updated The Outer Limits series of the '90s.

The Stefanos moved to Agoura Hills in May 2006 at the request of their son Dominic, who also lives there with his wife, Britt.

In failing health, Joseph Stefano died in August 2006. Marilyn credits the women of the Newcomers Club for helping her get through that difficult period.

"It was fortuitous that 10 days after he died, I received a letter from the club inviting me to a coffee," she said. "At first I wasn't going to go, but I'm so glad I did. The women there were so kind and supportive."

Marilyn has since held many meetings at her home and will be holding the next one in two weeks.

"I love it here. It's absolutely beautiful," said Marilyn, who is also active on the board of the American Film Institute associates, raising money for the institute.

David Pascal October 24, 2011 at 08:41 PM
Great Story! It is great to see that our town is home to many cool legacies. BTW: Those trails behind the Bates House are called Psychopaths.

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