News Column

50 years later, 'The Birds' still a big draw for Bodega

September 2, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 02--It gave the Bodega Bay area celluloid immortality and lent a sinister, terrifying aspect to the usually mundane sight of seagulls and ravens.

Fifty years after it was released, Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" still draws flocks of visitors to the coast and the town of Bodega a few miles inland, where a historic school building and church played prominent roles in the movie.

But instead of the cinematic depiction of screaming schoolchildren running from attacking birds, the streets of Bodega on Tuesday will host a parade with nothing more unsettling than lookalikes of Hitchcock and actress Tippi Hedren leading the procession.

The Birds festival, which runs on Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., wraps up a weekend of events commemorating the half-century anniversary of the movie.

"What has really been fun for me is that people have been so interested in that film," Hedren, the leading lady, said Friday. "It has a life of its own. It really does."

Hedren spoke by phone as she was being driven from the Sacramento airport to Bodega Bay.

"As time goes on, it gathers a new generation of people," she said of the movie. "They love coming to Bodega Bay to see where the film was filmed and to meet the girl who was in it."

Her appearance at The Tides Wharf location that figured prominently in the thriller movie has become something of an annual ritual for Hedren, who was a stunning model appearing in commercials when she was plucked by Hitchcock for the starring role.

Hedren will meet fans and sign autographs at the entrance to the Tides Wharf restaurant from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

The Tides has had more than one makeover since it was shown in the 1963 movie as a well-known fishermen's hangout on the water.

But Hedren, 83, said she still has people who were extras -- children at the time in the movie -- introduce themselves to her. "They come up and say 'hi,' " she said.

Bodega Bay was not the first foray for Hitchcock into Sonoma County.

The master of suspense also filmed "Shadow of a Doubt" in Santa Rosa in 1942, capturing scenes of a vanished era and a much smaller town, with locals also appearing as extras.

Two decades later, Hedren and "The Birds" cast would also go to Santa Rosa, but at the end of the day. They stayed at El Rancho Tropicana, which ended up being demolished in the 1990s to make way for the Santa Rosa Marketplace.

Hedren said she was a completely novice actress, but the cast of Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette and the "elegant" Jessica Tandy took her under their wing "and made the whole thing so easy for me. It was wonderful."

Hedren's relationship with her mentor Hitchcock was complex. First, he was her drama coach.

"What a great bit of luck that was. I learned so many tools from him," she said.

But things were darkened by his lust for her, which she said began on the filming of "The Birds" and escalated with "Marnie," her next movie with him.

"It was an obsession. A serious, horrible thing," she said Friday.

She repeated what has been detailed in an HBO special and in the book "The Dark Side of Genius," by Donald Spoto -- how Hitchcock's unrequited longing led him to destroy her career.

For years, he kept her locked into a contract he controlled, spurning people who offered her other movie roles, saying she was unavailable.

"He ruined my career, but he didn't ruin my life," she said.

Veronica Cartwright, who was a child actress when she appeared in "The Birds," was much younger and had more of a familial relationship with Hitchcock.

She will be at today's festival in Bodega signing autographs from 2 to 4 p.m.

"Mine was a different experience. I don't know if I reminded him of his daughter," she said in an interview last week.

"He was wonderful to me. He was great," she said of the director.

In the movie, she played the younger sister of actor Rod Taylor's character.

Cartwright had already gathered an impressive resume with appearances in the film "The Children's Hour" as well as TV's "Leave it to Beaver" and other productions. She turned 13 while "The Birds" was filming.

She took the famous director his tea every day on the set, at 4:30 in the afternoon.

"He was incredibly nice. Never intimidating. I could ask him questions," Cartwright said.

When Hitchcock found out Cartwright was born in Bristol, England, he told her his favorite wine cellar was there. "He started naming wines. At 12 (years old), I didn't have a clue what he was talking about," she said.

She said he also advised her on how to cook a steak because "he said I would be getting married and I would know how to do it."

Both Hedren and Cartwright feel fortunate to have been involved with the movie.

"It's sort of a classic. It's always enjoyable to be part of a classic," Cartwright said. "It still holds up. It's really well done. Re-digitalized, it looks great."

"Bodega Bay could have been a made-up place. But it wasn't. It was an actual town. It adds an actual ambiance forever associated with 'The Birds,' " she said.

The movie was ambiguous as to why birds started gathering and attacking humans, although the Daphne du Maurier book it was based upon had it coincide with the end of the world.

Ordinary birds transformed into objects of terror helped earn the movie an Oscar nomination for special effects. Movie reviewers said it was sometimes amusing, but also perverse and frightening.

"Think about it. All the birds in the world decide to flock together, which they would never do. But if there's some bizarre reason, it's a fairly frightening thought," Hedren said.

And then they became murderous. "You could never leave the house without being attacked and killed, and horrible things would come crashing through the windows," she said.

"When you're dealing with something so familiar to you and it gets out of control, it gets scary," Cartwright said.

On the Hollywood set where the interiors of the movie were shot, the young Cartwright was bombarded with hundreds of live finches and sparrows.

The experience was "weird, creepy," she said.

But years later, Cartwright could laugh at a "freaky" incident when a bunch of nesting crows methodically pried off the wood shingles on her roof.

"Having done the movie, it was kind of a weird flashback," she said.

Hedren lives on an animal sanctuary in Southern California where she keeps rescued lions and tigers, where ravens are attracted to the meat fed to the exotic animals.

"Ravens are meat eaters. We have huge flocks of ravens that live at the reserve," she said.

But they don't bother Hedren, who was subjected to their wrath in "The Birds."

In fact, she said she likes them around now: "They're big and shiny. Absolutely gorgeous. I just love them."

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

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(c)2013 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

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