There is nothing more disappointing than finding out that someone whose work you have always admired was not a divine, magical genius, but a deeply flawed human being. Sometimes such flaws can be overlooked (like when you disagree with someone's political opinions) and sometimes it's just completely, upsettingly inexcusable. And if we are to believe Tippi Hedren and others who worked with Alfred Hitchcock, then it looks like the Master of Suspense was a truly inexcusable person. While promoting HBO's new movie about the tumultuous relationship between Hitchcock and Hedren, The Girl, the actress has spoken out about the harassment she endured, how it ruined her career, and how Hitch would have never gotten away with it today.
In The Girl, which is based on the book Spellbound by Beauty by Donald Spoto, we see a depiction of how Hitchcock routinely created an uncomfortable and hostile environment on the set, specifically targeting his leading actress. Hedren, who is played by Sienna Miller in the movie, says that Hitch (Toby Jones) apparently made overt sexual advances while working on The Birds and Marnie that were repeatedly rejected. As a result, the director "punished" the contract player by refusing to release her to make other movies, effectively holding Hedren (and her contract) hostage, even after she was done working on Marnie. Speaking on a TCA panel, she discussed the pitfalls of the studio system and how it rendered her powerless:
[A]ll those years ago, it was still the studio kind of situation. Studios were the power. And I was at the end of that, and there was absolutely nothing I could do legally whatsoever. There were no laws about this kind of a situation.
Is it even possible to imagine a director getting away with intimidating one of his performers like that? Saying to them, "If you don't give me what I want, I'm not letting you work for anyone else"? While some actor-director relationships are definitely less than cordial, no director today would ever be able to avoid a lawsuit after that kind of threat. Indeed, Hedren said if this happened today, "I would be a very rich woman." In addition to laws being passed to protect actors (and non-actors) from sexual harassment, the contract player system of 50 years ago that gave Hitchcock the power to keep Hedren under his — and Universal's — thumb doesn't exist anymore. Obviously, this doesn't mean that harassment has been obliterated forever, but at least less victimizers are getting off scott-free while their targets suffer silently.
Decades after Hitchcock's death, Hedren gets the last word, calling him "an extremely sad character" with "a brain… that was an unusual genius, and evil, and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous, because of the effect that he could have on people that were totally unsuspecting." She says that The Girl should serve to show today's young women that they should stand up for themselves when faced with similar situations. "[Hitchcock] ruined my career but he didn't ruin my life."