In 1963, Alfred Hitchcock had a huge amount of power in Hollywood. That’s when he plucked actress Tippi Hedren from relative obscurity to star in his new movie, The Birds. It was a big break for Hedren.
But she says that over the course of making that film — and another movie, Marnie — Hitchcock repeatedly harassed her. She writes in her memoir Tippi that he tormented her; he would drive by her house at all hours, stare at her, and send her baskets of food when he worried she was losing weight. He threatened to ruin her career, keeping her under contract and refusing to let her work.
“Nobody had any real answer for how I was going to solve the problem,” Hedren says. “Alma, his wife, she said ‘I’m so sorry you have to have to go through this. I said, ‘Well, can’t you stop it?’ I was angry, and I was hurt that I had nobody to say OK, we’ll help you.”
In the weeks since sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein were first made public, the entertainment industry — along with several other industries — has been reflecting on how the power dynamic between men at the top and the women they work with has been playing out. Actresses like Hedren have pointed out that this is nothing new in Hollywood; it’s only now just coming to light.
So NPR’s All Things Considered brought all three of them together, to talk about their experiences in the industry and discuss how being a woman in Hollywood has — and hasn’t — changed across the generations.
On the parallels between Hitchcock and Weinstein
Johnson: It’s quite similar, to all of the allegations against Harvey, and also a lot of other men. But it’s also kind of this weird underbelly of Hollywood that’s been there forever, but a light is being shone on it.
Hedren: And it’s about time.
Johnson: And it is about time, but that’s the other thing, is like, there’s all these allegations going around every day it’s a new person, but it’s almost as if it’s becoming redundant, and the person who is at fault is irrelevant. I’m more interested in what the solution is.
Johnson, on getting advice from her father
Johnson: My dad said, Dakota you need to be a wolf, not a lamb. And I was like, okay, well then that’s the part of me that is going to be labeled as a bitch or cold, just because if I’m a woman being forthright or I’m saying, “No, I don’t like that” or “No, I’m not doing that,” then I’m essentially unmanageable, and I’m out of control.
Griffith: A problem.
Hedren: No, you’re smart.
Johnson: Right, right but in comparison to just the fact that I’m a woman.
On whether sexual harassment is ending in Hollywood
Johnson: I think it’s stopping. I think a lot of men are perhaps taking inventory of their lives and their careers … And I think that dudes are going to be really careful with when and where and how they take meetings with young women. I think that’s the beginning, that’s the start of it. But it is a lot of, you know, a young actress going to have meetings with producers and studio heads who are predominately male. Still.
Hedren: Let’s hope for the day when a woman will come out of a business meeting and say, you know what? He didn’t make a pass at me.
Griffith: I feel for women who, once they’re following their passion in school — let’s say somebody wants to be a scientist and she goes into work and is sexually harassed, and she quits her job because she can’t handle it. And she doesn’t get to be a scientist in her life — she doesn’t get to follow her passion because of that. That is what we need to rise up against, I think. Make it okay to follow your dreams and make it not okay for people to crush them.
This story was edited and produced for the radio by Kat Lonsdorf and Connor Donevan; Lonsdorf and Petra Mayer adapted it for the web.