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Tippi Hedren Interview: "I Didn't Try to Hide the Fact That I Was Trying to Get Away from Hitchcock"

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Image attributed to Tippi Hedren

Tippi Hedren

Born in Minnesota in 1930, Tippi Hedren became a successful model until a television commercial caught the eye of famed director Alfred Hitchcock who signed her to a contract and gave her the lead in his films The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964). Other film appearances include A Countess from Hong Kong, The Harrad Experiment, Roar, Pacific Heights, Raising Genius, Jayne Mansfield’s Car and Return to Babylon, among others.

Hedren has also devoted a good portion of her time to animal rights and conservation causes. She founded the Shambala Preserve in Southern California as a sanctuary for rescued exotic cats and began the Roar Foundation to continue her work with animals. She is the mother of actress Melanie Griffith and grandmother of actress Dakota Johnson.

“I was under contract to him. When I demanded to get out of the contract, he was livid, and he didn’t let me out of the contract. That’s what stopped my career. I don’t know what I was offered. I had no idea of the roles because the offers went through Hitchcock. It was the kind of thing where I had no control. I was under contract to him. It was awful. It was extremely difficult. It was unconscionable.”

In Tippi: A Memoir, released November 1, 2016, one of the biggest names in classic Hollywood recounts tales of sharing the screen with some of the most esteemed actors in Hollywood and about the complicated relationship with the man who discovered her talent, Alfred Hitchcock, whom she alleges sexually assaulted and harassed her and contractually controlled her every move.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you first feel about writing a memoir and opening up about your life and career?

Tippi Hedren: I think it was inevitable because I have had such an incredible life that it needed to be put into a book.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you leave out any stories?

Tippi Hedren: Well, of course (laughs). Of course.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can you share one?

Tippi Hedren: Oh no, that’s why they’re not in the book! (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You had a very successful modeling career. Did you ever dream about being an actor?

Tippi Hedren: No. No, I didn’t, and it was a shock to me … a delightful shock when I got the call that a famous director wanted to talk to me.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Of course, that was Alfred Hitchcock, and you starred as Melanie Daniels in The Birds (1963). I was horrified to learn that during the bedroom scene, live birds were used to attack you.

Tippi Hedren: Yes, well, we didn’t have CGI then. The mechanical birds weren’t used, so we had to use real ones. I didn’t know it until we were about to start the scene.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How much danger were you really in when the birds were attacking you for the five days of shooting that particular scene?

Tippi Hedren: Yes, it was for five days. At the end of it, I was on the floor in front of the door, and one of the birds got too close to me eye. I got him off of me, and I was just so exhausted that I sat in the middle of the soundstage and just started to cry. You know what? Everybody left me.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Really?

Tippi Hedren: Exactly. Isn’t that awful?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): No one approached to ask if you were okay?

Tippi Hedren: No. Nobody did. They just left. I’ll never forget it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you watched The Birds recently?

Tippi Hedren: I haven’t watched it in a long time, but it is an incredible film, I must say.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do you feel when you watch that bedroom scene?

Tippi Hedren: Well, you know, it’s a movie. But, that scene was horrifying really.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Being attacked by live birds in a film so early in your career, did you ever think, “Wow. I shouldn’t have gotten into this acting business?”

Tippi Hedren: Oh, no. Just the one incident should’ve have that kind of reaction. I mean, it wasn’t life threatening, you know. But, it was harrowing, that’s for sure.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve said that Hitchcock began his obsession with you on the set of The Birds and made sexual advances. Did you ever tell anyone at that time about the harassment?

Tippi Hedren: No, I didn’t. But, everybody on the set was aware of it. I didn’t try to hide the fact that I was trying to get away from Hitchcock. As far as my parents, I didn’t want them involved in it. I didn’t want them involved. To me, it was embarrassing.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I assume your co-stars Jessica Tandy and Rod Taylor knew?

