Tippi: A Memoir

At the age of 86, Tippi Hedren has published her memoirs, modestly titled Tippi: A Memoir. Starting her career as a New York fashion model, she was discovered by Hitchcock in October 1961, while advertising a diet drink on television. After elaborate screen tests, Hedren went on to star in two of the director’s films, The Birds and Marnie. Hitchcock died in 1980, and some 55 years after first being discovered, Hedren says she now looks upon the man, her director and drama coach, with ‘admiration, gratitude and utter disgust.’

There are only two chapters in Hedren’s memoirs dedicated to working with Alfred Hitchcock, one on the making of The Birds, and the second on the making of Marnie. The majority of the book is dedicated to Hedren’s passion project ‘Roar’, about filming with lions and other big cats, and the subsequent formation of her animal preserve. Unless you haven’t seen the BBC/HBO drama The Girl based on Hedren’s recollections which aired in 2012, you’re unlikely to learn anything new in the memoirs, which reads like a treatment for the screenplay – certainly nothing new about Hitchcock’s psychological directing techniques.

Below is a Review of the main talking points and how recent interviews with Hitchcock’s co-workers on The Birds and Marnie differ from the memoirs.

The First Meeting with Hitchcock

Hedren says after being discovered on Friday 13th October, 1961, she was invited to meet MCA-Universal head Lew Wasserman the following Tuesday. After agreeing to sign a 7-year exclusive contract to Alfred Hitchcock, she describes a luncheon for two for herself and Hitchcock, served with red wine.

In previous interviews Hedren said she met a lower ranking MCA agent named Herman Citron who asked her to sign the contract. This was also confirmed by Universal Production Assistant Jerry Adler – who is still alive, and who was tasked by Hitchcock to find Hedren. Jerry Adler also states he was present during Hitchcock and Hedren’s first meeting; ‘It was around lunchtime, and I don’t remember any wine being offered. Lunch could have been offered but I don’t think so. I don’t remember it as a long meeting.’

“Hitchcock’s only sensual pleasure was food and all you have to do is look at him to know that,” says Yvonne Hessler, Hitchcock’s secretary during Psycho and The Birds, who was interviewed in the spring of this year. “He adored his wife, I never witnessed anything else. There was never a pass to me or Peggy or Joan Harrison and we were all very ladylike.”

The Kiss in the Limo

During location filming of The Birds, according to Hedren, Hitchcock was giving her a ride in his limousine back to the Santa Rosa motel where she was staying, when he suddenly forced himself upon her and tried to kiss her, while some of the crew was gathered outside the motel.

The kiss in the car first came to light in 2008 with the publication of the book Spellbound by Beauty. It was famously re-enacted in The Girl, despite the protests of those who worked with Hitchcock. ‘How else is she going to stay in the eye of the public than by coming up with increasingly sensational stories about Hitchcock?” says Hitchcock’s official biographer John Russell Taylor, in the foreward to his new edition of “Hitch” and quoted in The Bloomsbury Reader. Taylor remarks how strange it is that any onlookers, such as Assistant Director Jim Brown and Hitchcock’s Assistant Peggy Robertson, never mentioned the limo incident in subsequent interviews. ‘He would never have done anything to embarrass himself publically,’ says Jay Presson Allen, a close friend and screenwriter of Marnie. There are no other witnesses on record to prove or disprove this story.

The Telephone Box

The alleged kiss in the limo is used to segue to another infamous incident during the filming of The Birds – the smashing of the glass telephone booth with Hedren inside. During studio filming (according to the memoirs a day after the limo incident), the glass shattered for real, spraying Hedren’s left cheek with tiny shards. Hedren does state that she’s never excused Hitchcock and isn’t excusing him now of rigging the telephone booth, but says a small part wonders if she was being punished for rejecting him.

John Russell Taylor reasons, ‘Is it conceivable for a moment that any director, however crazed (and Hitch certainly was not that) would risk disfiguring and incapacitating his new star in the middle of shooting a very expensive film? He calls The Girl ‘a tissue of melodramatic invention’.

The chronology of this story doesn’t tally with the call sheets or the production schedule. The Bodega Bay location filming was completed at the end of March 1962, and was followed by three months of studio filming at Universal studios in Los Angeles. The phone box wasn’t filmed until June 12th when all the process work had been scheduled, and all the other actors – including Rod Taylor and Jessica Tandy – had departed leaving only Hedren who was on a 7 year contract. In between the two events, months of studio filming occured. It also happened a few days after Hedren was offered the part of Marnie, (during filming of the sand dunes scene) which makes even less sense, that Hitchcock would deliberately try to harm his new star.

