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Hollywood Reporter (1962) - Elegance Above Sex



Elegance Above Sex

A national magazine editor once asked me to give him a few words about my conception of femininity. After devoting a lot of thought to the subject I was forced to give him even fewer words than he expected.

"Not being a woman," I said, "I don't know what femininity is."

I do think I know, however, what kind of woman is most fascinating, and therefore most feminine, to men. I am not speaking of the kind of woman at whom men are prone to gawk on the street. We have all seen women who exaggerate their physical attributes to a point where they can hardly be ignored. Men may stop and stare at such women. They may even show a lively interest in meeting them. But a man who does manage this kind of meeting may be disappointed to learn that his new friend has very little mystery left about her, once he knows her name.

As for myself, I prefer a woman who does not display all of her sex at once — one whose attractions are not falling out in front of her. I like women who are also ladies, who hold enough of themselves in reserve to keep a man intrigued. On the screen, for example, if an actress wants to convey a sexy quality, she ought to maintain a slightly mysterious air. When a man approaches her, the audience should be led to wonder whether she intends to shrink from him or tear off his clothes.

I seem to have developed a reputation for preferring blonde leading ladies in my films. It is true that I have directed several actresses who happen to be blonde — Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Joan Fontaine, Madeleine Carroll, to name a few. And now, in The Birds, I am introducing another young lady who happens to be blonde, Miss Tippi Hedren. But I am happy to say she is not the spectacular type of blonde who flaunts her sex. It is important to distinguish between the big, bosomy blonde and the ladylike blonde with the touch of elegance, whose sex must be discovered. Remember Grace Kelly in High Noon? She was rather mousy. But in Dial M for Murder she blossomed out for me splendidly, because the touch of elegance had always been there.

Perhaps this is the essential reason I prefer ladylike women. As a movie director I have found that an actress with the quality of elegance can easily go down the scale to portray less exalted roles. But an actress without elegance, however competent she may be, can hardly go up the scale to portray, let us say, ambassador's wife. She lacks the range as an actress because she lacks the range as a person. A woman of elegance, on the other hand, will never cease to surprise you.