In 1922 Alfred Hitchcock obtained his first shot at directing for Gainsborough Pictures with the film Number 13 (or Mrs. Peabody).
The film was to star Clare Greet and Ernest Thesiger as husband and wife. Unfortunately, the film’s budget fell apart, and it was pulled from production after only a handful of scenes were shot.
After the film was pulled from production, the script was also lost. Although it is ultimately unclear what happened to the film, it is probable that Gainsborough melted it down for the small amount of silver nitrate it contained.
However, some information about the film has survived. The story was about low-income residents of a building, financed by The Peabody Trust, founded by American banker-philanthropist George Foster Peabody, to offer affordable housing to needy Londoners.
Number 13 was written by Anita Ross, a woman employed at the Islington studio. She claimed to have a professional association with Charlie Chaplin, according to Hitchcock, in his book-length interview with François Truffaut, Hitchcock/Truffaut (Simon and Schuster, 1967).
Hitchcock rarely or never spoke about his first directing project, until his biographer, Donald Spoto, asked him about life in the early twenties, and his first films.
Hitchcock, on one occasion, spoke about the film, saying that it was a “somewhat chastening experience”, no doubt referring to his directorial debut being shut down and running out of funds.
Much like Hitchcock’s later film The Mountain Eagle, any possibly existing footage of Number 13 has become widely sought after. Film historians and collectors have been looking for this film for decades and have no knowledge of what happened to it.
Clare Greet was obliged to help the production by financing it with her own money; before her, Alfred Hitchcock’s uncle John Hitchcock had also provided funds.
Greet’s generosity was something he never forgot, and she appeared in more Hitchcock films than any other performer (except for Leo G. Carroll who also appeared in six Hitchcock films): The Ring (1927), The Manxman (1929), Murder! (1930), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Sabotage (1936), and Jamaica Inn (1939).
The film was mostly filmed in Rotherhithe, South East London.
In this rare 1922 photo, that’s Alfred Hitchcock (with moustache?) squatting beside the camera and gesturing across the road at actress Clare Greet. The occasion was the filming of Number Thirteen (aka Mrs Peabody) on location outside the public house, “The Angel”, in Rotherhithe, London. The film was never finished. According to a caption, the director, Hitchcock, had two assistant directors, A.W. Barnes and Norman Arnold. Cameraman was Joe Rosenthal.