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10 Fascinating Facts About The Birds

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

There’s an old saying in Hollywood: You’re only as good as your last movie. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock unleashed Psycho, his most financially successful film and a trendsetting horror classic. Just when it seemed as though there was nothing left for him to prove, he climbed right back into the director’s chair. Hitchcock’s next picture was The Birds, a technical marvel against which all creature features—from Jaws to Cujo—are now measured.

1. IT WAS THE THIRD DAPHNE DU MAURIER STORY THAT HITCHCOCK ADAPTED.

Daphne du Maurier's work has been adapted dozens of times for film and television projects, and Alfred Hitchcock was a particular fan of the London-born author and playwright. Over the course of his career, he adapted three of du Maurier's stories, beginning with his 1939 film version of her thrilling novel Jamaica Inn. In 1940, he took Rebecca—du Maurier’s gothic masterwork which continues to sell 50,000 copies a year—and converted it into an Oscar-winning drama starring Laurence Olivier.

In 1952, du Maurier published The Apple Tree: A Short Novel and Some Stories. One of the book’s highlights is a chilling tale called “The Birds.” An environmentally-conscious fable, it’s about a population of birds who start attacking humans after a harsh winter depletes their natural food supply. Hitchcock liked the basic premise and wanted to put “The Birds” on film. However, his adaptation would not be a faithful retelling.

Once Hitchcock bought the rights to du Maurier’s avian yarn, he hired screenwriter Evan Hunter to pen a script. Hunter remembered that, during an early telephone conversation, the director told him “We’re getting rid of the du Maurier story entirely. We’re just keeping the title and the notion of birds attacking people.” The result was a screenplay Hunter described as “a screwball comedy that turns into terror.”

2. AN AVIAN HOSPITAL WAS BUILT ON THE SET.

A scene from The Birds (1963)
Universal Pictures

Through a meticulous positive reinforcement process, animal handler Ray Berwick trained hundreds of live birds for use in Hitchcock’s movie. Most of these were wild-caught crows, ravens, seagulls, and sparrows. Berwick oversaw an entire bird-wrangling team whose members spent a huge amount of time corralling their feathered co-workers between takes. To ensure that none of the animals was harmed, the American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) assumed an active role in the production. Under their watchful eye, the crew set up a makeshift avian hospital.

“We actually built an aviary onto the set for birds that had been hurt or injured,” Veronica Cartwright, who played Cathy in the film, said. Another measure taken in the name of animal welfare was the construction of a large net, which the special effects team draped over the living room set; this kept the birds from flying haphazardly through the rest of the studio.

The wrangling team had plenty of other tricks up their sleeves as well. Sometimes, to get their feathered friends to fly toward a camera, the crew would suspend a hunk of meat beneath the lens. In one interview, Hitchcock noted that a lot of prep work went into the shot in which a seagull latches onto a girl at a birthday party, harassing her as she tries to run off. “[We] built a little platform on her shoulder and a gull was put there,” Hitchcock explained. For safety reasons, its beak was bound shut with wire.

3. ONE RAVEN STRONGLY DISLIKED ROD TAYLOR.

Like everyone else in the film, Rod Taylor’s character—Mitch Brenner—had to withstand a barrage of avian attacks. One particular bird really had it in for Taylor. There was a captive raven named Archie who seemingly went out of his way to attack the actor, even when the cameras weren’t rolling.

“Every morning, if we were on the set together, he’d come over and … bite me," Taylor revealed in Universal’s DVD documentary All About the Birds. "I hated him and he hated me.” It got to the point where Taylor started making inquiries about Archie’s whereabouts as part of his daily, on-set ritual. “I’d walk in and say, ‘Is Archie working today?’ And they’d say, ‘Uh, I don’t think so Rod. I think we’re working with seagulls.’ And out of the rafters would come Archie. [He] hated me and would lie in wait for me.”

4. HITCHCOCK’S DOGS MADE A CAMEO.

He’s remembered as both the master of suspense and an early adopter of cinematic Easter eggs. Alfred Hitchcock loved to make brief, on-screen appearances in his own films. By 1963, audiences had come to expect these little cameos. The Birds throws one at us when Melanie (Tippi Hedren) ducks into a pet store near the beginning of the picture. As she enters the place, you can see Hitchcock leading a pair of small dogs out. These pooches were Stanley and Geoffrey, the director’s lovable Sealyham Terriers. (An admirer of this breed, he’d previously owned another male named Mr. Jenkins.)

