3 Generations Of Actresses Reflect On Hollywood, Harassment — And Hitchcock

Nov 16, 2017
Originally published on November 17, 2017 8:00 am

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.

Hedren is the matriarch of a line of well-known Hollywood actresses. Her daughter is Melanie Griffith, and her granddaughter is Dakota Johnson.

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.


Interview Highlights

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.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

2017 is shaping up to be a moment for women across industries to tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault. And we wanted to talk to women in Hollywood, so we asked three generations of actors to come to the studio - Tippi Hedren, her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and her granddaughter, Dakota Johnson - three different experiences of women in Hollywood.

Tippi Hedren, of course, first starred in "The Birds" and then in "Marnie," films that were both directed by Alfred Hitchcock. And in her memoir, she writes that Hitchcock was obsessed with her. She says he drove by her house in his limo when she was at home, that he asked her to touch him on set. And then at a meeting in his office one day, she says he grabbed her. She says it was sexual, perverse and ugly, and that in the end she refused him.

TIPPI HEDREN: Oh, he said that he'd ruin my career. And I just said, hey, do what you have to do. And I sailed out the door. And I have to tell you I never slammed a door so hard in my life. In fact, I looked back to see if it was still on its hinges.

MCEVERS: Our conversation started with Hitchcock. I should say there are a few swear words in the next few minutes. Tippi Hedren's granddaughter, Dakota Johnson, and her daughter, Melanie Griffith, talked to Tippi about how different it must have been for her to experience this in the '60s. Dakota goes first and Melanie jumps in later.

DAKOTA JOHNSON: What was it like for you? Did you have anybody to talk to? Did you - could - was there anyone you could turn to?

HEDREN: Nobody had any real answer to...

MELANIE GRIFFITH: Yeah.

HEDREN: ...How I was going to solve the problem.

GRIFFITH: It was just sort of swept under the rug.

JOHNSON: There was no solution.

HEDREN: Yes, it was, absolutely.

GRIFFITH: And you were the problem.

HEDREN: I - yes. Yeah.

MCEVERS: I remember in the book women kind of just saying, I'm so sorry you have to go through this.

HEDREN: Yeah. And in fact Alma, his wife, she said, I'm so sorry you 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.

GRIFFITH: But how brave you were, Mom, and are. I mean, that was in the early '60s. I really applaud you, I must say.

HEDREN: Oh, thank you. Thank you.

JOHNSON: That also was a man who was considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers during that time...

HEDREN: And indeed he was.

JOHNSON: ...And now still in history.

HEDREN: Yeah.

JOHNSON: But he also used his power.

HEDREN: Well, he tried to.

JOHNSON: But he technically did. I mean, after "Marnie," what happened?

MCEVERS: Right, for two years...

HEDREN: Oh, yes, right, yes.

MCEVERS: Yeah. Tell us that.

HEDREN: Well, he told me that he'd ruin my career. You know, and my being under contract to him, everybody had to go through him to get to me.

GRIFFITH: Right.

MCEVERS: So people would call you and say they wanted you to work on something, he would say...

HEDREN: She isn't available.

GRIFFITH: And that she was difficult.

MCEVERS: Can the two of you - Dakota and Melanie - even imagine that now? Dakota, I'll start with you.

JOHNSON: I mean, it's quite similar to all of the allegations against Harvey.

MCEVERS: Harvey Weinstein. Yeah.

JOHNSON: And also a lot of other men. But it is this kind of weird underbelly of Hollywood that has been there forever. But a light is being shown on it, and it's really...

HEDREN: And it's about time.

JOHNSON: And it is about time. But that's the other thing, is, like, there's all these accusations going around and every day it's a new person, but it's almost as though it's becoming redundant and the person who is at fault is irrelevant. I'm more interested in what the solution is.

MCEVERS: Right.

JOHNSON: When this happened to you there wasn't a solution. You suffered the consequences of having...

HEDREN: I did.

JOHNSON: ...Of being under his control. I want to know how it'll change. I want to know, what is my position now?

