Like Grace Kelly before her, Hedren seemed destined to be a huge star, as an impossibly cool and elegant screen goddess. But a falling out with the director put her career in a tailspin and she struggled to build on that early promise. In her new memoir, “Tippi,” Hedren opens up about her break with the legendary filmmaker. Her account of his dangerous obsession and the sexual abuse she was forced to endure while making the film has made headlines and even resulted in some blowback from the director’s loyalists. Hedren tells Variety that she decided to share her story in the hopes of encouraging other women to stand up for themselves.
Though Hedren may not have maintained a spot on the A-list, she found her life’s purpose as an advocate for lions, tigers, and other big cats. After pouring much of her savings and risking her life to shoot “Roar,” the story of a family menaced by various wild animals, she opened up an 80-acre sanctuary for the animals in Acton, Calif., called Shambala Preserve. She also has contributed to movie history in another way as the mother of Melanie Griffith and the grandmother of Dakota Johnson, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” star. Variety spoke with Hedren about working with Hitchcock, animal preservation, and what she thinks of her granddaughter’s big breakout role in the erotic drama.
What prompted you to write the book?
I’ve had an extraordinary life and everybody always told me to write about it. I thought if everybody else was writing about me, I might as well tell the whole story, or almost the whole story.
Why have you been drawn to big cats?
I’ve been an advocate of animals everywhere. I made two films in Africa in the 1960’s and early ’70’s, and at the time environmentalists were telling us that if we didn’t do something right then to save the animals in the wild by the year 2000, they’d be gone. I became concerned about this issue, along with my then husband, and we decided to do a movie. The script was written and we handed it out to different Hollywood animal trainers and every one of them came back and said, “You’ve got too many animals in this movie. We can’t supply you with them. Why don’t you get your own cats to do it?” So we went out and got a bunch of lions and tigers. They were all rescues.
As I made the movie I got into the issue of stopping the government from allowing people to breed lions and tigers as pets. They shouldn’t be pets. They’re apex predators, top of the food chain, one of four of the most dangerous animals in the world.
The movie you made with the animals, “Roar,” is considered to be one of the most dangerous movies ever filmed. It took years to complete and there were lots of accidents during the production. Did you ever think about abandoning it over safety concerns?
I never thought to abandon it. I can’t believe that I didn’t. People always say, “It’s the scariest movie I ever saw and how did we survive it?” I don’t know how we survived it. Our nine-month shoot turned into five years. We were one on one with those big cats. They’re dangerous animals and they’re big. They grow to be between four and six hundred pounds.
Posters for the film state that 70 people were hurt making “Roar.” Is that true?
We didn’t have that many. Maybe they’re talking about people who hit their thumb when they were pounding on a nail. In the five years, I think there were seven people that were hurt, but not seriously. When we were making the movie there were a few instances. I was hurt. Melanie [Griffith] was hurt. My then husband [director Noel Marshall] was in the hospital so many times they were going to name a wing after him.
Why did you decide to go public with your claims that Alfred Hitchcock sexually abused you?
I did it because this is legion all over the world. There’s nothing unique about it. Women complain all the time about somebody trying to make a pass at them or have a relationship in which they are not interested. I don’t put up with that kind of thing. I wanted to let women, especially young women, know never to allow that kind of approach and to be forceful in telling people you’re not interested in having that kind of a relationship. It’s not a bad thing to say no.
Some Hitchcock biographers and others who worked with him have said they doubt your claims. What is your response to people who question your memory of these events?
They weren’t there. How about that? I was the one living that life. They weren’t. How can they possibly have anything to say about it?
Given how Hitchcock treated you, are you still able to appreciate your work in “The Birds” or “Marnie”?
I can totally separate it from his behavior, but that doesn’t mean I was best friends with Alfred Hitchcock after “Marnie” was over.
Why do you think those movies have endured?
You have a director who was brilliant. The story is always the thing and he managed to find intriguing scripts. His direction, his producing, he was hands on at every phase of making those pictures.
I haven’t seen it. I have a copy here. What I’d like to do is watch it with Dakota sometime.