Back in the seventies one famous family shared their home in Sherman Oaks, California with a lion.
After visiting Africa, actress Tippi Herdren felt inspired to make a movie about lions. Her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and husband Noel Marshall, were in on the idea as well. When they talked to Ron Oxley, an animal trainer, about the idea they were told that in order to know lions the family should live with one for a while.
And so live with a lion they did! Neil the lion moved in with the family in the seventies, and LIFE photographer Michael Rougier filmed their life alongside one of the jungle’s most feared beasts. Check out these vintage photographs that show off the touching connection the family shared with the gentle giant.
Neil and Tippi Hedren hanging out while she reads the paper.
Life with Neil looks like a lot of fun, which is more than they can say about their film Roar. Roar was released in 1981, and included way more lions than just one. It starred the real life couple, Tippi and Noel, alongside Tippi’s daughter Melanie. Noel’s biological sons also play roles in the movie. But while life with Neil was a success, Roar was not.
Roar is a fictional story about a man that lives with tigers, lions, leopards, elephants and cheetahs. One day when his family comes to visit him they find he is not there, but all of his large animals are, creating a shocking encounter for all.
Unfortunately, Roar left more than one person on set injured, including actress daughter Melanie, who had to get 50 stitches after a close call with a lion on set. That was nothing compared to what happened to cinematographer Jan de Bont. One of the cats on set lifted his scalp so that he had to have it sewed back on. Before the movie called wrap, 70 people working on set were injured by one of the 150 large cats that participated in the creation of Roar.
Not only was the movie a dangerous decision, but also it was financially irresponsible. It took 11-years and 17.5 million dollars to create the movie but it only generated 2 million and less than rave reviews.
While the mass group of lions on the set of Roar had a tendency to lash out at humans, it appears that Neil was a rather chill house mate. Even the kids enjoyed playing with him.
Just like any cat or dog, Neil liked to pass out in the middle of the kitchen, in the photo below the housekeeper has to step over the lion to reach the other side of the kitchen.
Is it just me or do cats always try and disturb you while you are working? No matter how big they are, it appears all cats want to do the same thing. While Noel Marshall tries to get some work done, Neil decides to climb up on his desk and cause a ‘roar.’
It’s not such a big surprise that Tippi wanted to live with a lion, after all she has always been an activist for the animals. Very involved with animal rescue, Tippi actually founded the 80-acre Shambala Preserve in 1983.
Melanie jumps in the pool, Neil is right behind her with his paw and jaw clasped around her leg. Is this not the coolest picture ever?!
After a long day out playing in the pool Neil and Melanie also enjoyed sleeping side by side at night. What little girl doesn’t dream of having a fierce lion guard her through the night? No one could be afraid of the dark under Neil’s watchful eye!