Tag Archives: Alfred Hitchcock

Tippi Hedren: Animal Attraction

19 Jan

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Tippi Hedren is a Hollywood Icon for two reasons: First, she starred in two of Alfred Hitchcock’s strangest films – “The Birds” the precursor to the modern disaster movie and the psychological thriller “Marnie” and; she is the most famous survivor of Hitchcock’s obsessive abuse of the actress. As strong as she is beautiful, Tippi’s legacy is not so much about her impact on film but leading a full life in spite of Hollywood’s tolerance for megalomaniacs who treat talent like cattle instead of human beings. I’m happy to report that today is her 85th birthday, and one we can celebrate for an actress that is more than the sum of her movie parts.

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Hitchcock was Tippi’s big break into the movies, that is true. He picked her out of near-obscurity (she was a model and did commercials) to be cast as the lead for The Birds (1963). Ever the obsessive, Hitch spent a lot of time and money on grooming his ingenue in the way that he wasn’t able to with Grace Kelly and Kim Novak. Tippi, on the other hand, was primed for his victimization due in part to the fact that he signed her to a 7-year contract. In the beginning, he did what he could to control her from eating and drinking what he told her, to dressing her both on and off the set. One need only watch Hitchcock’s Vertigo with Jimmy Stewart to understand the dynamic between director and actress.

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Tippi was as beautiful as Grace and more inexperienced than Novak (who was also married which apparently made her off-limits to Hitchcock’s advances). But what Tippi lacked in acting chops she more than made up for in tenacity. She is as strong as they come and literally survived The Birds shoot, suffering total exhaustion by the end when the director spent a week having his crew literally throw live birds at her. She deserved every accolade and award The Birds brought her. If only her experience with Hitchcock ended there.

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Marnie (1964) is one of Hitchcock’s mental breakdown’s caught on film. Not in the sense that Psycho (1960) was of a man obsessed with his mother, but of a director obsessed with his actress. Tippi didn’t feel she was up to the demanding role and told her director so. But Hitch insisted and proceeded to unravel himself over the course of filming. To the point where the legendary director lost total control of himself and began to make overt sexual demands of the young actress.

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To her credit, Tippi told the director in no uncertain terms to get lost. But that was after months of abuse and isolation at the hands of the director. She finally had to force the issue and deliberately called Hitch a “fatso” on the set in front of cast and crew. She knew this was the only way to get him off of her. She was right. For the rest of the production schedule Hitchcock would not talk to her, giving her direction through an intermediary. But Hitchcock would seek revenge for his unrequited sexual advances and keep Tippi under contract, while forbidding her to work with anyone else in town. He blacklisted Tippi for the next two years, until selling her off to Universal Pictures.

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Tippi’s movie career would never recover from Hitchcock’s wrath, though she kept her abuse at his hand under wraps for the next 30+ years. Her victimization was all the more poignant for the fact that her daughter, Melanie Griffith, became a star in her own right and was a major player in the 1980’s. Tippi certainly had opportunities to trash Hitchcock on numerous occasions after his death. But the statuesque blonde took the higher road and did not speak of her experiences until a writer asked her about it for two books he wrote on Hitchcock, which became the basis for the movie “The Girl” (2012). Tippi has been subject to several attacks since for blemishing the name of Hitchcock. True to form, the classy dame that is Hedren has stuck to her story and anybody with half a brain can see that, if anything, she’s downplayed the fatman’s insane victimization of her now over 50 years before.

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But Tippi’s true legacy is that of animal rights activist and advocate. She has always had an affinity for animals and is happiest when fighting for their rights. She opened a big cat preserve named in 1983 and has spent the last several decades rescuing big cats as well as other endangered species. She even had a lion stay with her family as Melanie grew up and the pictures are amazing as much as they are inspirational.

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Who has the bigger mane?

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Family day at the pool.

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The Birds is one of those films that has become legendary for what went on behind the camera as much as in front of it. I still enjoy the film for bringing Tippi Hedren to us, even though she had to go through hell and back to be in it. As it happens, she is a natural in front of the camera and probably would have had a career without Hitchcock. The price she paid for working with the Master of Suspense was high, obviously, but it also earned her a place in film history and her own iconic immortality. I wonder how many other actresses would have gladly taken her place, knowing what she went through. Few, I imagine, would have come through it with their dignity (and sanity) intact as much as Tippi Hedren has. A true survivor by any estimation.

 

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Eva Marie Saint: Oscar Royalty

20 Jul

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It’s amazing that actresses today who strike Oscar gold with their first foray into film are immediately subject to the Oscar curse. This should not to be confused with the Oscar Love Curse – in which actresses from Vivian Leigh to Julia Roberts to Sandra Bullock win the little gold man of their cinematic dreams, only to lose their significant others in real life immediately after. No, I mean the Oscar curse where an actress hits paydirt her first time out and is relegated to terrible roles forever after. One classic beauty who defied this particular tinseltown superstition is the legendary Eva Marie Saint.

