2013 TCM Classic Film Festival
TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood
In an onstage interview with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, Tippi Hedrin spoke of moving to California in 1961 with no job prospects. “I don’t type,” she admits. But, based on a Sego diet drink commercial she’d done, Alfred Hitchcock’s office called. After being fitted for a costume designed by Edith Head and coached by Hitchcock and his wife Alma, Hedrin was filmed by Hitchcock cameraman Robert Burks.
At Chasen’s restaurant with Universal Studios chief, Lew Wasserman in attendance, Hitchcock offered her the role of a lifetime, one coveted by every actress in town, Melanie Daniels in The Birds. To commemorate the occasion, Hitchcock gave her a pin made of gold and pearls of three birds in flight. Those in attendance, including Alma, were in tears, save the hard-nosed Wasserman, who shed “one tear.”
After being a top New York model, she was comfortable on a set and “wasn’t afraid of the camera.” “But, How do you break down a script . . . how do you develop a character? It was a huge volume of knowledge I had to absorb . . . instantly.”
When Mankiewicz asked her about the difficulty of the shoot, it became apparent that the caring teacher in private was an autocrat on the set. As Hedrin, the pupil, began gaining confidence, he was quick to dismiss her questions about character “motivation” with a curt “because I tell you to.” She was also lied to about whether or not real birds would be used (they were).
Mankiewicz concluded by asking her about the side of Hitchcock explored in HBO’s The Girl. According to Hedrin, to be an object of Hitchcock’s obsession was “horrible, confining . . . unbearable . . . Hitchcock said he would ruin my career and he did but he didn’t ruin my life.”