Tippi Hedren Wasn't The Only One Upset By Alfred Hitchcock's Behavior During The Birds

Loosely based on Daphne du Maurier's classic horror story, "The Birds" remains one of Alfred Hitchcock's most popular films. The manic action scenes are still a visual feast for modern audiences that have mostly been raised on Michael Bay explosions and the CGI-heavy fight choreography of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When hundreds of bloodthirsty birds attack the small Northern California town of Bodega Bay, it looks and feels truly terrorizing. Hitchcock famously used real birds that actually attacked the actors in an effort to make a fairly ridiculous natural phenomenon appear a little more believable to the movie-going audiences of 1963. 

The abuse that lead actress Tippi Hedren endured has become the stuff of Hollywood legend. In the past, the starlet has had no qualms about calling out Hitchcock for his mistreatment. Nor should she. As the main performer on the call sheet, Hedren was expected to interact with actors Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy and Suzanne Pleshette while being pecked and prodded by the beaks and claws of large American crows. The rest of the cast had to go through this abuse as well, but it was Hedren that took the brunt of Hitchcock's obsessive need for verisimilitude and authenticity. 

What hasn't been largely talked about as much, however, are Hedren's comments about how traumatized the entire crew was during shooting. Watching the controlled chaos from behind-the-scenes, most of the crew including those in close contact with Hitchcock prepared for the worse.

Feeling helpless on set

In an excerpt from her revealing autobiography courtesy of Vogue, Hedren explains how the assistant director James H. Brown had to finally come clean the day they filmed the classic bedroom scene. "The mechanical birds aren't working, so we're going to have to use live ones." Hedren and Brown had become good friends, and the morning of the shoot he could hardly look her in the eyes. Brown knew using live birds in that kind of environment was going to be highly volatile and dangerous.

After that marathon week, Hitchcock wound up only using about one minute of footage in the final cut. The entire ordeal wasn't just a harrowing experience for Hedren. In her memoir, she recalls finding out just how helpless the entire crew felt: 

"I was too focused on my own survival to notice, but I was told later that it was even more horrifying and heartbreaking for the crew to watch than the previous four days had been, and there wasn't a thing anyone but Hitchcock could do to put a stop to it."

Hedren made a point to mention how much she trusted the film's animal trainer, Ray Berwick, but the circumstances made it impossible for her to remain safe. "Not even the greatest trainer in the world could control every move an animal makes, especially when it's under stress," defended Hedren. It's commendable to stick up for Berwick and, hopefully, it was somewhat comforting to hear that the crew was in a state of shock watching what occurred over those five perilous days.

The horror of Hitchcock

Was Hitchcock really such a tyrant that no one on the crew dared to stand up to the famed director on set that week? Being silently complicit could be looked at as a quiet validation that what Hitchcock was doing was acceptable. After looking at the bedroom scene from Hedren's perspective, it clearly wasn't. Thinking about the anguish that the entire crew was secretly going through does make it even harder to watch some segments in "The Birds" without thinking about the real on-screen violence that was occurring. 

Another excerpt (via Vogue) paints a painful picture after Hitchcock finally yelled, "Cut." It's a telling comment about how different the environment on set was back in the early sixties compared to today. Hedren shared, "Minutes passed before I looked up to discover that everyone had just left me there in the middle of that vast, silent soundstage, completely spent, empty, and alone." Surely, someone in the crew could have come to the aid of the film's star. Maybe they were all still reeling from Hitchcock's wrath or too afraid to speak up. 

Judging from her comments about filming "The Birds," it does seem like she doesn't have any ill-will towards anyone. For all the effort, "The Birds" remains a classic thriller that will continue to shock and entertain audiences. It's certainly a film that confirms the old Hollywood adage, "Pain is temporary, film is forever."