The actress Tippi Hedren, who says she was sexually assaulted, harassed, and had her career threatened by the director Alfred Hitchcock, knows what she would have said to Harvey Weinstein had he treated her as he is alleged to have treated his many female accusers.
“My conversation with him would have been very short. It would have been, ‘No thank you, and I’m out of here,’” Hedren, who says she suffered the abuse while starring in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964), told The Daily Beast. “And that would have been it. The fact that he could even get to that stage where he would be that disgusting—he’s been working on that for a long time.
“It is not my interest to educate him in that moment. My feeling would be, I am not involved with this. I don’t want to be involved with this. We are finished. And out the door I go.
“It is not my business to educate an adult who should know better and who should have had a much better education in women and life and how they should be treated. It’s a situation that will go on: Every new generation is going to have this problem unless there is a parent who will teach their children.”
As she has watched the headlines about Weinstein’s alleged abuse and harassment mount, Hedren—who now oversees the 80-acre Shambala Preserve in California for lions, tigers, and other wild animals—has been reminded of the past and her own experience.
“Everybody talks about it like it’s something new. It isn’t. It started when men and women were put on this earth, and these kinds of things have been happening forever. It is a wise parent who teaches boys and girls about this situation, and to never ever let it even get to the point of being a problem.
“My parents taught me very, very clearly. I have practically shut every door immediately when those kinds of issues came into my life. It made my life very simple and easy. I don’t know what happens to the people I say ‘no’ to and I don’t care. That’s that.”
Hedren emphasizes that it isn’t just the world of Hollywood and acting where alleged abusers like Weinstein flourish.
“This happens in every business, every vocation, whatever, wherever you go. It isn’t just theater or acting, or movies. Her parents, she said, inculcated in her the need to prioritize “who you are and what you want out of life, and how do you live with yourself and what choices you are going to make.”
They told her: “Don’t let anybody touch you. It is absolutely the wrong thing, and sending the wrong message about any kind of romantic life that you will have in the future. It’s just wrong.”
Male colleagues first made unwanted advances to Hedren when she was a fashion model. “I said no. My parents were very thorough in their education with me on that issue.”
‘It was horrible, absolutely horrible’
Hitchcock’s fixation on Hedren developed on the set of The Birds, she said.
“That was a surprise: a surprise you don’t necessarily need,” she said. “It was the kind of thing where you thought, ‘No, this is all wrong.’”
Hitchcock first tried to kiss her as they shared the backseat of a limousine.
“He leaned over and tried to kiss me when we were about to get out of the car. It was like, ‘I want to do this now where everybody can see what we’re doing,’ and I said, ‘Oh get off.’ In fact, the door was almost open. I practically fell out of the car. This wasn’t my first rodeo. It wasn’t a surprise to me that he pulled this card, but I stopped it immediately and that’s the important thing for any young girl to remember: Don’t ever let it get out of hand.”
But, I said to Hedren, not all people can physically overpower their attackers.
“Oh, I don’t think anything like that. I don’t believe that.”
She thinks people who are in these situations can always get out of them?
“I always have. I can only judge for myself. I can’t judge for other women.”
Hitchcock didn’t like Hedren speaking to other male members of the cast of The Birds. “Yes, he was very possessive and he had no reason to be. It was horrible, absolutely horrible, and there I was under contract and to know I would have to carry on some sort of relationship, no matter what it was with him, was unnerving and difficult and I wanted desperately to get out of it.”
On a soundstage, Hitchcock asked Hedren to touch him. She writes in her memoir, Tippi (published last year), that she resisted the temptation to slap him and walked away.
“He was quite cold, but it was very business-like and that was fine with me,” she recalled of Hitchcock’s attitude to her.
On the set of Marnie, Hitchcock’s behavior worsened. “It wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle easily in The Birds, but in Marnie it became more of a problem.”
Hitchcock grabbed Hedren. It was, she writes in her memoir, “sexual, perverse and ugly,” leaving her “shocked and repulsed… The harder I fought him, the more aggressive he became.”
“Yeah that’s true,” she said. “But I didn’t let it happen. It didn’t go on very long, and I didn’t let it happen again.”
