With elegance, poise, and dignity, as well as a fiery and unyielding will, Tippi Hedren is, without a doubt, one of Hollywood’s all-time greatest actresses.
Yet tragic revelations have surfaced in recent years, painting a different picture of her career; in short, her celebrity came at a much higher price than many could have ever imagined…
Hard to believe, but the stunning Tippi Hedren is already 93 years old.
The Hollywood legend shot to fame in the 1950s and 1960s because to her performances in such classic films as The Birds and Marnie. Tippi represents the pinnacle of elegance, grace, intelligence, class, integrity, character, and strength for me; she was the epitome of a class act.
We owe it to her, as one of the few remaining stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age, to celebrate her while she’s still with us, because she has a lot to teach us.
Her tumultuous relationship with the great Alfred Hitchcock has garnered a lot of attention in recent years, but she paid a terrible price for pursuing her aspirations.
Tippi was discovered by the renowned filmmaker, who fell in love with her after seeing her in an ad for the diet soda 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.
Tippi’s primary source of income in the 1950s and 1960s was as a highly sought-after fashion model. Nathalie Kay (her father called her Tippi) was born on January 19, 1930, in New Ulm, Minnesota.
The blonde girl who traced her ancestry to Sweden, Germany, and Norway delighted in participating in department store fashion shows as a child.
Tippi’s career as a model took off when she was older. At the height of her fame, she graced the pages of periodicals like Life and Glamour. She had little experience and was almost unheard of in the acting world.
On the other hand, in October of 1961, her phone rang and it was an agency who was looking to employ on behalf of a well-known producer. No one would tell Tippi who the producer was, so she continued asking. They eventually broke the news that Alfred Hitchcock was looking to sign the top model on for seven years.
“I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or run,” Tippi told Star Tribune in 1962.
That Hitchcock had found his new Grace Kelly was circulating online. Tippi found it incredibly gratifying to be compared to Miss Kelly, but she refused to do so out of fear of being dwarfed.
Until she realized that her lack of serious acting experience would prevent her from landing the major roles, Tippi thought she would appear in the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
It turned out, however, that the renowned filmmaker had ambitious intentions for the blonde from Minnesota.
Immediately, he began a rigorous training regimen for Tippi. The screen tests for the stunning green-eyed woman lasted for days. Tippi, despite her nerves, did a great job of learning her lines and performing her choreography.
“Hitch always liked women who behaved like well-bred ladies. Tippi generated that quality,” production designer Robert F. Boyle said.
Tippi Hedren in Birds
Tippi and the Hitchcocks went out to dinner a few days after the tests were complete. Midway through the meal, Hitchcock started digging in his pocket and eventually presented Tippi with 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.
The box’s contents revealed a gold pin set with a pearly seed.
“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
Making her film debut in The Birds, the stunning Tippi Hedren terrified audiences with her performance.
The New York Times termed it “a horror film that should raise the hackles on the most courageous and put goose-pimples on the toughest hide.”
Tippi’s rise to fame was due in large part to the success of that landmark film, and the newcomer earned it by sweating bullets in the production. The experience of shooting The Birds was just as nerve-wracking as watching the film in a 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.
It was during production of The Birds that Tippi received the news that Alfred Hitchcock wanted her to play the lead role in Marnie. Since Grace Kelly had dropped out of the film, there was an opportunity for a new star. The iconic picture was set to begin production in 1963, but with the country still mourning the loss of President F. Kennedy, production was pushed back until 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.
While critics weren’t unanimous in their praise for Marnie at its release, the picture is now widely recognized to be among the all-time greats. Tippi Hedren, with her gleaming blonde hair, and Sean Connery, who could do no wrong, were a dream team on screen. To add insult to injury, the psychological thriller was decades ahead of its time.
Relationship with ‘Hitch’
Tippi and Hitchcock worked together on Marnie for the last time for a number of different reasons.
Tippi, her coworkers, and other eyewitnesses all agree that things escalated after she shot The Birds. During production, Alfred Hitchcock served as her on-set drama teacher.
“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.
Hedren was an untested actress “who had no clout” in comparison to the brilliant and well-known filmmaker Hitchcock of the time. Tippi claims that she had to be physically formidable in order to defend herself against Mr. Hitchcock, who had attacked her after she had declined to sleep with him.
Because of the social norms of the time, she found it challenging to raise her voice.
Further ominous information was revealed in Donald Spoto’s book The Evil Side of Genius, released in 1983. According to Donald Spoto’s account, Hitchcock had two of his crew members shadow Tippi around.
The director allegedly sought to control every aspect of Tippi’s life, including what she ate, who she hung out with, and how she spent her free time. No one on set, including the actors and crew, were allowed to interact with 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.
In its day, The Dark Side of Genius generated a lot of heated debate. Those closest to Alfred Hitchcock spoke out in his defense, claiming they didn’t recognize the guy described in the book.
Yet, Tippi has maintained her position, and now she blames the director for the end of her career. These are claims she’s been making for decades, and she included them in her memoirs to warn 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.
Tippi has been eager to paint a fuller image of the great filmmaker she shared a long professional relationship with.
“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
Several professional difficulties befell the incomparably cold and graceful cinematic goddess after her Hitchcock years. She had to start over professionally and chose to focus her efforts on animal rights. Her time as a model and the prejudice she encountered in Hollywood were formative experiences that helped pave the way for her future success.
Tippi and her husband, Noel Marshall, a talent agent, co-produced the film Roar in 1981. Five years and $17 million later, the project is finally complete.
Dozens of African lions, Marshall, Tippi, and Melanie Griffith’s character were all included in the film. You may have noticed a call to action during the end credits encouraging viewers to protest fur traders and fur wearers.
During filming, lions attacked Noel Marshall, Melanie Griffith, and the director of photography, Jan de Bont. In light of this, it’s little surprise that Roar has been dubbed the “most dangerous film ever made.” Tippi says seven people were hurt, but some say 40 were hurt.
“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.”
Tippi has been an outspoken supporter of animal rights since the 1980s. Forty miles north of Los Angeles, she established a wildlife preserve in 1983 called Shambala Preserve. The actress, now 93 years old, has lived there since 1976.
In 2017, Tippi had her last acting role in the American mystery thriller drama film The Ghost and the Whale. The actress said a year later that she would not be taking on any major parts when she entered her nineties.
“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.”
Quite an impressive, fascinating, and smart lady!
What Tippi had to go through is so unfair and upsetting, yet she seems to have come out the other side as a great compassionate woman.
Tippi Hedren is a fine lady with ideals that were perhaps too good for Hollywood, and she’s had a fascinating life.
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