The true horror story behind one of horror’s most iconic scenes
Not enough people know the name Tippi Hedren. She’s not just the mother of Melanie Griffith and the grandmother of Dakota Johnson. Once upon a time, Tippi Hedren was on the brink of becoming one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. Then, she refused to give in to one of Hollywood’s favorite directors.
Making a movie
Tippi Hedren is the gorgeous blonde in “The Birds,” one of the most iconic and recognizable thrillers ever made — and considered by many to be one of Hitchcock’s best. The pivotal moment in the movie occurs when Tippi Hedren, as Melanie, climbs up the stairs and ends up in a room alone with a flock of maddened, murderous birds. But the horror story that played out behind the camera is far worse than anything on the screen.
Hitchcock and Hedren talked about that important scene before it was scheduled to be shot…but what Hitchcock told her wasn’t what happened when cameras began to roll. Tippi Hedren was in her dressing room when the assistant director came to break the news. At first, he couldn’t even look her in the eyes.
Filming The Birds
The mechanical birds weren’t working. For that important scene where Melanie is attacked, the crew was going to use real birds. Tippi Hedren received the news the day that filming on the scene was scheduled to start. Ever the professional, Tippi finished getting dressed for the scene and walked out on the set. She had no idea what she was heading into.
When she walked onto the set, she found cages everywhere. They were all around her, full of doves, pigeons, and ravens. Hedren walked to her mark. Hitchcock yelled “Action!” And that’s when the terror began. Handlers started throwing live birds at Tippi, who was forced to endure the torment not just for hours, but days.
Terror on set
The scene where Melanie is attacked by birds lasts about 1 minute on screen. Hitchcock spent 5 days filming it. For all of those days, Tippi Hedren was literally attacked by birds. On the fifth day, bands of fabric and elastic were wrapped around Hedren and pulled through her costume. Birds were attached to the fabric, and to her, while more were thrown at her to film the final moments of the scene. It wasn’t until one of the birds attached to her nearly pecked out her eye that Tippi Hedren reached her breaking point. She cried out “I’m done,” and Hitchcock finally yelled “cut” on the scene that nearly destroyed her psyche.
Hedren would go on to film another movie with Hitchcock, but then she was rarely seen in film again. She refused to let him terrorize and control her, and asserted herself more on set. Finally, Hitchcock told her that he would ruin her career. And one of Hollywood’s potentially brightest stars never got to shine. But perhaps it’s Tippi Hedren who had the last laugh after all. Both her daughter and her granddaughter have gone on to enjoy huge careers in Hollywood, and both are strong-willed women who have found fame on their own terms. It’s a perfect legacy for a leading lady that cinema will never forget.