Tippi Hedren with Neil the Lion, 1971.
Tippi Hedren is probably best known as the ‘femme fatale’ actress who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s films The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964).
In 1971 she and her then-husband, Noel Marshall, decided to secretly breed wild lions in their 180-acre home for a film project. This experiment intended to raise awareness about the overhunting of big cats. Photographer Michael Rougier documented the experience for LIFE magazine. The final production would take 5 years before it was finished and released in 1981 as a relatively forgotten feature film, Roar.
Hedren and Marshall eventually accumulated more than 100 big cats and moved to a bigger compound, along with their four children (one of whom was a young Melanie Griffith).
While nobody was killed, cast and crew endured countless injuries, with over 70 bloody attacks documented. Hedren endured a fractured leg and deep scalp wounds. A lion mauled Griffith, resulting in over 100 stitches and reconstructive surgery. Marshall was gored so many times that he was eventually hospitalized with gangrene. Maintaining a consistent crew became virtually impossible as injuries and safety risks kept them from returning to set.
Soon after the films release the couple divorced. Hedren stayed on the land, continuing her passion for animal protection by turning the location into The Roar Foundation's Shambala Preserve, a non-profit centre for big cat care and research in Acton, California.
In 1994, at the age of 64, Hedren and the desert preserve centre were the subject of an editorial for Italian Vogue. She is seen posing in the middle of elephants, Timpo and Kura respectively, reminiscent of Richard Avedon’s photograph of Dovima in Dior. Here, Hedren is dressed in Valentino throughout.
Fast-forward to present day and 85-year-old Ms Hedren is still running the sanctuary. She regrets that it was “stupid beyond belief” to put her family at risk by allowing an animal with to roam free in their home. Now, 34-years on, Roar is given a new life and has been re-released at the cinemas and DVD.
All photos below by Michel Comte from Vogue Italia, August 1993. (Fashion Editor: Anna Dello Russo / Hair: Richard Keo/Bumble & Bumble / Make Up: Monika Blunder/Oribe)