Written By: Ben Cosgrove

By the summer of 1942, the conflagration sparked by Germany’s swift and brutal aggression against its neighbors and by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had spread far and wide enough that the conflict could legitimately be seen as a second “world war.” 

As in all wars, propaganda played a central role in the mission and the strategies of the combatants. However, where the Axis had legendarily shrill and, at times, unhinged characters like Joseph Goebbels in charge of their “messaging,” the far-more-fortunate Allies could and did call on the greatest propagandists of all time: Hollywood filmmakers. Acknowledged movie masters like Frank Capra, John Ford, Howard Hawks, John Huston and others made documentaries and films that exhorted “the free people of the world.” 

But perhaps no filmmaker provided richer fare for the Allies during the war itself than Alfred (later Sir Alfred) Hitchcock. Between 1940 and 1945, Hitch made films for England’s Ministry of Information as well as several excellent movies featuring plots that centered on the war (Saboteur, Foreign Correspondent, the remarkable Lifeboat and others). Hitchcock’s most unusual director’s credit from the 1940s, however, wasn’t attached to a movie at all, but instead appeared in the July 13, 1942, issue of LIFE magazine. Titled Have You Heard? (The Story of Wartime Rumors), the feature carrying Hitchcock’s name is a war thriller in photos, shot by LIFE’s Eliot Elisofon from a plot “suggested by” FDR’s press secretary, Stephen Early, and “directed by” Hitchcock himself.

As LIFE told its readers in the introduction to the piece:

From Stephen Early, [White House press] secretary to President Roosevelt, recently came the suggestions that LIFE tell a picture story of wartime rumors and the damage they are liable to do. In accordance with this request, the editors asked Alfred Hitchcock, famed Hollywood movie director, to produce such a story, with LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon as his cameraman. When Mr. Hitchcock graciously agreed, a script was prepared, the director picked his characters from the ranks of movie professionals and LIFE’s Los Angeles staff, and shooting commenced in Hollywood.

‘Have You Heard?’ is the result of their cooperation in photo-dramatization. A simply sexless story, it shows how patriotic but talkative Americans pass along information, true or false, until finally deadly damage is done to their country’s war effort. One false rumor is silenced by a man who later is unwittingly responsible for starting a true rumor which ends in a great catastrophe. Moral: Keep your mouth shut.

What’s especially wonderful about Have You Heard?, meanwhile, is that parts of it really do feel like Hitchcock. Several of Elisofon’s photos might be mistaken for stills from a film by the Master of Suspense, and Hitchcock himself even makes one of his trademark and refreshingly comical appearances as a tertiary character in the narrative. (See slide #14 in the gallery above.)

It might not rise to the heights the director scaled in masterpieces like The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, North by Northwest and Vertigo, but as a record of Hitchcock’s willingness to lend his craft in the service of the war effort, Have You Heard? remains a fascinating, and still-entertaining, little gem.

