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Overview for Tippi Hedren
Tippi Hedren

Tippi Hedren


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Also Known As: Nathalie Kay Hedren Died:
Born: January 19, 1930 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New Ulm, Minnesota, USA Profession: Cast ... actor model


One of the quintessential cool blondes of Hollywood cinema in the 1960s, Tippi Hedren was the discovery of British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and rose from relative obscurity to international fame on the strength of her lead roles in the "The Birds" (1963) and "Marine" (1964). Groomed by the Master of Suspense to be the next Grace Kelly, Hedren came to resent Hitchcock's controlling influence on her life and quarreled with him openly, resulting in a professional rift that did initial damage to her long-term career. After the end of her Universal contract in the early Seventies, Hedren traveled the world as a free agent and while on location for a film in Africa, became invested in the plight of exotic animals. Founding a wildlife preserve in Southern California in 1978, the maturing actress rarely turned down paying work in low budget films or on television, channeling her salary into her habitat project and lobbying during her down time for legislative reforms to benefit the living conditions of exotic animals in captivity. The mother of actress Melanie Griffith, Hedren overcame early professional disappointments to weather a diverse and purposeful career lasting more than half a century, continuing to work exhaustively into her ninth decade and enduring as an iconic example of classical beauty backed by a progressive social conscience.

Nathalie Kay Hedren was born on Jan. 19, 1930, in the German-Bohemian community of New Ulm, MN. Hedren's paternal grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Sweden and her father, Bernard Carl Hedren, ran a general store in the family's hometown of Lafayette. It was Carl Hedren who gave young Nathalie the nickname Tippi, a Swedish term of endearment meaning "little girl." At the age of 13, the green-eyed Hedren was chosen as a model for a local department store and she participated in fashion shows while attending Minneapolis West High School. In her junior year, her father's declining health prompted a family relocation to the warmer coastal climate of San Diego, CA. After graduating from Huntington Park High School, class of 1950, Hedren enrolled as an art major at Pasadena City College. She had a walk-on role in the Columbia musical "The Petty Girl" (1950), but was interested less in acting than in pursuing a career as a fashion model. In 1951, when she had achieved the age of consent, Hedren headed to New York City.

Despite being only 5'4" tall, Hedren was signed by the Eileen Ford Agency and her face appeared on the covers of such magazines as Glamour, Life, McCalls and The Saturday Evening Post. There were several offers of film work but none could match her $60 per-hour modeling fee or the opportunities for international travel. An early marriage to actor Peter Griffith produced a daughter, Melanie, in 1957. The couple divorced in 1961 and Hedren elected to take her daughter out of New York, preferring the more neighborly environment of California's San Fernando Valley. Renting a $500-a-month apartment in Sherman Oaks, Hedren turned to television commercials to support herself. It was her appearance in a TV spot for the diet drink Sego that caught the eye of film director Alfred Hitchcock. Preparing the suspense thriller "The Birds" (1963), Hitchcock was looking for a cool blonde in the Grace Kelly mold for his female lead. After meeting with Hitchcock, Hedren landed the part, beating out such candidates as Yvette Mimieux, Carol Lynley and Sandra Dee.

As was Hitchcock's wont with his prospective leading ladies, Hedren was run through a gamut of wardrobe fittings, cosmetic makeovers, camera tests and long lunches with the British-born filmmaker that occasionally segued into viewings of his favorite motion pictures. Hitchcock groomed Hedren by directing her in scenes from his earlier movies and shot a Technicolor screen test of her for "The Birds" with Martin Balsam, who had appeared in Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960). Invited to dine with Hitchcock and his wife Alma, along with producer Lew Wasserman, at the New York night spot Chasens, Hedren was presented with a bejeweled pin of three birds in flight - a token of affection from "Hitch" and a sign that she had been chosen to play Melanie Daniels, a fashionable magnet for avian aggression in "The Birds." In fact, scripting the film was then incomplete and Hedren's character was referred to only as "the Girl." Hitchcock renamed the character Melanie, after Hedren's then four-year-old daughter.

Hedren's inexperience in front of the camera was a concern for several of the hands crafting "The Birds" - particularly screenwriter Even Hunter, who voiced his doubts to Hitchcock. The director stuck by his discovery, inviting her to sit in on production meetings rarely attended by actors. Hand-picking her wardrobe and accessories and overseeing her styling, Hitchcock introduced the character of Melanie Daniels into "The Birds" in a direct nod to the diet drink commercial in which he had discovered her, coolly reacting to a man's wolf whistle as she crosses a busy urban thoroughfare. Though the production - Hitchcock's costliest to date - was rife with technical snafus, Hedren sailed through location photography with ease; it was during interior shoots at Universal that things took a turn for the worse. For a climactic scene in which Melanie falls prey to a bird attack, Hitchcock used live specimens. Shot over the course of a week, the scene was a traumatic experience for Hedren, who was pecked at repeatedly and nearly blinded, resulting in an on-set emotional breakdown.

