Catching Up With … Tippi Hedren

Photo Credit: Tippi Hedren: Credit: Keystone/Getty Images

By Lori Acken, ReMIND Magazine

Still stunningly lovely at age 87, actress Tippi Hedren now devotes most of her time to Shambala Preserve, the exotic-feline sanctuary she has helped fund since 1983 to further walk the talk of her 45-year passion for saving big cats. But Hedren — mom to actress Melanie Griffith (Working Girl) and grandmother to actress Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) — still takes an acting job now and then, if the project appeals. And she’s well aware that you will never stop thinking of her as the tormented blond beauty in Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary 1963 thriller The Birds. What you may not know is that the torment was equally harrowing offscreen, as the then 32-year-old ingenue — born Nathalie Kay Hedren in New Ulm, Minn. — gratefully accepted Hitchcock’s mentorship but refused his love, setting in motion years of physical and psychological abuse and a power struggle that would ultimately define their careers and then ruin them. Abuse she fearlessly chronicled in her 2016 memoir Tippi, after allowing the tale to be told in HBO’s 2012 original film The Girl. We caught up with Hedren to talk Hitchcock and her very personal Hollywood horror story.

How badly did Hitchcock underestimate the young woman who showed up on his set?
Tippi Hedren: Well, that wasn’t my first rodeo, as the saying goes. [Laughs] My parents had given me a very wonderful background in philosophies and morals and what is right — and to hold firmly to what is right and do it. So that protected me when I was a fashion model in New York and when I was doing commercials and when I traveled all around the world by myself. The career in commercials was so successful that I took six months off and toured the world, which was fantastic!

Alma Reville (Hitchcock’s wife) was aware of her husband’s boorish and abusive nature. Why do you think she stayed mum?
She had lived through this kind of situation over and over and over. Their marriage was an enigma to everyone. What is that relationship? I don’t know that many people did know — or will ever know. But, at one time, she came to me and said, “I’m so sorry you have to go through this,” and I just looked at her and said [drops her voice to an intense whisper], “But you can stop it! Just STOP it!”

Did you ever consider dropping out of the film?
No, no, no — never! The filming actually was never that much of a problem. [The harassment] became a problem after three or four days, and then it became horrible. But making movies is fun! It’s extremely satisfying and enjoyable, actually doing the work. It was the surrounding situations that made it so difficult. And there were really wonderful times — because there had to have been some or I wouldn’t have stuck with it as long as I did.

You agreed to make Marnie after The Birds? Why?
This was a real movie role. The Birds was fluff — but Marnie was a really involved character. I went through a lot of studying to do it. I talked to the book’s author, Winston Graham; I talked to psychologists and psychiatrists about the fact that when a child suffered a traumatic experience and it wasn’t dealt with at that time, how it manifests itself in adult life. And this is a fairly new observation. When we did the movie, it was not even heard of on general levels.

When Marnie wrapped, Hitchcock didn’t use you again, but refused to terminate your contract. Devastating?
It was so easy for him. He paid me $600 a week for almost two years, then gave the contract to Universal who wanted me to do a television show I didn’t think I would be right for. They said, “Well, if you don’t do it, you’re out of this contract,” and I went [thrusts out her hand] “Shake on it!” Two weeks later, Charlie Chaplin called me directly to ask if I would play Marlon Brando’s wife in A Countess From Hong Kong. So I was back, but it wasn’t a lead role. From what I understand, Hitchcock almost had a heart attack when he heard.

Do you still think about what you might have accomplished in those two years?
No. But I would hear years later how such and such producer or director wanted to use me. To get to me, they had to go through him — and he said, “She isn’t available.” So easy. Just, “She isn’t available.” The one that really hurt the worst was François Truffaut wanted me for his Fahrenheit 451 and I didn’t even know about it.

What might others learn from what you survived?
I hope that women — young women, especially — get the message that you do not have to acquiesce to any demands that are made of you by anyone if you are not interested. Hitchcock ruined my career, but not my life!

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