Tippi Hedren comes home

Marnie Poster.jpgSome helpful Minnesotans may not have quite realized just whom they were aiding over the last couple of days.

“They are so helpful. I am in Minneapolis right now,” Tippi Hedren said on the phone Tuesday. “And I was walking through the Skyways and trying to find something, and I had a map as to where I was going, and several people helped me. They just stopped and and said ‘Can we help you? Are you lost?” And these are the kind of people I remember as Minnesotans.”

Hedren who shot to worldwide fame when she appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller “The Birds” lived in Minneapolis as a girl. She moved there when she was five, from the southwestern part of the state.

“I lived in the little town of Lafayette,” she said. “But Lafayette was so small it didn’t have a hospital that I had to go to New Ulm to be born. But I never lived in New Ulm.”

Hedren is in Minneapolis to introduce a screening of “Marnie,” the second, and final film she made for Hitchcock. The free event at the Heights Theater in Columbia Heights is part of a nationwide series of screenings to promote the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood in April. Hedren will join critic and TCM host Leonard Maltin to talk about the film, and what it was like to play the title role.

“Marnie” tells the story of a young woman whose deep psychological scars as a result of a traumatic childhood incident cause her to behave in a variety of strange ways, not least that she becomes an expert at stealing from businesses where she works. It’s only with the intervention of the dashing owner of a company she’s trying to rob (played by a post-Dr No Sean Connery) that she begins to come to terms with her life. Its psycho-sexual undertones were cutting edge when the film came out in 1964.

“Looking back at it now, and how films are made today, it was very tame” Hedren said. “It really was.”

However Hedren flung herself into preparation, starting with the original Winston Graham novel which the writer sent to her personally. “It was an incredibly intriguing story,” she said.

“I studied Marnie at great length through the book. I talked to psychiatrists about her, just to get kind of an idea just how this would manifest itself into a later life. But it was a really treasured role. Every actress in Hollywood wanted to do that role.”

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Hedren had already experienced the wonders, and the horrors of a plum role after Alfred Hitchcock spotted Hedren while she worked as a model, and cast her in “The Birds.” She remembers how all went well until they had to shoot the climactic scene of her climbing a tower alone where she was to be attacked by the birds. Hitchcock promised her they would use mechanical birds for the scene.

Then on the day of the shoot the assistant director came to her and told her the mechanical birds didn’t work and they would have to use real ones.

“And I picked my jaw up from the floor and went out to the set,” she recalled. “An they had no intentions of using mechanical birds. There was a cage built around the door that I come in, and there were three or four huge cartons of ravens, and seagulls and a few pigeons thrown in. Bird trainers who had leather gauntlets up to their shoulders, and they hurled birds at me for a week.”

Much has been made of Hedren’s tense relationship with Hitchcock, who tried to control not just her performance, but also her career. However Hedren is generous in crediting him for teaching her the job of being a film actress.

“I had technical background,” she said. “But not how do you get into a character, how do you break down a script, how do you analyze the relationships between the different characters in the film. So Alfred Hitchcock was probably the finest director I could have possibly had.”

Hedren was delighted to hear the Guthrie is presenting a stage adaptation of “The Birds” and is hoping to take in the show during her visit.

Tickets for Thursday night screening of “Marnie” are free, but need to be reserved through this site.

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