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Tippi Hedren on Working With Alfred Hitchcock, Rescuing Big Cats, and filming the 'Most Dangerous Movie Ever Made'

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 (William Morrow)

After decades of haunting rumors, one of Hollywood’s famous leading ladies is finally setting the record straight in a shocking new memoir.

Tippi Hedren, the luminous blonde beauty who made her grand debut in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 Technicolor thriller "The Birds," is retelling her life story in a new book, and she's coming forward to reveal the real-life horrors of working with the maestro of suspense. But while Hedren, 86, could have easily lived a life of obscurity after enduring a complicated relationship with the iconic director, she instead chose to move on and thrive as a celebrated actress — not to mention the beloved matriarch of a Hollywood dynasty.

Hedren, the mother of actress Melanie Griffith and grandmother of Dakota Johnson, has appeared in over 45 films, more than 35 TV projects, and is even the founder of wild animal sanctuary Shambala Preserve, where she continues to help rescue exotic felines from mistreatment. These days, she's still happily pursuing those passions, all while advocating for the successes of the two women with whom she shares close-knit relationships behind the cameras.

FOX News Magazine spoke exclusively with Hedren about her biography, her feelings on Hitchcock, and what it was like starring in "the most dangerous movie ever made":

FNM: What inspired you to share your life story?

TH: Well, I guess I’ve had an incredible life, and so many people have been interested in it. So why not?

FNM: As the world knows by now, you and Alfred Hitchcock had a complicated relationship. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

TH: There’s really nothing more to talk about. It was … it was a sad situation. It was a wonderful, wonderful time. I’d never done a film before and I was — I guess he saw a commercial that I did — and … he found out who I was, where I was. He then quickly put me under contract. And then to discover that I was going to be in a major motion picture was incredible. He and his wife Alma were my drama coaches. It was absolutely fabulous. And then he pulls that … that card. I wasn’t a young woman who fell off the vegetable truck. I was saddened that he did this, you know, that he decided to pull that card. I said, "I’m not interested in this. I’m not going to fall for this."

He kept pursuing it and then I said, "I want to get out of the contract." He said, "Well, you can’t. You have your daughter to take care of, your parents are getting older." And I said, "You know, they would not want me to be doing something I am not interested in. I want to get out of the contract." He said, "I’ll ruin your career." And he did. He kept me under contract and wouldn’t let me work. It was just want of those Hollywood nightmares … It was just so unnecessary. That’s what was so awful about this. It was just … just a sad situation. Just sad. But anyway — life goes on!

FNM: How do you feel about Alfred today?

TH: Well, how do you think I feel?! (Laughs). You know, this has been happening since man and woman were put on this earth, and it’s just sad that those situations have to happen. But I walked away with my head up high.

FNM: Do actresses get more respect in Hollywood today?

TH: I think there’s more of a hope for actresses. I think more of them are saying, "This is my life, this is how I want to live. You will either take me on my conditions or I’m not going to play the game." It’s become more of a business, and not just this incredible aura of, "Oh, she’s a movie star!" It’s a business.

FNM: So it’s safe to say you feel women in Hollywood today are treated more like businesswomen, as opposed to just being glamorous beauties?

TH: Oh I think so. Absolutely.

FNM: What is it about "The Birds" that continues to have such a lasting impact among viewers, even to this day?

TH: Well, I think it’s such an unusual story. This actually happened to a family in England and [English author] Daphne du Maurier wrote a story about it. It’s just such a frightening, frightening thought. You know, to think something that we see every day, that we take for granted, admire, and think it’s so beautiful can all of a sudden attack us — that’s a pretty frightful thought, I think.

FNM: I read you were actually attacked by real birds during one of the scenes.

TH: Oh yeah — and that was a scene we did over and over again. But the bird trainer, Ray Berwick, was wonderful and he was so gentle with the birds.

FNM: Speaking of animals, you also worked with big cats in the 1981 film "Roar." What prompted you to keep working with big cats after making the movie?

TH: We acquired all of these animals to do the movie. The Hollywood trainers who had big cats wouldn’t let their cat work with another cat because of the possibility that they could fight and hurt each other, or even kill each other. When we wanted to use Hollywood acting animals to do the movie, [the trainers] would say, "I’m not going to let my big cat work with another cat. Get your own animals to do the film!" So that’s how that happened. And we found there were so many lions and tigers being bred to be sold as pets — which is an unconscionable act, these are apex predators. For anyone to sell a baby lion or tiger to some family to become its pet is … it’s one of the most dangerous things that could ever have happened. Everything just grew from that.