5. ONE OF MICKEY MOUSE’S CO-CREATORS WORKED AS A SPECIAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR.

Real, flesh-and-blood birds share the screen with a few mechanical ones in the film. Additionally, the movie relied heavily on matte work, a process whereby images from two separate reels of film are combined. This enabled footage of angry birds to be paired with separate shots depicting frightened actors. To help execute these effects, Hitchcock reached out to Ub Iwerks, an animator who’d been working for Walt Disney since 1924 and had helped create the Mickey Mouse character in 1927.

Renowned throughout Hollywood as a visual effects wizard, Iwerks was a self-taught expert on matte techniques. Disney agreed to hire him out to Universal so that he could put his knowledge to good use for Hitchcock’s The Birds. Iwerks was rewarded with an Oscar nod when The Birds was nominated for Best Special Effects in 1964. (It lost to the big-budget epic Cleopatra.)

6. A RESTAURATEUR IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA LET THE CREW USE HIS BUILDING—ON TWO SMALL CONDITIONS.

While much of the movie was filmed on studio lots, Hitchcock also filmed a large percentage on location in scenic Bodega Bay, California. Located 65 miles north of San Francisco, the small village offered some big advantages. “In order to get the photography of the birds in the air, we needed an area with low land, not high mountains or a lot of trees,” Hitchcock told Cinefantastique. “In a pictorial sense, it was vital to have nothing on the ground but sand, so that we had the entire sky to play with.”

Bodega Bay and the neighboring communities of Bodega and Bodega Head had everything the director was looking for, so Hitchcock employed all three places as locations. Several of the diner scenes were filmed at a Bodega Bay eatery called the Tides Restaurant. Then-owner Mitch Zankich struck a bargain with the filmmakers. “[He] told the locations manager that he would let them film his place for free if they would call the community in the movie Bodega Bay and if the hero was called Mitch,” Hazel Mitchell, who’d worked at the Tides as a waitress in those days, claimed. Zankich’s wishes were granted, and to sweeten the deal, he was given an on-screen appearance with a line of dialogue. “In the scene on the dock, when Tippi Hedren is attacked by the bird when she is in the skiff, a man asks Rod Taylor, ‘What happened, Mitch?’ And that was Mitch Zankich,” Mitchell said.

7. AN ALTERNATE ENDING WOULD’VE INVOLVED THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE.

Genre films have been unkind to the California landmark: A giant octopus attacked the Golden Gate Bridge in It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955); Magneto ripped the bridge off its foundation in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006); and a simian revolt broke out on its pavement in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). If Hitchcock had more money or time at his disposal, The Birds might have subjected the bridge to yet another indignity. Early in pre-production, Hitchcock entertained the idea of closing his film with a shot of several hundred birds perching on the Golden Gate. However, he quickly realized that this proposed visual would have been way too costly to shoot. Hunter’s script also called for a horde of birds to attack the roof of Mitch and Melanie’s car as they drive away from Bodega Bay at the end of the film. That concept was abandoned, too. 

8. THE ATTIC SCENE TOOK AN ENTIRE WEEK TO SHOOT, AND PROVED TO BE TOO MUCH FOR TIPPI HEDREN.

When Cary Grant visited the set, he called Hedren the bravest lady he’d ever met. To put it mildly, she had a rough moviemaking experience. During the telephone booth scene, a pane of so-called “safety-glass” that shattered in her face turned out to be real glass; its shards were then painstakingly extracted from her nose and left cheek. And then there was the attic attack. Hedren’s character in The Birds is Melanie Daniels, a confident blonde who courts Mitch Brenner. One of the movie’s most shocking moments comes when Melanie takes a peek inside the Brenner family’s attic and finds a small army of birds hiding out. The second they see her, they charge Melanie, who’s rendered unconscious by their violent onslaught.

It’s a brutal scene that’s hard to watch and was a nightmare to film. Since this was a complex and emotionally taxing scene, Hedren spent a full week working on it. Hitchcock spent much of it ordering his crewmen to hurl live gulls at her from behind the camera because he thought this would intensify Hedren’s performance. Also, at regular intervals, there’d be a pause in the shooting so the makeup team could apply some new faux injuries. But she also received some real ones; Hedren’s willpower finally collapsed when a bird ripped a hole into her lower eyelid. The injury provoked a full-blown nervous breakdown and, at her doctor’s insistence, production was forced to shut down for a week to allow her to recover.

