Grace, class, dignity, and a fierce and independent spirit.
When it comes to Hollywood’s screen legends, actress Tippi Hedren is certainly up there with the very best.
But in recent years, sad details have emerged that paint her career in a different light – put simply, her fame came at a much higher price than many could ever imagine…
It’s hard to grasp, but the beautiful Tippi Hedren just turned 93.
The Hollywood legend is best known for iconic roles in films such as The Birds and Marnie – her career catapulted into stardom in the early ’50s and 1960s. To me, Tippi is the ultimate symbol of innate beauty, intelligence, class, integrity, character, and strength – she was a 100% class act.
As one of the last surviving stars from Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, we should all cherish her life – because she can really teach us a thing or two.
Unfortunately, she also had to pay a high price for following her dreams – and her complicated relationship with the legendary Alfred Hitchcock has received a lot of attention in recent years.
The famous director was the one who discovered Tippi; he liked her from the start when he saw her in a commercial for a diet drink called Sego.
“I was not primarily concerned with how she looked in person. Most important was her appearance on the screen, and I liked that immediately. She has a touch of that high-style, lady-like quality which was once well-represented in films by actresses like Irene Dunne, Grace Kelly, Claudette Colbert, and others, but which is now quite rare,” Hitchcock later said.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Tippi worked primarily as a successful fashion model. She had come a long way since being born as Nathalie Kay (her father dubbed her Tippi) on January 19, 1930, in New Ulm, Minnesota.
As a young blonde girl – with Swedish, German, and Norwegian roots – she loved to be part of department store fashion shows.
As Tippi grew older, her modeling career began to flourish. She appeared on the front covers of the most prominent magazines of the time, such as Life and Glamour. But as an actress, she was unknown and had minimal experience.
Nevertheless, her phone rang in October 1961 – it was an agent who wanted to hire on the behalf of a famous producer. Tippi kept asking who the producer was, but no one would tell her. Finally, they told her that Alfred Hitchcock wanted the top model to sign a seven-year contract.
“I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or run,” Tippi told Star Tribune in 1962.
The rumor was that Hitchcock had found his new Grace Kelly. Of course, it was terribly flattering for Tippi to be associated with Miss Kelly – but she didn’t want to compare herself with the giant.
First, Tippi thought she would star in the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents – she believed that her lack of dramatic acting experience would make it hard to land the biggest roles.
But it turned out that the famous director had huge plans for the Minnesota blonde.
He immediately put Tippi through some arduous training. The green-eyed beauty had to do several screen tests that went on for days. Tippi was very nervous, but made the best out of it – she studied every line and made every move she was asked.
“Hitch always liked women who behaved like well-bred ladies. Tippi generated that quality,” production designer Robert F. Boyle said.
Tippi Hedren in Birds
A couple of days after the testing was finished, Tippi went out to dine with Mr. Hitchcock and Mrs. Hitchcock. Halfway through dinner, Hitchcock began to dig in his pocket and gave Tippi a golden box wrapped in gift paper.
“I had just finished a screen test for Hitch and I thought, ‘What a nice way for him to tell me he liked it,’” Tippi told Star Tribune.
Inside the box was a gold pin adorned with a seed pearl.
“Hitch said, ‘Look at it closely, my dear.’
“It’s shaped like a bird,” Tippi said.
“Yes, my dear,” Hitchcock explained with his deep voice.
”You have the lead in my next production.”
Collapsed after this scene
The Birds was Tippi Hedren’s screen debut, and the well-crafted horror movie left an everlasting impression on everyone who saw it.
The special effects were ground-breaking and the New York Times called it “a horror film that should raise the hackles on the most courageous and put goose-pimples on the toughest hide.”
The iconic film catapulted Tippi to stardom, and the novice really deserved it after working her butt off on set. Shooting The Birds was as terrifying as sitting in the movie theater.
“They used real birds. In one scene, 2,000 finches come down the fire place chimney and take over my home. But the worst scene took place in the attic. I’m attacked by crows and gulls. One bird scratched me under the eye and bit my lip. It took six days to film a sequence that lasts only two minutes on film. I was very depressed about the horror of the scene and at the end I collapsed. I stayed in bed for days,” Tippi revealed in 1962.
Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”, 1963.
Posted by Celluloid Heroes on Wednesday, February 23, 2022
While filming The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock told Tippi that he wanted her to play the lead in Marnie. Grace Kelly had withdrawn from the movie, and that opened it up for a new leading lady. The making of the classic movie was supposed to have started in 1963, but the nation was mourning John F. Kennedy, so shooting of the film was postponed to 1964.
“I was amazed that he would offer me this incredible role and that he would have that kind of faith in me,” Tippi explained in the book Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie.
Marnie received mixed reviews when it premiered, but today its reputation has improved, and some critics considered it one of the greatest films ever made. The golden-haired Tippi Hedren and the incomparable Sean Connery made for a perfect couple on screen. What’s more, the psychological thriller was clearly ahead of its time.
