While everyone works their way through Tiger King, the bonkers six-part Netflix docuseries about an eccentric, gun-toting, zookeeper named Joe Exotic, and the mayhem spurred by his alleged murder-for-hire plot against Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin, it’s important to remember that there was someone else in the limelight who was obsessed with big cats first: Tippi Hedren.
Carole Baskin, Joe Exotic, Don Antle—all of them have nothing on Hedren, the tiger queen of Hollywood in the 1970s.
Hedren lived with exotic felines in her home, right alongside her husband and kids, in the ’70s. She began rescuing them in 1972, and in 1983 founded the Roar Foundation, the mission of which “is to educate the public about the dangers of private ownership of exotic animals.”
Tigers weren’t the only type of big cat they rescued, either. In 1971, Michael Rougier, a photographer for Life magazine, photographed Hedren and Griffith in their home with a 400 pound lion named Neil. In the photographs, Griffith can be seen swimming, playing, and even cuddling with Neil in bed. (Hedren later called the decision to allow lions to roam free inside their home “stupid beyond belief.”)
In her memoir, Tippi: A Memoir, the actress recalled when her love of big cats began. In 1969, she filmed two movies in Africa, Satan’s Harvest and Mister Kingstreet’s War, and grew fascinated by the creatures. She also the story of the time she and her second husband Noel Marshall made a film called Roar in 1973, which co-starred her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and two of her stepsons. She cast some of the tigers and lions she and her husband had rescued from Texas. At one point during rehearsal, a lion named Cherries looked at Hedren, thinking her head was a ball, and lunged, snapping its jaws around the actress’s scalp.
The incident didn’t stop her from living and playing with big cats, however. She continued to rescue them and live on the Shambala Preserve in Acton, California.
Hedren’s granddaughter, Dakota Johnson, recently referenced this period of time in her mom and grandma’s lives when they lived with big cats during her “Open Door” tour of her home for Architectural Digest: the actress keeps a photograph of her grandmother posing with one of her tigers at her house at Shambala Preserve.
A couple of decades after Hedren started the nonprofit Roar Foundation, she visited Big Cat Rescue in Florida, and posed for a photo with Baskin and her colleagues. So, if there was ever any question of which side Hedren would be on if she watched the Tiger King doc, we’d have to imagine she wouldn’t be siding with Joe Exotic.