By Natalie Gadbois, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 12, 2013
Tippi Hedren has hardly changed since her modeling days 60 years ago. Star of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and “Marnie,” the latter of which was featured in a specialty screening set up by Turner Classic Movies at the Michigan Theater on April 9, Hedren exudes the same delicate beauty and refreshing directness that she did when she became a star half a century ago.
The Michigan Daily interviewed Ben Mankiewicz, regular host for TCM, and Hedren, who discussed the gravity of film appreciation and her complex relationship with the eponymous Hitchcock with the same level, refined voice that she so eerily used to play psychologically dysfunctional Marnie. She said this character was her favorite and most rewarding role.
“I felt so fortunate in being able to do this film because it was such a groundbreaking story at the time,” Hedren said. “Without the story you have nothing. You can have the best producers, the best actors, the best directors, but if you don’t have a story, you have nothing.”
The film was advertised as “Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense sex mystery,” and it follows Marnie, an intensely disturbed woman — a calculating thief and compulsive liar — as her tragic past is uncovered by her beguiling boss Mark Rutland, played with dark humor by Sean Connery.
“Actresses in Hollywood knew that this was a complicated leading lady, a leading lady with a whole lot of depth,” Mankiewicz said. “You knew she was messed up, but there was a full sort of range, a fully human character, which I think was rare at the time.”
Although the film was not well received at the time, since its release it has been hailed as an innovative look into the effects of traumatic incidents during childhood on a person’s psyche.
“All those years ago, nobody realized that what happens to a child traumatically can have such an effect later on in life,” Hedren said. “It wasn’t a big film when it came out because people didn’t understand it, but I read the book over and over again, I talked to psychiatrists about this issue … It was really kind of a wonderful (thing) to have happen, to be able to play that role.”
Hedren wasn’t the obvious choice for this role; a host of famous actresses, including Grace Kelly, vied for the part of Marnie. As a model and commercial actress, Hedren lacked any dramatic experience, but Hitchcock became enamored with her during one of her commercials and decided to sign this beauty without ever having met her.
The signing of a seven-year contract between Hedren and Hitchcock began a tumultuous and abusive working relationship that effectively ruined Hedren’s promising career, and revealed the film master’s darker side.
“He is brilliant. He will always be remembered as one of the major motion picture giants, but the dark side of him was really awful, really ugly,” Hedren said. She claims he became obsessed with her, following her constantly and demanding her ultimate dedication to their work together.
“There are so many things that I would have to thank him for, and I would certainly never take that away. But on the other side there was this deviousness of him, and I kept thinking, ‘Why is he doing this?’” Hedren said. “What was the reason for having this obsessive thing he had, with wanting to squeeze the life out of a person? That’s scary. Talk about a scary movie.”
During the production of “Marnie,” Hedren demanded to be removed from her contract. In response, Hitchcock vowed to “ruin her career,” which he did by using their contract to refuse any choice roles offered to her.
“The Girl,” a film released by the BBC in 2012, directly addressed the unsettling relationship between Hedren and Hitchcock, a relationship Hedren did not speak about for years in an effort to keep the past behind her. The film has received some understandable criticism from Hitchcock devotees.
“Tippi is one of the few people with a really rounded view of Hitchcock,” Mankiewicz said. “She will talk about how great he is, and tell funny and amusing stories about him, and at the same time she will tell these awful stories about him. She has reconciled herself to the idea that there were multiple sides to this man.”
In addition to their interview with the Daily, Hedren and Mankiewicz discussed this complex relationship in front of an audience at the screening of “Marnie” at the Michigan Theater, which was filled with the diverse combination of college students there to see a legend speak, and older fans who remembered when “Marnie” was first released. Both sympathetic laughs and murmurs of shock rang through this crowd when Hedren reflected on her commitment to this warped character and highlighted Hitchcock’s idiosyncrasies as a director and a man.
“Hitchcock may have ruined my career, but he did not ruin my life,” Hedren said 45 minutes into her conversation with Mankiewicz.
The entire audience rose with resounding applause.
Although she has never since reached the fame she had while under Hitchcock’s tutelage, Hedren has continued to work, finding a passion in her love of animals. Forty years ago she opened Shambala, a reserve outside of Los Angeles for neglected lions and tigers, where she now lives and dedicates most of her time.
Even now, her most significant memory of the making of “Marnie” was not Hitchcock’s claustrophobic attention or her meteoric rise to fame or even her famous kiss with then “Sexiest Man Alive” Sean Connery. Instead, she remembers what made her happiest: Forio, her character’s horse.
“I really, really loved that animal so much.”