Tippi Hedren’s ‘Birds’ eye view
BY CINDY PEARLMAN March 22, 2012 7:10PM
Tippi Hedren plays the target of furious feathered attackers in director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic “The Birds.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport
Admission: Sold out
Updated: April 26, 2012 8:06AM
Legendary star Tippi Hendren knows that asking directors simple questions is for the birds.
The 82-year-old screen beauty recalls the day on the set of “The Birds” when she posed a doozy to director Alfred Hitchcock.
“I walked up to him and said, ‘Mr. Hitchcock, I’m wondering about the finale? Why would my character go up to that attic room all by herself when she knows the birds are in there and she saw what they did to the people in town, which was basically peck them to death?”
Hitchcock was a man of few words when it suited him.
“I said, ‘I’m just really curious why she would do that,’ ” Hendren recalls. “Hitchcock paused for a moment and said, ‘Because I tell you to.’
“In other words, it’s part of your paycheck,” Hendren adds with a laugh.
The 82-year-old screen beauty and mom to actress Melanie Griffith will be in Chicago on Tuesday as part of a free screening of “The Birds” (1963) at the Music Box Theatre presented by TCM. Calling from her native Minnesota during a short pit stop, Hendren was happy to talk Hitchcock and her love of all animals — including those little winged creatures.
1 There were rumors you were
hurt on the set of “The Birds.” Was this true?
Well, I was told that we would use mechanical birds for some of the tougher scenes, including when the children were acting with them. We did use them for those scenes, so I wasn’t that worried about the finale in the attic room. The morning came to start that scene and I was in my dressing room. The assistant director came in and he couldn’t look me in the eye. He paused finally and said, “The mechanical birds don’t work. We have to use real ones.” When I picked my jaw up from the floor, I went to the set and found out that Hitchcock had no intention ever of not using real birds. They were all in their cages, boxes and cartons. There were huge ravens, seagulls and pigeons. What made me nervous was the fact that the bird trainers were wearing leather sleeves up to their shoulders. I was wearing bare skin.
2 How much did you suffer for your art?
I spent a week filming that scene with birds being hurled at me. In fact, my friend Cary Grant came to visit me on the set on the Wednesday of that week and walked over to me to say, “I think you’re the bravest lady I’ve ever met.”… There were gouges all over me, plus it was so exhausting. I’m in just about every scene of that movie, so there was no rest for the wicked. In my spare time, I took care of Melanie. One Monday on the set of “The Birds,” I went to my beautiful suite and laid down on my chaise. My hairdresser came in and couldn’t wake me up. The makeup man couldn’t wake me. I was so totally exhausted, I went sent home to bed. The doctor said, “She needs to have a week off.” Hitchcock said, “We can’t have it. We have nothing to film without her in it.”
3 What are your memories of making “Marnie” with Hitchcock?
I loved playing the role because she was so complicated! The life this woman led made it tough to get into her skin. I spoke with psychologists and psychiatrists so I could understand what happens to a woman who has trauma in her life. The film wasn’t received very well. People didn’t understand it at the time. Poor Marnie. She had it tough. But she was rescued by a very handsome man who was as sick as she was for being in love with her.
4 You are one of the great screen beauties. What has this label meant to you in your life?
Beauty is what beauty does. You can find a lot of really beautiful women. That’s all they care about — their beauty. I find that rather vapid and boring. That isn’t the way I was raised. My parents are Lutheran. We help people. I learned that life should be about helping others. … I had a different aspect of what life should be like. I’m very grateful to my parents for teaching me that life is what should be beautiful and not just a reflection looking back at you in the mirror.
5 You’re also known for your work as an animal activist. What is your latest report on the big cats that live on your Shambala Preserve outside of Los Angeles?
This work gives me everything. It has given me a real reason to live. I have goals for the animals that sometimes seem insurmountable. I’ve been able to get one federal bill passed in Washington to stop the interstate traffic of big cats. I co-authored the bill and took it to my congressmen. I don’t know how anyone can have lions and tigers as pets. They are predators. Our government says it’s OK to breed these animals and sell them. My goal is to get a billed passed to stop the breeding. So many adults and children are either killed or injured by these animals. It’s totally our fault.
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