For Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock's Scares Came Off-Screen

Nov 5, 2016

Tippi Hedren played the beautiful blond woman that Alfred Hitchcock liked to put in peril — as in the famous scene in which she opens the door into a dark attic in The Birds, and is pecked by a flock of the title characters.

Hedren survived the attic. But those birds weren't just stuffed props — and the real menace might have been the film's eminent director.

After a life in films and animal activism, Hedren has written a memoir. It's called Tippi. She tells NPR's Scott Simon that she didn't know she'd be facing real birds on set until the morning she started to film. "It was really so deviously plotted out, it was really terrifying."


Interview Highlights

On being summoned to meet Hitchcock

On Friday the 13th of October in 1961, I received a call asking if I was the girl in the seagull commercial. I said why? And they said, well, there's somebody who's interested in seeing you. And I knew that they were involved with doing this movie called The Birds, and I really didn't think that I would even be included. But I was asked to go to Chasen's restaurant for dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock, and he presented a very beautifully wrapped package. And I opened it, and it was a pin of three birds in flight. And he said, "We want you to play Melanie Daniels in The Birds."

On Hitchcock's treatment of her

It became such a problem for me that I demanded to get out of the contract. And he said, "Well, you can't, you have your daughter to support and your parents are getting older." And I said, "They wouldn't want me in a situation in which I'm not happy." And he said, "Well, I'll ruin your career." And he did. He just kept me under contract, paying me my salary, a lot of directors and producers wanted me for their film, but to get to me, they had to go through him.

On Hitchcock groping her in a taxi

I can't call it an assault, but it was very unpleasant. And it was just as we had arrived at the hotel, and all of a sudden he comes at me like he wanted to kiss me, and, you know, it was an unpleasant situation and very embarrassing for me. And there were about three more of those incidents, and I said, "I want to get out of the contract."

On what she tells her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and granddaughter Dakota Johnson about Hollywood

Well I think they just learned from living with me. And actually, my experiences with Hollywood were really wonderful, except for that. So I'm very happy and very busy.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Tippi Hedren played the beautiful blonde woman that Alfred Hitchcock liked to put into peril, as in this most famous scene where she turns the door in a dark attic in "The Birds" and is pecked by a flock of the title characters.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BIRDS")

SIMON: Tippi Hedren was all right. But those birds were not just stuffed props. And the real menace might have been the film's eminent director. After a life in films and animal activism, Tippi Hedren has written a memoir. It's called "Tippi." And Tippi Hedren joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

TIPPI HEDREN: Well, I'm delighted. Thank you.

SIMON: I hope you don't mind if we begin with that scene. Those were supposed to be mechanical birds, weren't they?

HEDREN: Yes, they were. And they didn't tell me that until the morning we were - we started to film. I mean, it was really so deviously plotted out. It was really terrifying. That morning, the assistant director stepped up into my dressing room. And he couldn't look at me. He was looking at the floor and the walls and the ceiling.

And I said, what's the matter with you, Jim? And he said, the mechanical birds don't work. We have to use real ones. And out the door he sailed. Sure enough, there was a chain-link fence around the door that I came in.

Inside that chain-link fencing was four boxes of raven and gull and a few pigeons thrown out and four prop men who had gauntlets up to their shoulders, ready to hurl them at me. Surprise.

SIMON: You were a young model who got a call to meet the great Hitchcock. What did that lead to?

HEDREN: Oh. Well, I was a model in New York. And, you know, things were kind of waning a little bit. And I thought, well, what am I going to do now? So I moved back to California with my daughter Melanie and the dog and the cat and the bunny.

And, all of a sudden, I'm thinking, oh, this isn't going as I planned. And I thought, what am I going to do? And on Friday the 13 of October in 1961, I received a call asking if I was the girl in the seagull commercial. I said, why? And he said, well, there's somebody who's interested in seeing you. And I knew that they were involved with doing this movie called "The Birds." And I really didn't think that I would even be included.

But I was asked to go to Chasen's Restaurant for dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock. And he presented a very beautifully wrapped package. And I opened it. And it was a pin of three birds in flight. And he said, we want you to play Melanie Daniels in "The Birds."

SIMON: I'm afraid I have to get to the part that becomes timely in this season, when we're talking about women putting up with unwanted advances.

HEDREN: Oh, this has been a legion. And I think, probably, almost every woman in this world has been affected by some sort of an advance by somebody in the workplace.

SIMON: Well - but specifically Alfred Hitchcock...

HEDREN: Yes.

SIMON: ...Because he - I mean, he stalked you.

HEDREN: He did.

SIMON: Yeah.

HEDREN: It became such a problem for me that I demanded to get out of the contract. And he said, well, you can't. You have your daughter to support. And your parents are getting older. And I said, they wouldn't want me in a situation in which I'm not happy.

And he said, well, I'll ruin your career. And then he did. He just kept me under contract, paying me my salary. A lot of directors and producers wanted me for their film. But to get to me, they had to go through him.

SIMON: On one occasion, he even, in the back of a limo, assaulted you, didn't he?

HEDREN: (Laughter) Well, I can't call it an assault. But it was very unpleasant. And it was just as we had arrived at the hotel. And, all of a sudden, he comes at me like he wanted to kiss me. And, you know, it was an unpleasant situation and very embarrassing for me. And then there were about three more of those incidences. And I said, I want to get out of the contract.

SIMON: Yeah. You, of course, are the mother of Melanie Griffith, which makes you the grandmother of Dakota Johnson. What have you told them about Hollywood?

HEDREN: Oh, I think they just learned from living with me. And, actually, my experiences with Hollywood were really wonderful, except for that. So I'm very happy and very busy.

SIMON: Tippi Hedren - her book, "Tippi: A Memoir." Thanks so much for being with us.

HEDREN: Well, it was my delight. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.