He wasn't your typical houseguest. When Neil the lion came to live with Tippi Hendren, her whole life turned upside down.
In 1969, Neil the lion moved in with The Birds star Tippi Hendren her husband, producer Noel Marshall and daughter, actress Melanie Griffith. Hendren and Marshall were inspired to write the film Roar while on set for another film in Africa, when they came across an abandoned house full of lions. Ron Oxley, Neil's trainer, suggested that they live with Neil for a while to get a sense of what they were like. So, Hendren moved the family to an isolated ranch in California to live with the big cat.
Melanie Griffith and a friend playing with Neil the Lion by the poolMichael Rougier, TIME & LIFE Pictures
Melanie Griffith jumps into the pool as Neil grabs her legMichael Rougier, TIME & LIFE Pictures
Although their experience with Neil was a good one one, Melanie, Tippi and Noel were all seriously injured by exotic animals during the 11-year filming of Roar. Melanie was mauled and received 50 stitches, and Tippi was bitten on the neck by a lion requiring 38 stitches.
In hindsight, Hendren admits that having a 400lb lion for a family pet was "stupid beyond belief." Although Neil didn't harm any member of the family, he did attack Oxley at a dinner party. Oxley was able to take control of the situation and assert dominance, but it was certainly a tense moment. He may have been tame, but Neil could have killed anyone at any time.
Neil helps Noel Marshall with his work.Michael Rougier, TIME & LIFE Magazine
"One night I went down to find them both asleep, side by side...it was a sight some mothers might not relish." - Tippi Hendren
Teenaged Melanie Griffith in bed with Neil Michael Rougier, TIME & LIFE Magazine
In her memoir, Hendren remembers the sickening feeling in her stomach when she saw Neil sleeping next to Melanie in bed. In an interview with the UK's Daily Mail, she recalled just how much she regrets the risk she took with Neil. "I have to tell you we were stupid beyond belief. We should never have taken those risks. These animals are so fast, and if they decide to go after you, nothing but a bullet to the brain will stop them."
To this day, she openly criticizes the practice of keeping exotic animals as pets, which is still legal in many states.
What do you think? Would you keep an exotic animal for a pet - snuggle with a 400lb lion in your bed?