She was born on Christmas morn and named Noelle. Not the least of the miracles of her birth was her weight—1 pound, 8 ounces—considering that her father was a 600-pound Siberian tiger and her mother a 450-pound African lioness. In the zoological lexicon, Noelle is a “tigon”—one of four in the U.S., according to her breeder, actress Tippi Hedren, 43. Tippi ought to know. She and her producer-director husband, Noel Marshall, own a ranch north of L.A. inhabited by 71 lions, 17 tigers, 13 leopards, two jaguars, 10 cougars, two elephants, three zebras and assorted birds, including an African vulture.
The large, hungry menagerie (the quadrupeds alone eat up $4,500 a week) was gathered for the couple’s upcoming movie, Roar, about a jungle animal researcher—which is where the idea for Noelle originated. “We were really trying for the birth, but didn’t know if it could happen,” says Tippi. Nikita the sire was placed in an iron cage with eight lionesses and settled on Debbie for the mother. But after the blessed event, neither would have anything to do with their cub. “I put her on an electric blanket, kept rubbing her tummy and got her to feed from a bottle,” reports Tippi. “I feel like she’s one of my own.” (Tippi has one daughter, actress Melanie Griffith, 21.)
Despite the flocks of winged attackers that Alfred Hitchcock set upon her in The Birds, Tippi has been an animal freak since 1970. That was when she began to raise lions, to the consternation of her L.A. neighbors. One year later, when the Marshall pride totaled seven, the family was forced to move to isolated Soledad Canyon. They now live, along with Noelle (who’s up to seven pounds), in a two-bedroom trailer they call home after two recent calamities. One was a flood that ruined six ranch buildings and cost the Marshalls $3.7 million. The other was Roar, which is a year behind schedule and 100 percent over budget. But Tippi and Noel Marshall believe in the movie and have sold off an old Beverly Hills property and 600 other acres to keep on filming. The cost has not been in money alone. Already during production, Tippi has suffered two fractures, skin grafts and gangrene when thrown by an elephant. She also needed 38 stitches after being bitten in the back of the head by a lion. But, as she says of Noelle and her other beasts, “Sure, I’m frightened, but I love them. It’s a great honor to be their friend.”