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For the birds? No, but how about some big cats?

Posted by Paul Kandarian  October 9, 2012 12:24 PM

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Bodega Bay? The Bodega Bay? Of "The Birds" fame, a movie, believe it or not, now nearly 50 years old? There is such a place? And could we be that lost we found it accidentally?

Well, yes, and I'm so glad we did. My daughter and I were headed for Healdsburg in northern California for part of the Sonoma Wine Country weekend, when we ended up in Bodega Bay on the Pacific coast, thanks to some bad advice from my GPS. We stopped at the Sonoma Coast Visitors Center, where they gladly indulged my questions about filming of "The Birds" and then dropped this bomb on me:

"Tippi Hedren is here today," a nice lady in the office said, pointing out the window. "Right down there. At the Tides."

tippie.jpgWait, whoa...Tides? The Tides, the one featured in "The Birds," where Tippi Hedren's Melanie Daniels putters away in a boat with song birds for Rod Taylor's Mitch Brenner? The same Tides where, via Hollywood magic, the gas station blows up when the birds attack and knock a lit match from the hand of a guy pumping gas? The Tides where Tippi is attacked in a phone booth? That Tides? That Tippi Hedren?

Yup. Turns out she was there signing autographed pictures to raise money for her cause, The Roar Foundation, which she founded in 1984 to support the Shambala Preserve in Acton, Calif., home to more than 50 big cats such as lions, tigers, cougar, leopards and other creatures that would, I'm pretty sure, gobble up all those birds in one bite given half the chance. The big cats came to the preserve after being confiscated by authorities from roadside zoos and private homes.

Hedren was in "The Roar," a 1981 movie about a woman bringing her kids to the African jungle. Sadly, during filming accidents led to the death of several big cats, which prompted Hedren to action protecting the animals and lobbying against private ownership

"The practice of private ownership of these animals must be stopped, and that's why I do this," said the diminutive little actress, now 81 and as drop-dead gorgeous and elegant as ever, dressed to the nines with a - what else? - bird brooch on her lapel as she stood to talk to me.

Photo by bill dow.jpgMany states forbid private ownership, some do not and Hedren is adamant about her crusade, testifying before Congress and doing whatever it takes to not just protect the cats she loves but humans "who are killed or maimed for life," she said, when the jungle cats revert to doing what jungle cats instinctively do - attack.

She saidthe U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates big-cat licensing, too easily gives out permits to people who shouldn't have them. For more info on her cause, visit, and if you're ever up Acton way, stop in, they give "Sunset Safaris" for $100 per person, snacks and toasts to the big cats with Hedren's Roar Foundation Wine included. You can also join the foundation online and adopt some of the most beautiful beasts on Earth.

When I first greeted her, I extended my hand. She pulled back and offered me a fist bump instead. I said, "Oh, the germ thing?" and she laughed, threw her hands out and said, "But I never get sick! Ever!"

We chatted briefly about "The Birds," as on a nearby monitor played an endless loop of that scene of her going out on the small boat from The Tides, going over to Mitch Brenner's house. I asked if that house was still there.

"No, it's gone," she said, disappointment evident in her voice. "And the schoolhouse, that got sold years ago for $8,000. Wish I'd known that, I would've bought it."

I ask about Taylor, whose last film was "Inglourious Basterds" in 2009, playing Winston Churchill.

"Oh yes, we stay in touch," she said. "He's a good friend."

One thing I didn't ask, because I wasn't aware of it at the time, was about her relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, during the filming of "The Birds," the film that launched her career - and effectively stifled it. She reportedly rebuffed Hitchcock's sexual advances and he saw to it she never had the skyrocketing stardom many say she deserved. That relationship is the subject of a film, "The Girl," which debuts on HBO Oct. 20, starring Sienna Miller as Hedren.

I bid her farewell, telling her I'd kiss her hand goodbye if she weren't so germaphobic. She smiled graciously, and then continued to speak about her cause to the next folks in line. My daughter and I then walked out onto the Tides pier, where a big fat seagull sat on a pole just feet away from us, calm as could be, never ruffling a threatening feather.

Getting lost is usually for the birds, but at the expense of meeting a Hollywood legend in the place that made her famous? Not a problem.

(Tippi Hedren photo by Paul Kandarian. Big cat photo by Bill Dow)

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