Tippi Hedren’s Memoir Recounts Predatory Behavior and Horrifying Assault by Alfred Hitchcock
Trigger warning for descriptions and discussion of sexual assault.
“It’s about time I stop letting everyone else tell my story and finally tell it myself,” 86-year-old Tippi Hedren writes. Excerpts from the iconic actress’ memoir, Tippi, are available at NY Post and The Daily Mail, and they describe some horrifying encounters with iconic director Alfred Hitchcock. This is the first time the actress has written candidly about her experience with the director, who sought her out for a 5-year contract after seeing her on a television commercial.
The account of her time on The Birds reads like textbook predatory behavior, including this section about how Hitchcock isolated her from the rest of the cast, to the extent that her co-star Suzanna Pleshette felt the need to tell her “making movies isn’t always like this.” Essentially, he treated her as “his,” and he made sure everyone was aware of that fact:
Before filming even began, the director warned Hedren’s castmates, particularly the handsome Rod Taylor, not to socialize with or “touch The Girl,” she writes. On set, every time Hitch saw Hedren laughing or talking with a man, he would turn “icy” and “petulant” and fix her with an “expressionless, unwavering stare . . . even if he was talking to a group of people on the other side of the soundstage.”
The excerpt goes on to talk about how Hitchcock described his erection to her, “had her handwriting analyzed,” drove past her home, and “asked her to ‘touch him.'” Especially heartbreaking is Hedren’s reaction to the director throwing himself on her and trying to kiss her. As novice actress under a long contract, Hedren was especially vulnerable. He would also bring up how she needed to support her family to guilt her into staying beside him.
“It was an awful, awful moment,” she writes. But she didn’t tell anyone because “sexual harassment and stalking were terms that didn’t exist” in the early 1960s. Besides, she adds, “Which one of us was more valuable to the studio, him or me?”
Her performance in The Birds is especially upsetting to watch when you consider Hitchcock used real birds (after lying that he would use mechanical ones), and the actress suffered horrible mental trauma after almost losing an eye. Hedren questioned whether the danger on set was punishment for rejecting the famous director.
Things only escalated from there, as Hedren recounts what happened behind-the-scenes in Marnie, her next Hitchcock film. There, he installed “a secret door” between her dressing room and his office and even made a life mask of her face just for himself. Hedren writes about an assault that occurred in her dressing room, stating, “The harder I fought him, the more aggressive he became.”
This isn’t recent news; Hitchcock’s abuse of actresses, including Tippi Hedren, was a known fact. HBO even made a movie about it in 2012 titled The Girl, which references how Hitchcock refused to refer to Hedren by name after she turned him down and vowed to ruin her career by refusing to let her out of her contract. Hedren’s memoir is, however, still extremely relevant today as we continue to hear stories of sexual harassment and the abuse of power in Hollywood. While things may be better in some ways, it’s sad that many women now can still relate to Hedren’s story from half a century ago. For instance, Rose McGowan recently opened up about her rape and how Hollywood shamed her for it in a heartbreaking thread about #WhyWomenDontReport.
Also embedded in this is media’s reverence for abusers and the (overly) forgiving nature of the film industry. The truth is many of our male icons/pioneers were horrible in some way, and acknowledging that is important. Prioritizing the physical and emotional well-being of real people above art, I believe, is even more important.
Currently, we can point to countless examples, like the allegations made against Woody Allen and Nate Parker, on how the question of separating art from the artist still arises today. Considering the disturbing sexual themes in many of Hitchcock’s films, this feels especially relevant. Hedren’s character in Marnie literally is “saved” by her rapist and ends up with him. Yeah, I know. In this 2012 interview, Hedren talked about Hitchcock and said she had been able to separate the artist from his “dark side,” acknowledging how influential the director was. How we conceive of our relationship with Hitchcock’s films as an audience might be, well, different. I think Tanya Steele’s “When An Artist You Admire Is An Accused Predator” takes on the topic in an empathetic and thoughtful way.
Tippi comes out tomorrow, and while it might be a tough read, it also sounds like a powerful one. Hedren states that while Hitchcock ruined her career, “I never gave him the power to ruin my life,” and the empowerment of her taking control of her own story is something truly admirable.
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