Relationship with ‘Hitch’
Marnie was the last collaboration between Tippi and Hitchcock – and there were several reasons for that.
According to Tippi, colleagues, and other witnesses, everything started when she shot The Birds. Alfred Hitchcock acted as her drama coach during the filming – but he didn’t stop there.
“He was too possessive and too demanding. I cannot be possessed by anyone. But, then, that’s my own hangup,” the actress said in 1973.
Back then, Hitchcock was the genius and famous director, while Hedren was just an inexperienced actress “who had no clout.” She had to be extremely strong to fight off Mr. Hitchcock – who once assaulted her after she refused to sleep with him, according to Tippi.
Because of the culture and era, it was hard for her to speak up.
When author Donald Spoto published the book The Dark Side of Genius in 1983, more nasty details came to light. Donald Spoto wrote that Hitchcock hired two members of his crew to follow Tippi everywhere.
According to the book, the director also wanted to decide what Tippi should eat, whom she should see, and how she should live her life. No one in the cast or the crew were allowed to talk to her.
“Hitch was becoming very domineering and covetous of ‘Tippi,’ and it was very difficult for her. No one was permitted to come physically close to her during the production. ‘Don’t touch the girl after I call “Cut!”‘ he said to me repeatedly,” Rod Taylor, co-star in The Birds, revealed in the book.
During the making of Marnie, things got even worse.
“Everyone -— I mean everyone -— knew he was obsessed with me. He always wanted a glass of wine or champagne, with me alone, at the end of the day. He was really isolating me from everyone,” Tippi said.
The Dark Side of Genius was a very controversial book at the time. Alfred Hitchcock’s close friends came out to defend him and said that they didn’t recognize the man portrayed in the book.
But Tippi has stood her ground, and today, she claims that the director ruined her career. She’s made the same allegations for decades, and when she released her memoirs, she wrote about it to protect other women.
“I wanted to let women, especially young women, know never to allow that kind of approach and to be forceful in telling people you’re not interested in having that kind of a relationship. It’s not a bad thing to say no,” she told Variety.
At the same time, Tippi has also been keen to give a broader picture of the legendary director that she worked with for many years.
“He ruined my career, but he didn’t ruin my life. That time of my life was over. I still admire the man for who he was,” she told Huffington Post in 2012.
“I’ve been able to separate the two. The man who was the artist. I mean, what he gave to the motion picture industry can never be taken away from him and I certainly wouldn’t want to try. But on the other side, there is that dark side that was really awful.”
The most dangerous film ever made
After the Hitchcock years, the impossibly cool and elegant screen goddess suffered some career setbacks. She had to rebuild her own career and decided to devote a lot of time to animal welfare causes. Her modeling career and the unfair treatment she suffered in Tinseltown became stepping stones towards what she would do later in life.
In 1981, Tippi and her talent agent husband, Noel Marshall, produced the movie Roar. The project was supposed to take around nine months – it took five years, and the bill landed at $17 million.
The movie starred dozens of African lions, Marshall, Tippi, and her daughter Melanie Griffith. Among the closing credits, there was a note to the audience to demonstrate against fur dealers and wearers.
Noel Marshall, Melanie Griffith, and the director of photography, Jan de Bont, were all attacked by lions during the production. That’s why Roar has become known as the ”most dangerous film ever made.” Some claim that 40 people were injured, but Tippi says it was seven.
“I don’t know how we survived it… We were one on one with those big cats,” Tippi told Variety in 2016.
”They’re dangerous animals and they’re big. As I made the movie, I got into the issue of stopping the government from allowing people to breed lions and tigers as pets. They shouldn’t be pets. They’re apex predators, top of the food chain, one of four of the most dangerous animals in the world.”
Since the 1980s, Tippi has been an active advocate for animal issues. She founded a wildlife habitat in 1983 called Shambala Preserve, located 40 miles north of Los Angeles. The 93-year-old actress has lived on the property since 1976.
Her last acting credit is from 2017, when Tippi appeared in The Ghost and the Whale, an American mystery thriller drama film. One year later, the actress revealed that she was not going to take on significant acting roles as she moved into her 90s.
“I am at the time in my life when I have done almost everything I wanted to do,” Hedren told The Hollywood Reporter.
“My constant work here at the preserve to care for my rescued and abandoned big cats fills my days now. I doubt that I will do much work in the motion-picture business or television again, and I suppose that is why this commercial was such a special offer.”
What a strong, interesting, and intelligent woman!
It’s so infuriating and unfair what Tippi went through, but she came through and seems to be a wonderful caring woman.
Tippi Hedren has had an extraordinary life and she’s a fine lady with morals that maybe were far too good for Hollywood.
Please SHARE this article with your family and friends on Facebook.
Love and Peace