Tippi Hedren

Tippi Hedren
Director, The Shambala Preserve

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Sunday, March 6, 2005
(Television interview conducted March 1, 2005)

Tippi Hedren     "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmaker is Tippi Hedren, president of The Roar Foundation and the American Sanctuary Association, and director of The Shambala Preserve in Acton. The interview was conducted March 1. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: What's your favorite Alfred Hitchcock film that you starred in — "The Birds" or "Marnie"?

Hedren: I think "Marnie." They were both so different that it's kind of hard to figure out which, but "The Birds" was sort of a chase. All of the Hitchcock films have a mystery to them and that sort of thing, but the personality of Marnie was so intriguing. She was really — poor Marnie.

Signal: What was most memorable about working with Hitchcock?

Hedren: Oh, I think, what he gave me in the field of acting. "The Birds" was my first film, so he was not only my director; he was my drama coach. Which was absolutely fabulous.

Signal: He discovered you when you were a model in New York?

Hedren: Yes! I'd been doing lots of television commercials and that sort of thing, which gives you a technical education. But as far as the acting, it's an entirely different thing (from) holding up a product and saying, "Drink this," or something of that (nature). Becoming a character is very involved.

Signal: "The Birds" was 1963; now everything would be done with computer graphics.

Hedren: Absolutely it would.

Signal: How much trick photography was involved in making "The Birds"?

Hedren: Actually, quite a lot. Special effects were in full gear. We worked with everything from mechanical birds to little sculpted birds to — Disney took one segment.
    Do you remember in the film when the birds come out of the fireplace and they whirl around and do all of that? Well, the bird trainer, Ray Berwick — who I absolutely adore for so many reasons, because he loved the birds so much — he was so kind to them. Always was worried about them. They didn't worry about me; they worried about the birds.
    They tipped little boxes of strawberry finches and that sort of thing down the fireplace, and we thought that the birds would fly around and do all that. Well, they didn't. They sat on the hearth; a couple of them jumped up on the coffee table, and they sat on the arms of the chairs, and they thought, what are we going to do? Everybody was trying to come up with answers. And Hitch thought, "the fan." But then, all of our hair would flow around.
    So what they did was, we fought birds that weren't there for the entire scene. And then, once it was edited, assembled, they sent it over to Disney and they drew in all the birds.

Signal: You've been quoted as saying the scene in the bedroom was the hardest week of your life.

Hedren: It was a nightmare.

Signal: Why?

Hedren: Well, actually, I think Hitch did a very, very kind thing for me. He told me that they were going to use mechanical birds for that scene. Because it was obvious — I thought, how are they going to do this? And, no problem, mechanical birds. I thought, piece of cake.
    I got on the set on the Monday morning that we were starting that particular scene, and the assistant director, Jim Brown, came into my dressing room on the set, and he couldn't look at me. He looked at the floor. He looked at the ceiling. He looked at the walls. I go, "What's the matter with you?" And he said, "The mechanical birds don't work. We have to use real ones." And out the door he went.
    Well, I just blanched white. Because by this time, we'd been shooting for several months, and I had seen the bird trainers with their thick leather gauntlets up to their elbows, and all of us had been scratched, and I thought, oh, good grief, and I went out to the set.
    They never intended on using mechanical birds. There was a cage around the door that I come in; there were three huge cartons of ravens and seagulls and a few pigeons thrown in, and the handlers had their leather gauntlets up, and they started hurling birds at me.

Signal: Fun.

Hedren: No, it wasn't.

Signal: How did they keep the birds from flying away in the outdoor scenes?

Hedren: Because of the trainer, Ray Berwick. Oh, I have to tell you a great story about that. In the party scene with the children, you could see the seagulls dive-bombing the kids. Ray had trained three seagulls to take off from his arm, to circle, dive-bomb the kids, and come back to his arm.
    The first one took off and circled, dive-bombed the kids, and came back. Second one, same thing. The third one took off.
    Now, there wouldn't be anything wrong with that, except in order to protect the children, Ray had very loosely wired the beak of the birds so that they couldn't hurt the children. Because the seagulls are really not very nice. And the bird took off, and Ray went to Hitch and said, "We have to stop filming for the rest of the afternoon because I have to find that bird." Because it would die a very painful death.
    He took off in a rowboat and found the bird, undid the wire on the beak, and that little bird didn't have to work another day. I'll never forget that.

Signal: Do you scare easy?

Hedren: Are you kidding? I live with lions and tigers. Do you think I scare easy? I scare a lot easier than I used to.

Signal: How do you go from birds to lions and tigers? Was there a revenge thing going on, getting back at the birds with the big cats?

