Living With Neil the Lion

This is what happens when a lion becomes part of the household. These pictures show Tippi Hedren – star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds – with her huband Noel Marshall, and her daughter, actress Melanie Griffith, and their lion Neil. Melanie is Tippi’s daughter from her first marriage to Peter Griffith.  At the time these pictures were taken, Melanie was 19.

Melanie Griffith in a swimming pool with pet lion Neil.
IMAGE: MICHAEL ROUGIER / TIME & LIFE PICTURES

Neil playing with a child by the pool side.
To get to know about lions, you’ve got to live with them for a while.

While filming in Africa in 1969, Hedren and her husband saw an abandoned house which had been taken over and inhabited by lions.  On their return to America, theydeterminedto make a film about – and with – lions, based on what they had witnessed, and to raise awareness of the endangered status of lions. 

Animal trainer Ron Oxley advised them that “to get to know anything about lions, you’ve just got to live with them for a while.” Hedren and her husband did exactly that, introducing lions to their residential home.
Noel Marshall tries to work in his study with a lion in his face.
IMAGE: MICHAEL ROUGIER / TIME & LIFE PICTURES
Roar is the most expensive home movie ever made
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“Roar” starred Hedren and Marshall, with Melanie paying Hedren’s on-screen daughter. The film was written and directed by Marshall and produced by Marshall and Marshall. 

Marshall had been producer of 1973 film “The Exorcist.”
The working title of the movie was “Lions, Lions and More Lions,” although the actual movie features a range of big cat species including jaguars, cheetahs, cougars and leopards.  For the plot, a male scientist is studying the lives of African big cats. He is not at home when his family come to to visit, and they are pursued from room to room by the lions and other big cats in his house.
Tippi Hedren wrestling with Neil.
IMAGE: MICHAEL ROUGIER / TIME & LIFE PICTURES

 

IMAGE: MICHAEL ROUGIER / TIME & LIFE PICTURES

IMAGE: MICHAEL ROUGIER / TIME & LIFE PICTURES

 

Hedren and Marshall envisoned working with and filming big cats on a vast scale,  bringing together 150 large cats – the largest private collection ever assembled. The cost of managing so many untrained animals contributed to the film’s huge production costs. 

Photography for the film took five years. According to Randolph Sellars, a cinematographer working on Roar in 1978, every scene involving the animals was improvised, and covered by up to eight cameras. Released in 1981, Roar cost over $17.5 million but grossed just over $2 million.
A year later, Hedren and Marshall separated.Melanie jumping in a swimming pool while Neil grabs her leg.