The intent to deliberately harm is also denied by wardrobe mistress Rita Riggs, script supervisor Lois Thurman, and hairdresser Virginia Darcy, all who are still alive today and were extensively interviewed.

The Attic Scene

What is true is that during the infamous attic scene, filmed in late May 1962, Hedren endured five days of filming when live birds were thrown towards her.

But any intent by Hitchcock to deliberately harm her is denied by two of the bird trainers who are still alive today. Bud Cardos says, “Hitchcock was all about reality. He wouldn’t interntionally hurt [Tippi], but the birds did fly at her. I think she panicked a couple of times.” Gerry Gero, assistant to Ray Berwick the bird trainer, agrees, “I would say they threw birds at Tippi and it delivered the film. Why she didn’t say something then and waited for after 50 years? If she wasn’t onboard with it, she should have done something about it then. Hitchcock was a fabulous person and I don’t remember any animosity between them at the time. Tippi was a real trooper and tolerated a lot of stuff. I never saw that she was resentful or had any hard feelings about it.” Hedren’s hairdresser Virginia Darcy affirms that, “We were all looking out for her.”

“Miss Hedren was not injured in the shooting of the picture, however she had to take a three day rest after working so strenuously during that sequence,” wrote Suzanne Gauthier, Hitchcock’s secretary to a fan enquiry on May 15th 1963, shortly after The Birds was released.

The Photoplay Award

 In February 1964, towards the end of the filming of Marnie, Photoplay Magazine wanted to present Hedren with an Award in New York for ‘Best promising actress’. Hedren maintains that it was to be presented on a Friday night, and that she wasn’t due to work that day and would have been able to take a long weekend off, and return to the set in good time to work on Monday.

The archival records in the Hitchcock Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles, tell a different story – the awards were to be presented on a Wednesday, in the middle of a filming week. A memo from Universal publicity manager David Golding sent on January 31, 1964, advised Hitchcock that it was impractical for Hedren to fly to New York to accept the Photoplay award, as the ceremony was scheduled to take place midweek on Wednesday February 5th rather than over a weekend. He cited Sean Connery’s imminent departure at the end of February as evidence of the pressure that the production was under to complete the filming on time. Connery was scheduled to return to Britain to begin filming Goldfinger in March 1964. The award ceremony also clashed with the filming of the powerful flashback sequences as the call sheets held at the Margaret Herrick library testify, and Hitchcock did not want Hedren to break the mood for her character.

Louise Latham, who played Marnie’s mother, and is still alive today says she has sympathy for Hitchcock over the Photoplay event. “I find some of the allegations hard to believe. My observations are so far from what Tippi claims, and I’m a rather observant person, and was trained in the theatre.  She’s a lovely woman, but I don’t think Tippi should have said those things about Hitch. . . . I wasn’t aware of her being hassled on the set.”

The Big Bust Up

It’s well documented that Hitchcock and Hedren had a big row over the Photoplay event. Hedren goes further to accuse Hitchcock of sexual harassment in her memoirs, as detailed in The Girl.

John Russell Taylor, Hitchcock’s official biographer, gives a markedly different story to The Girl’s version of events; “When I was first going to the studio (in the 1970s), the people around him, particularly Peggy [Robertson] said, don’t mention Marnie because it’s a sore point. It was one of my favourite movies and I told him that. Obviously it had left painful memories and he seemed to be pleased, I liked it and praised him. In some ways it was very close to his heart. I knew about the famous quarrel and I heard both sides, because I subsequently talked to Tippi about it. After about two thirds of the film had been shot, they had this quarrel consequent to which they had a flaming row on set to which they never spoke directly to each other for about a week after, ‘Would you ask Mr. Hitchcock? Would you ask Miss Hedren?’ which I’m sure contributed to the extraordinary atmosphere about the film. So I asked Hitchcock about it, and he said oh we had this row, and she said something that no-one is permitted to say to me, ‘Well, she, hem, referred to my weight.’”

Rita Riggs remarked in 2012, “He could be a total Jekyll and Hyde but I never saw that. I think Hitch did many things to get performances from [Tippi], particularly in Marnie, because he didn’t depend on her with acting technique, he may have shocked her with all manner of his techniques. I never really thought he was serious. He was a jokester and a prankster and I have good memories all through The Birds and Marnie.”

Not being invited to The Wrap Party

Hedren asserts that after the flaming row, Peggy Robertson came to tell her it would be best if she didn’t attend the wrap party. The cast and crew were then insulted, and that the party subsequently was a ‘huge flop’.