Hedren: After I did "The Birds" and "Marnie" (1964), I did two films in Africa. This was 1969, 1970, these two films. One was with the late George Montgomery. It was called either Satan's Harvest (or) Devil's Harvest. Memorable film. But the reason I really wanted to do it, because I wanted to go that continent. Also, there were animals in the movie, which thrilled me, being an animal lover from birth. Call it a birth affect.
Tippi Hedren     While we were there, we'd go to the different game preserves and watch the animals, and it was so beautiful to see it.
    During that time, environmentalists were saying that if we don't do something right now to save the animals in the wild, by the year 2000 they will be gone. Now, this was in 1969 and '70.
    The next film I did was "Mr. Kingstreet's War" (1973) with the late Rossano Brazzi and John Saxon, and it also dealt with animals. And on the Gorongosa (Mozambique) game preserve, we saw a house that had been abandoned by a game warden because it flooded during the rainy seasons. So he moved out and a pride of lion moved in. And it grew to be the largest pride in all of Africa.
    Also during this time with the environmentalists, a lot of awareness was going out about the animals in the wild. We learned about the panda and the whale and the tiger and all of these different animals who we were really losing, just due to poaching and hunting and encroachment of civilization.
    So — my then-husband was a producer; he was the producer of "The Exorcist" — a memorable film.

Signal: That one actually is a memorable film. And a scary one.

Hedren: Uh-huh. Very.
    So, we decided to do a movie about the animals in the wild, and after seeing that house in the Gorongosa game preserve with the lions living in it — it was a lot of them, too. Close to 30 lions of all sizes, from big-mane lions down to the little cubs.
    (We) got back to the coast here in California, the script was written, and we started interviewing lions to do the movie. Hollywood acting animals. Have a nine-month shoot, over and out.
    However, it didn't work that way. Because as soon as the trainers read the script and learned that we would need maybe 10 (or) 15 cats working together, they just laughed at us, said it can't be done because of instinctual dictates to fight.
    They suggested that we acquire our own animals to do it. The first one was a rescue. From then on down.

Signal: You're talking about using Shambala for the movie, "Roar"?

Hedren: We did "Roar" at the place we are (now). Once the film was finished and we sold it — it took us five years to finish the film because of all the accidents and the flood that came through. It's an amazing story.

Signal: How is it that you picked Acton for a film about these wild animals?

Hedren: Well, because when we first started out, the first little lion that we acquired was from a doctor who lived in Mandeville Canyon, and he had purchased this little 8-week-old lion. You could hold him in your hand, cuddle him, feed him (by) bottle, take a long nap with him — cute pet.
    However, by the time he was seven months old, he had destroyed the good doctor's house and was taking a pretty good chunk out of the doctor. The doctor was saying, "Please, somebody take this animal of my hands."
    So, Melanie (Griffith) and I went to pick him up, and he had put the little lion in a guest house from which he had removed all of the furniture (and) all of the draperies, and the little lion was sitting in the middle of the room with nothing to do so we took him to our house, where he lived as an illegal lion until one of the neighbors found out and Animal Control was at the door.
    So we took the little lion out to one of the trainers who lived on Soledad Canyon outside of Acton. But as you know, these animals are not legal in California. Pretty soon, we acquired more big cats, and then we bought the property and turned it into — we planted 800 trees and made it look like a little bit of Africa.

Signal: During the making of "Roar" (released 1981), weren't your then-husband, Noel Marshall, and your daughter, Melanie Griffith, mauled?

Hedren: Well I think "mauling" is a — to me, "mauling" means that you almost die. I guess it's your interpretation of the word, "mauling."
    Noel was very seriously bitten in his leg, seriously bitten in his arm, along with numerous scratches. My beautiful daughter Melanie was scratched across her face by a lion who was playing. A lioness.
    I was bitten in the back of the head by a lioness who was not playing. I also got in the way of a leopard who was looking in a window at the movie set. There was a surge protector that was hot, and I reached for the surge protector because — if she had gotten it, it would have been the end of her. And she grabbed for it (at) the same time I did and got me in the arm.
    You know, a lot of things can be accidents, but they can be very, very deadly. These are not pets. We are not dealing with a pet, here.

Signal: What did you learn from that?

Hedren: A lot. Actually, a lot. I have become very, very much involved with laws to try to stop the illegal breeding and irresponsible selling of these animals as pets, on a federal level.
    Because California laws are stringent. Lately you'd think that they weren't stringent because of the case of John Weinhart out in Colton, Calif., with the 90 big cats he was starving and the 58 little tiger cubs in the freezer and the 13 carcasses.
    The laws can be stringent, but unless they're upheld and we have the people who will see to it that they are upheld —

Signal: How do you become Shambala? Are there licenses?

Hedren: We are licensed up one side and down the other with all of the different organizations. You have to have the Fish and Game, the Department of Agriculture, the Animal Control, the county licenses, everything. You have to have all of those things.

Signal: What is it legal to have and not to have in California?

