Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Tippi Hedren, perhaps most famous for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, is an actress of formidable gifts. Hitch said, when directing her in that classic film, that Hedren had “a faster tempo, city glibness, more humor [than another frequent Hitchcock heroine, Grace Kelly]. She displayed jaunty assuredness . . . and she memorized and read lines extraordinarily well.”

But her role as an animal-rights activist and conservationist might well be Hedren’s most lasting legacy. For decades, her Roar Foundation and the animal sanctuary, Shambala Preserve, in California have advocated for big (and not so big) cats from lions and leopards to bobcats and servals and she’s been honored with a host of humanitarian and conservation awards through the decades.

In 1971, LIFE photographer Michael Rougier spent time with Hedren; her teenage daughter, Melanie Griffith (from Hedren’s first marriage, to Peter Griffith), her then-husband, the agent and movie producer, Noel Marshall; and others at their home in California. Also in attendance: Neil, a 400-pound mature lion, who occasionally slept in the same bed as Griffith and, as these pictures attest, had the run of the house, from the kitchen to the living room to the swimming pool.

Hedren has since acknowledged that it was “stupid beyond belief” to put her family at risk by allowing an animal with “no conscience or remorse genes” to roam free. On that, at least, we can all agree even if these pictures make Neil look like the world’s biggest pussycat.

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

Tippi Hedren in her swimming pool, spouting water at Neil the lion, Calif., 1971.

Tippi Hedren’s Pet Lion Neil

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tippi Hedren's daughter, Melanie Griffith, with Neil the lion.

Melanie Griffith and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Melanie Griffith at her parents' home with Neil the lion, 1971.

Tippi Hedren’s Pet Lion Neil

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Neil the lion plays with a child, Calif., 1971.

Neil the lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tippi Hedren and Neil the lion, 1971.

Tippi Hedren and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tippi Hedren and Neil the lion, 1971.

Tippi Hedren and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tippi Hedren reading a newspaper beside Neil the pet Lion, in her California home.

Tippi Hedren and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tippi Hedren wrestling her pet lion, 1971.

Tippi Hedren and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Noel Marshall (husband of Tippi Hedren) works in his study while Neil the pet lion roars, 1971.

Noel Marshall and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Noel Marshall (husband of Tippi Hedren) with Neil the pet lion, 1971.

Noel Marshall and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tippi Hedren’s Pet Lion Neil

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tippi Hedren at home with Neil the lion, Calif., 1971.

Tippi Hedren and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A cleaning woman steps over Neil the lion in the home of Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall, 1971.

Neil the lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tippi Hedren at home with Neil the lion, Calif., 1971.

Tippi Hedren and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Melanie Griffith in bed with Neil the lion, 1971.

Melanie Griffith and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Melanie Griffith in bed with Neil the lion, 1971.

Melanie Griffith and Neil the Lion

Michael Rougier The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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