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Eva Marie was a little known though already incredibly talented actress on Broadway and television when Elia Kazan cast her as Edie Doyle,  Marlon Brando’s love interest in On The Waterfront (1954). The film was a tremendous hit – sending Brando into the stratosphere and taking Saint with him. The breakout role for the beautiful blonde resulted in an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Eva Marie was crowned the latest Hollywood princess of cinema – with every director circling her for their film. But Eva Marie was smart and, in a town that eats their own on a regular basis, chose her directors and her roles wisely.

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On the Waterfront showed the diminutive blonde as a naive though curious young woman who had little experience with men – let alone the domineering and larger than life presence of Brando. Maybe that’s what was so refreshing about her – she was able to keep her head amidst the carnage of Kazan’s black & white world. Saint’s performance was the perfect contrast to the rest of the film’s cynical world view. She stood out as pure and unaffected. It was a performance that deserved the Oscar, so the pressure was on for Eva Marie to find roles that would not typecast her – even at a time when so many actresses were interchangeable.

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To understand the role is to understand how acting as an art was changing in Hollywood. Eva Marie was part of a new breed of realism. She was able to convey a vulnerability without being weak at a time when women were still constrained in the “50’s mentality” of what a woman’s role was. That’s why I loved her next huge hit and the one that introduced me to her. Of course, I’m talking about Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959). In choosing Saint, Hitch was to transform Eva Marie from her trademark sweet, naive blonde persona into a femme fatale. Always the obsessive-compulsive auteur, Hitchcock literally took the scissors and cut Saint’s locks. It was a gamble that turned Saint into a sophisticated, world-weary spy who is able to control men in the dangerous world of espionage.

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Playing opposite the dapper and always glamorous Cary Grant, Eva Marie more than held her own in Hitchcock’s suspense classic. The performance was controlled and masterful. It was sophisticated and modern to have a woman so capable of holding her own – a realism that was rare for film of the day and set a tone that would be as influential to the spy genre as On The Waterfront had been for crime dramas. And all the while, Saint captivated audiences with that beautiful face that only let you see what she wanted you to see – until the end.

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Eva Marie’s role in North was a revelation to many who had remembered her as the diminutive blonde in Waterfront. She had matured as an actress between 1954 and ’59 and audiences knew it was no accident she had received the Oscar nearly a decade before. But to her credit, Eva Marie was more interested in spending time with her family than being in the Hollywood limelight. Her marriage to Jeffrey Hayden (1951) is one of the most enduring in Hollywood, largely because Eva Marie put her marriage and her two children first before her career. So, in a way she eluded both the Oscar curse of work and marriage falling apart, post winning her gold statuette.

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Now, at age 90, Eva Marie is still very active in Hollywood. While her roles have been sporadic over the intervening decades since North By Northwest, Saint has been nominated for Emmy’s in standout television roles. And as Oscar royalty, she’s been active in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Eva Marie is a judge in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships for Screenwriting – the single-biggest amateur screenwriting award that gives aspiring scribes the opportunity to break into show business with their cinematic dream projects. Many a newbie screenwriter has been blessed with meeting Eva Marie at the annual Finalist dinner and Awards in early November. What a treat it would be to meet the legend in person!

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Eva Marie Saint is one of Hollywood’s greatest success stories. She is one of the few that has TWO Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – both for her film and television work. Makes you wish more actors were as down to earth, generous and inspirational as her. And it makes you wonder if Hollywood’s biggest stars of the day will still be around – and still so inspirational – when they’re in their 90’s. Seems like the industry has changed too much for that to be possible. Then again, Eva Marie called her own shots back when it really was an old-boy’s club.

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Here’s to Eva Marie, one of the most gorgeous and talented actresses of Hollywood. Oscar royalty who never looked down on anybody, but instead used her talent and compassion to lift them up. If you haven’t seen On The Waterfront and North By Northwest then rent them as soon as you can. And for a different film experience altogether, watch Eva Marie in Raintree Country (1957), 36 Hours (1965), and the formidable A Hatful of Rain (1957) one of the first Hollywood movies to tackle drug addiction.

Grace Kelly: Grace in 3 Dimensions

29 Jul

Beautiful. Graceful. Classy. Elegant. Brilliant. Grace was a glamour girl of the highest order. Her style was evergreen, never fading into trends of the past but excelling into tomorrow’s classic looks. She was a dream come true for haute couture and Hollywood. Leading men swooned when they first met her. Director fell in love. Even good old Alfred Hitchcock who couldn’t get enough of watching the star on the set of Rear Window, a movie about voyeurism.

Grace’s timing was impeccable. She came onto the silver screen scene when there was a changing of the guard. When cinematic lions such as Gary Cooper and Clark Gable were in the twilight of their careers. Both easily twice Grace’s age, they nevertheless rallied for her affections both on-screen and off. Cooper was the sheriff in High Noon who young wife (Grace) doesn’t want to see him die. Clark Gable, however, was Grace’s true-life crush on the set of Mogambo set in the jungle. Gable was a gentleman, however, and let the rising star down as easy as he could. Grace would have to console herself with future leading men – such as Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window and Cary Grant in How to Catch a Thief.

