Audrey Hepburn may have had a pet deer, but the award for most dangerous and bad-ass exotic pet likely goes to the equally beautiful actress Tippi Hedren, who shared her quaint Sherman Oaks, California home with a massive full grown lion named Neil. Along with her family members, husband Noel Marshall (a writer and producer) and Hedren’s daughter from another marriage, a then-teenaged Melanie Griffith, we can see how Neil integrated into the family’s activities and home.
How Neil came to share a home with the star of the famous Hitchcock film The Birds is really quite simple. Hedren and Marshall were filming in Africa when they found an abandoned house that had been taken over by numerous lions. Thus they developed an interest in bringing attention to the endangered creatures.
To shine a light on the lions’ plight, Hedren and Marshall set out to produce a documentary of sorts, under the advisory of lion trainer Ron Oxley. It was Oxley who told them that “to get to know anything about lions, you’ve just got to live with them for a while.” The family took this advice to heart, and made the seemingly gentle giant part of the family.
A young Melanie Griffith was only 19 at the time these photos were taken. Everyone seems relaxed and at ease with Neil, but knowing the unpredictable nature of these predators, it’s hard not to imagine an underlying nervousness permeating throughout the residence.
Quoted by the Internet Movie Database as being “the most expensive home movie ever made”, Roar, the title of their 1981 docudrama release, cost over $17 million to make, while grossing just over $2 million at the box office. With over 150 wild cats on set, a good portion of the budget was spent on simple animal management.
All money woes aside, the movie had some disastrous complications for the cast and production crew; Melanie, who appeared in the move, was attacked by a lioness and had to endure over fifty facial stitches due to the injury. Cinematographer Jan de Bont also suffered a medical emergency, which culminated in the need to have part of his scalp re-attached due to a swipe from one of the film’s four-legged stars. In total, over 70 people were injured during filming; which besides lions included cougars, cheetahs, jaguars, and other large wild cats.
Though all seemed peaceful and well with Neil in these gorgeous photos, what happened on the set of Roar is a sobering reminder of human limits, and that you can take the animal out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the animal.
One year after completion of the film, Hedren and Marshall split up, and she founded the Shambala Preserve, which houses formerly mistreated exotic animals. She still lives there, and among the animals who share this chunk of protected land is a Bengal tiger formerly belonging to Michael Jackson.