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “A church congregation in the city of Zenith hears its minister offer a special prayer for ‘our boys in the armed services who even now may be sailing for such far places as Alaska.'” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “Busing home from Sunday services, the blonde girl in the funny hat tells her friend: ‘I’m sure now, those Zenith soldiers are sailing from Alaska. He didn’t ask us to pray last Sunday, so they must be leaving this week.’ In bus seat behind them, a musician leans forward to overhear their conversation.” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “At Zenith’s Steam Palace, the bus-riding violinist confides to a local hardware salesman: ‘Have you heard? Troopships are sailing to Alaska this week. They say thousands of boys are going up there. Preachers are already praying for them around the city.'” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “At a Zenith restaurant that Sunday evening the hardware salesman entertains some friends. ‘Have you heard?’ he asks. ‘No? Well, we are sending thousands of boys up to Alaska. Their troopship sails on Wednesday or Thursday, I understand, and they’ll be convoyed by six destroyers on their trip up there.'” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “One of the dinner guests, a gas-station proprietor with a liking for bow ties, chats with his customers next morning: ‘Have you heard about the large convoy of troop ships going to Alaska? Friend of mine who really knows says they’re leaving Wednesday night.'” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “At the dentist’s, pretty dinner companion of the hardware salesman passes on the secret news. ‘They’re sailing Thursday afternoon. It means a new front. The man who told me knows one of the officers.'” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “‘There’s going to be a blackout so that no one will know when the troopships go out Friday midnight for Alaska,’ confides another young woman, who was at the salesman’s dinner, to her roommate.” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “‘I never listen to rumors,’ replies a Zenith haberdasher to customer who repeats troopship story. ‘You shouldn’t spread such talk. Nothing but rumors!'” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “A dozen tropical shirts are ordered by a young Army lieutenant in the store of the Zenith haberdasher the next evening just before closing time. But the sleeves are too long and will have to be altered. The lieutenant says: ‘If you can’t get them done and delivered to my hotel by 9 o’clock Friday night, never mind the order. I won’t be able to pay for them if I’ve gone when they’re delivered. Understand?’ The haberdasher says he understands. But he muses to himself: ‘Tropical shirts. This young fellow must be headed to Australia.'” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “An hour late for dinner, the haberdasher arrives home to find his wife and children already finishing their meal. He explains his tardiness: ‘Last customer held me up at the store. A lieutenant. He took a dozen tropical shirts. He had to have the sleeves altered. I guess he’s been ordered to Australia. I’ve got to get his order done by 9 o’clock Friday night. I suppose he’s sailing on a troopship Friday midnight and that’s why he’s in such a rush.’ The haberdasher’s son Christopher, a little pitcher with big ears, takes in every word.” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “Playing with ‘the gang’ down the block the next afternoon, Christopher seeks to impress his older friends: ‘Gee, my dad’s making shirts for almost the whole Army. He sold lots to soldiers going to Australia to fight. He’s working now so the troopships can sail Friday midnight.'” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “Bursting with excitement, Christopher’s older pal arrives home to find his mother’s afternoon bridge club in session. ‘You know what, Mom? Christopher’s father’s making shirts for a whole boatload of soldiers. He says they’re all sailing for Australia at midnight next Friday.'” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “Next morning, the plumpish member of the bridge club makes her regular weekly visit to one of Zenith’s beauty parlors. An ardent gossip, she can hardly wait to get out of the drier and tell her friend and the manicurist the ‘news’ she heard the day before. ‘My dear, have you heard about the troopships sailing for Australia? Yes, my dear, they’re going out at midnight Friday — lots of them. I’ll bet General MacArthur’ll be glad to hear about this. Don’t you think it would be thrilling to go down to the docks Friday night and watch them leave!'” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “At the Friendship Cafe the manicurist tells her boyfriend: ‘A customer told me today that lots of our troopships are sailing to Australia on Friday at midnight.’ The shady-looking man standing next to them listens attentively. (Note bartender played by Alfred Hitchcock, center).” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “The mysterious man, whose ears were even more attentive than the manicurist’s boyfriend, leaves the cafe, remembering these important words: ‘Troopships … Australia … Friday at midnight.’ His business is to check all rumors, not pass them along for social conversation.” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: “A midnight rendezvous is held by a mysterious man, an Axis agent, with a U-boat officer and seaman who have paddled ashore in a small rubber boat. In the dark cove, the secret military information the haberdasher so innocently revealed to his family at last reaches the enemy.” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Caption from LIFE: ‘How does the enemy find out about these ships?’ exclaims the irate Zenith haberdasher, who habitually rejects all rumors, as the morning paper tells him what happened to the troopship aboard which was the young lieutenant who bought the dozen tropical shirts.” (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE magazine, July 1942

Alfred Hitchcock picture story in LIFE

Photomontage by Matt Greene for LIFE Magazine

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LIFE magazine, July 13, 1942.

Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Have You Heard?’

Eliot Elisofon LIFE Magazine

LIFE magazine, July 13, 1942.

Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Have You Heard?’

Eliot Elisofon LIFE Magazine

LIFE magazine, July 13, 1942.

Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Have You Heard?’

Eliot Elisofon LIFE Magazine

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