On screen, my favorite pairing was Grant and Grace. They were magical to watch, both gorgeous and on top of their game. The rapport between these two goddess made you feel like you were a voyeur. The two of them together were so much chemistry-fueled lust created when two massive stars collide. I still get shivers when I watch Grace on film. She is as glamorous in color that most stars were in black & white. I can’t imagine what she must have been like to meet in person. Maybe that’s what Hitchcock was thinking when he released Dial M for Murder in 3D when it was first released. The prospect of seeing Grace in 3 Dimensions must have driven every man, woman and child to the theaters. Hitchcock always knew how to market a movie and with Grace as his star – his job got exponentially easier.

When Grace exited the silver screen to become a true life princess, many were devastated. The world lost her to Monaco and the feeling was that Grace left in her prime. I always wonder about the movies she would have made if she’d stayed. So many more chances to bask in the glow of the most beautiful blonde the silver screen had ever seen in color. Grace was an amazing actress, even more than a fashion icon. She straddled both worlds so well and would utilize both her talents when transitioning to the private, luxurious world of royalty. But I fear she did it too soon. Realizing too late there was more that she could have accomplished had she not stepped into a guilded cage.  At least that’s my take on her, especially in light of her later years and the horrible car crash that would take her life.

But that’s much too much reality for this blog. Here I like to dream and remember my leading ladies as I first found them. The goddesses of light that illuminated my early life and defined for me what beauty, intelligence and passion all wrapped up in the visage of a gorgeous woman could do to a mortal man. Especially upon repeat viewings. And for me, Grace was the accessible goddess – the one who would listen to you, make you smile and laugh – and if you were very, very lucky give you a memory that would last you forever. In 3D!

Tallulah: Mr. Hitchcock, We Have A Little Problem

25 Mar

Tallulah. She was one of a kind. The kind of irrepressible spirit that could not be repressed, oppressed or pressed to do anything she didn’t want to do. With Tallulah you saw what you got. And boy, did she show you a lot. On the set of Lifeboat, easily her greatest screen achievement (Tallulah was more of a stage actress and personality of her times – but she was a helluva actress on screen, too) she caused all manner of chaos. Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock shot the entire film in a tank on the Paramount Pictures lot, which, if you’ve ever seen it, is huge. Anyway, Talullah would show up every day in character and ready to go. The plot was simple: It’s World War II and an English ocean liner is sunk by a German U-Boat which is also destroyed. The survivors of both ship and submarine end up in the same lifeboat. Hitch had hand picked Talullah to play a sob sister – a foreign correspondent from the English ship. Hard as nails, Talullah immediately clashes with almost everyone else on the ship (a shout out co-star Hume Cronyn, who was excellent in the film as well), both in character and out. But that was only for starters.

So Hollywood legend goes, one day a poor production assistant comes up to Mr. Hitchcock. The man is covered in flop sweat (i.e. nervous) and says:

“Excuse me, Mr. Hitchcock but we have a little problem.”
“What is it?”
“Miss Bankhead (pause) refuses to wear underwear, Sir, and it’s upsetting the crew.”

Hitch took a gander over to the set and it was true. Talullah was flashing her upskirt showing off her box office to everyone in her line of sight, both cast and crew. Knowing he would get nowhere with the obstinate and controversial star, Hitch replied:

“Well. I don’t know if I should inform the make-up or hair department.”

Talullah never did wear underwear on the set of Lifeboat – or anywhere else for that matter. And for that, I salute her!!

CINEMUSES: Kim Novak is One Pissed-Off Goddess!

10 Jan

I love Kim Novak. She is one of the most talented and beautiful of Hollywood’s Leading Ladies, not to mention Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s VERTIGO is a masterpiece, but would not nearly be the classic so worthy of multiple viewings if it were not for Kim. Who isn’t able to put themselves in Jimmy Stewart’s obsessive shoes watching Kim strut her stuff as Marilyn. OMG! The blonde in the grey suit is one of the most amazing femme fatales ever! And she’s not even trying to kill Jimmy, just mess with his head so much that he has to be put in an asylum! Now that’s a girl after my own heart.

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Kim came out of hiding lately long enough to rip the Director of THE ARTIST a new one for invoking music from VERTIGO to give his own film a little extra uumph at the end. Lovely Kim said it was tantamount to “rape” and her lambast was all the more thunderous because she is a living Hollywood legend who knows how to hold her tongue. She hasn’t even written her memoirs, though she tried (they were lost in a house-fire). Kim gets the GARBO award for letting everyone remember the way she was. Except for one offending French Director whose black & white love letter to silent movies incurred the wrath of a sex goddess. If that doesn’t spell OSCAR, I don’t know what does.

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To recap: What do you do when you’re a director whose film is fated to be in the running for an Oscar – big dream come true – that draws the ire and disdain of a silver screen siren = cinephile’s worst nightmare! While I can only wish to be in said Director’s shoes, I would never want to do it at the expense of one of my favorite CINEMUSES. I’d rather just continue toiling away in obscurity than succeed at the risk of offending a Goddess. After all, this life is but the prologue to another – and when I’m at the pearly gates, I only want my beautiful Leading Ladies who’ve passed before me to whisper nice things into St. Peter’s ear.