Nathalie Kay “Tippi” Hedren (born January 19, 1930) is an American actress and former fashion model. She is widely known for her roles in the Alfred Hitchcock films The Birds and Marnie (in which she played the title role), and her efforts in animal rescue at Shambala Preserve, an 80-acre (320,000 m2) wildlife habitat which she founded in 1983.
For over 40 years, Hedren’s year of birth was reported to be 1935, although in 2004, she acknowledged that she was actually born in 1930. Hedren was born in New Ulm, Minnesota, the daughter of Bernard Carl and Dorothea Henrietta Hedren. Her father ran a small general store in the small town of Lafayette, Minnesota, and gave her the nickname “Tippi”.
Hedren had a successful modeling career from 1950 to 1961, appearing on covers of national magazines, such as Life magazine. She was discovered by Alfred Hitchcock, who was watching The Today Show when he saw Hedren in a commercial for a diet drink. Hitchcock was looking for his latest blonde lead in the wake of Grace Kelly’s retirement.
Hitchcock put Hedren through a then-costly $25,000 screen test, doing scenes from his previous films, such as Rebecca, Notorious and To Catch a Thief. He signed her to a multi-year exclusive personal contract, something he had done in the 1950’s with Vera Miles. Hitchcock’s plan to mould Hedren’s public image went so far as to carefully control her style of dressing and grooming. Hitchcock insisted for publicity purposes that her name should be printed only in single quotes, ‘Tippi’. The press mostly ignored this directive from the director, who felt that the single quotes added distinction and mystery to Hedren’s name. In interviews, Hitchcock compared his newcomer not only to her predecessor Grace Kelly but also to what he referred to as such “ladylike”, intelligent, and stylish stars of more glamorous eras as Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur.
Hitchcock directed Hedren in her debut film, The Birds. For the final attack scene in a second-floor bedroom, filmed on a closed set at Universal-International Studios, Hedren had been assured by Hitchcock that mechanical birds would be used. Instead, Hedren endured five solid days of prop men, protected by thick leather gloves, flinging dozens of live gulls, ravens and crows at her (their beaks clamped shut with elastic bands). Cary Grant visited the set and told Hedren, “I think you’re the bravest lady I’ve ever met.” In a state of exhaustion, when one of the birds gouged her cheek and narrowly missed her eye, Hedren sat down on the set and began crying. A physician ordered a week’s rest, which Hedren said at the time was riddled with “nightmares filled with flapping wings”. In 1964, Hedren received a Golden Globe Award for ‘Most Promising Newcomer – Female’.
That same year, she co-starred with Sean Connery in a second Hitchcock film, Marnie (1964), a romantic drama and psychological thriller from the novel by Winston Graham. She recalls it as her favourite of the two for the challenge of playing an emotionally battered young woman who travels from city to city assuming various guises in order to rob her employers. On release, the film was greeted by mixed reviews and indifferent box-office returns. Although Hitchcock continued to have Hedren in mind for several other films after Marnie, the actress declined any further work with him. Other directors who wanted to hire her had to go through Hitchcock, who would inform them she was unavailable. When Hedren tried to get out of her contract, she recalls Hitchcock telling her he’d ruin her career. “And he did: kept me under contract, kept paying me every week for almost two years to do nothing.”
On April 13, 2011, at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY, Hedren stated in an interview with Turner Classic Movies’ Ben Mankiewitz that because she refused Hitchcock’s sexual advances, Hitchcock effectively stunted her career. These events are the basis for the BBC/HBO film The Girl, featuring Sienna Miller as Hedren and toby Jones as Hitchcock, and which premiered on HBO Saturday, October 20, 2012. It was shown in the UK on Boxing Day 2012 on BBC2.