Hitchcock’s behavior toward her was seen by everyone on set. “The whole crew knew. Those things were not covered up. They were out there and obvious. One person said, ‘Tippi, I’m so sorry that you have to go through this.’ I said, ‘I am not going through anything’—meaning that the impression Hitchcock was giving on set was not what was happening in reality.”
“I’ll ruin your career,” Hitchcock told Hedren.
“I said, ‘Do what you have to do,’ and I walked out the door,” Hedren told The Daily Beast.
Did he follow through on his threat?
“I don’t think he did it, but there was a very aloof relationship from then on. And that was just fine.”
She was not concerned by his threat. “I thought, ‘If that’s how you keep a career, I don’t want it,’ We finished Marnie, and it turned out to be fine movie and then my contract was over and that was that.”
Hedren and Hitchcock never spoke about what had happened, and he offered her no apology.
“I was very verbal about how I felt when those things happened. I said to him, ‘I am not interested in this, and if this is what it’s going to take to become an actress I don’t want it.’”
‘They think that they can get away with these antics’
She was more angry than frightened, Hedren said. She never spoke about her experiences with other actresses, nor had similar experiences with fellow directors or producers. “Had I had more of those kinds of situations I think I would have gotten out of the business. It was my only unpleasantness.”
In Hedren’s view, “It is up to a woman to have control of how she wants her life to go. It is perfectly acceptable to say ‘no,’ and that should be taught to young women when they reach adolescence.”
What should be done in regards men like Hitchcock and Weinstein?
“I think it’s sad that they have so little respect for themselves, and that they pull this card, and I think that they should go to therapy. Culturally, it’s been going on for millennia. Parents have to teach children what is acceptable and what is not.
“Some of these men think they have a tremendous amount of power, and a great deal of money. They think that they can get away with these antics. I feel kind of sorry for them actually. If that’s what they have to do—to make people miserable to satisfy their own sexual needs—I think it’s pretty disgusting.”
Change will only happen, said Hedren, “if the attacker and ‘attackee’ change. If the ‘attackee’ isn’t going to stand up for herself or himself, it’s going to be difficult.”
Hedren and Hitchcock didn’t work together again, or speak, after completing their various publicity commitments for Marnie. He died in 1980.
I asked what Hedren thought of him now.
“He’s one of the great talents in the motion picture industry and that’s why I went to his funeral. I was paying homage in that vein of his life because he was certainly one of the most powerful, and one of the greatest, directors. You can’t take that away from anybody.”
What does she think of him personally?
“I think of it with great sadness, because there could have been a wonderful friendship. I admired him so much for his talent. This happens all the time in every vocation. You can really admire someone for what they accomplish, or what they have accomplished, and then they pull that card. It’s really tragic.”
Hedren said her treatment by Hitchcock didn’t significantly affect the rest of her career or life. She taught Melanie Griffith, her daughter (Hedren’s granddaughter is Dakota Johnson of Fifty Shades fame), the same as her parents taught Hedren.
“I told her, ‘Be very careful with the discussions you have with people. Do not get into discussions about having sex with anyone, and don’t let yourself get into situations where that can happen. Just stay away from those.’” Griffith had followed her advice, she said.
Hedren is not optimistic for change. “As long as there is male and female this will go on for millennia. Men can’t change, I don’t think so. I hope they can. It would be awesome if they could. It would make life a lot easier for everyone.”
The women who have come forward to report their experiences with Weinstein, said Hedren, “have probably learned their lesson by now and they won’t let it happen again.”
Hitchcock had threatened to destroy Hedren. What would Hedren say to other women scared for their careers or futures in similar situations? “If they can’t handle that, get another job.” They should face down the threat? “Absolutely. Handle it immediately, and if you do it immediately you don't get stuck in a really horrible situation. Just say, ‘I’m getting out of it, no thank you.’ Or, ‘I am already spoken for.’ That doesn’t always work. You have to play the situation for what it is.”
Hedren loves what she does at Shambala. Has she concluded that big cats are easier to work with than humans?
Hedren laughed. “A big cat is very honest and they don’t kid around. And we don’t have any physical contact with them because we don’t speak their language, and they don’t speak ours.”
So, big cats are much easier than humans to deal with?
Hedren laughed again, then said firmly, “Yes, they are.”