The Girl after The Birds
By John Beck
When “The Birds” actress Tippi Hedren returns to The Tides in Bodega Bay this weekend, she’ll be riding a wave of publicity for the upcoming HBO release “The Girl,” a film that maintains she was blacklisted after spurning sexual advances by director Alfred Hitchcock.
“He ruined my career, but he didn’t ruin my life,” she told the annual meeting of the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills in August. Last week, she traveled to London and Milan on a European press tour promoting the film.
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“Most everyone liked it. But you know I’m gonna get those people who think he was a god and he couldn’t possibly be like that,” she said in a phone interview from her house in rural Acton, California, about an hour northeast of Los Angeles. She moved there in 1976, over a decade after making her last movie with Hitchcock, to start the Shambala Preserve that rescues lions and tigers.
A few months ago, she said, when Hedren and her daughter Melanie Griffith attended an HBO screening of the film, “I’ve never seen a reaction from an audience like that. After the film was over, nobody moved. Nobody talked. And then my daughter jumped up and said, ‘Well, now I have to go back to therapy.’”
Toby Jones stars as Alfred Hitchcock and Sienna Miller stars as Tippi Hendren in ‘The Girl’
Premiering October 20, “The Girl” is based on a chapter in Donald Spoto’s book, “Spellbound by Beauty,” about Hitchcock’s relationships to his leading ladies. After extensive interviews with the 82-year-old Hedren, writer Gwyneth Hughes penned the screenplay. Actress Sienna Miller plays Hedren, striking an uncanny resemblance. And Toby Jones plays the controlling British filmmaker.
“When I first heard Toby Jones doing Hitchcock, I lost my breath and thought, ‘Oh my god, he’s here,’” said Hedren. “He got the voice down perfectly. It is very creepy.”
In 1961, Hitchcock discovered Hedren in a TV commercial she did for the diet drink Sego. Before that, she’d been an Eileen Ford model for a decade. Even though she’d started doing commercials for products like Gleem toothpaste and Chesterfield cigarettes, she was considered a “non-actor” when she signed a contract with Hitchcock and he took her under his wing for drama study.
Shot in San Francisco, Bodega Bay and the town of Bodega, “The Birds” was released in 1963. “Marnie,” co-starring Sean Connery, was released in 1964.
It was during production of “The Birds” that she began to feel something wasn’t right.
“He just kept staring at me, watching me all the time,” she remembers. “It was a little unsettling, on the set or wherever.”
Midway through “Marnie,” Hitchcock began to make advances, she says.
“It was an obsession,” she said, “and it’s a terrible thing to be the object of someone’s obsession if you’re not interested in it.” After rebuffing him, “I became an expert in ways to not be alone with him.”
Once she rejected him, “That’s when I started being called ‘The Girl.’ He told me he would ruin my career and he did,” she said. “He told me he wouldn’t let me out of my contract and he kept paying me my $600 a week.
“All I know is, years after, I heard about films that people wanted me to do, but to get to me they had to go through him. All he would say is, ‘She’s not available.’”
At the time, “Those were the big studio days and there was no one I could go to,” she says. “The ‘sexual abuse’ thing did not exist at that time. I never told my parents because they would have been destroyed.”
This weekend’s return to The Tides restaurant is a nearly bi-annual pilgrimage for Hedren to the location of “The Birds” filming. She usually autographs photos of herself for a fee and chats with fans, spending the weekend in Bodega Bay before returning home to her preserve in Acton.
“I just love going back to Bodega. Everybody is so nice to me and they all love talking about ‘The Birds,’” she said.
When she returns home, she’ll look out the window on her big cats and her other kindred spirits, a huge flock of black ravens that live on the preserve.