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Tippi Hedren talks Tippi: A Memoir'

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A 1963 publicity photo of Tippi Hedren for Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds.' She is posing with Ronald, one of the hundreds of trained ravens used for the film. A 1963 publicity photo of Tippi Hedren for Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds.' She is posing with Ronald, one of the hundreds of trained ravens used for the film. (AP file photo)

Book reveals actress's thoughts about Hitchcock harassment and more

Tippi Hedren, one of old-school Hollywood's most elegant leading ladies, has finally told her story in the new autobiography 'Tippi: A Memoir,' published by William Morrow.

The book is an absorbing and - at times - shocking chronicle of how a girl from New Ulm, Minnesota became one of her generation's most luminous of screen presences. Along the way are tales of how a legendary director, with whom she collaborated on two classic films, tried to destroy her career when she rebuffed his sexual advances.

Hedren, 86, says she waited until now to pen her story because 'I had to live it first, so I did. I've had a very full life and it's just been amazing,' she told me in a phone interview last week.

When Hedren was newly divorced at 31 (she had been married to Peter Griffith for nine years; the couple had a daughter, actress Melanie Griffith), she was called to a meeting with Alfred Hitchcock, who told her he had been intrigued after seeing her in a TV commercial. Hedron thought she was being groomed for his television series 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents.'

Hitchcock had a different role in mind the lead in his next film, 'The Birds' - a horror classic about a series of vicious bird attacks in a small California town. After signing Hedren to a seven-year contract, Hitchcock began controlling virtually every aspect of her life.

In 'Tippi: A Memoir,' Hedron writes about Hitchcock's attempts to sexually assault her, including once when the two rode together in a limo. When she demanded that he stop, he became infuriated, she said.

On the set the following day, in a scene for the film in which Hedron's character is trapped in a phone booth, a mechanical bird shattered the glass, sending jagged shards into her face. Live birds were thrown at her and attached to her body with elastic bands, one nearly pecking her in the eye. Terrified at the notion of another day on the receiving end of Hitchcock's revenge, Hedron spent a week in bed trying to recover.

I asked Hedren if she had revealed to anyone the horror that had overtaken her life.

'I confided in a number of people. I was very open about it because it was angering me so. There was really nothing that anyone but I could do about it. Show business is not the only business where those kinds of things happen. Women all over the world have to deal with this kind of thing, where somebody tries to put affections upon you and you're not interested. When I was in my early 20s, I found that the best way out of it is to not let it start. Get out and don't put up with it.'

But Hedren had a big problem - she was legally bound to Hitchcock for the next seven years.

'I demanded that he let me out of the contract and let me go,' Hedren said. 'He said You can't get out, you have a daughter to support and your parents are getting older.' I told him that none of them would want me involved in a situation where I'm not happy. I want to get out of the contract. He said I'll ruin your career.' I told him to do what he has to do.'

Shockingly, Hedren says that Hitchcock's wife was fully aware of her husband's indiscretions.

'One day she said to me Tippi, I'm so sorry you have to go through all of this.' I told her Alma, you can stop it.' Her eyes glazed over and she walked away. I never let it get out of hand. Never. But it was so annoying to me I had to get out of that contract.'

Despite the trouble between the two, Hitchcock had to admit that Hedren's performance in 'The Birds' was staggeringly good. Since she was under contract, he insisted that she play the lead in his next film, 'Marnie,' (1964) about a psychologically disturbed thief.

While 'Marnie' is by far Hedren's favorite of her two Hitchcock films, she says that the director continued to taunt and control her throughout the filming. He placed her dressing room next to his office and bizarrely had a mask made of her face even though one was not required for the film. At one point, she embarrassed Hitchcock by calling him 'a fat pig' in front of the crew.

'There was no contact with him after Marnie',' Hedren said. Since Hitchcock refused to allow her to work for other directors while he held her contract, her career was in limbo for nearly three years. 'He continued to pay me during that time not very much he was cheap as well,' she added.

In 1967, Hedren was finally freed from her contract. 'To this day, I can't really remember why he let me out of it but he did. Three weeks later, Charlie Chaplin called me to do A Countess from Hong Kong' with Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando.'

The contrast between the two directors was startling to Hedren. 'I loved the way Charlie directed,' she said. 'He was different from anyone I've ever been involved with. He acted out all of our different roles. He would get on the set and become my character. He would become Marlon's character. He would become Sophia's character. I thought it was delightful to watch him do that but Marlon wanted to quit. He was a method actor and very different from Charlie.'

Hedron also writes the full story of 'Roar' (1981), a five-year shoot involving more than 150 untrained lions, tigers, leopards and cheetahs. During production, more than 70 members of the crew were mauled, including Melanie Griffith, who nearly lost an eye.

As far as her new book, Hedren felt it was time to stop letting everyone else tell her story and finally tell it herself.

'The book was nearly called The Open Door,'' she said. 'When I was about 14-years old I had a wonderful door open for me. I got off a streetcar in Minneapolis, coming home from West High School. This lady came over to me and handed me her card. She said Would you ask your mother to bring you down to Donaldson's department store? We'd like you to model in our Saturday morning fashion shows.' I liked what I saw on the other side of that door so I walked through it. That's kind of what I've done all my life.'


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