MCEVERS: I mean, we're talking about this onslaught of allegations, and I guess I wanted to ask, you know, has it ever happened to you two?

GRIFFITH: Go ahead.

JOHNSON: You go.

MCEVERS: This is Melanie.

GRIFFITH: No, actually. I never had that experience working. I was taught to be very strong and to value myself.

HEDREN: That's the answer right there. If you can get your little girl to be strong, get out of there, and just get out...

MCEVERS: I totally agree with you. I totally hear you. But, like, the responsibility doesn't all lie with us.

GRIFFITH: No.

JOHNSON: No, not at all.

MCEVERS: It's not like, well, if you were just stronger and if you just didn't put out that vibe.

HEDREN: No, it isn't. It isn't. But this is what we have to deal with.

MCEVERS: You can be as strong as you want to be and somebody can still do that.

HEDREN: Oh, yes, they can.

GRIFFITH: And still damage your reputation, your job, your situation, your self-esteem.

JOHNSON: It's so insane. But it's - I have not experienced sexual harassment in a way that is like, you know, worth accusing someone of. I'm sure there have been things that have been said to you and there have been things that been said to me like, you know, your ass looks great or something like that, which you could - you could consider sexual harassment. I mean, I worked recently on a big naked trilogy.

MCEVERS: "Fifty Shades Of Grey."

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: And there were a lot of men of high positions of power behind the scenes. And if I were having issues or if there was something going on and it was nothing sexual at all, but just a matter of, like, needing to be heard, my dad said, Dakota, you need to be a wolf, not a lamb. And I was like, OK, 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...

GRIFFITH: The problem...

JOHNSON: ...Then I'm essentially unmanageable.

GRIFFITH: Yeah.

JOHNSON: And I'm out of control.

HEDREN: No, you're smart (laughter).

JOHNSON: Right. But in comparison to, like, just the fact that I'm a woman...

MCEVERS: Right, so there's a danger in that, too.

JOHNSON: Yeah.

MCEVERS: Yeah. Is there anything you would change - all of you, but, Dakota, I'll start with you - about how women are treated in Hollywood? If you could change it, what would you change?

JOHNSON: Oh, man, I guess it would just be the original conversation of just men using their maleness to suppress females. I guess that would be it.

MCEVERS: For that to stop.

JOHNSON: Yeah. I think it's stopping. I think a lot of men are perhaps taking inventory of their lives and their careers.

MCEVERS: You think people are taking stock now? You think it's...

JOHNSON: Yeah, I feel - yeah, totally. 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.

MCEVERS: Right.

JOHNSON: But it is a lot of, you know, a young actress going to have meetings with producers and studio heads who are predominantly male.

MCEVERS: Still.

JOHNSON: Still.

MCEVERS: Right.

JOHNSON: That's - and that's about it.

HEDREN: Well, that's true.

MCEVERS: Like, that hasn't changed overnight with, like, the Weinstein allegations.

JOHNSON: No.

MCEVERS: Like, that hasn't just changed.

JOHNSON: No. No. And it's going to be that way. And there's going to be a male studio heads. And they're going to be great. And there are honorable men. And...

HEDREN: Let's hope for the day where you can - a woman will come out of a business meeting and say, you know what? He didn't make a pass at me.

JOHNSON: Well, I think that happens more and more.

HEDREN: What an amazing thing to think...

JOHNSON: That day has definitely come. I mean, that's not...

HEDREN: Yeah, wouldn't that be nice if it was the norm and...

JOHNSON: And I think it is kind of...

GRIFFITH: It is the norm.

JOHNSON: It is the norm.

HEDREN: I hope so.

GRIFFITH: Yeah. You know, the other thing is, like, I feel for women who...

MCEVERS: This is Melanie.

GRIFFITH: ...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 OK to follow your dreams, and make it not OK for people to crush them.

MCEVERS: That was the actor Melanie Griffith, her daughter, actor Dakota Johnson, and her mother, actor Tippi Hedren. Tippi Hedren's memoir is called "Tippi."

(SOUNDBITE OF MONO:MASSIVE'S "ATTILA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.