Hitchcock's follow-up film, "Marnie" (1964), had been conceived as a comeback vehicle for Grace Kelly, who had retired from acting after her 1956 marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco. When Kelly withdrew from the project, Hitchcock offered the role to Hedren. For this nervy adaptation of the novel by Winston Graham, Hedren was paired with Sean Connery, then on a break from his duties as super-spy James Bond. Having attained a higher level of self-confidence during the shooting of "The Birds" and after being feted at publicity jaunts at home and overseas, Hedren began to bristle at Hitchcock's micromanagement during the shooting of "Marnie." When Hedren announced her engagement to her agent, Noel Marshall, Hitchcock reacted with anger and resentment, fearing he would lose another protégé to marriage and home life. When Hitchcock refused to grant his leading lady a furlough from shooting so that she could accept an award in New York, Hedren flew into a rage, verbally abusing Hitchcock in front of the crew, and closing principal photography on an unfortunately acrimonious note.

The bad blood between Hedren and Hitchcock delayed her work in subsequent films. The actress claimed in interviews that French filmmaker Francois Truffaut had wanted her for a project but that Hitchcock maintained she was unavailable; Hitch would never again employ Hedren in a film, although he continued to pay her a weekly salary of $500 until he sold her contract to Universal. In 1965, Hedren's professional ties to Alfred Hitchcock were severed and she appeared in an episode of "Run for Your Life" (NBC, 1965-68) with Ben Gazzara and on the anthology series "Kraft Suspense Theatre" (NBC, 1963-65) with Jeffrey Hunter. At the end of that year, she flew to London to play the other woman in Charlie Chaplin's comic romance "A Countess from Hong Kong" (1967), opposite Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. During filming, Hedren enjoyed a reconciliatory tea with Alfred and Alma Hitchcock, but their master-pupil relationship was irrevocably shattered and Hedren continued her career as a rootless free agent.

Her time as an A-list Hollywood actress limited to only a couple of years in the mid-1960s, Hedren dove into a long run of rent-paying work through the next several decades. She traveled to Africa for a role in the anti-drug film "Satan's Harvest" (1970) opposite aging Hollywood leading man George Montgomery and appeared with daughter Melanie in "The Harrad Experiment" (1973), executive produced by husband Noel Marshall. While making the game preserve drama "Mr. Kingstreet's War" (1973) in Africa, Hedren became concerned with the plight of the exotic cats used in filming, prompting her to establish a wildlife habitat in Acton, CA in 1978. Hedren named the preserve Shambala, a Sanskrit word referring to a meeting place of peace and harmony for all creatures, and dedicated its foundation to preserving the life and lifestyle of exotic felines while discouraging private ownership of wild animals. In later years, Hedren would co-author the Captive Wildlife Safety Act and the Federal Ban on Breeding Exotic Cats for Personal Possession Act.

In 1981, Hedren's personal project "Roar" was completed at a final cost of a then-unheard of $17 million. Inspired by both "The Birds" and "Born Free" (1966) and shot over a period of 11 years, the film was directed by Marshall and featured both Hedren and daughter Melanie in lead roles, supported by Marshall and his two sons from a previous marriage. Financed in part by the sale of the family's Beverly Hills home and Marshall's profits as a producer of "The Exorcist" (1973), filming was beset by numerous calamities, including a 1978 flood that destroyed a large portion of the location and resulted in the death of several lions, a 1979 brush fire, and the on-camera mauling of several cast and crew members, including Hedren, Griffith, Hedren's stepson John Marshall, assistant director Doron Kauper and cinematographer Jan de Bont, whose injuries required 120 stitches to close. Hedren also suffered a fractured leg when an elephant she was riding in the film threw her to the ground. "Roar" made back only a fraction of its cost and Hedren and Marshall were divorced in 1982.

In 1985, Hedren appeared in the pilot episode of the rebooted "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (NBC, 1985-89) and acted opposite her now movie star daughter in the San Francisco-set thriller "Pacific Heights" (1990). She participated in a made-for-television remake of Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" in 1991 and turned up in the ill-advised TV sequel "The Birds II: Land's End" (1994), in a role unrelated to the one she created in Hitchcock's original. One of Hedren's better later-life performances was as a chic pro-choice activist in Alexander Payne's abortion satire "Citizen Ruth" (1996) and indie filmmaker David O. Russell made a place for her in the star-studded ensemble of "I Heart Huckabees" (2004). In 2002, Hedren received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was also the recipient of a host of international awards for her humanitarian efforts, including a Founder's Award from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a Jules Verne Nature Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Humane Society of the United States. Based on her Shambala Preserve and committed to supporting the 70 exotic animals entrusted to her care, Hedren continued to work exhaustively on screens large and small well after her 80th birthday and to make public appearances commemorating her better-known films.

By Richard Harland Smith

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