Hedren: In order to have any big cat, you have to have permits and licenses, and it's not that easy to get them.
    You have to prove that you are capable of taking care of these animals; that you have had an education in taking care of them. You have to have the facility for them outside of the city limits. The requirements are really (quite) some standard, I think.
    We at Shambala go way far the other way in giving these animals a good home, where we literally work for them. We try to give them the best kind of life that they can have. Depending on what are the needs of the breed, of the species, that we're dealing with — what are their requirements? What makes them happy?
    I mean, many of them have been in horrible situations, and what we try to do with them is give them a good home for the rest of their lives. We move them around from one area to the next so they don't get bored. They're not in jail.

Signal: Who is the "we"? What kinds of people do you have on staff?

Hedren: I am director of the Shambala Preserve, and I donated the property to The Roar Foundation so that the animals will always be safe. I have people who take care of the animals; people who take care of the grounds; and volunteers who help with the office work — they help with fundraisers that we do; they can't take care of the animals because it's much too dangerous. You really need to have people who are with them all the time, who have had the opportunity to get to know what these animals are like, what they need.
Tippi Hedren     They have to know all the basic characteristics of each species, and then they have to know the different personality traits of each animal. And that's where it gets good. That's where it becomes very intriguing. You have to be able to second-guess these animals, and that's not easy to do.

Signal: Is there scientific research that has grown out of what you do at Shambala?

Hedren: I think we've done some of the best scientific research that can be done. I've written one book; it's out of print and I'm trying to raise the money to have another printing done. It's called "The Cats of Shambala." I think you could get it on the Internet, at times.
    It's an incredible story. It's an awesome story. I've heard that a number of study groups use my book as a reference book.

Signal: Let's talk about the incident a week ago with the tiger that got loose in Simi Valley. Did they have to shoot and kill it?

Hedren: No, they didn't. And they shouldn't have. I think it's the responsibility of our various departments who are supposedly the managers of this sort of thing, to look into a situation like this.
    This isn't the first time this has happened. The fact that they would just automatically assume that they're going to kill that animal — because over and over, look. The animal was out for, what? Seven or eight days. They had an opportunity. Many, many professional people called and said, can we help? — animal trainers who work with these animals all the time.
    Where were the veterinarians from Fish and Game? Where were they? They should be up on the latest tranquilizers. If the animal is tranquilized, at worst it might run maybe 100 feet, and by that time it will fall over and go to sleep.
    This is the M.O. of the animal once it's tranquilized: It will go away from whoever took that shot. They go away from it. They're stymied. They're confused. If, on the off-chance, that animal had charged all of these very big hunters, then's the time to take precautions and maybe have to kill it.
    But that wasn't necessary. It honest-to-goodness was not necessary. They had all that time to prepare for it. They had all of that time to look into the professionals who could handle this sort of thing, and they didn't do it. I mean, there were police standing around; the animal is panicked.

Signal: Isn't there some newer, faster-acting tranquilizer?

Hedren: Yes, and I am not up on what exactly that is. There is a veterinarian ... who invented the Telinject system, which — you can have an animal tranquilized either with a blow dart, or — it depends on the distance that the animal is — there's a pistol, and there's also a long-range rifle that can be used to administer the tranquilization.
    So, there wasn't a reason.

Signal: Where did this tiger come from?

Hedren: I don't know that they had made a statement as to where it has come from. There are a number of privately owned animals. There are a lot more than people are aware of out there. But apparently it was someone who had recently moved into the area and didn't have the compounds completed.
    From what I understand, that's where it came from, but until they make any kind of public knowledge of that, I don't want to be free to say.

Signal: How would somebody get a big cat into the country?

Hedren: You don't get them into the country. They are born right here in the United States.
    It isn't legal to breed them to be sold in California. This is part of the California laws, which I am very grateful for. Because what we don't need are more lions and tigers. We have a plethora of them in the United States. When they are confiscated by, say, the state's Fish and Game, by the Department of Agriculture, by the humane societies, the SPCAs, whatever — there really aren't enough sanctuaries.
    There's tons of pseudo-sanctuaries — the places that will call themselves a sanctuary. But they're buying, they're breeding, they're selling. There aren't enough of the sanctuary. Which means, no breeding, no buying, no selling, no trading; adequate veterinary care; outside the city limits; a habitat, not just an 8-by-10 cage; knowledge of how to take care of that animal. I mean, there's a whole lot that goes into becoming a sanctuary.

Signal: Just before the tiger shooting, you were testifying in a case in Riverside County.

Hedren: The John Weinhart case.

Signal: What did you have to contribute there?

