“WHAT HAVE I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?” sang Dusty Springfield and the Pet Shop Boys.
SOMEWHERE, Alfred Hitchcock is probably wondering the same thing, in the wake of HBO’s movie “The Girl,” starring Sienna Miller and Toby Jones. It purports to tell of the fabled director’s abuse of model-turned-actress Tippi Hedren, and how he ruined her career because she spurned his advances.
Hitchcock was never known as an easy director for actors to relate to. (Or for anyone to relate to!) He already had his films plotted and storyboarded down to the last move, his actors were merely required to show up and read their lines as written and do as the script commanded. And while that doesn’t sound like a terribly creative atmosphere for an actor, many of them gave career-defining performances under this sometimes oppressive “guidance.”
Doris Day burst into tears and begged Hitchcock to give her some indication of how she was doing while she made “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Hitch merely said, “My dear, if you were doing anything wrong I would have let you know.” The movie contains one of Day’s very best dramatic performances.
It seems true that Hitchcock became obsessed with the idea of turning Hedren into his ideal “icy blonde.” And because she was an unknown — a thirtysomething model with a young child (the future Melanie Griffith) — he could attempt to control her more than he did with established female stars such as Madeleine Carroll, Joan Fontaine, Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint or Janet Leigh.
For years Hedren only hinted at her sufferings while making “The Birds” and “Marnie.” (The latter film was originally intended for star-turned-princess Grace Kelly. But her subjects in Monaco disapproved.) Repeatedly, Tippi said she’d never “tell all.” But eventually she did, to writer Donald Spoto. It is from her confessions in Spoto’s book on Hitch (one of several Spoto books on the director) that “The Girl” sprung.
Hitchcock is not around to defend himself on any of the accusations, the worst of which Tippi says were crude, sexual advances. She also says she is sure she lost a bid for an Oscar nomination for “Marnie” because of Hitchcock’s vendetta. (Contemporary critics, didn’t, in general, rave about Hedren’s performance, but, who knows?)
All this has aroused quite a commotion among film fans and feminists. The former question the veracity of Tippi’s most extreme claims; the latter applaud her courage in telling what it could be like — and still is — for young women in an often brutal business.
Hitchcock’s greatest films will continue to be worshipped. His “Vertigo” is now vying with “Citizen Kane” as the best film of all time. (“Vertigo’s” reclusive star, Kim Novak has come out in defense of Hitch.) But, the lovely Miss Hedren has gotten her vindication.
Still, young, unknown, ambitious girls will continue to be used and abused as they make their way through the treacherous shoals of show biz — if they are trying to be movie stars. If they just want to be famous, they can degrade themselves willingly on reality TV.
P.S. We’ll see how Hitchcock fares on the big screen when Anthony Hopkins portrays him in “Hitchcock,” co-starring the esteemed Helen Mirren (as his wife Alma) and Scarlett Johansson (as Janet Leigh.) This one opens Nov. 23rd.
THE cognoscenti of Manhattan will have something amusing to do on November 5th, to take their minds off the frenzy of the 6th. On that night Mike Nichols, Barry Diller and Graydon Carter host the PBS documentary, “Inventing David Geffen.” This is directed by Susan Lacy. (Lacy is the creator and executive producer of PBS’s great “American Masters” series.)
It will be the first documentary of media mogul Geffen. It features candid interviews with, among others, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Elton John, Don Henley, Cher and the late Nora Ephron. (Will I ever get used to writing that?)
The screening happens at the Paris Theater. Apres Geffen, le deluge!
THERE’S much to despair about journalism these days. But the International Women’s Media Foundation shines a bright light! It’s the only organization in the world dedicated to supporting female journalists internationally.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, they will prove it, gathering at Cipriani 42nd Street to celebrate four of their own who put their lives at risk reporting on corruption, injustice and oppression. (Only three of the four will be present. One of them is being held in an Ethiopian prison for speaking out against the government.)
Christiane Amanpour and Cynthia McFadden host and Brian Williams … Lesley Stahl … Bob Woodruff will present awards. They’ll be joined by Anne Finucane of Bank of America and she’ll present a special award to ABC’s Judy Woodruff who has hosted this event since its inception.
These women believe no press is truly free and no news truly representative without the voices of women. Hard to disagree with that. Among the attendees will be Gayle King, Norah O’Donnell, Tina Brown, Jill Abramson, Maria Cuomo Cole, America Ferrera, Cindi Leive, Maurie Perl, Deb Shriver, Leslie Bennetts, Alina Cho, Lynn Povich, Marie Brenner, Yvette Vega, Maria Hinojosa, Martha Nelson and Ambassador Swanee Hunt.
I am honored to write every one of these names!
This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 10/23/12