We were accepting these animals to do the movie, and in doing so, I became very much involved with the issue of these animals being sold as pets. I thought, "Why doesn’t our country have laws against it?" It’s a huge business, similar to the selling of illegal drugs. Isn’t that amazing? I put a bill together and took it to my congressman. He said, "Tippi, this isn’t going to work. It’s too big of a business." I said, "Well, it has to. Somebody has to do something about this." He finally said, "OK, we can try, but this isn’t going to fly."" I went out full-blast and made a lot of noise about this issue. I went to Washington with the bill and talked to various congressmen and senators. So many of them said, "It’s not going to work because it’s a huge business." I kept after it, testified many times at different committee meetings, and it passed. The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate! The bill was put into place in 2003, I believe. It’s titled Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act. It took a long time before we started seeing results of the bill, but it’s still working. I’m thrilled about it because these animals are not pets.

FNM: I can’t imagine anyone who would consider taking in a lion or a tiger as a pet.

TH: You’d be surprised. So many people do, especially as soon as they see that adorable, darling little cub. And there’s hardly anything cuter.

FNM: What’s your relationship like with big cats today?

TH: I still live on the [Shambala] Preserve. We just accepted two new tigers that came from North Dakota. The problem still exists, but it’s nothing like it was. Nothing. And I’m thrilled about it.

FNM: Some describe "Roar" as the most dangerous film ever made.

TH: Oh absolutely. I believe it was.

FNM: Its also been said 70 people were injured in the film.

TH: Oh, I don’t know where they get that number. I think it’s crazy to say a thing like that. It’s such a stretch of somebody’s imagination. It wasn’t that bad.

FNM: It wasn’t that bad, you said?

TH: I mean, it was bad, but it wasn’t that bad.  It wasn’t anywhere near that number. No.

FNM: People were also shocked when they initially saw those photos of your family living with a 400 pound lion named Neil.

TH: Yeah, but we didn’t live with him! That was the press. Excuse me, I love you people, but boy can you sure put on an act! No, we never, ever lived with a big cat. Never. Those were publicity pictures and the press just ran with it. We never had Neil living in the house. I hope you print that. Neil was a professional actor! (Laughs). Neil was a lion, a really wonderful animal. He would come over, with his trainer of course, and we just get to know what he was like. He would be there for a couple of hours and then leave. But he did not live with us. The little cubs did. We had cubs living with us, but not a full grown lion. Those were publicity pictures.

FNM: How has your relationship like with Melanie, a successful actress in her own right, changed over the years?

TH: How has it changed? We’re mother and daughter! We love each other; we care a great deal about each other. It’s a wonderful relationship. I mean, of course it changes. Any relationship changes. But we have a very strong relationship and we love being together. If we were closer, we would see each other more. But I live on the Preserve where we have about 30 big cats now. This is my life. But we’re really a little over an hour away from each other. It’s a wonderful relationship. And I love her children dearly!

FNM: Have you seen [granddaughter] Dakota Johnson’s performance in "Fifty Shades of Grey"?

TH: Oh, I haven’t.

FNM: Do you have any plans to see it?

TH: I think I will at some point. I think so. She’s an amazing woman. I love her so much.

FNM: Have you given her any tips on making her mark in Hollywood?

TH: Not at all. I never have done that with Melanie or Dakota. I prefer to watch them and see their careers grow instead. Dakota is an incredibly wonderful woman and I adore her. We always have a wonderful time together. But as far as giving any tips or sitting them down and becoming the teacher — I don’t do that.

FNM: What do you hope longtime fans and curious readers will get from your memoir?

TH: I think I’ve had an incredible life. I look back at my life and think how fortunate I am to have had the opportunities that have been presented to me. My parents were really wonderful with my sister and I, and they taught us so much about life and how to hold our heads up high. If there is something that happens and we don’t like it, there’s a reason for that. You can tell if a situation isn’t good. So get out of it! I think what I was really trying to get across is, if a door opens to you and you like what you see on the other side, walk through it. If you don’t like what you see on the other side of that door, slam it shut! I’ve walked through many of those doors and slammed a lot of them shut.

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