With The Birds, Tippi Hedren became the latest in a long line of ‘cool,’ beautiful, blonde actresses to achieve or cement stardom as a result of starring in an Alfred Hitchcock film. Unlike most of the others, however, who were already huge stars or at least had significant roles under their belt by the time Hitchcock came calling, Hedren was thoroughly inexperienced. This lack of experience was viewed by the director only in terms of presenting him with an opportunity to completely mold a new star out of unformed clay. Her performance was well-acclaimed (she won two 'best newcomer’ or ‘new star’ awards) and seen as a directorial success. However, it would later turn out that Hitchcock was verbally abusive of her, possessive, and sexually assaulted her. She was unhappy working with him, but felt she was unable to break her contract with him or press the issue with the studio because of her status as a vulnerable newcomer to the industry.
Australian actor Rod Taylor was three years past the biggest role of his career in The Time Machine when Hitchcock cast him as the male lead in The Birds. Although he had significantly more experience than Hedren, the two actors would prove to one of the least interesting couples in the entire Hitchcock filmography. Though Hedren capably fulfilled her role, Taylor’s performance was considered flat, and a weak follow up to the glamorous male leads of prior Hitchcock films, which included Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Laurence Olivier. Over time, however, some critics have noted Mitch as one of the few Hitchcock male protagonists who actually seems like a real person rather than a movie star playing a real person.
Jessica Tandy started her career as a stage actress in London at 18, earning starring roles and critical acclaim from a young age. She had a short career in British films before moving to the United States in 1940. In the 1940s and 50s she earned many leading stage roles, and acted on a few radio programs and TV shows. She won a Tony for her role as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948. She debuted in film in 1944, and first worked with Hitchcock when she acted in an episode of his TV series, “Alfred Hitchcock presents…” in 1957. Hitchcock then cast her in The Birds in 1963. She had an incredibly long career, continuing to work both on the stage and on the screen well into her 80s, earning an Oscar at age 81 for her role in Driving Miss Daisy.
If there is a cool blonde in a Hitchcock movie—and there almost always is—chances are there will be a major supporting actress with dark hair. In The Birds, that role falls to Suzanne Pleshette. Pleshette seems to have never been out of work between her TV debut in 1957 and being cast as the spurned schoolteacher, content with loving Mitch from afar, in 1963. She went on to act in many films and TV shows over the next 40 years, before retiring in 2004.
Veronica Cartwright plays Mitch’s younger sister, Cathy. Cartwright’s first film performance was in a minor role in In Love and War, and she went on to act in several successful television shows, including Leave it to Beaver, One Step Beyond, The Twilight Zone, and The Eleventh Hour. She appeared in the film The Children’s Hour in 1961, before earning her role in The Birds. She went on to enjoy a long acting career as an adult, starring in film and TV throughout the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and early 2000s.
The Birds Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Birds is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.