In all the time that I’ve been going to classic film screenings, I have never seen a Hitchcock movie bring out a lame crowd. Even if the movie plays midnight, people are always eager to see one of Hitch’s movies on the big screen. So back in March when The Redford Theatre announced they would be showing The Birds, I knew there would be a good crowd for it. But when they added that Tippi Hedren herself would be making an appearance at all three of their showings, I knew we had better get our tickets early because it was going to be crazy.
The Redford pulled out all the stops to make this an unforgettable event. For their Saturday night screening, they arranged a VIP event before the movie where, for a higher ticket price, Tippi would give a talk about The Birds, everyone would be given an autographed picture, and you got the added bonus of having first pick of the seats in the theater. My mom and I are big fans of the movie, we decided to go all out for this and got tickets for the VIP event.
The movie was scheduled to start at 8:00 PM, but for the VIP event, we arrived at 5:30 PM. While we waited for Tippi to make her entrance, we got to try a variety of desserts and coffees supplied by the theater’s neighbor, the Motor City Java House. After that, we were let into the theater and a short time later, Tippi arrived and was greeted with a standing ovation.
She talked to us about her career, what it was like to work with Hitchcock on both The Birds and Marnie, and took questions from some people in the audience. Much to my surprise, I was one of the lucky ones who got to ask a question. Since she was in 1967′s A Countess from Hong Kong, I asked what it was like to work with Charlie Chaplin. Tippi said that Chaplin was much more serious on set than Hitchcock was. She told us about how Chaplin would explain what he wanted by acting out each actor’s part exactly the way he wanted it done. This was fine with her and Sophia Loren, but Marlon Brando, a dedicated method actor, did not take kindly to that at all.
After I asked my question, she had to get ready to sign autographs and for the rest of the audience to be let in. It soon became clear that even though I fully expected a huge crowd, it was going to be even crazier than I thought. It was madness. Wonderful, controlled madness. Right after the VIP event ended, the autograph line already went through the lobby and had started going up the stairs to the balcony, and that was before the main crowd had been let inside. Once they started letting everyone in, it filled up very fast and it wasn’t long before they announced that it had completely sold out. When I got up to check things out in the lobby, I had a hard time even getting close to the table where Tippi was signing autographs.
The crowd that night was pretty diverse. There was a wide range of ages; I saw some kids who were maybe ten years old and there were people who probably saw The Birds when it was first released. There were plenty of devoted Hitchcock fans, including some women who came dressed as Melanie Daniels, and there were some people seeing The Birds for the first time. But old fans and new fans alike couldn’t contain their excitement about getting to see Tippi in person.
Tippi was very lovely in more than one way. She was very gracious and friendly with fans. It was such a pleasure to hear what she had to say and the entire night was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event. I know one Redford Theater volunteer in particular, Linda Sites, really spearheaded this whole event and spent several months working very hard to turn it into the huge success that it was. She and all of the Redford’s volunteers should be very proud and congratulated on keeping such a big event running so smoothly. All their hard work paid off and it was a night for their history books.
With the upcoming release of the HBO movie The Girl, many people have been trying to paint Tippi as a vindictive woman out to tarnish Hitchcock’s reputation. I have to say that I did not get that impression from her at all.
That night, she wore the bird-shaped brooch Hitchcock had given to her when she got the part in The Birds and talked about how much she adored Hitch’s wife Alma. When she spoke about working with Hitchcock, she seemed to prefer focusing on the positive things. She reminisced about how she loved having Hitch and Alma teach her about acting, how much fun it was driving that Aston Martin in The Birds, Hitch’s droll sense of humor, and how she enjoyed working with Rod Taylor and Sean Connery.
During the VIP event, she was asked if there was any truth to the story that Hitchcock once gave her daughter Melanie Griffith a doll modeled after Tippi in a coffin-shaped box. It’s true that he gave Melanie a Tippi doll, and even though Melanie was horrified by it, Tippi made it very clear that he had absolutely no ill intent with it and it was only meant to be a wooden box, not a coffin.
Of course, she spoke about the experience of having live birds used in Melanie’s final attack scene. However, the way she talked about it during the VIP event was not the same way she talked about it during the brief Q&A session after intermission. At the VIP event, she talked about the severe exhaustion she suffered after filming that scene, but she didn’t mention that to the huge crowd. If anything, she downplayed her experience filming that scene for the big crowd.
The only time she discussed having to resist Hitchcock’s sexual advances was at the VIP event, and even that was only when an audience member asked about it. The VIP event was limited to 200 people and considering that all of the theater’s 1,581 seats were filled later that night, if Tippi really were on a mission to trash Hitchcock, sharing the most negative experiences with only about 12% of the audience hardly seems like an effective way to go about it. If you went to that screening never having seen The Birds before and without knowing any of the stories behind it, you would have left thinking the worst thing that happened to her was getting some scratches from the birds.
So is Tippi a bitter, vindictive woman? In my opinion, no. There’s a big difference between being honest and being mean-spirited and nothing Tippi said that night came off as mean-spirited. I left the theater with the impression that despite her negative experiences working with Hitchcock, there are far more things about their time together that she really cherishes.