HOLLYWOOD —Arguably the most recognizable of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous blonds, Tippi Hedren, has had an active and enviable career for more than 60 years. On January 19 the screen icon celebrated her 80th birthday with both public and private gatherings. Her daughter and son-in-law [Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas] threw an intimate gathering at their home for family and friends, while fans and colleagues gathered in the Palace of Mystery Theater at the world famous Magic Castle for a Q&A as part of the very popular Legend Series with host B. Harlan Boll. The program unveiled details about the actress pertaining to her childhood, career and activism that many in the audience were surprised to hear.
A painfully shy young girl, Tippi recalls hiding behind her mother’s skirts. However, at age 14 she started working in fashion and would become a top cover model. Modeling led to commercials, which is how renowned director Alfred Hitchcock discovered her. Tippi recalls “I got a call from my agent saying I had an audition at Universal, but they wouldn’t tell me what it was for. I was called back a few times and every time I asked who the director or the project was, they just changed the topic.” Suspense only increased when great care and expense went into a screen test. Finally, she was called in and told that it was Hitchcock who wanted her and if she signed an exclusive contract for him she would be taken to meet him immediately. Boll asked if she bothered to read the contract, to which Ms. Hedren remarked that she signed it on the spot.
Under Hitchcock’s direction she made her film dÃ©but in “The Birds” [for which critics declared, “Miss Hedren makes an impressive debut” and pleasant and ladylike, as Grace Kelly”] and then later in the film “Marnie” opposite Sean Connery. When told of the casting of her co-star, she remarked, “But Mr. Hitchcock, my character is supposed to be such a cold and frigid female that she can’t stand the touch of a man. How am I supposed to keep from melting when he kisses me?” She said, “He looked right at me and said, It’s called acting, my dear.” It was during the shooting of “Marnie” that Tippi began the process of making Hollywood history by breaking her contract with the famed director for personal reasons. It wasn’t long before the then free agent found work with another great director, Charlie Chaplin, in his last film entitled “The Countess from Hong Kong,” starring opposite Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. Ms. Hedren would become the only actress to ever work with both Hitchcock and Chaplin. When Boll asked about the difference in the directors styles, she said that although Hitchcock spent a lot of time with her on “The Birds,” he tended to give little direction to actors, while Chaplin would practically act out everyone’s roles in their entirety before letting the actor try it.
But it was a film called “Roar” that altered her future forever. Potentially the most dangerous film ever produced in Hollywood, her co-stars not only included her daughter Melanie Griffith, but over 40 African lions and other big cats. Despite the fact that the entire cast was almost killed during the shoot, it became the instigation for The ROAR Foundation and The Shambala Preserve (Shambala.org). As founder and president of Shambala, a position for which she has never received a salary, she has not only saved and cared for over 100 exotic felines, but also been instrumental in changing laws that protect these great animals. All with the help of an amazing group of volunteers, she is quick to point out. She recently appointed Chris Gallucci as Executive Director after having lived with two African elephants for more that two decades on the preserve, which led to his best selling book “Elephant Man.”
Ms. Hedren has never been out of work with over 40 films to her credit, including her most recent work in “Tea With Grandma” for which she won the Independent Film Festival’s Best Actress Award and then in “Mulligans,” which received Best Short, as well as joining the star studded cast of “I Heart Huckabees.” In 2009, she co-starred with the late actress Brittany Murphy in the made-for-television movie “Tribute.” Her TV credits are equally as extensive with her most recent critically acclaimed appearances on “4400,” “CSI” and the night-time soap opera “Fashion House.”
Among Ms. Hedren’s recent honors are a Star on the Walk of Fame and one in her home state of Minnesota, as well as having been inducted into Smithsonian Institutes’ first permanent Entertainment History Exhibit as one of nine Leading Ladies of Stage and Screen.
Host, B. Harlan Boll remarked that while researching a way to describe Ms. Hedren, he turned to Webster’s for inspiration and discovered the perfect word – Lady. “It said that a Lady is a woman of refined manner, deserving of praise and homage, Tippi is in every sense of the word, a Lady,” said Boll. Highlights from the program included the extraordinary images taken at the Shambala Preserve by Ms. Hedren’s exclusive photographer, Mr. Bill Dow.
When asked how Ms. Hedren was going to celebrate her birthday, she remarked, “Well, two things really and my daughter inspired both. One, I have already done. I got a tattoo. It is a replica of the pin Mr. Hitchcock gave me when he told me I was going to play Melanie Daniels in ”˜The Birds.’ The other is in the works. I am taking voice lessons. I’ve always had a fear of singing and it is time I conquered it. I came to this decision when I was asked to be part of a production that required I perform a song. I initially turned it down saying I dont sing. Then it occurred to me that neither did my daughter before she took the role of Roxy in the Broadway production of “Chicago” and she was absolutely brilliant!”
Photographs Courtesy: Photographer Extraordinaire Bill Dow