This series of intimate photographs from the 1970s of Neil the lion carries a chilling backstory that should remind us all that, no matter how much we might love them or feel close to them, we will never truly understand the mind of a wild animal.
After a trip to Africa, actress Tippi Hedren, her husband Noel Marshall, and their actress daughter Melanie Griffith, wanted to make a movie about lions. At the advice of Ron Oxley, an animal trainer who said that “to get to know about lions, you’ve got to live with them for a while,” they had Neil the lion live with them. Their life was documented by LIFE photographer Michael Rougier.
Their life with Neil seems to have been nice, but their movie, Roar, didn’t go quite so well. Melanie required 50 stitches after being attacked by a lioness that was part of the film, and cinematographer Jan de Bont had to have his scalp sewn back on. 70 people wound up being injured by the movie’s cast of 150 large predatory cats. The movie cost more than 17.5 million and made 2 million.
Neil the lion sleeping with Melanie Griffith in their home in Sherman Oaks, California, 1971
Melanie in a swimming pool with Neil (left) and a child playing with Neil (right)
Tippi Hedren resting her back on Neil while reading a newspaper
A housekeeper steps over Neil