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Did Alfred Hitchcock Sexually Harass His Female Stars?

Entertainment | February 6, 2019

Alfred Hitchcock English film director and producer Alfred Hitchcock (1899 - 1980) frames a shot with his hands, 1964. Source: (Tony Evans/Timelapse Library Ltd./Getty Images)

Many actresses, including Janet Leigh, Eva Marie Saint, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, and Tippi Hedren, made timeless films under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock. But was sexual harassment part of the deal? Regarded as The Master Of Suspense, Hitchcock was known for picking "muses" -- actresses, among the most beautiful in Hollywood, he fawned over and sometimes employed in multiple films. Hitchcock had a reputation as a demanding director, and in recent years we've come to understand that his intensity spilled over into these crushes, creating what we'd call a "toxic work environment" today. 

The #MeToo movement has been a cause celebre in Hollywood -- how would Hitchcock fare in today's climate? Would he be another Harvey Weinstein, John Lasseter, or Bryan Singer? Or was his behavior -- committed half a century ago, and disputed by some -- not such a big deal? This article is not a condemnation of Alfred Hitchcock, it's some elucidating information that'll allow you to form your own opinion. 

Hitchcock had a thing for blondes, most conspicuously the "icy blondes." He was known to lavish attention on them privately -- some would say he obsessed over them -- while pushing them out of their comfort zones on set. Years later, Tippi Hedren, who starred in The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964), came forward detailing abuse, and asserting that Hitchcock ruined her career.

Janet Leigh Was Traumatized By 'Psycho' -- And Not Because Of Its Plot

Left: Janet Leigh in Psycho; Right: Janet Leigh publicity photo. Source: (pinterest.com)

Psycho (1960) was a shocking film, one that ushered in a new kind of horror movie. Janet Leigh, who appears in its infamous "shower scene," was reportedly left shaken during the shooting, but not by the action we saw on screen. It was the director's behavior that freaked her out -- when, while blocking out the scene, Alfred Hitchcock advanced toward the nude actress with Mrs. Bates’s knife in his hand. Critics have surmised that Alfred Hitchcock’s films were a culmination of his deepest, darkest and innermost private fantasies, and Psycho -- with its voyeurism and violence -- may be the most unsettling of them all. Leigh was left horrified. 

Tippi Hedren Has Made The Most Explicit Allegations About Hitchcock

Tippi Hedren in The Birds. Source: (ebay.com)

Tippi Hedren, mother of actress Melanie Griffith, starred in two of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies: Marnie and The Birds. When asked about Hitchcock at an HBO panel session in 2012, Hedren had nothing flattering to say. She was more than happy to oblige the question and told all. "I don't know what to call it," Hedren said. She continued:

It was something I'd never experienced before. It wasn't love. When you love someone, you treat them well. We are dealing with a mind here that is incomprehensible. And I certainly am not capable of discerning what was going through his mind or why. I certainly gave no indication that I was ever interested in a relationship with him. ... He was an extremely sad character. You're dealing with a brain here that was unusual, genius, and evil and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous because of the effect he could have on people who were totally unsuspecting."
Hedren had no doubt that Hitchcock's behavior was unacceptable and far from harmless. "If this had happened today I would be a very rich woman," she said.

Hitchcock's Behavior Was 'Sexual, Perverse, Ugly' Says Hedren

Tippi Hedren in Marnie. Source: (evanmatts.blogspot.com)

Hedren says that, while filming the two movies together, Hitchcock would get jealous if Hedren spoke to male actors and colleagues. She describes one instance when the two were in the back of a limousine and Hitchcock lunged at her, trying desperately to kiss her, and says that on another occasion, during the filming of Marnie, Hitchcock asked Hedren to “touch him” and shared some intimate romantic fantasies with her. When his advances were not well received, he froze her out with his behavior.

Hedren described a particular encounter in Hitchcock's office. "It was sexual, it was perverse, and it was ugly," she wrote in her book, Tippi: A Memoir.

