Tippi Hedren
Photo: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Tippi Hedren Biography

(1930–)
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Film and television actress Tippi Hedren became famous for her roles in the Alfred Hitchcock movies 'The Birds' and 'Marnie.'

Who Is Tippi Hedren?

Tippi Hedren began a modeling career that took her to New York and Los Angeles. Her role in a television commercial caught the eye of famed director Alfred Hitchcock, who gave her the lead in his films The Birds and Marnie. While continuing her work in TV and film, Hedren founded the Shambala Preserve in Southern California in the early 1970s as a sanctuary for rescued exotic cats, before launching the Roar Foundation to continue her work with animals. Hedren has been married three times and is the mother of actress Melanie Griffith.

Early Life

Nathalie Kay Hedren was born on January 19, 1930, in New Ulm, Minnesota. Her father, who ran a general store in the nearby town of Lafayette, gave his daughter the nickname “Tippi” — Swedish for “little girl” — when she was a baby. While she was still a young girl, Hedren’s good looks helped launch her career as a model, and during high school she appeared in local advertisements and fashion shows. By her junior year, her father’s failing health prompted the family to leave Minnesota for the more temperate climate of Southern California.

They settled in San Diego, where Hedren finished her secondary education at Huntington Park High School. Following her graduation in 1950, Hedren began to study art at Pasadena City College. That same year, she also landed her first film job, with a bit part in The Petty Girl. But despite these budding interests, Hedren remained intent on a career in modeling, and in 1951, she left California for New York City.

Modeling and First Marriage

Success came quickly for the attractive Hedren, who was soon gracing fashion magazine covers. She also found love soon after her arrival, marrying a young actor named Peter Griffith in 1952. His career fizzled after a few appearances on Broadway, but the same would not be true for his wife and their daughter, future actress Melanie Griffith, who was born in 1957. After their divorce in 1960, Hedren returned to California with Melanie, poised for a major breakthrough.

Hitchcock Films and Troubles

'The Birds'

Settling in the Los Angeles area, Hedren found work acting in television commercials. In late 1961, her ad for a diet drink was aired during an episode of The Today Show and caught the eye of Alfred Hitchcock. The famed British director was so taken with Hedren that he quickly signed her to a seven-year contract and gave her the lead role in his 1963 classic The Birds. A popular and critical smash, the film propelled Hedren to stardom and won her a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer.

Tippi Hedren

Tippi Hedren poses with a raven between scenes of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"

'Marnie'

Following the success of The Birds, Hitchcock cast Hedren in the lead for his next film, Marnie (1964), which also starred Sean Connery. However, despite outward appearances, Hitchcock and Hedren’s relationship behind the scenes had become much more complicated. According to Hedren, Hitchcock was so angered by her rejection of his advances during the filming of both The Birds and Marnie that he persistently subjected her to a range of sexual and mental harassment, which she would later refer to as being like "a mental prison."

His behavior eventually became so unbearable to Hedren that she refused to work with Hitchcock, who vengefully—and successfully, for a time—set out to ruin her career. However, after Hedren used her newly won star power to land roles in two separate television series, Hitchcock finally gave up, and in 1966, he sold her contract to Universal Studios.

Though the details of Hitchcock’s mistreatment of Hedren remained a secret at the time, they came to light in two biographies published after his death, The Dark Side of Genius (1983) and Spellbound by Beauty (2008). The latter title would become the primary resource for the 2012 HBO film The Girl, starring Sienna Miller as Hedren and Toby Jones as Hitchcock.

Films and TV Shows

'A Countess from Hong Kong'

Freed from Hitchcock’s control, Hedren worked to get back on track, appearing alongside Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren in Charlie Chaplain’s final film as a director, the 1967 comedy A Countess from Hong Kong. Unfortunately the film was a critical failure and marked the beginning of a period of stagnation in Hedren’s career, during which she appeared in just a few low-profile films and television series, including Mister Kingstreet’s War (1971) and The Harrad Experiment (1973), which were produced by her second husband, Noel Marshall, whom she had married in 1964.

'The Bold and the Beautiful,' 'Dream On'

While her days as an A-lister were seemingly in the rear-view mirror, Hedren continued to work steadily through the 1980s and '90s. She landed regular roles on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful and the sitcom Dream On and surfaced in other well-known programs like Murder, She Wrote and Chicago Hope. On the big screen, she appeared in the thriller Pacific Heights (1990), which co-starred her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and the forgettable The Birds II: Lands End (1994).

'I Heart Huckabees,' 'Cougar Town'

Hedren enjoyed a brief but memorable part in David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees (2004) and went on to roles in The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams (2007), Free Samples (2012) and Return to Babylon (2013). She also added to her lengthy list of TV credits during this time, appearing on shows like CSI, Raising Hope and Cougar Town.

Shambala Preserve and Roar Foundation

When Hedren’s screen work brought to her to Africa in the late 1960s, she became enamored of exotic cats and grew concerned about their exploitation and mistreatment. Inspired to act, in the early 1970s Hedren began what would become a lifelong mission working with wildlife charities to assist in their rescue and protection by purchasing land north of Los Angeles to establish the Shambala Preserve as a sanctuary. A decade later, she established the Roar Foundation to continue her conservation work.

Since its inception, Shambala has sheltered hundreds of rescued animals and Hedren has received numerous awards for her efforts, from such organizations as the ASPCA and Wildhaven. Hedren’s animal work also led to the production of the wildlife thriller Roar (1981), directed by Marshall (whom she would divorce in 1982) and featuring Hedren and her young daughter. Hedren has also been involved with numerous other charity organizations, including the March of Dimes, the American Heart Association and international relief groups.

Personal Life

In 1985 Hedren married for a third time, to steel manufacturer Luis Barrenechea, before their divorce in 1995. She then became engaged to veterinarian Martin Dinnes in 2002, but their relationship ended in 2008. Hedren now lives in a house built on the Shambala Preserve so she can be close to her beloved animals.

Hedren received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003. She published Tippi: A Memoir in 2016.

Along with her daughter, Hedren has seen her granddaughter Dakota Johnson forge a notable career as an actress.

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