Here was the piece of luck. "The Birds" was just being introduced, my favorite scary movie I can actually view. Another movie, an old Vincent Price movie that no one seemed to remember but me, recently showed on TCM. I practically spilled my popcorn jumping up and down on the sofa because it wasn't a figment of my imagination. True to Price genre, it was a horribly scary movie that I don't ever have to watch, ever again, "The Last Man on Earth." Obviously, not my favorite genre, real life can be scary enough. Some movies have left me scarred for life - we can't even mention those.
"The Birds" was a big deal in my young life. And whenever I think of "The Birds" I think of Olive Cheese Balls. They were firsts together. (Note: Post to follow with the recipe for Olive Cheese Balls!)
Long before reel-to-reel and VCR, a popular theater movie could take years to hit the home screen. I remember watching Dialing for Dollars in the morning and again in the afternoon. These were older, mostly B list movies.
Two movies I remember hearing a lot about on the "playground" were "The Graduate" (1967 ) and "The Birds" (1963). This was so far back in the ages, I can remember the name of my classmate who was the first student in our school whose parents divorced. We were in the third grade. But her main claim to fame was her boasting that her mother had taken her to see "The Graduate." Whether or not it really happened, it did get her plenty of attention. I remember my mother was shocked when I told her. In all of our worldly third grade knowledge, we didn't know anything about the movie except for parents talking when they thought we weren't listening.
I was fairly happy living in a movie land with Julie Andrews and Swiss Family Robinson and Dialing for Dollars, until "The Birds" hit the black and white screen. We had a black and white television on a cart but it could also be picked up and carried to another room and placed wherever one desired.
My parents had turned down my requests to watch "The Birds" on television. I have never been the Queen of Bravery. Supposedly, occasionally, I had to wake Sister (the younger) up in the middle of the night to "walk down the hall" with me. We didn't have nightlights and she has never been afraid of anything, in the daylight or the dark. Family folklore suggest that on one occasion, I couldn't wake her up so I stood frozen in the doorway, looking down the hall until it was too late. I was very little so that memory is rather vague.
The parental okay to watch "The Birds" finally came when I was nine or ten. My parents were having a dinner party. Sister must have been at a friend's house because she never would have willingly sat in another room while I watched a movie in our bedroom. The t.v. on wheels was rolled into my room and plugged into the wall outlet. My mother brought me a plate of appetizers, including olive cheese balls. Love at first bite.
Everybody knows about "The Birds" and Alfred Hitchcock. This was Tippi Hedren's first movie role and every thing about her character of Melanie was meticulously groomed by the famous director. No one but a grown man would think of putting a woman in a little skiff and sending it across a small bay, with a birdcage at her high-heeled feet, as her perfect coif is held in place by a silk scarf. Upon arriving, she must climb up a small ladder while holding the cage in one of her beautifully gloved hands while lifting herself up the ladder with the other hand and all the while (in my version) an invisible third hand is clutching her lush, full length mink coat to protect her from the elements, preserving her classic, expensive two piece suit. Poise in action. My kind of girl.
The invisible third hand is as spooky as her boldly walking into a home of people she did not know and leaving a birdcage with two love birds. Talk about stalking. The terror of "The Birds" was not just the visual effects of sparrows, crows, and seagulls, all of which were real and mechanical. But also their absence, what we cannot see lurking around the corner. And like the school scene, first one, then four, then five, a glance away to light a cigarette and then the look up to see every single line, from an electrical wire to the bars of the playground equipment totally covered in big, black birds.
Upon my newest watching, I think the birds weren't just miffed about the caged lovebirds, but also by the fur and the cigarette smoking. The birds did not suffer fools patiently. After numerous viewings, this time I also picked up on a conversation between Mitch and his clingy, frightened mother. While living in another southern state, a little further south, it was not unusual to hear a different pronunciation when speaking of young women. I had a Sunday School teacher call us to order, more than once, "Gulls, gulls, gulls. Do sit down." And then in the movie, Mother says to Mitch, "A gull like that." There was not an R in that word anywhere. Well, we all know about a "gull like that." Hmmph. A rich, sophisticated young woman, working for a newspaper which her Daddy owns and plenty of time to run after whatever she likes. I just wondered if Mr. Hitchcock knew about such a "gull." I think that pretty "gull" may have been the reason behind all the flapping of wings and pecking out of eyes.
One of the last scenes of this movie involves a desperate Hedren in an attic, battling a seemingly never-ending onslaught by hundreds of birds, with all the protection of a large flashlight. The acclaimed director failed to tell her that only real birds would be used. "There were boxes of ravens, gulls and pigeons that bird trainers wearing gauntlets up to their shoulders hurled at me, one after the other, for a week," the actress recalled in an interview last year.* A physician closed down production after five days due to Miss Hedren's distraught condition.
What was unknown at the time, was the relationship between Hedren and Hitchcock. In an interview on Huff Post Live (12-7-12) Hedren was candid in her remarks about the famous director. She said she was able to separate the artist from the "dark side" of the man but he was "evil" and "obsessed" and "ruined her career" holding her in a seven year contract when she refused his advances. Because of the contract, Hedren made one more movie ("Marnie") with the director but had to wait out the rest of the time. She is now vocal about her relationship in the hopes it will help other young women.
I thought of other young women, just starting out, seeking to please and do a good job because that is the way they have been raised. "The Birds" is just a scary movie that is purely fiction. But there are real halls too dark to walk down and corners we can't see around. And sometimes, there are menacing figures who are attracted to the sincerity and the hopefulness of young women. These buzzards of prey are physically, mentally and emotionally ugly. They hover, lurking and leering, until they see the right moment to swoop down. A young, innocent person doesn't always recognize those who are evil and obsessed.
This predator can make your life miserable, especially once you have strongly refused and rejected their plan. I am not alone in wishing that sexual harassment laws had been in place at the time of my "hell on earth." Being a "nice" person and worried about a reference, I turned in my notice. But I was smart enough to finally just walk out, the day that new revelations hit the surface and "guns" were being discussed. I was true to myself but it was a damaging episode I would have preferred not to experience. No employer has the right to direct your life through sexual innuendo or blackmail, whether he is an acclaimed artist or just a local pigeon with an alphabet on his shingle.
a writer who is always amazed when a story takes over, into another direction