Sunday, January 15, 2017

Review of "Tippi: A Memoir" by Tippi Hedren




Tippi Hedren grew up in a loving family in Minnesota and was always encouraged to follow her dreams. Tippi - a pretty, green-eyed blonde of Scandinavian descent - became a fashion model in her teens, then moved to New York to further her career. When Alfred Hitchcock spotted Tippi in a TV commercial in 1961, he brought her to Hollywood, gave her a (very expensive) screen test, and signed her to a five-year movie contract. Thus began some of the best and worst years in Tippi's life.

Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, taught Tippi the nuts and bolts of acting - and Tippi expresses gratitude to them for this. Moreover - though Tippi thought she'd get a bit part in a Hitchcock film - the director offered her the starring role in his upcoming movie, "The Birds." Needless to say Tippi - a single mother - was thrilled to have a steady, good-paying job in glamorous Hollywood.

Unfortunately Tippi's rise to stardom was marred by Hitchcock's obsession with her. Hitchcock showed his interest by buying Tippi expensive gifts; constructing a back entrance to her dressing room - and visiting her often; arranging private meetings where he served wine and food; watching her constantly; forbidding actors to touch her; propositoning her for sex; and more. When Tippi didn't respond like Hitchcock wanted he punished the actress by making her work extra-long hours and - at one point - staging a movie scene where Tippi was pecked by live birds for hours, leaving her an exhausted bloody mess.

In time Hitchcock lost all control and tried to force himself on the actress. Tippi fought the director off.....and told him off. Afterwards, Hitchcock was Tippi's enemy for life. Though she starred in his next film "Marnie", the rest of Tippi's movie career was (somewhat) thwarted due to Hitchcock's enmity.

When Tippi's contract with Hitchcock ended she continued her acting career, but didn't get any more blockbuster roles. A few years later Tippi and her then husband, Noel Marshall, decided to make a movie about lions (which morphed into a family movie about all kinds of wild animals). The tale of making this movie - a task that spanned eleven long years - constitutes most of the book.

To make a long story short, Tippi and Noel constructed their own animal habitat - The Shambala Preserve - in California, and filled it with lions, tigers, leopards, panthers. elephants, and more. At first, when there were only a few lions, the animals lived in Tippi's house. They strolled around, lay on the beds, shredded the sofas and rugs, swiped food from the dinner table, and so on - just like pet kitties.

Later, when the couple built a REAL animal preserve, family members and preserve employees would just stroll around among the animals - petting them, feeding them, playing with them, and so on. This is almost unbelievable to me.....and it was very dangerous. Over the years - before, during, and after production of the movie - the workers, actors, and family members experienced numerous serious injuries, and almost had their own wing at the local emergency room. During one hospitalization Tippi sustained a freak head injury that left her unable to smell or taste anything ever again.

Tippi writes a great deal about making the animal film, called "Roar", including specifics about financing the movie (very difficult), the cast, the crew, the sets, distribution rights, animal training, animal births, animal illnesses, animal deaths, animal attacks, etc. She also details how she acquired and cared for all the exotic creatures, which eventually led to her continuing work as an animal activist.

Tippi is also an ardent human rights advocate. She often traveled with USO shows and participated in many overseas trips to assist refugees from war zones. Tippi also made it her business to help immigrants in the United States. I was interested (and surprised) to learn that Tippi was the inspiration for the nail salons that are so popular today. After the Vietnam War, Tippi visited a Vietnamese refugee camp in California. Noticing that the Asian women loved her long manicured fingernails, Tippi arranged for her personal manicurist to teach the ladies 'the art of the nail'.....and an industry was born!

Tippi also talks about her personal life, including tidbits about her parents; her husbands and boyfriends; her daughter - the actress Melanie Griffith; her grandkids; her homes; her friends; her interest in fashion; her travels; and more.

I'll admit I read this book because - having read a biography of Hitchcock and seen the movie "The Girl" (about Tippi's relationhip with the director) - I wanted to hear the 'true story' from the horse's mouth. And I wasn't disappointed with that part. However the long narrative about making "Roar" wasn't that compelling to me. It included too many repetitive details and could have been shortened considerably in my opinion.

Still, Tippi seems like a lovely, caring person and I'm glad I got to know a little more about her life and good works. I'd recommend the book to fans of celebrity memoirs and readers interested in animal rights.

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