Hedren: Well, I had been there. I had been to John Weinhart's place when he had it at his home. That was in '98 (or '99), I believe.
    I went there because we had — there are about five sanctuaries that formed an organization called the American Sanctuary Association (editor's note: Hedren is president) so that if, say, Shambala was full — and we're almost always full — that if I can't take an animal, I could call another one where I know that animal would be safe for the rest of its life.
    It's a very relieving thing to get that weight off your shoulder, because prior to that, it was like, oh, where is that animal going to go? Is it going to be safe? What's going to happen to it?
    So, it was also our job to go to see different facilities, to see if they could become a sanctuary, if they would measure up to the qualifications.

Signal: Weinhart didn't measure up?

Hedren: Not in any way, shape or form. I was not only livid by the time I left there, I was disgusted that anybody could possibly treat those animals — have such little regard for these beautiful animals.
    I walked in and it was like they had put cages in a dump. There was trash all over. There were feces and feathers and dead animals inside the compounds. There was practically no shelter for them. There were no water buckets, just the tops of trash cans, and they were all bone dry. We ran around with hoses just ... filling them up so the animals would have water for a moment or two. It was just deplorable.

Signal: How common is this?

Hedren: Supposedly in California, it shouldn't be common at all.
    Where were the investigators? I went to the Department of Agriculture and complained about it, and all that I got back was, "There aren't enough inspectors."

Signal: It has been estimated that there are 10,000 to 20,000 big cats in private ownership.

Hedren: And the estimate is such a varied number because there's no real way that they can tell. The laws — there are only about 17 or 20 states that have laws at all.

Signal: Do you advocate taking away all people's wild animals?

Hedren: If that happened, it would be all of our worst nightmare, because where would they go?
    What needs to happen is (for) the animals who are being mistreated to be confiscated. But I'm not saying that everybody out there is treating their animals badly. That isn't true. There are a number of people who have an organization and they really take care of their animals — but they are for the breeding, and we're trying to put a moratorium on that.
    Just for the next five years, don't breed. Because there aren't enough facilities like the Shambala Preserve. We have about 38 members of the American Sanctuary Association — and they're not all just for big cats; they're for bears, for primates, for reptiles, for birds, all different types of sanctuaries. It's not just a big-cat situation. These animals — so many of them need a home. So many of them need help. But what we don't need is more of them.

Signal: You worked with U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, to stop interstate trade —

Hedren: Yes, my very own congressman. I went to him a number of years ago, to help me with the Shambala Wild Animal Protection Act, and that bill was thrown out by a congressman in Texas, Larry Combest.
    My bill, which was very stringent — it was very similar to the California laws, which are very stringent, as long as they're upheld — that law has been shelved. But I went to Buck and I said, "Would you help us with the Captive Wildlife Safety Act?"
    This bill simply stops the movement of these animals across state lines, which will stop a little bit of the breeding, because they won't be able ship the animals outside of their state. It will stop the sales at auctions, and hopefully it will stop the movement of these animals across state lines to be used in the canned hunts, which is another situation.
    Buck not only got behind me on this bill; he introduced it and he followed through.

Signal: What kind of legislation do you need right now?

Hedren: Right now, we need to go back to the Shambala Wild Animal Protection Act and get some really strict laws going. There is another bill that's in front of the (U.S.) Senate right now to stop the canned hunts.

Signal: A canned hunt is where you go to an enclosed place and do target practice on an animal?

Hedren: For anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000 (or) $30,000, you can blow that animal away with the weapon of your choice. It's an unconscionable act.

Signal: What about the recent tiger hunt in Moorpark? Is there anything you want to see change at the state level?

Hedren: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. What I think that has to happen is, there has to be a change of policy at all the government heads for wildlife. I have offered to give seminars at Shambala to these departments, to introduce them to the cats. I mean, I had one of them ask me, "At what age do the tigers get their stripes?" I held my breath and I said, "They're born with them." And, "Oh."
    I have been offering for years to give a seminar, and in with that seminar and teaching them just a little bit about the characteristics of the species that we have at Shambala, we could bring in veterinarians; we could bring in trainers who can handle these animals. It could be a very, very significant and important education for them.

Signal: So the offer's open.

Hedren: The offer's open.

Signal: You've got a fund-raiser coming up on Sunday, March 13?

Hedren: Oh good, thank you. It's out in Palm Springs, and it's at the beautiful Spencers (at the Mountain) restaurant. It's just going to be a wonderful, wonderful event. This is the ... fifth one, and it's really fun.
    Look it up on the Web site, shambala.org, and you can find out about our membership program (and) the "Adopt a Wild One" program, where you can adopt one of the animals — you leave it with us, but you can come out and visit it the first Saturday of every month.
    We have a wonderful program with the unified school district, and your child or your grandchild — the whole class can come out to be educated about the animals.
    We always teach that no wild animal is a pet. If it's the squirrel in your back yard or a Siberian tiger, they're not pets.
    You can also find out about who to write to at our Fish and Game, and all of that — we've got it all up there. (They've got to) change their policies. There's got to be a little compassion.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.