The party was according to cast interviews a huge success. A collection was taken up to buy Sean Connery a $750 dollar watch from Ruser’s Jewelry in Beverly Hills. He subsequently took off his watch and put on the new one. The crew were impressed with Connery’s professionalism. On the back of the watch were engraved the words, ‘To Sean from his fellow workers on Marnie’. Connery took off the watch that he was wearing and put the new one on. “I had a great time with Hitchcock,” he recalls. “He tells you on the set what moves he wants. . . . He used to tell me funny stories before a take quite often, but he never dwelt upon the psychology of the character. . . . His humor was pretty schoolboyish.”

Following Connery’s return to England, the first unit filmed more scenes between Marnie and her mother. And on Friday, March 13th, the crew drank the two dozen bottles of champagne that Connery had bought them. According to a memo dated March 20th, Peggy Robertson wrote to Connery on the set of Goldfinger. “Everyone was delighted with your thoughtfulness and they all send you their love and thanks … it was a good end of the picture party.” Peggy mentions in the memo that Hedren contributed Hors d’oeuvres. If you weren’t invited to an end of picture party, why would you contribute hors d’oeuvres?

Never Speaking to Hitchcock Again

Hedren says Hitchcock never spoke directly to her again after the big row.

Yet she is on record saying that she met with Hitchcock and Alma in London in the Spring of 1966. She was invited to have tea with them at the Ritz, while she was filming Chaplin’s A Countess from Hong Kong. She then suggested that Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin have their photograph taken together. Hitchcock’s response was, ‘Why would I want to do that?’

Hitchcock blocking Truffaut’s Offer

In the memoirs, Hedren says Hitchcock kept her under contract for two years saying ‘She’s not available’. The one offer that hurt her the most, which Hitchcock apparently prevented, was her starring in Fahrenheit 451 directed by Francois Truffaut.

Laura Truffaut, Francois’ daughter, who was interviewed in Berkeley, California this spring, denies the story. “I did some research through my father’s correspondence and biography, as well as through a very researched book on his work based on his very extensive archives (Francois Truffaut au Travail, by Carole Berre).  I also asked my mother about whether she had ever heard my father’s mentioning Tippi Hedren as a possible part of the cast of Fahrenheit 451. She was just as surprised as I was. My parents had a close relationship and it is extremely unlikely in my view that my father seriously entertained this project without sharing it with my mother or mentioning it to us in later years. I am all the more confident about this as my father was not secretive about the other actors who were considered for casting in that film. The only other actress seriously considered was Jean Seberg.”

Brooke Allen, the daughter of the film’s producer, Lewis Allen, also denies the claim. “First I’ve ever heard of Tippi Hedren being up for the role in Fahrenheit 451. My father produced that movie and never mentioned any such thing. They were very excited about working with Julie Christie.” The casting files of Lewis Allen for Fahrenheit 451, held at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, corroborates this. They include correspondence for Julie Christie, Jane Fonda, Mia Farrow and Florence Henderson, but there is no mention of Tippi Hedren.

Why Mary Rose was scrapped

Hitchcock was planning a third film with Hedren to star in, based on the JM Barrie play ‘Mary Rose’. Jay Presson Allen wrote the screenplay, but Hitchcock allegedly threatened to cancel it after the Marnie bust up.

According to John Russell Taylor, Mary Rose was shelved because Universal didn’t want to finance a third film with Hedren as star, as the first two films had failed. Universal told Hitchcock he had two attempts to make her a star and they would not finance a third attempt – indeed, forbade him from making Mary Rose for them at all. They deemed it ‘un-commercial.’

“He told various people that the studio took one look at the script and barred him from making it, so there is some truth in it; he was considering it, maybe if things hadn’t gone wrong on Marnie, that was his next. There was also the question of Tippi’s popularity or otherwise with the public. Wasserman was very commercially minded, because he was also Hitch’s agent,” recalls Taylor.

In 1972, Hitchcock was interviewed by the journalist Janet Maslin. In response to his attempt to make a star out of Hedren, Hitchcock said “I later turned her over to Universal, because you can’t have the same woman in every picture. . .they offered to renew her contract if she would agree to do television, which she didn’t want to do.”

As for the other incidents described in the Memoirs, where there were no witnesses, or no studios memos, only Hedren knows if they occurred or not. Louise Latham concludes by saying, “For Hitchcock to go down as this monstrous thing, to the degree that [Tippi] was vulnerable is not accurate.” What would have been fascinating is an account of how Hitchcock taught and manipulated Hedren to give an effective performance in both The Birds and Marnie. Sadly these are lacking in the memoirs.

Differring Accounts

Tippi: A Memoir is published on November 1st by Harper Collins.

Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie, Revised Edition by Tony Lee Moral is published in paperback on December 1st by Rowman and Littlefield.

The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds is published by Oldcastle Books.

Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock by John Russell Taylor is published in paperback in January 2017.