Exotic animals as pets are no novelty, but the documentary series about the zoo owner Joe Exotic brought them into the spotlight. However, long before Exotic, the true Hollywood “lion queen” was Tippi Hedren, an actress best known for her role in Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds.”
The 90-year-old star is the mother of the actress Melanie Griffith and has never hidden her passion for big cats. She admits her life’s decisions have not been the brightest, and one of them is the moment she decided to adopt a lion named Neil, who weighed 400 pounds, at her home in Beverly Hills. The actress shivers today when she remembers that the lion lived with her and her family.
She made friends with big cats in 1983 while making the movie “Roar”, now known as the most dangerous movie ever made.
There were 150 lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, panthers, and other big cats in the movie. “No animals were harmed during the making of Roar. But 70 members of the cast and crew were”, the movie’s tagline read.
After a couple of years, she said she didn’t know what was on everyone’s mind to risk so many people’s lives to make a movie.
Tippi’s ex-husband Noel Marshall directed the film and starred in it, and the idea for all came from the two of them. She came up with the idea while filming in Zimbabwe a few years earlier, where she first met the lions. Hedren became particularly close to the lion cub, which eventually made her obsessed with big cats.
“My lifelong assumption that big cats were, in the end, nothing more than beautiful, vicious predators was starting to erode. They were infinitely complex creatures, far more extraordinary than I’d ever realized, and the more I learned about them, the more I wanted to learn”, the actress wrote in her memoir.
Los Angeles veterinarian and animal trainer Ron Oxley encouraged Tippi and Neil to live with the lions for a while to better understand their nature before shooting the movie “Roar”. Her daughter Melanie even slept with a lion in bed, and their guests were often terrified of having a lion at home and avoided coming to dinners.
“I didn’t learn until many years later, how naive and stupid we were. I was so caught up in the thrill, the awe, the challenge, the passion, and the prospect of making our movie and sharing my life with these magnificent wild animals that my logic went right out the window”, Tippi admitted.
Numerous team members on the set were leaving the set for fear for their own lives as they found themselves in situations where they believed they would die.