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Retro Reading: The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock's Shower by Robert Graysmith

Updated on May 13, 2022
True life crime and the movie Psycho
True life crime and the movie Psycho

I'm pretty sure I wouldn't make a good detective. When reading The Girl In Alfred Hitchcock's Shower by Robert Graysmith, all of the clues were there and I missed them.

I can also say with a clear conscious that I've only seen the movie Psycho once (maybe back in 1986) and have never really been a Hitchcock fan. However, the reason I decided to read this is I like to read about the past especially when it comes to Hollywood and filmmaking.

The book is basically two stories in one and they parallel each other.

Graysmith begins telling the story of Marli Renfro, the body double for Janet Leigh during the infamous Psycho shower scene. Renfro was never a famous star following her work in the film but she was famous when it came to being a pinup girl.

Her nude body would grace the inside of many men's magazines and "nature films" all while trying to keep her body double debut under wraps.

While Renfro was filming the tedious shower scene women in Hollywood were being terrorized by The Bouncing Ball Strangler. Even though the serial killer was never caught, police did arrest Henry Adolph Busch, Jr. (aka Sonny) following an unsuccessful kidnapping attempt of a co-worker.

Sonny could have been star Anthony Perkins stand-in during filming. He was suffering from blackouts, "Mother" issues and had urges to kill. Attracted to elderly women, many of his victims (including his aunt) were strangled. Sonny was captured a few days after Labor Day in 1960 after seeing Psycho with one of his victims.

Throughout the campaign of Psycho Sonny was (more than) anxious to see the film. He had thought of taking his own mother to see the successful thriller, but instead opted to quietly take his mothers neighbor and friend with him.

Around the same time, Renfro had moved into Hollywood, close enough to Sonny but their paths would only cross on the silver screen. In September of 1960, Renfro was on the cover of Playboy (with a review of the film) ironically depicting the famous scene. At this point, no one was aware that she was in the film. Eventually, it would come out that she was indeed Leigh's body double.

While Graysmith weaves both stories terrifically, I did find myself wandering when he delved too deeply into what I would say was non important material. By adding these details, I felt the story began to drag. I was interested in knowing more about Sonny and Renfro and not about the founding fathers of Searchlight, Nevada (a place where I think I gambled once on an ill fated trip to Las Vegas, but that's personal drama!).

I was also amazed to discover The Bouncing Ball Strangler mystery as I'd never heard of the unsolved mystery, nor the lore regarding Psycho.

I'm sure if you're a fan of true crime you'll devour this book and it also satisfies those who are fans of the movie.


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