December 19, 2013

Incredible Photographs Capture Teenager Melanie Griffith and Her Family Hanging Out With Their 'Pet' Lion in 1971

When Griffith was a teenager, her actress mother, Tippi Hedren, and her stepfather, director Noel Marshall, decided they wanted to make a film about big cats after returning from a trip to Africa and seeing them in person. An animal trainer suggested they get to know them better by living with a lion, so they ended up taking Neil into their home.

The star also confessed it was “stupid beyond belief” to treat the 400lb beast like a domestic pet as it could have killed her or her family at any time.

In a series of vintage photographs, taken when Griffiths was just a teen, the bizarre home life of Hedren and her then husband Noel Marshall is catalogued and shows them sharing their LA house with the giant feline, who was called Neil.

While her family were never harmed by Neil, one night he attacked his owner Ron Oxley during a dinner party for British guests at their home.

The pair ‘battled it out’ for dominance in the kitchen, with the lion snarling and batting at the man with a huge paw. Oxley tried to regain control by raising his hands and arms threateningly.

Neil eventually tossed his head and mane in surrender, making subdued muttering noises, and the pair marched out of the house.

Their extraordinary experience with Neil lulled them into a false sense of security which was to have disastrous, almost fatal, consequences.

Indeed, after she, Melanie and the rest of their family suffered a string of serious injuries inflicted by the big cats they went on to adopt after Neil, Hedren has turned full circle in her attitude to such exotic pets.

Now she runs a sanctuary, California’s Shambala Preserve, for some 32 big cats, and is an outspoken critic of the practice – still legal in much of the U.S. – of keeping them as domestic pets. As an activist she was successful in lobbying Congress to pass a 2003 bill ending the traffic between states of big cats.

She is now trying to push through another bill that will stop the breeding of these animals for personal exploitation or their sale as pets.


















(Photos by Michael Rougier, via LIFE photo archive)






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