Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds Turned Into Real-Life Nightmare For Its Main Star

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds Turned Into Real-Life Nightmare For Its Main Star
Image credit: Universal Pictures

The price of making a masterpiece is high. But in this case, maybe it was too high.


  • Alfred Hitchcock's iconic film The Birds is based on the true events of 1961 and Daphne du Maurier's book The Birds.
  • To keep the audience's attention on the birds, Hitchcock cast then-unknown model Tippi Hedren in the lead role.
  • The filming of The Birds was Hedren's most difficult acting experience: Hitchcock forbade the crew to talk to the actress and gave her only one day off in six months.
  • After shooting one scene for seven days, Tippi was rushed to the hospital with injuries and exhaustion.

Alfred Hitchcock's cult film The Birds is based on a true story. At 3 a.m. on August 18, 1961, residents of the California town of Capitola were awakened by a terrible noise. Thousands of petrels fell from the sky, crashing onto the roofs of houses and cars. People panicked and prepared for biological warfare. Only 30 years later, it turned out that the birds were poisoned by domoic acid.

After learning of the strange incident, Hitchcock called the editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper, where the article about the petrels had appeared, and asked for a copy of the material. It reminded him of the story The Birds by Daphne du Maurier, whose novels Hitchcock had already filmed (Rebecca). In it, the birds suddenly went mad and began attacking civilians.

A similar storyline was used in the movie. Melanie goes to Bodega Bay, to flirt with lawyer Mitch. But a romantic rendezvous is interrupted by birds' attacks.

Hitchcock Cast a Debutante Actress for The Main Role in The Birds

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Hitchcock refused to cast big stars because he didn't want actors to distract the audience from the main characters – the birds. The female lead was played by debutante Tippi Hedren.

The New York model appeared in endless commercials, and one of them simply fascinated Hitchcock. He gave Tippy an audition, invited her to a restaurant, gave her a gold pin with three flying birds and invited her to film. Tippi burst into tears (of happiness, this time) and agreed.

Filming The Birds Was a Nightmare for Tippi Hedren

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But it wasn't for nothing that Hedren was offered to lead the cast of The Birds on Friday the 13th (in October 1961). She was in almost every scene and only took one day off during the 6-month shoot. Hitchcock strictly controlled her behavior on and off the set.

In particular, he forbade members of the film crew to communicate with the actress, and if he caught her talking to a man, he immediately stopped the conversation. However, this is nothing compared to the chaos that ensued with the appearance of the birds.

A handler spent eight months training the birds, and to lure them closer, extras and actors smeared minced meat on their hands. However, the birds kept scratching and biting – once, 12 people had to be rushed to the hospital. At the same time, the bird extras were under the reliable protection of the American Humane organization, which was dedicated to the protection of animals.

The Attic Scene Was The Birds’ Worst Part For Hedren

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But nobody protected Tippi Hedren. And filming the climax in the attic, where Melanie, Mitch, his mother and sister barricaded themselves, turned into a real-life nightmare for her.

According to the plot, Melanie hears strange noises, goes to the attic and gets attacked. A huge cage was built around the set – inside were prop men releasing birds on Hedren: Tippy learned at the last moment that they were real and not mechanical.

The two-minute episode took seven days to shoot, which Hedren named the worst week of her life. On the fifth day, she collapsed on the floor and burst into tears of helplessness.

Tippy was injured and soon had to be hospitalized due to extreme exhaustion. Rumor has it that Hitchcock taunted her so much because the actress had refused his advances. In her 2016 memoir, Tippy openly accused Alfred of harassment.

Source: Tippi: A Memoir by Tippi Hedren