Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Spellbound by Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock's Final Blonde
Exclusive KATM Interview (Originally Conducted for Chicago Tribune 10-2006)
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Hedren and Hitch gracing the cover of Donald Spoto's new book about Hitchcock's leading ladies, with the author and David
Kodeski, the Movie Queens prior to their onstage Q&A, Hedren with one of her beloved tigers.
Two years ago I interviewed Tippi Hedren, icon movie star of the Alfred Hitchock classic The Birds and the lesser known Marnie for the
Chicago Tribune. Hedren was in town for a screening of both her Hitchcock films along with her Birds co-star Veronica Cartwright.
During that same trip, through my friendship with David Cerda, Artistic Director of Hell in a Handbag Productions, I met and chatted
with both actresses. Then last year, when Handbag revived their ingenious stage production of The Birds, both Hedren and Cartwright
returned to Chicago to make guest appearances in a benefit performance for the show. Myself and David Kodeski, my Movie
Queens co-host, conducted the after show Q&A and both ladies were lots of fun to talk with.
Hedren then chatted indepth with the Movie Queens for a segment called “Tea With Tippi” (which we have yet to release) and now, in
conjunction with the release of several new Special DVD Editions from the Hitchcock canon as part of the Universal Classics series and
“Spellbound By Beauty: Hitchcock and his Leading Ladies,” a new book by Hitchcock historian and author Donald Spoto, I thought I’d
post this much more indepth version of the original interview I did for the Tribune article. A bit more background about Hedren, the
renowned discovery of Hitchcock (she was the last of his glacial blondes): she’s also famous for being Melanie Griffth’s mother,
Antonio Banderas’ mother-in-law, and den mother to more than 70 lions, tigers, and panthers. These and other big cats have
resided on the 80 acres that make up Hedren’s Shambala Preserve, a haven for wild animals at the edge of California’s Mojave
Desert that the actress established in 1972. The Preserve is maintained through private donations.
KNIGHT AT THE MOVIES (KATM): I know your father gave you the nickname “Tippi.” What does it mean?
TIPPI HEDREN (TH): It doesn’t mean anything. It was a term of endearment, a Swedish term of endearment. My father was
Swedish and my baptismal name is Nathalie but I guess my daddy thought that was a little much for a little tiny baby so he started
calling me “tupsa.” That’s sort of like calling a little girl “sweetheart” or “honeybunch” or one of those sweet little terms and as the
years went by it went from “tupsa” to “tiffs” to “tippi.”
KATM: That’s very sweet. Did you ever call Melanie “Tippi too”?
TH: No. She sort of got the name of “Mini” when she was really tiny because she couldn’t say “Melanie.” Several people called her
“Mini” but I gave her a name that I thought was beautiful and I’ve always called her Melanie.
KATM: Everybody asks you about that scene where The Birds attack you in the upstairs room – for a very good reason – everybody
knows about that grueling five day shoot you went through over that but what else stands out for you when you think about it?
Some other scene or something else about making it?
TH: A whole lot of it. You know The Birds was my first film so Alfred Hitchcock was not only my director he was my drama coach. It
was fantastic to have a man such as he directing me and I think if he hadn’t been there to really support me and believe in me I
don’t think I could have done the movie because all the executives at Universal were saying, “Are you crazy bringing in a girl who
has never done a film before and putting her in a major role, a starring role in a major motion picture? You’re out of your mind.”
So if he hadn’t been there to support me and believe in me I don’t think I could have done it.
KATM: And you were doing scenes with some major heavyweight actors – Jessica Tandy, Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette.
TH: Yes and they were all very supportive.
KATM: That’s wonderful to hear.
TH: I had a really wonderful relationship with all the cast and the crew and that part was wonderful. But you were asking about other
scenes and you know the scene that I have with Jessica where I bring her the tea?
KATM: Oh yes.
