For Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock's Scares Came Off-Screen

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Tippi Hedren played the beautiful blond woman that Alfred Hitchcock liked to put in peril — as in the famous scene in which she opens the door into a dark attic in The Birds, and is pecked by a flock of the title characters.

Hedren survived the attic. But those birds weren't just stuffed props — and the real menace might have been the film's eminent director.

After a life in films and animal activism, Hedren has written a memoir. It's called Tippi. She tells NPR's Scott Simon that she didn't know she'd be facing real birds on set until the morning she started to film. "It was really so deviously plotted out, it was really terrifying."


Interview Highlights

On being summoned to meet Hitchcock

On Friday the 13th of October in 1961, I received a call asking if I was the girl in the seagull commercial. I said why? And they said, well, there's somebody who's interested in seeing you. And I knew that they were involved with doing this movie called The Birds, and I really didn't think that I would even be included. But I was asked to go to Chasen's restaurant for dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock, and he presented a very beautifully wrapped package. And I opened it, and it was a pin of three birds in flight. And he said, "We want you to play Melanie Daniels in The Birds."

On Hitchcock's treatment of her

It became such a problem for me that I demanded to get out of the contract. And he said, "Well, you can't, you have your daughter to support and your parents are getting older." And I said, "They wouldn't want me in a situation in which I'm not happy." And he said, "Well, I'll ruin your career." And he did. He just kept me under contract, paying me my salary, a lot of directors and producers wanted me for their film, but to get to me, they had to go through him.

On Hitchcock groping her in a taxi

I can't call it an assault, but it was very unpleasant. And it was just as we had arrived at the hotel, and all of a sudden he comes at me like he wanted to kiss me, and, you know, it was an unpleasant situation and very embarrassing for me. And there were about three more of those incidents, and I said, "I want to get out of the contract."

On what she tells her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and granddaughter Dakota Johnson about Hollywood

Well I think they just learned from living with me. And actually, my experiences with Hollywood were really wonderful, except for that. So I'm very happy and very busy.

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