Excerpt from the Stay on Fountain book, “A Look at the Great Gay Tipping Point”:
If there’s one thing I hate, it’s impossible-to-prove generalities. Having said that, all gay men love Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Go to any bar or Starbucks in West Hollywood, start talking loudly about The Birds, and then watch the room turn and look at you. With each passing year, every gay guy wonders one thing: “Is this the year I go as Tippi Hedren for Halloween?” On my deathbed, not gluing fake birds to a teased-out blonde wig will be my sole regret. My family (whom I had been weakly reaching for just moments prior) will think I had gone loopy in my death throes. They’ll never know I was sincere, unless copies of this book survive me (At long last, reader, you have discovered the purpose of this book’s writing).
I can’t explain it. My study of this adoration phenomenon will be my great, unfinished work. Those of you who don’t love The Birds are either straight, or gay and just haven’t seen it yet. To you I dedicate this next part.
The Birds is about this Paris Hilton-y socialite who lives in San Francisco, is man crazy (and a little bit actually crazy) and pretends to work in a bird shop for some reason to flirt with Rod Taylor. Rod Taylor sees right through this and sticks around, somehow not frightened. He’s shopping for lovebirds for his sister’s birthday. They don’t have the birds he’s looking for. He leaves, fully prepared to never see Tippi Hedren again. That man is wrong! The birds he wants arrive in the store, and she convinces the (similarly unterrified) shop-keep to let her deliver the birds to Rod Taylor herself. She discovers from the man’s (again, not freaked out) neighbor that he’s gone to nearby island community Bodega Bay.
Since she has nothing but time (and is missing a wingnut), Tippi takes the lovebirds on the three-hour drive and half-hour motorboat ride to Bodega Bay. She runs into a schoolteacher (Suzanne Pleshette), who used to fuck Rod Taylor, and the teacher hates her. The teacher leads Tippi to Rod Taylor’s mother (Jessica Tandy), and the mother HATES HER! All these women fight over Rod Taylor for an hour, and then thousands of birds descend on the village and kill a bunch of people for the rest of the movie.
Are you gay yet?
It all has something with the catfighting, or the man crazies, or the campiness of the birds attacking during this drama, or that Tippi doesn’t take off her fur coat for well into the second hour.
I gave the boyfriend this whole PowerPoint presentation before I lured him into the East Village to see a screening of this movie, which he’d never seen. The plan was bulletproof: The Birds would play on the big screen, Tippi Hedren would guest speak afterwards, and we’d be in the East Village, which meant I could chatterbox about the movie afterwards while being in like-minded company.
The variable I did not anticipate was that Tippi would be a crazed narcissist, and the NYU film student audience would be her willing, softball question lobbing slaves. I really should have anticipated that happening. I’m off my game. Here’s a tip to all you eager-beaver film students who attend classic movie screenings with Q&A’s afterward: you should get out of there before the Q&A starts like you’re a wanted man whose train is making an unscheduled stop. Boring, night-destroying fart-sniffing is heading your way.
Tippi, now 82, looking all of 72, took the stage and immediately went into about twenty different anecdotes about how Hitchcock was half a rapist. It was depressing, and the students lapped it up like this was some ordinary TMZ OMG story she was telling. Ms. Hedren had a case, yes, where Hitchcock had made intense passes and innuendos, et cetera.
Despite this terror, she agreed to star in Marnie, a role which she claims would have gotten her an Oscar nomination if she hadn’t turned down Hitchcock’s advances and forced him to blackball her with the Academy. The crowd gasped and clutched their pearls right on cue. Michael looked miserable. We are life mates because neither of us find these kinds of stories sexy or juicy in any way. I whispered to Michael that Hitchcock had never once in all his years won an Oscar, despite his apparent wizardly control over who gets nominated or not.
The Q&A continued another two hours, yielding exciting crowd questions such as “Ms. Hedren? Hi. Why are you still so beautiful?” Her response? “I eat well. I just like being thin, really.” I feigned looking for a pen to get all this down. Although I do to this day tell Michael that I just like being thin, really.
They’re making an HBO movie right now about the ordeal called The Girl, a movie that will blow the lid off the traumatic experience that caused her to name her daughter, Melanie, after her character in The Birds, Melanie Daniels. It’s a nightmare she never wants to revisit except for every time she calls her daughter on the phone or attends a speaking engagement.
The moderator insisted on only one more question, but was of course railroaded into 17 more, ending with the coup de grace, “Where were you when you found out Hitchcock had died?” She had been abroad, speaking about the privatization of social security– sorry, she had been talking about how awful Hitchcock was to an auditorium of film students. “How did you feel when you heard he had died?” Dramatic intake of breath… she said she felt relief. Relief.
The long nightmare was over, I guess. And so was mine. We left the movie theater to see that the sun was finally coming out, and I vowed never again to subject Michael or myself to a Hollywood Q&A. That’s the trouble with being Industry-adjacent. It’s like being the world’s biggest sausage fanatic, and then getting a job at a sausage factory. All you learn is who’s a bitch and who’s a racist, and you never learn a damn thing about how the movie got made. Same with the DVD commentaries, which have only significantly raised my knowledge of what days on set were really cold.
So, I lost the battle of seeing Tippi in person, and it was unpleasant. And I lost the battle of hearing a bunch of shitty stories about an idol of mine. But I won the war by exposing Michael to The Birds, and scoring that film one more gay fan.