TH: She’s just had that horrible experience and Hitchcock is so involved with the characters and the different relationships they have
and of course, Jessica was not thrilled with me and you see that in her attitude about me – about my character, of course. So in the
scene in the bedroom where I bring her the tea Hitch had me play it in a very bitchy manor – cold, icy and when Hitch and Jessica
were watching it Jessica turned to him and said, “Hitch, nobody’s going to like that girl. She’s so bitchy.” Now in the meantime we
had gone on to other things. The set was put away and stored as they do. So Hitch had all of the set put together again and this
was such an eye opener for me being my first film. You have the same set, the same actors, the same dialogue, the same camera
crew, director and he then had me play it as a very caring, warm person who was very highly effected by the way this woman had
been attacked – you know, emotionally. And it was an entirely different scene and it opened my eyes to what can be done by an
actor with a different point of view. I was so grateful to Jessie for that.
KATM: I think it’s so ironic that when you look over his career. Because he made such a point of saying “actors should be treated
like cattle” would not give Doris Day any direction in The Man Who Knew Too Much or Kim Novak in Vertigo and here he is spending so
much time with you. I find it ironic that he came around and realized that the actors are pretty important (laughs).
TH: Yes, how true! And actually, some of his actors were his very close friends. Ingrid (Bergman) and Cary (Grant) and Jimmy
Stewart. They were very close friends.
KATM: I have read that. So what’s this about a remake of The Birds?
TH: Isn’t that too much! I mean I can’t believe it. A couple of years ago I received a phone call and they said, “There’s a rumor
going around that they’re going to remake The Birds and I said, ‘And why?’ and they said, ‘Well, we don’t know but what do you think
of that?’ and I said, ‘It’s too bad that people can’t be clever enough to write their own ideas; their own scripts rather than piggyback
on a classic which they will never remake like Hitchcock did.’ First of all, they will use all computerization and I’m sure it will be a
horror film. The Birds was suspenseful with a little bit of gore here and there but Hitchcock is not known for horror. He’s known for
KATM: I know you’re in Chicago for screenings of the Hitchcock movies but also for a benefit for your Shambala Organization as
well. Speaking of Shambala, how are Sabu and Thriller, the Michael Jackson Bengal tigers doing?
TH: They’re doing just beautifully. The lake has been filled up in their new compound. We had to drain the lake so that we could
add them to this compound – which, incidentally is very expensive – and we operate totally on donation including my own. The lake
is filling up so they will have part of a lake in their compound. Tigers love water.
KATM: They like that?
TH: Yes. To play in and sit in.
KATM: Can you see the tigers outside your window?
TH: No I can’t. They’re on the other side of the preserve but our tent guests can see them. They’re a little bit away but they can
see them. I visit the animals every day and I’m surrounded by them. I have a mountain lion off my kitchen and either a lion or a
tiger off my guest bedroom and three little servos off my back deck and I look out my living room and bedroom windows and can
see either Patrick the liger or several lions in a pride or a tiger, whatever. Because we move them around so they don’t get bored.
KATM: Do they know you when they see you?
TH: Oh they know all the players. They know exactly who’s who and who does what. Oh sure.
KATM: Is it 35 years?
TH: Yes. We started in 1971. We bought the property in 1972.
KATM: So that is 35 years. An anniversary – wow – and how many animals is it now?
TH: Well we always have between 68 and 72 and they live with us for the rest of their lives.
KATM: That’s quite an undertaking.
TH: Yes. If we take them on as a young animal we take on a 20 year commitment.
KATM: And I love that you describe your affinity toward these animals as having been born with a birth “affect.”
TH: Yes – “effect” not “defect.”
KATM: So you have a special bond with these large cats?
TH: Well I do. I love them – probably more than my next breath – but they are not pets and I am working on a Bill right now to
take to Washington to stop the breeding of these predators as pets. Because they are hurting people, killing them, maiming them
for life and I think people do not understand the power and the instincts that they have that are just so incredibly strong. You can’t
ever, ever take them out of those animals. I think it is the breeders who are at fault here. First of all, it’s a huge business.
KATM: The selling of privately selling exotic animals?
TH: Yes. And they will tell anybody who wants one that they’ll be a great pet.
