TIPPI: A MEMOIR by Tippi Hedren
2016 – William Morrow – 288 pages
(While this book is not specifically about Alfred Hitchcock, he is a significant figure in it, so I decided to include it here.)
Say the name Tippi Hedren to a film buff, and his or her first thought will likely be of Hitchcock’s The Birds. After all, it is Tippi’s most iconic role. After reading Tippi’s memoir, I now associate her with Hitchcock for very different reasons. But more importantly, I know that her interactions with Hitchcock were one small chapter in a much greater, and more fascinating life.
Tippi begins the book with her early life, growing up in a small Minnesota town. When she was a teenager, Tippi was approached on the street and asked if she wanted to model. Tippi, who had no experience or desire to model, agreed, and ultimately parleyed this into a very successful and lucrative modeling career in New York City and Los Angeles.
Eventually, a television commercial she appeared in was seen by Alfred Hitchcock, who was taken by her appearance, and tracked her down. Imagine Tippi’s surprise when she was invited to meet Alfred Hitchcock. Not only did he sign her to an exclusive contract, he cast her as the star in his next movie, The Birds.
Tippi relates both the highs and lows of her time working with Hitchcock, and the lows (which have generated some publicity since the release of the book) make for unnerving reading to say the least. On one occasion during filming, Hitchcock attempted to kiss Tippi while they were riding in the back of a car. Tippi relates the harrowing experience of filming the famous attic scene in The Birds, which caused her to have a breakdown, and required her to take a week off from shooting to recuperate.
Tippi claims that after Hitchcock cast her as the lead in his next movie, Marnie, he became more aggressive. Her is a brief portion of Tippi’s account of an episode that occurred in Hitchcock’s office:
…he suddenly grabbed me and put his hands on me. It was sexual, it was perverse, and it was ugly, and I couldn’t have been more shocked and more repulsed. The harder I fought him, the more aggressive he became.
This paints a pretty vivid picture, despite her reluctance to delve into specifics. Suffice it to say, after completing Marnie Tippi Hedren never worked for Hitchcock again. Interestingly, she still has kind things to say about him as a director and mentor.
Tippi talks about her charity work, and about her daughter (actress Melanie Griffith), but the bulk of the book is devoted to, believe it or not, lions and tigers.
Tippi and her second husband Noel Marshall, began adopting lion cubs, with the ultimate plan of making a film about people living with big cats. The film did come to fruition after many, many years, a lot of money, and a few injuries from aggressive animals. If you have not seen the movie Roar, I suggest you check it out. The camera work is amateurish, but much of the footage is jaw-dropping. There is no doubt that you are observing real people interact with real lions and tigers.
The bulk of the book deals with the big cats, and these chapters are charming indeed. It’s surreal to read about a lion cub wandering through a Sherman Oaks neighborhood, or two lions peeking over a fence at the neighbor, or coming home to find three lion cubs dragging a king size mattress out a sliding glass door! Eventually, Tippi and Noel would buy a compound, where the movie would be shot. And that compound still exists today as Shambala, a non-profit preserve for big cats. What began as a crazy idea about a film ended up becoming Tippi’s life work. Tippi presents herself as a very grounded, and grateful woman, with an interesting life story. This is definitely unlike any other Hollywood memoir I’ve ever read. Recommended.