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Tinseltown Talks: Tippi Hedren goes from leading lady to animal activism

By: Nick Thomas Special to The Gazette
June 17, 2014
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Released in the summer of 1964, "Marnie" wasn't a typical Alfred Hitchcock thriller. While a moderate success at the box office, the eponymous psychological mystery was panned by some critics.

"People didn't understand the film when it first came out," said Tippi Hedren, who starred as Marnie, a disturbed woman, compulsive liar and thief with a resolute disdain for men.

"Something really bad happened in Marnie's childhood," she said. "Critics look at 'Marnie' entirely differently today, now that we understand more about how an early traumatic experience can manifest itself later in adult life. The story was really ahead of its time."

Hedren went to great lengths to prepare for the role. "I read the novel the film was based on over and over, spoke with author Winston Graham and consulted psychologists and psychiatrists in order to understand the character."

Although Hedren embraced the role, her cold, man-hating character had little interest in embracing co-star Sean Connery.

"The man was absolutely gorgeous!" Hedren said of Connery, who was fresh off the success of his first James Bond role in "Dr. No." "I asked Hitch how could I play a character who wasn't attracted to one of the sexiest men alive!"

His response, she says, was typical Hitchcock: "It's called acting, my dear."

Hedren's acting skills were also evident in a scene where she appears to confidently gallop across the countryside on horseback. In fact, she was perilously staged atop a 17-hands-high horse trotting on a large treadmill.

"It was horribly dangerous - a horse on a treadmill! If he had tripped, I would have gone flying off," Hedren said. "Hitchcock made me do such dangerous things, I'm amazed I'm still alive!"

The experience was reminiscent of Hedren's previous movie, "The Birds," a year earlier - her debut in feature films, also directed by Hitchcock. In the final brutal bird attack scene, Hedren was secured in a cage and mauled by ravens and gulls.

"All through production I was told that scene would be done with mechanical birds," Hedren recalled. "It was only on the morning of filming that the assistant director told me they would use real animals. For five days, the bird handlers hurled the birds at me."

Hedren's Hollywood wildlife encounters propelled her into animal activism, especially after seeing large cats in Africa while filming "Satan's Harvest" (1970).

She later founded The Roar Foundation and Shambala Reserve (shambala.org), a 72-acre sanctuary in Acton, Calif., for large cats rescued from zoos, circuses and private owners.

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