Alfred Hitchcock Once Gave Melanie Griffith a Spectacularly Awful Christmas Present

Dakota Johnson said the director’s abuse of her grandmother, Tippi Hendren, even reached her daughter, Griffith.

Alfred Hitchcock Once Gave Melanie Griffith a Spectacularly Awful Christmas Present
Image:Archive Photos/Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

Vanity Fair’s new cover star is Dakota Johnson. And while the actress shared plenty of more recent Hollywood stories—spilling tea about her star-making role in those “big sex movies”—the profile also included details about one of the most infamous instances of Hollywood abuse: Alfred Hitchcock’s treatment of Johnson’s grandmother, Tippi Hedren.

Johnson is third-generation Hollywood royalty: Her mom is Hedren’s daughter, Melanie Griffith. Griffith was just a kid when her mother signed a contract with Hitchcock, but that doesn’t mean she was spared his emotional abuse. As the VF profile notes, Hitchcock once gave Griffith a spectacularly awful Christmas present: a miniature figurine of her mother lying in a coffin.

“It’s alarming and dark and really, really sad for that little girl,” Johnson told VF. “Really scary.”

Johnson also recalled screening the 2012 HBO film The Girl, which chronicles Hedren’s experiences with Hitchcock, alongside her grandmother. She said that the network didn’t adequately prepare the family for what they were about to see.

“We sat at HBO, my family, and watched that movie together,” Johnson told the magazine. “It was one of those moments where you’re just like, How could you not have warned us? We’re in a room with some execs. Maybe this warranted a little conversation beforehand? You look over and you see a woman who’s just been reminded of everything she went through, and it was heartbreaking. She was an amazing actress and he stopped her from having a career.”

Hitchcock’s abuse of Hedren, who’s now 92, is well-documented. After spotting her in a non-speaking TV commercial role, Hitchcock—who was famously infatuated with blonde actresses—had Hedren tracked down and gave the then-unknown performer the leading role in his 1963 classic The Birds, which she followed by starring in his 1964 movie Marnie.

Hitchcock was openly obsessed with and abusive towards Hedren. After promising that the famous scene in which she’s attacked by hundreds of birds would be filmed using avian animatronics, he instead had crew members pelt her with real birds over a week of filming. One nearly pecked her in the eye. After a doctor recommended that she be allowed a week off to rest, Hitchcock pushed back until the physician asked, “What are you trying to do, kill her?”

Hedren was also sexually harassed and assaulted by the director, who she says “threw himself on top of” her and attempted to kiss her. When she rebuffed him, he refused to allow her to accept the acting roles that poured in in the wake of her well-received performance in The Birds.

“What happened with my grandmother was horrific because Hitchcock was a tyrant,” Johnson told VF. “He was talented and prolific—and important in terms of art—but power can poison people.”

The Vanity Fair article comes on the heels of Sarah Polley’s essay for The Guardian in which she recounted her traumatic experiences as a child actor on the set of Terry Gilliam’s 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. In the piece, which was adapted from her memoir, Polley outlines numerous instances in which she was placed in physical danger—suffering short-term hearing loss from being close to detonating explosives, being dangled high in the air, and being forced to work during a severe illness and despite her fears about the dangerous practical effects surrounding her. Polley describes the ways in which deference to a false vision of artistic genius—usually a white man’s artistic genius—has been used to justify behaviors ranging from disregard for the well-being of his collaborators to outright abuse.

(Hedren’s time with Hitchcock wasn’t even the only occasion in which she worked on an abusive set—she’d later go on to star in Roar, a film written and directed by her then-husband Noel Marshall, which featured 150 lions and other wild animals and found 70 members of the cast and crew getting mauled or sustaining other animal-induced injuries. Melanie Griffith had to undergo plastic surgery after being attacked by an animal, and the cinematographer was scalped.)

In her essay, Polley mused about how on-set abuses like these can end up being tolerated, even by those who fall victim to them. “I think the truth is that I let Terry off the hook in part because, even as a child, I had bought into the glamour of the idea of the enfant terrible director, the out-of-control mad white male genius,” Polley wrote, “a myth that has dominated the film industry’s understanding of what brilliance must necessarily look like.” Artistic vision is great—but it’s never more important than the welfare of real-life human beings.

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