Tippi Hedren’s Nails

Tippi Hedren helped Vietnamese immigrants become manicurists, who eventually dominated the American nail salon industry

Tippi Hedren began her career as a model and moved into acting. Her big break was being discovered by Alfred Hitchcock and was cast in the lead of 1963’s The Birds. The two worked together again when she starred as the titular Marnie in 1964. While Hitchcock was a great director he was not a great person (particularly to Hedren) and they never worked together again. His bitterness over being rejected by her led him to use his movie studio clout to prevent her from working on other films for years, from which her career never really recovered.

Fast-forward several years and Hedren is working on smaller movies but has also more time for her political activism. She became an animal rights activist, famously living with a lion named Neil, and eventually started the Shambala Preserve as an animal sanctuary for a variety of big cats. Shambala is also where Michael Jackson’s two tigers (Sabu & Thriller) ended up. Hedren also became involved with the charity Food for the Hungry, which gets us to her nails.

Tippi Hedren and her pet lion Neil

Vietnamese Manicurists

After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, with the charity Food for the Hungry, Hedren volunteered on a rented Australian battleship in the South China Seas rescuing Vietnamese refugees. She then went to help in Sacramento at Camp Hope, a Vietnamese refugee camp. As she was trying to help the women of the camp start new lives in the United States as seamstresses or typists, she noticed that what the women were really interested in were her nails and she hit upon an idea.

Hedren had her manicurist Dusty Butera flown up to Sacramento to begin teaching twenty Vietnamese women how to be manicurists. These lessons continued for a few months and eventually those women enrolled in the local Citrus Heights Beauty School. Those twenty women would go on to teach other Vietnamese women, and those women taught other women, and so on.

In 2015 it was estimated that 51% of all manicurists in America were of Vietnamese descent. In California it’s estimated to be almost 80%. This Vietnamese domination of the American nail salon market is directly tied back to Tippi Hedren’s efforts to help immigrants start new lives. In 2019 Tippi Hedren was honored at the Vietnamese American Nail Appreciation Gala in recognition of her activism that started an industry.