Big cats in America. So hot right now, thanks to Tiger King. But Joe Exotic and creepy cult leader Doc Antle (seriously, can someone at least attempt to deprogram his fake-titted wives?!) were far from the first people to surround themselves with exotic puss. Legendary actress Tippi Hedren, mother of Melanie Griffith, and grandmother to Dakota Johnson, was doing it fifty years ago.
At one time, Tippi, now 90 years old, rescued and owned around sixty lions and tigers. Obviously this is far more interesting than my own grandmother’s collection of chicken knick-knacks, so, while remotely interviewing Dakota, Graham Norton took the opportunity to ask if Tippi still owned any big cats. Dakota confirmed that, yes, her grandmother still has around 13 or 14.
While talking to Dakota, Graham showed a couple of vintage photographs from the seventies, including one of a tiger jumping through Tippi’s kitchen window while she casually yacks on the phone, and another of a lion nipping at Melanie Griffith’s leg as she jumps in the pool. Dakota dryly replied with “it is what it is”, and “she didn’t lose the leg”. Graham asked if Dakota was brought around the cats when she was a child, and replied with (via Today):
“Yeah, well I mean, by the time I was born they were all in huge compounds and it was a lot safer,” she said. “And it wasn’t as totally psycho as it was when they first started.”
Norton responded with a joke, “You weren’t just lion bait by the pool.”
“No,” Johnson replied, assuring she wasn’t a “snack.”
Tippi, who was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s blondes, had a good career going but it stalled after she rebuffed Hitchcock’s obsessive sexual advances. Filming 1963’s The Birds was a traumatizing experience for her, and she believes Hitchcock was punishing her. At one point Tippi spent five days with live birds being thrown at her. She had a full-on breakdown after one almost pecked her in the eye.
After making enemies with those little avian nightmares, Tippi aligned herself with the bird’s natural foe: the cat. While shooting in Africa in 1969, Tippi and her husband Noel Marshall fell in love with a pride of lions who moved into an abandoned house and decided to make a movie about it. Since no animal trainer in their right mind would let them rent 30-40 lions, they began rescuing their own big cats, and lived with some of them in their California homes to form a bond. The movie, Roar, was finally finished in 1981, and has been called “the most dangerous film ever made”, with over seventy cast and crew injuries:
After filming ended, Tippi established the Roar Foundation out of the Shambala Preserve, a Californian animal sanctuary, to house the animals. In 2014, she told The Daily Mail it was “stupid beyond belief” to let a lion live with her family, and she uses her sanctuary to “educate the public about the dangers of private ownership of exotic animals”.
No wonder Dakota isn’t intimidated by mean ass Ellen DeGeneres. Yes, Ellen lied about being invited to Dakota’s birthday (something a tiger would never do), but unlike a tiger, she can’t rip someone’s face off. Cut to tomorrow when a story comes out about how Ellen ripped someone’s face off for making eye contact with her.