“It was stupid beyond belief,” admitted Melanie Griffith, who as a teenager owned a pet lion. Her mother, Tippi Hendren, and stepfather, Noel Marshall, made a film about big cats after a trip to Africa. An animal trainer, for whatever reason, encouraged them to live with a lion to get a better idea of what they’re like, so they invited Neil, a male lion, into their home.
The strange home life of Melanie, Tippi, Noel and Neil has been cataloged in a series of vintage photographs, taken when Melanie was only a teenager. No one in the family was ever injured by the lion, but Neil certainly could have killed any of them at a moment’s notice. At one point, he did attack Ron Oxley, his owner, during a dinner party at his home.
After Neil, the family went on to adopt numerous big cats which resulted in a series of serious injuries.
Now 57 years old, Melanie has learned from the experience and runs a sanctuary, California’s Shambala Preserve, for 32 big cats. She is an outspoken critic of keeping big cats as pets, which is still a legal practice in much of the United States.