Alfred Hitchcock’s decision to cast beautiful blonde actresses like Grace Kelly, Janet Leigh and Kim Novak in almost all of his major movies was no coincidence. Hitchcock was notoriously aggressive with his female leads and felt that blondes were far superior to women with darker shades of hair. That misogyny will be on full display in the HBO movie “The Girl,” premiering on Saturday night.
At the center of “The Girl” is the story of Tippi Hedren, the leading actress in Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and “Marnie.” Hedren, who is depicted onscreen by Sienna Miller, had to fight off constant sexual advances from Hitchcock when the cameras were turned off and claimed that the director would eventually ruin her career. Hedren, now 82, told Access Hollywood that Hitchcock’s obsession was crippling.
“It was absolutely horrible,” she said. “I was caught in this situation of being under contract to him. It was the studio system, so there was really nobody I could go talk to about this.”
The actress also reported that one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history was the result of a lie. When, in 1963, Hedren signed on to play Melanie Daniels in “The Birds,” she only did so because she thought she would be working with mechanical birds for one day. That turned into a week with real crows, an experience that left her terrified and scared. Hitchcock also forced her to stay in makeup when the film was not shooting, which she loathed.
“I was followed, he had my handwriting analyzed,” Hedren said. “He did everything he could do to – well, I don’t know what people do when they’re obsessed other than what he did. He just made my life absolutely miserable.”
One year after “The Birds,” Hedren starred alongside Sean Connery in “Marnie.” Deemed a flop in 1964, “Marnie” is today seen as one of the suspense master’s most underrated works. “The Girl” is Hedren’s real-life experience behind the scenes of that film and depicts an instance where, after she had fallen asleep, Hitchcock tried to force himself upon her.
“Yes it was [true] – I tell you, I could write a book about how do you get out of situations like this for women who are in the business world. But I think [what 'The Girl'] will do is give young women the opportunity to say, ‘I do not have to acquiesce to any demands put upon me that I am not interested in,’” Hedren said.
Audiences have wondered if she was was the only actress that Hitchcock sexually harassed, although experts doubt that. A review of “The Girl” in the Kansas City Star reported that Jimmy Stewart’s obsession with Kim Novak’s clothing and hair in "Vertigo" is based on Hitchcock’s own yearning to control women.
“We are dealing with a brain here that is genius and evil,” Hedren told the New York Daily News. “Deviant almost to the point of dangerous because of the effect that he can have on people that are totally unsuspecting.”
Hitchcock is portrayed in “The Girl” by British actor Toby Jones, who has played Truman Capote and Karl Rove in previous roles. The film premieres at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO.