Tippi Hedren was the last of the classic Hitchcock leading ladies and starred in the last of his great films. In “The Birds,” she was a wealthy young socialite who travels to a seaside California town in pursuit of a new beau (Rod Taylor), only to find herself among the townspeople being pecked to death by swarms of seagulls. She next starred opposite Sean Connery in “Marnie,” widely considered to be Hitchcock’s final masterpiece. Hedren played a troubled young woman with a penchant for theft, with Connery as her boss-turned-husband who begins digging into her dark past. Hedren was hailed as a promising newcomer thanks to both roles, but spent the rest of her career struggling to gain her due respect.
Born Nathalie Kay Hedren, she was best known as a model when Hitchcock saw her in a soft drink commercial and signed her to a seven-year contract. The celebrated director fashioned her into his favorite archetype of American womanhood, the cool blonde, and encouraged press coverage that labeled her “Hitch’s new Grace Kelly.”
Perhaps most famous for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” Tippi Hedren is an actress of formidable gifts. Hitch himself said, when directing her in that classic film, that Hedren had “a faster tempo, city glibness, more humor (than another frequent Hitchcock heroine, Grace Kelly). She displayed jaunty assuredness . . . and she memorized and read lines extraordinarily well.”
Plenty has happened to Tippi Hedren between then and now. The 85-year old actress has seen the release of “The Girl,” an HBO film based on the Donald Spoto novel “Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies,” (click on the title for more information) which details the famous director’s relationships with several film actresses, including Hedren.
In recent years, Hedren has publicly discussed her working relationship with Hitchcock; according to the actress, Hitchcock made several aggressive sexual advances toward her while they were working on “The Birds“ and “Marnie,” and when she rejected him, he treated her coldly. Under an ironclad contract to Hitchcock, Hedren’s career nosedived because the director would not release her to do other films. As she put it, “it was sexual blackmail. No sex for him, no work for me.” “The Girl” stars Toby Jones (Alfred Hitchcock) and actress Sienna Miller (Hedren).
Hedren’s later films include “Roar“ (1981), which she also produced; “Deadly Spygames“ (1989); and “Citizen Ruth” (1996). Additionally, she has appeared in several television movies, including “Birds 2: The Land’s End“ (1994). More recently, Hedren was cast in the film “I Heart Huckabees“ (2004) and starred in the TV movie “Tribute“ (2009), which aired on the Lifetime network and also starred Brittany Murphy.
Tippi Hedren is the mother of actress Melanie Griffith and grandmother of Dakota Johnson, the young actress who underwent intense media scrutiny as a result of her starring role in the steamy “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Hedren was married to Peter Griffith, Melanie’s father, for nearly a decade, from 1952 to 1961. She has since been married twice, to Noel Marshall (1964-1982) and Luis Barrenechea (1985-1995), and is married to Dr. Martin Dinnes, a renowned veterinarian.
Outside of acting, Hedren has been involved in various projects. Among them, she has dedicated her life to animal rescue efforts. In 1972, she founded the Roar Foundation and Shambala Preserve, an animal preserve outside Los Angeles. It houses over 65 animals. Shambala also became the home for Michael Jackson’s two Bengal tigers after he closed his Neverland Zoo.
But her most significant contribution that has changed the lives of thousands occurred when Tippi Hedren visited a Vietnamese refugee camp in California 40 years ago and the Hollywood star’s long, polished fingernails dazzled the women there.
When she realized what was happening, Hedren flew in her personal manicurist to teach a group of 20 refugees the art of manicures. Those 20 women — mainly the wives of high-ranking military officers and at least one woman who worked in military intelligence — went on to transform the industry, which is now worth about $8 billion and is dominated by Vietnamese-Americans.
“We were trying to find vocations for them,” says Hedren “I brought in seamstresses and typists — any way for them to learn something. And they loved my fingernails.”
Hope Village, the refugee camp, was in Northern California near Sacramento. Aside from flying in her personal manicurist, Hedren recruited a local beauty school to help teach the women. When they graduated, Hedren helped get them jobs all over Southern California.
“I loved these women so much that I wanted something good to happen for them after losing literally everything,” Hedren related in a recent BBC interview held in a museum she is building next to her home. The museum includes Hollywood memorabilia, a few photos of the women at Camp Hope and awards she’s won from the nail care industry.
“Some of them lost their entire family and everything they had in Vietnam: their homes; their jobs; friends — everything was gone. They lost even their own country.” The Vietnamese gave the nail salon business a radical makeover, makinga basic “mani-pedi” no longer a luxury but an affordable weekly beauty “must-have” for countless American women.
Decades after the fall of Saigon, 51% of nail technicians in the United States – and approximately 80% in California — are of Vietnamese descent. And many are direct descendants of that first class of women inspired by the nails of a Hitchcock blonde who was instrumental in transforming their lives.
On October 8th Opi Nail Products honored Tippi Hedren for aiding Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnam War and in developing Vietnamese participation in the nail industry. Her work was highlighted in “Happy Hands,” a short documentary depicting her efforts. Hedren added this award to the nearly 100 she has received for her humanitarian efforts as well as in the film industry.
To read more about Tippi Hedren, ZootScoop suggests:
The Cats of Shambala
by Tippi Hedren
Tippi Hedren: Unauthorized and Uncensored
by R.B. Grimm
Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies
by Donald Spoto