Fans flock to hear star of ‘The Birds’

NEW ULM – Actress and animal rights activist Tippi Hedren returned to New Ulm Thursday night. The star of the films “The Birds” and “Marnie” spoke to a full audience at the District Administrative Center about her life and involvement with the Shambala preserve.

Hedren was born in New Ulm in 1930 and lived until the age of six in Lafayette. Hedren’s father ran a grocery store in town for many years, but unfortunately the business failed during the Great Depression. Hedren said she did not have many memories of life in Lafayette, but her elder sister, Patty Davis, who was in the audience, would later recount fond memories of local people.

Hedren began a career as a fashion model at Donaldson’s Department Store in Minneapolis, and she eventually moved to television commercials.

Her big break came in 1961 when she was called to star in “The Birds.” When she was first told of the job, there was a great secrecy regarding the film’s producers. She was shocked to learn the producer was famed director Alfred Hitchcock. At the time Hitchcock was a household name. Hedren was excited to tell her daughter Melanie they would be OK after their recent move to California.

According to Hedren, the only thing scarier than watching “The Birds” was acting in the movie. During the six-month shoot Hedren only had time off to visit the dentist. At one point in production the crew repeatedly threw live birds at her. At the same time, Hitchcock became obsessed with Hedren as he had with other actresses. His obsession carried over into their next collaboration, “Marnie.”

The role of Marnie was a wonderful part, and she was fortunate to get the role, Hedren said. However, Hitchcock’s behavior had gone too far, and she told him she would not be working for him anymore. According to Hedren, the famous director threatened to ruin her career and proceeded to do just that. Hedren said that after “Marnie,” she was heavily sought after by other producers and directors, but because Hitchcock owned her contract he could block her from starring in any other films.

To this day Hedren describes Hitchcock as a cruel man, but without his help she would not have come so far. “He ruined my career, but he did not ruin my life,” she said.

These days Hedren has dedicated her life to Roar Foundation, which she founded in 1983. The mission of Roar is to educate the public about the dangers of private ownership of exotic animals. The Roar Foundation includes the maintaining of the Shambala Preserve.

Hedren became an animal rights activist following the production of the movie “Roar,” which starred several African lions. During the production several people were badly injured, including her daughter actress Melanie Griffith. Realizing the danger posed by keeping large cats as pets, Hedren started the foundation and created the preserve. Hedren has also worked with politicians to create strict laws preventing the exotic cat trade, which is a huge underground business.

Animals brought to Shambala remain there for life. The animals are not bred, sold, traded or subjected to commercial use. Hedren stated that it is in the best interest of cats and humans to prevent the acquisition of large cats as pets, comparing it to keeping a loaded gun on a coffee table “You don’t know when it is going to go off.”

Hedren listed numerous incidents in which people were severely hurt or killed by tigers or lions that were kept as household pets. Hedren became choked up talking about the issue saying “It’s for their safety and for ours.”

Hedren acknowledged the other actors in her family including her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and now her granddaughter Dakota Johnson, who will be starring in the film adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

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