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Tippi Hedren gives Alfred Hitchcock “The Bird(s)!”

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One of the celebrity encounters I was most looking forward to was Tippi Hedren. Ms Hedren, of course, will be forever remembered for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS. While this film is often panned by critics in lieu of The Master of Suspense’s other achievements (eg.PSYCHO, VERTIGO, REAR WINDOW) this has always been the film I find myself re-watching the most. I’m sure that is, no doubt, due to my love of animals as well as a good “man vs. nature” flick (of which there are few).

Aside from Hitchcock’s amazing direction and complex characters, I was particularly enamored by his choice of animal. Most of these type of films focus on the more fearsome creatures such as sharks, bears, or anything brandishing big claws & teeth. In my opinion, Hitchcock raised the fear factor by choosing an everyday animal most of us take for granted, that is unless their signature white droppings make their way down upon our windshields. Hitchcock shows that if these seemingly innocent animals ever decided to rise up against us in an organized attack, we’d never stand a chance. Many people recall being scared by this film as youngsters and I was one of them. Its probably what led me later in life to set up numerous bird feeders around my yard, perhaps in the hopes they’d spare me should that day ever transpire.

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Prior to making our way to her booth (not far from Elvira), we’d been given a “heads up” that Tippi was somewhat of a “Diva.” I’m not going to divulge what I heard, but lets just say that the source stopped just short of using the “B” word and I’m not talking in reference to “Birds.” While standing in line to greet her, someone at the booth next to hers let an “F-bomb” fly. She immediately stopped signing for the fan in front of her and flashed him one of the nastiest looks I’d ever seen. I should also note that her assistant didn’t look like the type to be trifled with either and the two could have co-starred together in HOCUS POCUS.

Getting her to chat was clearly going to be a tricky maneuver. As I am a volunteer at my local, Brookfield Zoo, I decided to delve into that side of my psyche instead of the horror part. Hedren, you see, is as famous in the animal world as she is in Hollywood. Since 1983, Ms Hedren has spent most of her time and resources founding and overseeing “The Roar Foundation” while providing a safe haven for abandoned¬†animals (most notably the big cats) due to the exotic pet trade. These animals get a second chance at life due to her amazing reserve – Shambala.

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Prior to our arrival, I had made an 8×10 enlargement of one of the mynah birds in our zoo’s collection. Fans of the THE BIRDS will note that, in the film’s beginning, Tippi’s character “Melanie Daniels” is visiting a San Francisco pet store in the hopes of buying a mynah bird for her aunt. Unfortunately, the animal hadn’t arrived as scheduled leaving Ms Daniels no choice but to leave empty-handed (though it didn’t bother her too much since she’d just met the man of her dreams – Mitch Brenner). As I approached her, I handed her the picture and said, “Here is the mynah bird you weren’t able to receive in the film. I volunteer at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo and this is a bird from our collection. ” She smiled and said, “Oh, yes…for Aunt Tessa!” Then she stared at the photo with an arched eyebrow.

img_2931Photo of Bali Mynah taken at Brookfield Zoo

Now I should note that I am NOT a professional photographer, though both Daves do love doing nature photography as a hobby. The seconds passed like hours as I waited for her scathing review. Any other celebrity might provide a bit of lip-service, but Hedren was not just “any” celebrity. I had no doubt that if she didn’t like it, she’d make it quite clear (or worse, toss it aside and not say anything) and I’d be walking away from her table with an autograph in one hand while picking up my shattered pride with the other. Suddenly, she put the picture down and (with that same arched eyebrow) said, “This is actually really good!”….PHEW!!!

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She then handed me a photo from Shambala and smiled. I then felt comfortable bringing up Alfred Hitchcock. I had watched a documentary about the famed director that revealed he had had a real Vertigo-style obsession with Hedren. During filming he kept constant tabs on her and basically used his position as a means of control. I believe that today we’d call it “sexual harassment” but, back then, it was simply Hollywood.¬† I asked her about it and her eyes flared. “He TRIED to control me but he couldn’t! NOBODY controls me!!!” I took a step back as if seeing her for the first time. My heart skipped a beat and all eyes were on her. It was fabulous! Still, despite Ms. Hedren’s indignation, the fact remains that when she fought him, Hitchcock used her contract to prevent her from working two years after their last movie, MARNIE, during what should have been the peak of her career.

I had bought a fake crow off of ebay prior to this trip and Hedren had no problem posing with it. “I used to bring one of these with me to take photos with fans but, for some reason, didn’t this time,” she remarked. Before the picture snapped, I said, “Well just keep this one then.” She thanked me and I had one less thing to pack for my trip home. I left satisfied with my encounter and my admiration of her intact. In many ways Hedren reminded me of the very animals that had made her famous. Independent, beautiful…and one that even the mighty Hitchcock couldn’t cage.

Dave Fuentes~

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2 responses

  1. Wow, sounds like you were lucky! I’ve always felt Tippi was perhaps Hitch’s most beautiful leading lady, and like you, THE BIRDS is one of my very favorites of the Master’s work (I’ve never seen it necessarily “panned” by critics, but it’s ironic if so, as Hitch wanted this film be his most “European” work – hence its grim, open ending – in order to *appeal* to critics!). Anyway, just wanted to note that it wasn’t Hitch necessarily who chose birds to be the rampaging creatures; that choice was made by Daphne du Maurier in her creepy, but vastly different, original short story. As I’m sure you know. But yes, Hitch *did* choose to adapt that particular tale. Great post though, love hearing about meeting all these lovely horror ladies!

    April 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    • Thanks for the great comments and insights, Will! According to TCM “The BIRDS received generally harsh reviews from American critics with many criticizing Hedren’s stylized, mannequin-like performance; The New Yorker called the film a “sorry failure,” Time accused it of “silly plot boiling,” and Newsweek wrote that the central premise was “inexpertly handled.” Now I would agree with another critic who would later site it as “Hitchcock’s last flawed film” and feel it is absolutely worthy of the word “Masterpiece.” Its definitely one of my favorite Hitchcock films and I thought Tippi was great! You are right about the adaptation from a book and, yes, I was more complimenting Hitchcock’s choice of material than randomly choosing birds as the animal. I wasn’t as clear as I could have been so I appreciate you pointing that out. Again, GREAT comments!

      April 12, 2012 at 8:23 pm

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