‘Birds’ Stars Veronica Cartwright, Beaver Cleaver Recall Their First Kiss Meeting Alfred Hitchcock


Veronica Cartwright has survived giving Beaver Cleaver their first kiss and impresses Alfred Hitchcock.

Former child star and older sister of “Sound of Music” actress Angela Cartwright has led a decades-long career in both film and television. At the age of 9, she appeared in 1958’s “In Love and War”, where she played Robert Wagner’s sister. The actress was also a semi-regular on the CBS series “Leave It to Beaver” as Violet Rutherford, who was famous for giving the iconic character of Jerry Mathers her first on-screen smooch. At the age of 15, she won an Emmy for Best Actress in the TV movie “Tell Me Not in Mornaful Numbers”.

Despite his many credits for film, television, and theatre, many fans remember him best from Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller “The Birds”, which starred Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. Cartwright, now 72, is still busy and the film “How to Talk With Spirits” is currently in pre-preproduction.

The star spoke to LBL about Mathers kissing, giving Hitchcock a meeting and how he managed to escape Hollywood’s dreaded child star curse.

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Angela Cartwright has worked with some of the most iconic names in Hollywood.
(Film Publicity Archive/United Archives via Getty Images)

LBL: Your character Violet gave Beaver his first kiss in “Beaver Leave It.” How nervous were you to film that scene?
Veronica Cartwright: Oh my god, you can only imagine the embarrassment of a 9 year old *laughs*. The funny thing is, I actually had a crush on Tony Dow. A big crush on him. I remember whenever we used to do our classwork we used to think how cute he was *laughs*. But in the context of that scene, I think we were both bewildered! Now looking back on this, it’s just hysterical, but we were definitely embarrassed.

LBL: Have you been in touch with artists?
Cartwright: Oh yes, we see each other at conventions all the time. And a group of us have been on different shows so our paths cross. Funny enough, I’ve seen Tony more than Jerry! *laughs* But it’s always fun to meet each other and remember our childhoods and the work we did together.

LBL: You had the opportunity to work with Alfred Hitchcock in “The Birds”. What was his initial impression on you?
Cartwright: At the time, I did “The Children’s Hour” with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. Apparently, he requested to meet me. When I was first interviewed, he already knew that I was born in Bristol, England. He told me that here was his favorite liquor seller.

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Veronica Cartwright starred in 'The Birds', directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Veronica Cartwright starred in ‘The Birds’, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
(Universal Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

He then proceeds to name these wonderful wines. Well, I was 12 *laughs*. Then he told me how to cook a steak and how the interior should have a certain temperature. And then you’ll put a piece of aluminum foil on top of that. This will retain heat and then it will be extremely rare. “These are the things you should know before getting married someday,” he said. Again, I was 12 *laughs*.

And that was the interview! I got the role, but I must say, I was never intimidated by her. He was always so incredibly nice to me. I could ask him any question. I remember a lot of fake birds being used during filming. I remember I asked him, “Won’t the audience know they’re fake?” And he said, “When you see motion, you assume everything is a lie.” To this day, whenever I watch the movie, every time I see a bird which I think is fake, it suddenly shakes! It’s so weird, but it’s true. We assume that everything is a lie. All I remember was the cardboard cutouts and they would hold the real birds in the middle.

He really believed in the magic of movies. I thought it was absolutely cool. I used to talk to him everyday. Every afternoon at four o’clock he would have his tea and biscuits. Then everything stopped for him and he just stopped. And I would sit next to him. Again, I never thought he was intimidating. I thought he was really cool.

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From left: Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy), Melanie Daniels (Tippy Hedren) and Kathy Brenner (Veronica Cartwright) fight off a bird attack in Alfred Hitchcock's

From left: Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy), Melanie Daniels (Tippy Hedren) and Kathy Brenner (Veronica Cartwright) fight off a bird attack in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
(John Springer Collection/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

LBL: Do you have any favorite memories from the time of filming?
Cartwright: I remember he threw a big birthday party for me. I had turned 13. Every cast and crew member was there. I remember [Hitchcock] Found a piece of white cardboard and a black crayon. “The woman I love, Veronica,” he wrote. He drew his face and signed. I still have this hanging in my office. I just remember that he was kind to me.

He used to do strange things on the sets. We would shoot everything twice – in Bodega Bay and in the studio. In one scene, we ran down a hill in Bodega Bay. In the studio, it was on this giant treadmill. I remember he speeded up the treadmill and bodies were just flying everywhere *laughs*. We ran like crazy. We all desperately wanted to come out. I think he was a little sadistic.

LBL: And still you weren’t scared?
Cartwright: Oh no, his sense of humor was very strange *laughs*. I think he’ll tell dirty jokes all the time. My aunt used to accompany me on the sets as my mom was with my sister, who was shooting for “Make Room for Daddy”. I remember he used to tell these jokes [on set] And everyone would just laugh. I would laugh too, but I was really oblivious. So I’ll say to my aunt and she’ll go, “Oh my god!” I think some of them were a little rude. But I really enjoyed my time making that film.

Veronica Cartwright (right) stars alongside Shirley MacLaine in 'The Children's Hour'.

Veronica Cartwright (right) stars alongside Shirley MacLaine in ‘The Children’s Hour’.
(Film Publicity Archive/United Archives via Getty Images)

LBL: You previously worked with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. What was your initial impression of them?
Cartwright: Well, we were told we shouldn’t be around Shirley because her language was a bit colorful *laughs*. All I remember is that she was so cool. She used to crack these jokes with the cast and crew and she lit up the whole place. He took command of that place. But he also took his work very seriously. She will give really helpful advice. She’ll say, “Son, you don’t have to cry until the camera turns on. Otherwise, by the time they reach you, you’ll have tears in your eyes.” And he was helpful.

There was a breakdown scene where I had to cry and we kept on filming it. By the time we were done, I was just hyperventilating. I didn’t even know if you could call it acting at that point. It definitely broke everything. I remember Shirley MacLaine came over, hugged me and said, “That was awesome.” He made sure the crew took me to a dressing room where they brought ice packs.

Years later, Shirley was doing one-woman shows. I had a night off so I went to meet him. She was this incredible ball of energy. It reminded me the first time I saw him on the set. I went to see her backstage and I thought, “She’s probably not going to miss me.” She stood at the door, looked at me, and said, “Honey, I’ve followed your career.” It was just an amazing experience. It made me realize why I was doing what I was doing.

Actresses and

Actresses and “The Birds” cast members Veronica Cartwright (L) and Tippi Hedren reunited in 2013 to celebrate the film’s enduring legacy.
(David Livingston/Getty Images)

LBL: And what about Audrey Hepburn?
Cartwright: She was just so cute. She had a small Yorkie Terrier that she carried with her at all times. I just remember how beautiful she was. The way you saw her in the movies, she was exactly what she appeared to be – she was just as beautiful. She was majestic. She focused on her work, but when we weren’t filming, she was so sweet and kind. I still have some pictures with him. She really was the real deal.

LBL: How did you escape the so-called child artist curse we often hear about?
Cartwright: For starters, I had a supportive family, which is all you need for a good foundation. I’ve always worked out and when it closed, I switched myself to acting classes. I thought, if I didn’t get a job in Hollywood, I’d just go back to England and study acting, pursue it in different ways.

I knew I was not going to stop. So I was a waitress for a long time, so I could pay for my acting classes. I have always loved acting and it can be very frustrating when you can’t do it. But I think you really need to have a love for it. You also have to learn to adapt. I know it has pushed me forward. And I’m still here!

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