Tippi Hedren says in the introduction to her autobiography that so much has been written about her that it’s high time she set the record straight. Tippi is as succinct a title and encapsulation of the writer behind it as the name implies, for good and ill. It’s unclear whether Hedren keeps things close to the vest or simply had a bland movie career because those seeking in-depth behind-the-scenes stories about her interactions with Alfred Hitchcock and the cast of his movies will be disappointed. However, if you’re interested in learning about Hedren’s close bond with animals you’re in for a treat!
A Minnesota girl from a small town, acting was never more than a lark for Hedren. (In fact, her parents weren’t too keen on her taking up the trade.) She started out as a fashion model, and it was in an ad for Sego Weight Loss Drink that Alfred Hitchcock saw her and groomed her to become a bright new star. Tippi is a very basic series of facts about Hedren’s life. Her childhood is presented baldly, with few stories that seem particularly affecting or personal. She discusses her first marriage to Peter Griffith, the father of her daughter Melanie, Melanie’s birth and then the movies themselves. Light on actual stories, Tippi is more of a philosophy guide, discussing Hedren’s thought process about work, life and family, with a healthy dose of logic about why she isn’t talking about certain things. She mentions not discussing her daughter’s travails because “that’s her story to tell,” and later has a back and forth about appreciating Hitchcock for the opportunities he gave her and hating him for his conduct. What’s fascinating about those two stories is how Hedren reasonably cements this as her story, but remains either bound by convention to not besmirch Hitchcock’s name while simultaneously negotiating the factors in what’s no more than sexual harassment and assault.
Most people reading her book are doing so to hear her discuss Hitchcock, whose treatment of her is well-documented. Maybe because Hedren herself has discussed this subject so frequently, but there’s a sense of vagueness to everything. Again, she vacillates as to whether she likes or hates Hitchcock and that conundrum says more about how women are taught to feel about harassment than any defect on her part. However, it’s hard not to believe Hedren is going through the facts of her career as quickly as possible. Want stories about Rod Taylor or Sean Connery? She says she didn’t spend any time with them. Even Hedren’s film and television career after Hitchcock’s death warrants little more than a mention; “I made a movie” or “I was working on this TV show.” The sad fact is that outside of the Hitchcock films, Hedren’s career just isn’t that interesting in the grand scheme of things.
It’s impossible not to read Tippi without hearing Hedren’s voice, and that comes through best when she’s discussing what she’s passionate about. Hedren’s main focus in what amounts to a rather slim autobiography is about her increasing connection to big cats, the filming of the 1981 movie Roar, and the creation of her animal preserve, Shambala. Her love for her daughter is undeniable, with some lovely passages about their relationship that, while seeming heavily sanitized, show an enduring bond. The main crux of Hedren’s narrative, though, is her appreciation for wildlife, specifically jungle cats. Hedren has several funny stories about keeping lions, tigers, and cheetahs (to name a few) in her family house in Southern California. She had to be either the best or worst neighbor if you could sit in your backyard and wonder if you were seeing a real lion or not. She also talks about the making of Roar, a movie notorious for its long production history, and the issues that plagued the production not limited to a flash flood and the scalping of director of photography, Jan de Bont. These moments are fun but it often becomes repetitious hearing about the umpteenth new cub and its personality. It’s also hard not to giggle at how Hedren tries to blithely “invite” people to visit Shambala, a thinly marked sales pitch considering how steep some of the fees to visit the preserve are.
If you’re interested in Hedren’s activism and her interest in lions then Tippi: A Memoir is for you. However it lacks the Hollywood intrigue to warrant its own existence, neuters and avoids anything passing for scandal and sometimes feels like a glorified ad. If you can snag this at the library it’s a quick read.
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Categories: Book Reviews