The AFI Life Achievement Award was established by the Board of Directors of the American Film Institute on February 26, 1973 to honor a single individual for his or her lifetime contribution to enriching American culture through motion pictures and television.
The recipient is currently selected and honoured at the Oscars ceremony annually, with the award being presented by a guest presenter, who usually gives a brief synopsis of the awarded individual and career background including highlights and achievements.
The trustees initially specified that the recipient must be one who fundamentally advanced the art of film and whose achievements had been acknowledged by the general public as well as by film scholars and critics and the individual's peers. The trustees also specified that the work of the recipient must have withstood the test of time.
Alfred Hitchcock received the award in 1979.
The actors who have received the award and who also worked with Hitchcock are:
- Henry Fonda (1978)
- James Stewart (1980)
- Gregory Peck (1989)
- Sean Connery (2006)
- Shirley MacLaine (2012)
Alfred Hitchcock (1979)
Hitchcock received the Life Achievement Award at a gala event held on March 7th, 1979. The event is usually referred to as the "American Film Institute Salute to Alfred Hitchcock".
AFI Tribute Address
7th AFI Life Achievement Award
ALFRED HITCHCOCK: LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD 1979 TRIBUTE ADDRESS
When the Trustees of The American Film Institute established the Life Achievement Award in 1973, they specified that the filmmaker honored each year be chosen in terms of his total career contribution, the degree to which that contribution has fundamentally advanced the art of American film and withstood the test of time.
The AFI Trustees have voted the seventh Life Achievement Award to Alfred Hitchcock, who fulfills these qualifications superbly. During some fifty-seven years as a writer, director and producer, he has served film both memorably and uniquely. In his favorite genre, the suspense film, he has come to be regarded as a master almost without peer.
He early became known for his visual innovations, relying on his earlier training in draftsmanship. Perhaps more important was his innate sense of composition. Hitchcock has come to use the screen in a very painterly fashion. Film is a visual art, but Hitchcock is the most visual of directors.
From 1922 to 1939, he honed his gifts as writer, director or producer on thirty-three films in England. In 1940, he directed REBECCA, his first film in the United States. Starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson, the film won the Academy Award for best picture of the year. REBECCA also earned Hitchcock his first Academy Award nomination for best director.
Probably Hitchcock's most famous film is the gothic thriller, PSYCHO. The film features Hitchcock at his most startling pitch and at the height of his most manipulative technique. The famous shower scene in which he expeditiously disposes of the co-star, Janet Leigh, is a masterpiece of economic and powerful editing pulling the audience irresistibly into the climate of the story. No one who has seen the film can step into a shower in a strange motel without that incredible scene running through his mind.
Each year the Life Achievement Award telecast has reached a wide audience. This is one of the purposes of the Institute: to provide the public with some insight into the art of motion pictures. Focusing on the work of a single creator, we can, by example, demonstrate the enormous power of film.
Alfred Hitchcock as artist, writer, director and producer richly deserves the Life Achievement Award. Let it serve as a token of the admiration and respect of his audiences as well as his colleagues.
The following is based on the VHS release of the event...
May it please Ambassador Jay, Queen Ingrid, Director Stevens, and my co-conspirators in this bizarre trade of making films. It has been my observation that man does not live by murder alone... he needs affection, approval, encouragement and, occasionally, a hearty meal.
Tonight you have provided me with three... out of four! Anxiety strangled my appetite! This demonstration of your approval and affection has encouraged me...I will go on!
It makes me very proud indeed to be the recipient of the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award. It is especially meaningful because it comes from my fellow dealers in celluloid. After all, when a man is found guilty of murder and condemned to death, it always makes him feel much better to know it was done by a jury of his friends and neighbours...with the help of an adequate attorney.
It would tax your endurance, and mine, to recite the names of those thousands of actors, writers, editors, cameramen, musicians, technicians, bankers, exhibitors...and a variety of other criminals who have contributed to my life.
I beg to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation and encouragement...and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen...and their names are Alma Reville.
Had the beautiful Miss Reville not accepted a lifetime contract, without options, as "Mrs Alfred Hitchcock" some 53 years ago, Mr Alfred Hitchcock might be in this room tonight...not at this table, but as one of the slower waiters on the floor.
I share my award, as I have my life, with her. Now let me share something with those promising young people who have earned their Alfred Hitchcock Fellowships. When I was no more than six years of age, I did something that my father considered worthy of reprimand. I don't recall what transgression it was – at the age of six, it could have hardly involved a serving girl!
Whatever, father sent me to the local police station with a note. The officer on-duty read it and locked me in a jail cell for five minutes, saying "This is what we do to naughty boys."
I have, ever since, gone to any lengths to avoid arrest and confinement.
To you, young people, my message is "stay out of jail"!
Some day, one of you may be standing here, with this American Film Institute Award – that's what they do to good little boys!
- see American Film Institute Salute to Alfred Hitchcock (1979) - transcript
- see articles about American Film Institute Salute to Alfred Hitchcock (1979)
The full broadcast has not been released on DVD, although a bootleg of the commercial VHS tape is available.
A highly edited version is available on the following DVDs:
- Psycho (1960) - Universal (UK, 2005)
- Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection - Universal (USA, 2005)
A partial list of the attendees at the event:
- Judith Anderson, Ingrid Bergman, Sidney Bernstein, Robert Blumofe (Director of American Film Institute West), Sean Connery, John Forsythe, Cary Grant, Edith Head, Tippi Hedren, Alfred Hitchcock, Patricia Hitchcock, John Houseman, Peter Jay (UK Ambassador to the United States), Janet Leigh, Ernest Lehman, Norman Lloyd, Vera Miles, Anthony Perkins, Alma Reville, Victor Saville, George Stevens Jnr. (founder of the American Film Institute), James Stewart, Rod Taylor, François Truffaut, Jane Wyman and Teresa Wright
Images from the Hitchcock Gallery (click to view larger versions or search for all relevant images)...