Connections: From Horizons to Hitchcock (Part 2)

In 1920 Jay and Mary Plangman (see Part 1) moved back to Fort Worth from Manhattan, and mother-to-be Mary filed for divorce.

plangman divorce 20-21

On January 19, 1921, a week after Mary’s divorce was granted, she gave birth to Patricia Plangman at Mary’s mother’s boardinghouse on Daggett Street. Patricia is our second connection linking Jay Plangman to Alfred Hitchcock.

Mary and her baby daughter continued to live with Willie Mae Coates as Mary began life as a single mother. By the time Patricia was two, Willie Mae was teaching Patricia to read as Mary went off to work each day.

plangman wrestling 1946Another member of the Coates household on Daggett Street was Patricia’s older cousin Dan. Dan Coates would become active in local Golden Gloves in the 1940s, including serving as announcer. Note the ad on that page for wrestling at the North Side Coliseum. That ad was prophetic because by the 1960s . . .

plangman wrestling 1967Dan Coates would host Channel 11’s broadcast of wrestling matches at the North Side Coliseum at the conclusion of Channel 11’s country music programming on Saturday nights.

plangman 1924 remarryIn 1924 Patricia’s mother married another Fort Worth artist, Stanley Highsmith. In 1927 Mary, Patricia, and Stanley moved to New York City. When Patricia was twelve Mary and Stanley shipped her back to Fort Worth to live with her grandmother. Patricia was unhappy with the relocation and felt abandoned. After a year she moved back to Mary and Stanley in New York City.

In New York, as Patricia studied writing at Barnard College, her mother and stepfather pursued their art careers. Mary illustrated this magazine cover in 1938. But family life was not good. Mary and Stanley clashed. Mary and Patricia clashed. Patricia resented Stanley and had fantasies about killing him. Her biological father, Jay Plangman, was absent for much of her life. She once wrote in her diary that her life was at times “an endless hell on earth.”

After graduation Patricia Highsmith continued to suffer demons as she wrote and sold short stories. “Obsessions are the only things that matter,” she once said. “Perversion interests me most and is my guiding darkness.”

But Patricia Plangman Highsmith put those demons to work for her. In 1950 the daughter of the boy on the railroad and the girl in the music recital saw her first novel published. Its plot centered on a psychotic socialite and a tennis pro who conspire to swap murders. In 1951 the novel was made into a movie. Robert Walker and Farley Granger starred:

Hitchcock lowballed Highsmith when he bought the film rights to her first novel for just $7,500 ($75,000 today). He kept his name out of the negotiations to keep the price low. Highsmith was said to be “annoyed” when she found out who had bought the film rights at such a low price. When Hitchcock sought a screenwriter to adapt Highsmith’s novel, he was turned down by, among others, John Steinbeck, Thornton Wilder, and Dashiell Hammett. Ultimately the screenplay was written by Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde.

StrangersCameoPubReenactHitchcock made his trademark cameo with a double bass. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

When the movie premiered in Fort Worth at the Hollywood Theater, the Star-Telegram referred to Highsmith as a “Fort Worth girl.”

plangman 1970 featurePatricia Plangman Highsmith made a rare return to Fort Worth in 1970. She granted an interview to Claire Eyrich of the Star-Telegram.

plangman obit 1975Jay Bernard Plangman, Patricia Plangman Highsmith’s estranged father, died in 1975. He had been head of the commercial art department at Trimble Technical High School for eighteen years. The obituary lists Miss Patricia Plangman Highsmith as a daughter but does not mention her celebrity.

Patricia Plangman Highsmith died in Switzerland in 1995.

She is buried in TicinoSwitzerland.

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5 Responses to Connections: From Horizons to Hitchcock (Part 2)

  1. Paula C. Day says:

    So interesting! Thank you for this article. I also appreciate your method of including copies of research material.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Paula. I think it’s interesting to see what history looked like when it was just news.

  2. nancy brownlee says:

    Peculiar that in one sentence of the obit, Highsmith is referred to as “Ms. Ripley”.

    • hometown says:

      I’d guess that is a mistake. The title of a book about her referred to her as The Talented Miss Highsmith, a reference to her novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, but I think the conflation in the obit was unintentional. The Times does not post scanned clippings of stories that recent, so I had to copy and paste the text.

  3. Susan Stiles says:

    Well, despite her demons, she was able to write a terrific novel. I loved the movie.

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