Following a trip to Africa, actress Tippi Hedren (known for her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds), her husband Noel Marshall, and her actress daughter Melanie Griffith wanted to make a movie about lions. To make a convincing movie about the majestic creatures, they needed to learn about them. The best way to learn about them, advised animal trainer Ron Oxley, was to “live with them for a while.” So they took him at his word.
You would think that advising people to live with lions might not be such a good idea, but it worked out well for the family. Kind of bizarrely well. The family opened their home to Neil, a male lion who was way bigger than any of his human friends. Actually, he was one of the many “wild” animals who shared the family’s California ranch, but he was the cuddliest. Check out these incredible photos of Neil hanging out with his people in the early 1970s. It’s pretty amazing to think of this enormous and ferocious animal lounging by a pool. In the photos, Neil seems more like an oversized house cat than the king of the jungle.
Noel Marshall tries to get work done. Neil helps.
The movie the family wanted to make went on to become 1981’s Roar. Besides being a commercial failure (it took $17.5 million to make, but grossed only $2 million), it also caused some injuries to the human cast. An estimated 70 people were injured during the making of the film. Griffith required facial stitches after an attack from a lionesses, but the family’s love of the big cats did not diminish. After the filming wrapped, Hedren founded the Shambala Preserve, a sanctuary for mistreated or neglected exotic animals. Hedren still lives there to this day in the company of about 70 animals, including the late Michael Jackson’s Bengal tiger.
Living with a lion sounds pretty awesome. I doubt you’d have to worry about break-ins. But I wouldn’t want to be the one cleaning up the hairballs!