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Tippi Hedren Says Alfred Hitchcock Was Abusive During Filming of The Birds 

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Everett Collection

It is now no secret that Tippi Hedren‘s relationship with Alfred Hitchcock was intense and potentially abusive.

In her new memoir, Tippi, the legendary actress and Hitchcock muse recounts several stressful and haunting encounters with the director: allegations of sexual assault during filming of The Birds and Marnie and the inhumane conditions Hedren endured (upon which Hitchcock insisted) while filming the climactic scene in the 1963 horror-thriller.

“Everything was building toward the famous ‘bedroom scene,'” Hedren writes of the scene in which her character Melanie suffers a vicious on-camera attack by the birds. Up until the day of filming, Hedren says Hitchcock had promised her they’d use mechanical birds but on the day they started shooting, Hedren was informed by assistant director James H. Brown that “the mechanical birds aren’t working, so we’re going to have to use live ones.”

Hedren writes that she endured five days of filming where handlers hurled ravens, doves and a few pigeons at her: “It was brutal and ugly and relentless,” writes Hedren. Cary Grant, one of Hitch’s favorite leading men, happened to be visiting the set that day and told me between takes, ‘You’re the bravest woman I’ve ever seen.'”

On the final day of shooting the scene, live birds were loosely tied to Hedren’s costume while she laid on the floor. The actress says when “Action!” was called, the birds that were tied to her started pecking her and the wranglers again threw live birds directly at her.

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

“I was too focused on my own survival to notice, but I was told later that it was even more horrifying and heartbreaking for the crew to watch than the previous four days had been,” recalls Hedren. “And there wasn’t a thing anyone but Hitchcock could do to put a stop to it.”

Hedren’s only reprieve came late in the day when a bird tied to her shoulder pecked her too close to her eye and she snapped, told her director “I’m done,” and began sobbing from exhaustion. “Minutes passed before I looked up to discover that everyone had just left me there in the middle of that vast, silent soundstage, completely spent, empty and alone,” she writes.

A doctor ordered Hedren to take a week’s rest and had to force Hitchcock to let her take it. “She can’t,” Hedren writes of Hitchcock’s response. “We have nothing else to shoot but her.”

“What are you doing? Are you trying to kill her?” Hedren’s doctor replied and finally convinced Hitchcock his star needed actual rest, which she took and returned a week later to finish the film.

“It was a thrilling, amazing time,” Hedren writes of the media storm and accolades following the 1963 release of The Birds. “I never forgot for one moment that it was all happening because of Alfred Hitchcock, and I never forgot for one moment that I’d earned it.”

Hedren’s memoir Tippi is now available.