Whatever happened to the Peck’s bad boy of North by Northwest? The earplug kid, I mean. Who was this little Southern California jackass and what was his basic malfunction? And what happened to the production associate who should have spotted this bad business during repeated takes?

The kid’s place in history is secure. NXNW was shot in ‘58, and he appears to be nine or ten. If he’s still with us the little fucker with the obstinate (or playfully sociopathic?) attitude and the Brylcreamed hair is in his early ‘70s now. Once you’ve seen that green plaid shirt and those nail-bitten adolescent fingers plugging those Jerry Mathers-type ears…there’s no un-seeing any of it.

Does anyone know his name? Or how his life turned out? Did he work his way into a good profession or achieve some measure of financial security or whatever? Did he get married and have kids? Did he wind up serving in Vietnam or participating in anti-war demonstrations in the late ‘60s? Given his mischievous inclinations the kid almost certainly grew up into a leftist. This was no obedient rule-follower. Maybe he became a writer or a politician or a Wall Street guy…who knows?

The plugged-ear kid is right in there with all the various dialogue-speaking characters invented by screenwriter Ernest Lehman…right in there with Glen Cove police sergeant “Emile Clinger” (John Beradino) and the older “good woman” with the CIA whose humanistic concern for the fate of Roger Thornhill is casually and patronizingly dismissed by Leo G. Carroll’s “professor” and with the unseen midtown Manhattan cab driver who dryiy and confidently states his ability to lose the pursuing followers (“Yes, I can”) only to fail to do so. Or the hot blonde (Patricia Cutts) in the Rapid City hospital room (“Stop!”)

“Kid Ears” is as much of an iconic NXNW presence as anyone else…as memorable as the Madison Ave. building custodian (Tommy Farrell‘s “Eddie”) who’s “not talkin’” to his wife, or the Plaza Hotel itself or “Victor” (Harry Seymour), the bald-headed Oak Bar maitre d, or “Elsie” the Plaza maid (Maudie Prickett), or the suspicious and somewhat surly overweight detective (Tol Avery) on the 20th Century Limited who questions Eva Marie Saint, or the slender, reedy-voiced farmer (Malcolm Atterbury) who chats with Cary Grant at Prairie Stop Highway 41, or the cultured hotel concierge at Chicago’s Ambassador East (can’t find his name) or “Sergeant Flamm” (Patrick McVey), the fleshy beat cop who co-arrests Grant at the Michigan Ave. auction only to drop him off at Midway Airport…

Earplug kid doesn’t speak, of course, and is the only discordant note in the entire film…the only accident that wasn’t corrected. He’s probably the only NXNW veteran besides 98 year-old Eva Marie Saint and maybe one other who isn’t dead as we speak. Or maybe he too has passed on. Either way he certainly belongs to the ages.

What discipline was handed out to the guilty party who failed to notice this Leave It To Beaver-aged troublemaker…who failed to spot this potentially disruptive behavior in front of those costly VistaVision cameras? Hitchcock’s continuity person or the 1st assistant director or whomever — somebody was responsible, and someone must have spotted him. My guess is that Hitchcock may have been told about the kid after Grant, Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau had satisfactorily performed the scene on an MGM Culver City sound stage, but he blithely ignored the potential for narrative interruption, figuring no one would notice (and nobody did until NXNW appeared on DVD, which allowed for easy freeze-frame capture).