In the years since the film's release, Hedren has also spoken openly about being subjected to yet another harrowing experience while The Birds was being filmed: According to the actress, she was sexually harassed by Hitchcock. "I think he was an extremely sad character," Hedren said in 2012. "We are dealing with a brain here that was an unusual genius, and evil, and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous, because of the effect that he could have on people that were totally unsuspecting." Hedren's allegations were later dramatized in The Girl, a controversial biopic that premiered in 2012.

9. MATTEL CELEBRATED THE FILM’S 45TH ANNIVERSARY WITH A BARBIE DOLL.

In 2008, the toy company unveiled a commemorative Barbie doll based on Melanie Daniels. The figurine was a dead ringer for Hedren, right down to the green Edith Head suit. It also came with some unusual accessories: Three detachable crows, each one posed in an “attack position” in the original packaging.

10. A MADE-FOR-TV SEQUEL CAME OUT IN 1994.

The Birds II: Land's End premiered on Showtime on March 14, 1994, more than 30 years after the original film debuted in theaters. Hedren makes an appearance in this low-budget sequel, but instead of reprising the role of Melanie, she’s cast as an entirely new character named Helen. Unlike the original film, which took place in California’s Bodega Bay, the setting of this installment is a fictional island on the east coast. It was directed by Rick Rosenthal, who was so dissatisfied with the end product that he used the pseudonym Alan Smithee in place of his real name during the opening credits. Hedren isn’t too crazy about The Birds II either; "It's absolutely horrible," she once said of the film. "It embarrasses me horribly."

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The Origins of 36 Marvel Characters, Illustrated
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Pop Chart Lab

No matter what their powers, every super hero has an origin story, from Spider-Man’s radioactive bite to Iron Man’s life-threatening chest shrapnel. In their latest poster, the designers at Pop Chart Lab have taken their infographic savvy to the Marvel Universe, charting the heroic origins of 36 different Marvel characters through miniature, minimalist comics.

Without using any words, they’ve managed to illustrate Bucky Barnes's plane explosion and subsequent transformation into the Winter Soldier, Jessica Jones’s car crash, the death of the Punisher’s family, and other classic stories from the major Marvel canon while paying tribute to the comic book form.

Explore the poster below, and see a zoomable version on Pop Chart Lab’s website.

A poster featuring 36 minimalist illustrations of superhero origin stories.
Pop Chart Lab

Keep your eyes open for future Marvel-Pop Chart crossovers. The Marvel Origins: A Sequential Compendium poster is “the first release of what we hope to be a marvelous partnership,” as Pop Chart Lab’s Galvin Chow puts it. Prints are available for pre-order starting at $37 and are scheduled to start shipping on March 8.

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Your $10 Donation Can Help an Underprivileged Child See A Wrinkle in Time for Free
Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Theater chain AMC is teaming with the Give a Child the Universe initiative to help underprivileged kids see A Wrinkle in Time for free through ticket donations. The initiative was started by Color of Change, a nonprofit advocacy group that designs “campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back, and champion solutions that move us all forward.”

"Color of Change believes in the power of images and supports those working to change the rules in Hollywood so that inclusive, empathetic and human portrayals of black people and people of color are prominent on the screen,” the initiative’s executive director, Rashad Robinson, said in a statement:

Director Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time is the perfect subject for the group because, as Robinson puts it, “By casting a black teenage actress, Storm Reid, as the heroine at the center of this story, the filmmakers and the studio send a powerful message to millions of young people who will see someone like them embracing their individuality and strength to save the world.”

The movie touts a diverse cast that includes Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Zach Galifianakis, and Chris Pine. The most important member of the cast, though, is 14-year-old Storm Reid, who plays the main character Meg Murry, a young girl who tries to save her father (Pine) who is trapped in another dimension. The movie is based on the acclaimed 1962 fantasy novel by author Madeleine L'Engle.

If you’d like to donate a ticket (or more), you can just head over to the Give a Child the Universe website and pledge an amount. AMC will provide one ticket to children and teens nationwide for every $10 given to the cause.

And if you’re interested in seeing the movie yourself, A Wrinkle in Time opens on March 9, 2018.

[h/t E! Online]

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