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(Credit: Universal Pictures)

Film

The worrying story of Alfred Hitchcock "stalking" Tippi Hedren

@SamWKemp

Throughout Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 psychological thriller Rebecca, there is a pervading sense that the ghost of the first Mrs DeWinter is haunting the world of the living. It’s a constant theme in the British director’s filmography. From Mrs Bates in Psycho to Carlotta and Madeliene in Vertigo, women frequently exert a dangerous influence from beyond the grave, threatening to destroy a fragile balance of power.

This character trope reveals anxiety concerning female power. His depiction of women as passive objects of male desire can be seen as an attempt to quell this deep-rooted fear. However, according to The Birds actor Tipp Hedren, Alfred Hitchcock didn’t restrict his control and manipulation of women to the world of cinema; that particular habit spilt over into the real world too.

When Hitchcock’ discovered’ Hedren, she’d already established herself as a successful high-fashion model. In the autumn of 1961, she signed an exclusive seven-year contract with the director, which stipulated that she would be paid a sum of $500 a week. “I signed her because she is a classic beauty,” Hitchcock told The New York Times at the time. “Movies don’t have them anymore.” The director first employed Hedren’s archetypal beauty in his 1963 thriller The Birds. Twelve months later, she appeared in Marnie opposite Sean Connery.

Some years later, Hedren revealed that Hitchcock had become obsessed with her on the set of The Birds and began stalking her. In her autobiography Tippi: A Memoir, she claimed that the director deliberately put her dressing room next to his office.

During an interview with NPR, the actor opened up about one of the many occasions in which Hitchcock groped her: “I can’t call it an assault, but it was very unpleasant,” she said. “And it was just as we had arrived at the hotel, and all of a sudden he comes at me like he wanted to kiss me, and, you know, it was an unpleasant situation and very embarrassing for me. And there were about three more of those incidents, and I said, ‘I want to get out of the contract.'”

However, Hitchcock was having none of it, and according to Hedren, the director subsequently blacklisted her: “He said, ‘Well, I’ll ruin your career,’ and he did,” she suggested. “He just kept me under contract, paying me my salary, a lot of directors and producers wanted me for their film, but to get to me, they had to go through him.” When allegations of sexual assault surrounding filmmaker Harvey Weinstein surfaced in 2017, Hedren praised those coming forward for their courage, noting the similarities between Weinstein and Hitchcock.

Taking to Twitter, she wrote: “I’m watching all the coverage on Weinstein. This is nothing new, nor is it limited to the entertainment industry. I dealt with sexual harassment all the time, during my modelling and film career. Hitchcock wasn’t the first. However, I wasn’t going to take it anymore, so I simply walked away and didn’t look back. Hitch said he would ruin my career, and I told him to do what he had to do.”

Hitchcock, as it turns out, also exerted a powerful influence from beyond the grave. For years after his death, the magnitude of his cultural prestige made him untouchable. Today, however, his power appears to be waning, as indeed does his reputation.