Thursday, August 2, 2012

Inspirational Women in the Entertainment Industry: Tippi Hedren

"The Hitchcock blondes are kind of revered in the motion picture business, which is always an honor. They're always sophisticated; they have a sense of humor; they're sexy. They're interesting women. I don't mind being one of those," acclaimed suspense actress Tippi Hedren has spoken out about her time working as Alfred Hitchcock's muse and leading lady on two of his most studied feature films, The Birds and Marnie.

But regardless of how she, as arguably the quintessential "Hitchcock blonde," may have been portrayed on-screen, Hedren has shared tales of the "evil" directed at her behind-the-scenes from the hands and mind of her seemingly fearless leader. In fact, the fascinating account of the danger that lurked when the cameras rolled, but especially when they didn't, is the subject of a new HBO movie, The Girl, in which Hitchcock is depicted as obsessed with Hedren and a borderline sadist getting off on her pain. In true, typical sadist fashion, when Hedren didn't give in or crumble under his pressure, he faltered.

"It wasn't a constant barrage of harassment to me. There were times of delight and joy, all kinds of different things [but] I don't think he was in love with me," Hedren considered.  "When you love someone, you treat them well. I think we're dealing with a mind here that is incomprehensible, and I certainly am not capable of discerning what was going through his mind or why."

The real moral of this story here, though, is that Hedren did not give in or crumble. There may have been moments when she felt herself slipping away, but she brought herself back, refusing to let him win.

Hedren is smart enough not to try to put words in the mouth of a deceased, obviously troubled, but also equally complicated man, but she also knows enough to understand that trying to explain or justify his motivations is certainly fruitless at this point in time. She can't go back and change the past, so she is only looking ahead to how her story may help or inspire others to share, and then get out of, their own dangerous scenarios.

"I really didn't talk about this issue for such a very, very long time. While we were doing The Birds-- because this manifestation happened during the latter part of filming The Birds-- I remember Suzanne Pleshette saying to me-- because I was a newcomer in the business-- she said, 'It Isn't always like this'," Hedren admitted.

Yet, that is the marker of any abusive relationship: the abuser, whether conscionably or not, engages moments of pleasure for the abused to cling to-- to say 'If I only do this, then it can be like that again'-- as well as creates a sense of isolation so that one might worry about being judged if and when speaking up.

Hitchcock was in the prototypical situation: he was her boss making unwanted advances and forcing her to do uncomfortable work over and over, part punishment, part (presumably) for his own pleasure. But this was a time in Hollywood when there were no laws about harassment but an unspoken code about how many young starlets might want to get ahead. Hedren couldn't help but point out that if what she went through with Hitch happened today, she'd "be a very rich woman." But I would argue that she did get rich out of her situation-- just not in anything quantifiable.

Hedren's strength of character exemplifies how hard she worked to get out of her situation, even after making the best of it while within it. One might say she should have left the minute she noticed the behavior, and perhaps had he been a raging lunatic all of the time, she would have. Hindsight is hard to measure in this situation, with so many 'What if?' variables. She was trying to build a career for herself-- one that could give her the cushion of more freedom in the future-- one that, in the end, she blames "Hitch" for ruining. 

"He may have ruined my career, but he didn't ruin my life," she noted, importantly, stoically.

Hedren's strength, she credits, has come from her education and her parents. She was brought up Lutheran, and she believes that those teachings "served her well" in bringing her to a place where she can "look at myself in the mirror and be proud." It is undoubtedly what helps her have the courage to work among the lions at the Shambala Preserve! But now she should serve as a form of strength for anyone who doesn't have that support system at home.

Hedren's story is sadly not unique. This kind of abuse of power or meglomania celebrated by the entertainment industry happens much more often than is discussed. History has chosen to focus on the brilliant works of Hitchcock, not his semi-sadistic mind, but shouldn't people on pedestals like that be scrutinized harder when they commit acts that could be, and perhaps should be, prosecuted? Though Hedren is absolutely a force to be reckoned with and a shining example of how one can persevere, doesn't the industry have a duty to hear her story and protect against future incarnations of it with other young women? 

"I hope that young women...know that they do not have to acquiesce to anything that they do not feel is morally right or that they are dissatisfied with or simply wanting to get out of that situation. You can have a strength, and you deserve it," she stated.

Hedren's experiences are certainly indicative of a potentially larger-scale problem amongst the Hollywood elite-- especially in her heyday. Men like Hitchcock-- who may have been socially awkward or lacking in other areas-- were given enormous power and freedom. And for many, that expanded their egos until they were the epitome of "If I can't have her, no one can." Hedren certainly came out of an atypical scenario, but the markers of an abusive relationship, however non-traditional, are all there. She is a survivor, in many senses of the term.

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