More than 50 years ago, actress Tippi Hedren starred in the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece The Birds, set in Bodega Bay. Hitchcock noticed Hedren in a soft-drink commercial before casting her in the 1963 thriller, which made Hedren into a star. She reteamed with Hitchcock the next year in Marnie, but their falling-out during that film significantly damaged the actress’ career. Though she would eventually work with some of today’s hottest directors (David O. Russell, Alexander Payne), Hedren has long dedicated herself to the protection of African big cats born in captivity. She cares for 30 lions, tigers and cheetahs at Shambala Preserve, an 80-acre Southern California wildlife habitat she founded in 1983. But she still makes sure to return to Bodega Bay every year.
Bodega Bay was such a marvelous location for The Birds — beautiful and scenic, but distant and mysterious. Had you ever visited that area before making the movie?
No, when I arrived to film The Birds was the first time I had been there. Bodega Bay is absolutely beautiful. The scenery and the weather can be dramatic. We shot there in February, and the weather seemed to change every 10 minutes. It can be very cold, but there is always a unique beauty to the area.
It’s a fun place to visit for fans of the film because so much of it looks the same today as it did in 1963 when the film came out. Hitchcock shot so many natural landscapes — the bay and the coastline — but the schoolhouse that is featured in a crucial scene is still intact.
Yes, it’s really amazing how everything is still there. I go back every Labor Day and have a wonderful reunion with an area and a community that has meant so much to me. Year after year, nothing seems to change. Well, one thing changed. On my most recent visit, I went to the schoolhouse and the play structure had been removed. I asked what happened to it and was told it was donated to a local school. I was thrilled that it was given to children, but it also made me think how nice that would have been to have that play structure at Shambala. I thought, “I’ll bet the company that builds our compounds could recreate that play structure,” so, I asked our photographer to look at the scene in the film and capture a picture of it. They were able to build an exact replica, and everybody who visits just loves it.
A popular fundraising effort you have for Shambala is the series of Sonoma County Tippi Hedren wines with Birds-themed labels.
I have four different varieties! This was proposed to me as a way to have a connection to the movie and have the sales benefit Shambala. I thought, why not? I drink wine anyway, and these wines are really good.
It’s interesting how your life’s work protecting wild animals seems connected to The Birds. Both stories involve these beautiful creatures that can also be lethal.
You’re right; it’s an interesting comparison. If it wasn’t for The Birds, I would not be doing all the work I am doing now. The movie, of course, brought me quite a bit of attention. I was as hot an actress as there was in Hollywood. After those films, I asked to be let out of my contract, and Hitchcock refused. When directors called to ask if they could work with me, Hitchcock said, “She’s not available.” He ruined my career but he did not ruin my life. I started to work with Food for the Hungry and traveled the world helping people. That was an incredible part of my life. And in 1969 and 1970, I took two trips to Africa, which had an enormous impact on the rest of my life.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Tippi Hedren”.