Tippi Hedren: Oh, everybody did. Everybody on the set knew.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hitchcock’s wife, Alma, also knew?

Tippi Hedren: Yes. When she said to me, “I’m so sorry you have to go through this,” my eyes just got wide, and I said, “But, you could stop it!”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you ever have a conversation with Hitchcock star Grace Kelly (Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, Dial M for Murder) about the sexual harassment?

Tippi Hedren: No. She was in Monaco with her Prince, you know. I can’t remember when she was killed, when she had that accident. I wasn’t really that interested in talking to her.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did Alfred Hitchcock hurt your career when you refused his sexual advances?

Tippi Hedren: I was under contract to him. When I demanded to get out of the contract, he was livid, and he didn’t let me out of the contract. That’s what stopped my career. I don’t know what I was offered. I had no idea of the roles because the offers went through Hitchcock. It was the kind of thing where I had no control. I was under contract to him. It was awful. It was extremely difficult. It was unconscionable.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve said that the experience with Hitchcock wasn’t all bad, so what did you learn from him?

Tippi Hedren: He and his wife, Alma, were my drama coaches, which was wonderful. Alma was fabulous! She was really very good. There weren’t too many sessions. It wasn’t months and months at all. It was just several times that we met, and she would just give me the coaching. It wasn’t a long-term thing.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You also worked with writer/director Charlie Chaplin in A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) with Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. How was his directing style different from Hitchcock?

Tippi Hedren: The best thing about Chaplin, and Marlon Brando hated this, but he would act out all of our roles on the set. It was awesome to watch him! I just loved it. Brando was furious, and he wanted to quit. But, he was under contract, so he couldn’t quit.

It was joyful to see Chaplin become our different characters. He became the Sophia Loren character. He became Marlon Brando’s character. He became my character. It was fabulous! I loved watching him direct like that.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you learn method acting from the Hitchcocks?

Tippi Hedren: Not at all. That was Marlon. He was a method actor.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it difficult to play off of Marlon Brando?

Tippi Hedren: Not at all. We had a very good working relationship.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Playing Marnie Edgar in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964) was more of a challenging role?

Tippi Hedren: Yeah, of course, it was. You can’t really compare the role of Marnie and Melanie. The Birds was an action adventure film, and Marnie was the study of a woman who had gone through some very tragic, emotional turmoil. Her whole life was emotionally wrecked when that all happened to her has a child. All of those years ago, people didn’t realize what the affect on your later life an emotional situation like that would have on your entire life actually.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you ever have done a nude scene in a film?

Tippi Hedren: I don’t think I would have, no. I was never asked to either, which was really good (laughs). It lightened my life’s lot not to be asked to do those things.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Never asked?

Tippi Hedren: I never was even asked (laughs). I never thought about it either.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you feel about your daughter Melanie doing some nude scenes early in her career?

Tippi Hedren: Not good. I didn’t like it. I just didn’t.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): She was headstrong at that age?

Tippi Hedren: Yes, she was. Indeed, she was both headstrong and independent.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you offer Melanie advice on acting?

Tippi Hedren: I don’t know that I gave her any advice, but she was on the set a lot. You learn a lot when you’re just around those kinds of situations. She learned a lot from that, just being around it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me about your work with exotic felines.

Tippi Hedren: That became my life and it still is. When we were doing our movie called Roar in 1981, we needed animals in the movie. Several of the trainers said, “This script is too big for us. We don’t have that many animals for the movie. We don’t want our cats to work with cats they don’t know because it can be extremely dangerous. Why don’t you acquire your own animals to do the movie?” Well, that’s a romantic notion, isn’t it? That’s exactly what we did.

We started out with one lion, a little lion cub named Casey. He had been in the house with us until we arranged for a situation where he could come and live at the place I eventually bought. It was called Shambala, and we formed the Roar Foundation. We started out with lions. Then we heard about a tiger who needed a home and another tiger and another lion, then a leopard needed a home. That’s how it all grew.