The film The Girl certainly raised some eyebrows when it was released in 2012. The film told the horrifying tale of Alfred Hitchcock’s overt misconduct toward Tippy Hedren, depicting Hitchcock forcing himself on her, and insisting that she make herself “available” to him. The real Tippi Hedren never gave in to his demands, for which she paid dearly. She says that, in retaliation, Hitchcock made her life on the set miserable. During the filming of The Birds, Hedren claims, Hitchcock unexpectedly threw stuffed birds at her head and required her to work in an attic with real birds for five days. The time spent in the attic left her with cuts to her face. The filming of the movie turned out to be nearly as horrifying for Hedren as it was intended to be for audiences.

Alfred Hitchcock Had The Power To Make Or Break An Actress's Career

Alfred Hitchcock. Source: (vintagevir2.wordpress.com)

Back in Hitchcock’s heyday, he had the cat by the tail. Sexual harassment in the workplace was a non-issue for the mere fact that it simply wasn’t recognized. Men relentlessly chasing women was considered to be playful and acceptable. To add insult to injury, these actresses were under contract and potentially at his mercy. Because she refused an intimate relationship with him, Hitchcock had her blackballed from the acting industry, the actress alleges. After filming Marnie, he realized that he was not going to have his way, so she had to pay, and pay she did. Hedren says that Hitchcock effectively ruined her career. It was three years before she landed another role and was never again cast in as a leading lady in films. It was a price she was willing to pay.

Hitchcock Was Seemingly Obsessed With Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock. Source: (stylenoted.com)

Alfred Hitchcock had his eye on actress Grace Kelly when he cast her in Dial M For Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch A Thief (1955). She was just his type; young beautiful, curvy and blonde. Hitchcock had a difficult time keeping his strong attraction to Kelly a secret. He made many attempts to win her affection and, in his mind, seems to have had an affair with the blonde bombshell. Hitchcock took every opportunity to insert himself into her personal life. Unfortunately for Hitchcock, Kelly’s interest in him was purely professional and not reciprocated.

Hitchcock was crushed when Grace Kelly unexpectedly up and left to marry Prince Rainer. He was blindsided and didn’t take his perceived loss well. From that time on, Hitchcock made sarcastic and unflattering remarks about Kelly any time he had the chance. The fact that she was married certainly didn’t keep him from pursuing her, under the guise of having her star in one of his films. It was, possibly, just a way to get close to her. Hitchcock was known to call Kelly “Princess Disgrace” and would grumble over “her prince” not letting her come out to play. Kelly never again worked for Hitchcock although he attempted to cast her as the lead role in Marnie before offering the part to Tippi Hedren.

Kim Novak Sticks Up For Hitchcock

Publicity still of Alfred Hitchcock and Kim Novak during the filming of Vertigo. Source: the.hitchcock.zone

Alfred Hitchcock claimed to be a “well-behaved boy.” He said that his father called him a “little lamb without a spot.” His father may have thought differently knowing how his little lamb had allegedly harassed the ladies. Interestingly, Alfred Hitchcock claimed to have been celibate after having sexual relations only one time with his wife. That, however, didn’t keep him from -- allegedly -- pursuing the objects of his lust.

After Hedren set off a firestorm with her allegations of sexual abuse, Kim Novak, who starred in Vertigo (1958), came to the late director's defense. In an interview with the London Telegraph, she offered this perspective:

"I feel bad about all the stuff people are saying about him now, that he was a weird character ... I did not find him to be weird at all. I never saw him make a pass at anybody or act strange to anybody. And wouldn’t you think if he was that way, I would’ve seen it or at least seen him with somebody? I think it’s unfortunate when someone’s no longer around and can’t defend themselves."

Though Novak's words give us more of the picture regarding this complex man, they don't disprove Hedren's account. We may never know the truth about Alfred Hitchcock's behavior toward many of the women in his movies, nor how he'd fare in the #MeToo era.

Tags: Alfred Hitchcock | Celebrities In The 1960s | Directors | Grace Kelly | Janet Leigh | Kim Novak | Love Life | Psycho | The Birds | Tippi Hedren

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.