This article contains information that might not be suitable for all readers. If you are sensitive to the mentioning of rape, physical assault or other forms of abuse, please read with caution

Hollywood has been in a long-term relationship with abuse since its beginning. Some of Hollywood’s earliest icons used their fame and power to assault and threaten women. Fatty Arbuckle was one of the earliest reported (emphasis on reported) sexual assaulters in film and TV. Arbuckle’s rape and ultimately the murder of Virginia Rappe was only the first domino to fall in the film industry’s lengthy history of abuse -predominantly against women.

Alfred Hitchcock has been hailed as one of the best directors of all time. His endless knowledge and skill regarding camera movement, direction, and storytelling garnered him the success that’s still celebrated 39 years after his death. But there is one glaring problem behind the scenes of his lengthy filmography: his brutal nature.

Tippie Hedren was 32 years old when Alfred Hitchcock plucked her from her lackluster acting career, shooting her into the limelight with his 1963 film, The Birds. Unbeknownst to Hedren at the time, the film and its director would traumatize her. Early into her professional relationship with Hitchcock, he began stalking her. In Hedren’s memoir, Tippi, she details how he would “drive by her house at all hours, stare at her, and sent her baskets of food when he worried she was losing weight”. 

Hedren with Hitchcock during press for The Birds (1963)

Even after Hedren rejected Hitchcock, he remained obsessed. When she sparked conversations or small talk with male cast and crew members on set, Hitchcock grew extremely angry. On one particular night when Tippi was in a limo with Hitchcock, he, “with no warning, threw himself on top of me and tried to kiss me”. But his sexual violations towards Hedren was only the tip of the iceberg. One of the most controversial and well-known instances of abuse by Hitchcock was his use of real birds during a scene in The Birds.


Tippi Hedren

In the movie, Hedren’s character, Melanie Daniels, is violently attacked by a flock of vicious birds. Up until the day it was shot, Hitchcock informed Hedren that mechanical birds would be used. Upon arriving on set, Hedren realized this was not the case. As they prepared to shoot the infamous scene, crew members attached a flock of riled up birds to Hedren and yelled action. Throughout shooting, Hitchcock demanded the scene be shot again under the guise that the prior take wasn’t good enough. Hedren was relentlessly attacked for five days.

By the time the scene was completed, Hedren suffered an emotional breakdown and had to be carried off of the set. Her doctor, fearful for her health required her to rest for a week. Today, she has scars left from the aggressive birds used during filming.

Before Tippi Hedren began working with Hitchcock, she signed a 7-year contract with him. At the time, the contract might have seemed short and for all Hedren knew it could have been the best 7 years of her life. After the success of The Birds, Hedren pushed passed her suspicions of Hitchcock and starred in Marnie, a film about emotional manipulation and obsession. The main character of Mark Rutland ( Sean Connery) strikes sexual violence upon the character of Marnie, played by Hedren. In some ways, it was Hitchcock’s attempt to live out his sexual pleasures and desires — seeing the woman who rejected him suffer.

Hitchcock and Hedren on the set of Marnie

Hedren has reported that while in her dressing on the set of Marnie, Hitchcock walked in and grabbed her. She described it as “sexual, perverse, and it was ugly, and I couldn’t have been more shocked and repulsed”. When she attempted to fight him off he became aggressive and threatening. After she rejected his advances, Hitchcock told Hedren “I’ll ruin your career”.

“These things have been going on since man and woman were first put on our planet. It’s just very disconcerting to constantly have men believe they can just do whatever they want with women”

Tippi Hedren

Alfred Hitchcock never spoke to Tippi Hedren again after the assault in her dressing room, even though filming for Marnie had not yet finished. After Marnie wrapped, Hedren remained under contract with Hitchcock and for the next few years, he kept her out of the spotlight by rejecting any and all roles for her. Eventually, Hedren got out of her contract and starred in a few box office failures. Nothing she worked on after her 7-year contract ended was as famous or well-received as The Birds.

One dilemma many movie-goers deal with is the question “Should I still watch a sexual abuser’s movies?”. Cancel culture has become extremely prevalent in today’s society. When people began to question Quentin Tarantino’s work and ethics some fans refused to watch or promote his later work. But did this have an impact on his success? Seeing as Once Upon A Time in Hollywood grossed $370.1 million worldwide, he made it out alive and rich.

Roman Polanski

In August, child rapist Roman Polanksi received the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival for his film An Officer and a Spy. In 2009 over 100 prominent figures in Hollywood signed a petition for the release of Roman Polanski. This list included signatures from Wes Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron, Martin Scorcese, and David Lynch.

At what point do we truly begin condemning and punishing these Hollywood elites? While some may argue serial rapist Harvey Weinstein as an exception, he seems perfectly happy. In recent news, Weinstein attended an event at Downtown Bar in New York where he was promptly called out and exposed by three women. Two of the women were escorted out of the bar while Weinstein was allowed to stay.

Have we become more progressive over the years? Yes. But will people with power stop using it to manipulate others? Unfortunately, no. As long as notable figures like Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, and Roman Polanski can get away with a slap on the wrist or some public scrutiny abuse of people and power will continue right under our noses. As for Hitchcock, his legendary films will forever live on with a cloud of sexual assault and abuse hanging over it.

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