I didn’t set out to do this. It just happened. It’s one of those life experiences that was awesome the way it happened. I mean, to all of a sudden decide, “Oh, I think I’ll rescue a bunch of lions and tigers.” That’s a big job. (laughs)

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So many people were hurt during the filming of Roar. That must’ve been scary!

Tippi Hedren: It was. I was one of those who were injured. But, we all survived. Nobody got killed.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s the good news, right?

Tippi Hedren: That’s the good news (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How big is the exotic cat trade?

Tippi Hedren: It’s not as big now because during the growth of this whole journey I was on, I was thinking, “Why doesn’t our government have laws against these animals being bred to be sold as a pet or for financial gain?” There were no laws whatsoever about owning a lion or a tiger. So I put a bill together and took it to my congressman. He said, “Oh, Tippi, this is ridiculous. This is such a big business. It’ll never work.” I said, “We have to try.” I showed him a video of why it’s important. He said, “Okay. I’ll help you.”

I got the bill passed. It’s called the Captive Wildlife Safety Act. It regulates ownership of these animals and the breeding. It’s difficult to say to somebody, “You can’t breed this animal.” What I did was I formed the bill so that you couldn’t take the animal over state lines, so they couldn’t sell them and move to another state of wherever. It has been very effective, and there isn’t that problem anymore of these animals being over bred by numbers. So, it worked.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Good for you. What do you think about big game trophy hunters?

Tippi Hedren: They’re not hunters. They’re murderers. That’s how I feel about that.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have passions other than animals?

Tippi Hedren: I don’t know that I do because my life is so involved with them. I mean, I live out here with them. I have a beautiful tiger right next to my couch. Her compound is a couple of acres. That’s what we do. I try to give them a life that is not just an animal that has been put in a cage. They do have a life. That’s one thing I absolutely insist upon.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you doing any acting?

Tippi Hedren: No.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What about a buddy road movie with you, Melanie and Dakota?

Tippi Hedren: (laughs) Yeah. That would be awesome. It really would be.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s your favorite film?

Tippi Hedren: Marnie, definitely. It was a very powerful story. This is the kind of thing that people were not aware of, what happens to a child that has a horrible experience and how it manifests itself later in life. Nobody even thought about those things back then. Marnie was a true breakthrough on so many levels. It’s a very important film.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And one I will watch again soon. You gave an Oscar-worthy performance in Marnie.

Tippi Hedren: You know something? Apparently, they were considering me to be nominated for an Oscar, and Hitchcock put the kibosh on it. I just found that out a couple of years ago. He stopped it, and he had the power to stop it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I imagine some bad memories came flooding back when you found out you could’ve won an Oscar, if it hadn’t been for Hitchcock.

Tippi Hedren: Oh, there’s a lot of things I like to keep even from my own mind about how I feel about that.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you dote on those grandkids?

Tippi Hedren: I sure do. The only thing is I live so far away from them that it’s difficult. But, oh, they’re wonderful. I love my grandchildren.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How is your health, Tippi?

Tippi Hedren: My health is good. I’m not a young woman, so I can’t expect to be great. But, I’m a great deal more than the average. I was complaining about it the other day. Chris Galluci, the head of the Shambala Preserve said, “You’d better stop it. You know what I think I’m going to do? I’m going to take you over to one of those homes and show you how most of the people your age live and how they act. Tippi, knock it off! You’re doing great. Just stop it.” I’ve been very fortunate.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If you had it to do all over again, would you have accepted the role in Hitchcock’s The Birds, which started your complicated relationship with the director?

Tippi Hedren: Yeah, because you don’t know what you’re getting into. That’s what life is all about, isn’t it? You open a door and go through it, and all of a sudden you find all kinds of terrible things on the other side of that door that you never expected nor would accept. It wasn’t until the end of Marnie that it got unbearable with Hitchcock. I am not one to put up with that kind of life. Life’s too short to have to deal with those issues. Just too short.

© 2016 Smashing Interviews Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.

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