It’s the classic story of being in the right place at the right time. Newly moved to California in 1961, Tippi Hedren appeared in a television commercial that caught the eye of one of the most acclaimed filmmakers in history: Alfred Hitchcock. “Hitch” tracked Ms. Hedren down and cast her as Melanie Daniels in his classic film “The Birds.” She worked with him again alongside Sean Connery in “Marnie.” More than five decades later she continues to work, both on screen and in her continuing fight to stop the breeding of big cats through her THE ROAR FOUNDATION. And talent runs in the family. Her daughter, Melanie Griffith, is an Oscar-nominated actress and her granddaughter, Dakota Johnson, will star in the highly anticipated film version of “50 Shades of Grey.”
As she prepared for her upcoming appearance in Omaha this week at a charity screening of “The Birds” Ms. Hedren took some time to speak with me about the event and her foundation.
Mike Smith: You’re originally from Minnesota. Will this be your first visit to Nebraska?
Tippi Hedren: Not at all. I’ve been there before and I’m looking forward to returning and taking part in the festivities.
MS: How did you get the name “Tippi?”
TH: My father gave it to me. My baptismal name is Nathalie Kay Hedren and that was quite much for a little tiny girl. My father, who was of Swedish descent, started calling me “Touksa,” which is a Swedish term of endearment apparently. It went from Touksa to Tippi. And that’s the story!
MS: What do you think it is about “The Birds” that makes it a “must see” film more than 50 years after it was released?
TH: That movie has a life of its own! But when you do a Hitchcock film you know it’s going to be good but this has just been outrageous. One decade after the other. People like to be afraid and when you can be made afraid of something that you see every day that makes it even better.
MS: As with a lot of the screenings in Omaha, the artist Nicolosi has designed a special United States Post Office envelope to commemorate the event. Have you seen it yet?
TH: No, I haven’t.
MS: It’s a beautiful piece of work. I know you’re going to like it.
TH: I can’t wait to see it.
MS: Your daughter, Melanie, is a movie star in her own right and your granddaughter is about to star in what will surely be one of the most popular films of 2015. Have you ever felt the need, or have they ever asked you, for any advice on how to deal with Hollywood?
TH: Not really. I’ve never felt the need to talk with them. As a family we certainly respect each other’s talent but we’ve never given each other advice.
MS: “The Birds” was your film debut. Do you approach a film role the same today as you did back then?
TH: No. You have to understand that “The Birds” was a unique experience. For someone who had always wanted to be an actress, this was like Cinderella. I was chosen for the part because of a commercial I had done. I had been a model for the Ford Agency in New York City in the 1950s but the 1960s brought along the television and, of course, the television commercial. Commercials were financially lucrative, so much so that I was able to take three months off and travel around the world. Apparently Mr. Hitchcock became interested in me after seeing me in a commercial for a product called Sego, which was a diet drink. It was a commercial with a story line, not just a product plug. He asked Universal to find the girl in the commercial. Lo and behold, I had just moved back to California with Melanie and…
MS: Wow! Perfect timing.
MS: Tell a little about your work with big cats.
TH: I’ve been rescuing big cats…lions and tigers…since 1972. This has become a major, major part of my life. I feel very strongly that these animals should not be bred and born in the United States to be sold as a pet or for financial gain. I’m very busy trying to get my second federal bill passed to stop the breeding. It’s titled the “Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act” and I hope your readers will look it up and write to their senators and congressmen to stop the breeding.
For more information on how to support Miss Hedren’s bill, go to https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/1998