Fifty years ago, iconic director Alfred Hitchcock set out to make a film he hoped would be as successful as his Psycho masterpiece thriller. He chose The Birds featuring a “beautiful, mysterious blonde.” The blonde he discovered was Tippi Hedren, a stunning, young former model.
The puzzling relationship between the actress and director, the latter so well known as “the master of suspense,” is revealed in a movie The Girl, directed by Julian Jarrold, debuting Oct. 20 on HBO. Toby Jones portrays Hitchcock, who was determined to make “the blonde” (Sienna Miller is spellbinding as Hedren) a star. He groomed her, personally coached her, and to her dismay, became obsessed with her.
The Girl focuses on Hitchcock’s relationship with Tippi during the making of The Birds, and later Marnie. Providing a first-hand account of the experience, Tippi Hedren was on the HBO panel during the television critics press tour this summer. She explained “the relationship was something I had never before experienced. He wasn’t in love with me. When you love someone, you treat them well. I think we’re dealing with a mind that is incomprehensible. I certainly gave no indication that I would ever be interested in any kind of a relationship with him.”
She recalled fondly, “There were times when the Hitchcock/Hedren years were absolutely delightful and wonderful, while he was my drama coach. Before that I hadn’t had any acting experience except in commercials. I wasn’t afraid of anything on the set. I certainly wasn’t afraid of the camera.”
Hedren revealed that “Hitchcock had a charm about him. He was very funny at times. He was incredibly brilliant in his field of suspense. I learned so much from that man about motion pictures. It wasn’t a constant barrage of harassment to me. There were times of delight and joy.”
It is acknowledged that it’s a different world for women in film today than decades ago. Hedren said, “I hope that young women who see this film know that they do not have to acquiesce to anything that they do not feel is morally right. You can have strength, and you deserve it. My whole life began with the education that my parents gave me through the background of my Lutheran teachings, which served me very well, and I can look at myself in the mirror and I can be proud. I feel strong. And I lived through it beautifully. He [Hitchcock] ruined my career, but he didn’t ruin my life,” said the beautiful Hedren who is still active in the industry and as an animal advocate.
As for seeing a screening of HBO’s The Girl, Hedren admitted, “I was apprehensive. I knew pretty much what the film was going to be because Gwyneth Hughes, the writer, honored me by coming to talk to me at my Shambala Preserve for hours. But actually viewing the film, when I first heard Toby’s voice [Toby Jones as Hitchcock] my body just froze. It was hard to go through all of those years that had been eclipsed into an hour and a half.
Hedren, mother of actress Melanie Griffith, reported, “When my daughter saw it, she jumped up and said, ‘Now I have to go back into therapy.’ Because I had not talked about this issue with Hitchcock to anyone, because all those years ago, it was still the studio kind of situation. Studios were the power and there was absolutely nothing I could do legally. There were no laws about this situation. If this happened today, I would be a very rich woman.”
Recalling the relationship with Hitchcock, Hedren said she felt, “He was an extremely sad character. We were dealing with a brain that is unusual, genius, and evil, deviant almost to the point of dangerous because of the effect he can have on people that are totally unsuspecting.”
Talking about the other Hitchcock blondes, such as Kim Novak, Vera Miles, etc., each seem to have different opinions about the director. “I think it is common knowledge that Hitchcock had fantasies about his leading ladies, which is very confining. His assistant, now passed on, said to me that he would have those feelings for his leading ladies, and she said ‘but he never got over you.’ I don’t know if that’s a compliment. But the Hitchcock blondes are kind of revered in the motion picture business, which is always an honor. They are always very sophisticated. They have a sense of humor. They are sexy and they are interesting women.” Tippi Hedren happily noted, “I don’t mind being one of those.”