×

Tippi Hedren: Big Cat Lady, 'Birds' Star And Melanie Griffith's Mom, Then And Now

Entertainment | January 19, 2021

Left: Tippi Hedren in a publicity photo for 'The Birds.' Right: Hedren in the kitchen of her home in Acton, California in 1994. Tippi was on the phone as a tiger named Zoe jumped through the kitchen window. Sources: IMDB; Eddie Sanderson/Getty Images

With The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964), Tippi Hedren succeeded as a model-turned-actress and an Alfred Hitchcock muse. But her days as a movie idol were short -- after her second Hitchcock film, she retreated from the spotlight, and though she came back to acting, she never again starred in a major Hollywood movie.

Hedren, now in her 90s, has lived a full and colorful life, and her acting career lived on, in a way, with the success of her daughter Melanie Griffith and granddaughter Dakota Johnson. Hedren's greatest passion has been animals, specifically big cats, with which she has lived for years -- though she no longer lets them in the house as she did when Melanie was a kid. 

Hedren Began Modeling As A Teenager

Natalie Kay Hedren was born on January 19th, 1930 in New Ulm, Minnesota, and moved with her family to San Diego, California as a teenager. Her father Bernard Carl called his newborn baby “Tippi,” the Swedish term for “little girl” and she kept the nickname for her entire life. Her exquisitely beautiful appearance led to multiple modeling opportunities in high school as she participated in fashion shows and appeared in local advertisements. After graduating, she moved to New York City and signed as a model for Eileen Ford Agency and was featured on the covers of the top fashion magazines of the day including Glamour, McCall’s, and Life. She married actor Peter Griffith in 1952, but they divorced nine years later and she moved to Los Angeles with their daughter, future actress Melanie Griffith. 

Hedren Became A Horror Sensation With Her Performance In 'The Birds'

Hedren had never cared for acting at the time her vision was set on modeling. However, her career headed into a completely new direction when famous film director Alfred Hitchcock caught her in a television commercial and was awestruck with the talent he saw in her. Soon after, they met and signed a 7-year contract, and he immediately cast her as the lead role of Melanie Daniels in the 1963 classic horror film The Birds. The film was a massive critical success and sent Hedren soaring into fame, especially since her performance earned her the Golden Globe for “Most Promising Newcomer.” 

Hedren Experienced Sexual Harrasment In Hollywood

Hitchcock was so enthralled by Hedren, he cast her as the title character of his 1964 drama film Marnie, alongside Sean Connery. She impressed the masses once again, but a scandal was brewing behind the scenes of filming. Hitchcock had been trying to pursue Hedren sexually, but Hedren refused his advances. The director was so upset by her rejection that he began mentally and sexually harassing Hedren and lashing out at her throughout their entire collaboration. Hedren was so drained by his behavior that despite his success, she could not work with him anymore. Her contract was sold to Universal Studios in 1966. 

Hedren Turned To Television In Her Later Years

Hedren’s career dropped off dramatically after Marnie, and in the second half of the '60s she could never match the success she's had with her Hitchcock films. She appeared in Charlie Chaplin’s final directorial effort, A Countess From Hong Kong (starring Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren), in 1967, but the film was a failure and her popularity began declining from that point on. She became active in television playing in minor series such as Mister Kingstreet’s War (1971) and The Harrad Experiment (1973), which were both produced by her then-husband Noel Marshall. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s she continued her involvement in television with her appearances on The Bold And The Beautiful, Dream On, Murder She Wrote, and Chicago Hope. She acted alongside her daughter Melanie Griffith in Pacific Heights in 1990, and even made a sequel to The Birds that most people don’t even know exists, the 1994 TV movie The Birds II: Lands End.

Hedren Now Lives With Her Lions 

Before Joe "Tiger King" Exotic, Tippi Hedren was the tiger queen who set the stage for how exotic animals should be treated and loved. In the late ‘60s, a film brought her to Africa where her heart was struck with admiration for big cats and grieved at the same time for their exploitation. That’s when she decided to take a stand and aid these helpless creatures. During the ‘70s, Hedren bought a large plot of open land in north Los Angeles and created the wildlife sanctuary Shambala Preserve that would be the home to rescued animals that needed care and attention. She went on to establish The Roar Foundation in the 1980s to futher her conservation efforts. In 1981, her then-husband Marshall even directed the wildlife film Roar that starred Hedren along with her big cats. One of these lions named Cherries got a little too playful on set and wrapped his jaw around her head, but Hedren was not at all traumatized and continued her work. In fact, the film was famously dangerous, with two potentially fatal incidents and another five attacks. It was also a box-office failure.

Today, she lives on a house built on the Shambala Preserve surrounded by all of her beloved lions -- but times have changed. Hedren and her family were well known for having lions and tigers in their house; one particular lion named named Neil was known for sleeping in young Melanie's bed with her. In 2014, Hedren addressed some famous Life magazine photos documenting their lion-and-tiger lifestyle. "I cringe when I see those pictures now," she told the Daily Mail. "I have to tell you we were stupid beyond belief. We should never have taken those risks. These animals are so fast, and if they decide to go after you, nothing but a bullet to the brain will stop them."

Hedren has downsized her cat collection at Shambala, which in 1980 was said to consist of 71 lions, 20 tigers, 10 cougars, nine black panthers, four leopards, two jaguars and one tigon (a lion-tiger cross-breed). She still loves the relative handful of cats she keeps, but loves them from a distance. She has received many awards for her work from organizations such as ASCPA and Wildhaven, and has fully dedicated her life to now serving rescued animals. 

Tags: Alfred Hitchcock | Ladies | Marnie | Melanie Griffith | Models | The Birds | Tippi Hedren

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook

Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.