KATM: It’s astonishing to read on your website where so many of your animals have come from. This one was locked up in
someone’s basement, that one was in the back of someone’s trunk.
TH: Yes a beautiful black leopard that was purchased in Texas for $6,000 and they brought him to Newport Beach where he lived in
a very beautiful home and the cubs are simply adorable and I don’t know who you are, you can’t look at that little animal and say,
“Isn’t that amazing?” and by the time they’re three months old they’re pretty capable of hurting you. By the time they’re six months
old they can destroy your own. They’re a one-man demolition crew and by the time they’re full grown they are so powerful there’s
literally nothing short of a fast bullet that can stop them if they jump at someone. And you never know when it’s going to happen.
KATM: Well look at Siegfried and Roy.
TH: Yes. I was just with them Saturday night and Sunday.
KATM: Oh really? How is Roy Horn doing?
TH: Well he’s doing very well. He’s going over to Germany again for other medical treatment but he walks and he’s doing
KATM: Certainly public awareness of what you’re talking about was raised by that accident.
TH: I think it certainly was because you take Roy Horn – well Siegfried & Roy started with the big cats as I did – and people like us
who have had the experience of being around these animals; who know so much about the characteristics and personality of these
animals and you know that they are dangerous and how to treatment as best you can and you still never know them. You still never
know them and it’s been all of these years. We don’t have any contact with our animals anymore.
KATM: Because you just don’t know how they’ll act as you said.
TH: No you don’t and we used to do all of those things when we were filming our movie, Roar and I was hurt, my daughter was hurt,
my husband was hurt several times. Two of my step-sons were hurt, our D.P. was hurt, the assistant director. You’ve got to look at
this and say we had to be crazy.
KATM: But you learned your lesson.
TH: Indeed and two years ago I asked my own congressman to take a Bill into the session called the Wildlife Safety Act and he
introduced the bill. Howard (Buck) McKeon is his name and he stayed right with it and he brought some of his buddies in to support
it and I went to testify and it passed in the House and the Senate unanimously and President Bush signed it on December 19th or
2003. But this Bill only stops the interstate traffic of these animals as pets. The zoos are exempt, the veterinarians are exempt,
sanctuaries such as Sambala are exempt. And there are a lot of pseudo-sanctuaries out there who say they’re sanctuaries and
they're not. They’re breeding and selling.
KATM: Oh right, hoarders. People who have that hoarding disorder. I remember reading that Susan Orlean piece, “The Lady and
the Tigers” in the New Yorker. I’m sure you read that, too.
TH: Oh yes, I was involved with that at the very beginning of it and it was horrendous. Just crazy. But California has very, very
good laws but only about nine states have really good laws. In most states it’s more difficult to get a license for your dog than have
a predator – a lion, tiger or leopard or servo or whatever – living in your backyard.
KATM: Isn’t that ironic?
TH: It’s horrible. And it’s bad for the animal. I mean when you take into consideration that there is absolutely nothing that we can
give a wild animal in captivity that they need other than maybe medical care. There’s nothing that we can give them they need.
They weren’t born to be pets and they shouldn’t be pets.
KATM: They should be at Shambala…or somewhere.
TH: Well they should not be born in the United States. They should be out in the wild where they belong and that’s the most
important thing is that we protect their territories. You know with encroaching civilization, our population of humans is growing so
rapidly that it’s very frightening.
KATM: So do you have a “Beware of Cats” sign posted at the entrance to your place?
TH: I do! (laughs) Yes I do!
KATM: (laughs) I love that. I thought to myself, “She’s probably the only person in the States where that sign would mean
something.” It’s sort of ironic isn’t it that you’ve ended up not just with cats but with canaries? Or at least flocks of ravens on your
TH: (laughs) Very! That’s funny. We have a huge flock of ravens that live here. They don’t overpopulate, you know. They’re very
smart and if there’s too many around they go to another territory. But what a great place to live because they’re meat eaters.
They're very much carnivores and where you serve 600 to 700 pounds of meat everyday.
KATM: I just love that have ended up with birds all around you as well. That’s delightful.
TH: Isn’t that funny? It is ironic.