Temperament in an actor is expectable, but an elephant named Tembo has gone Hollywood with a vengeance. Filming the jungle thriller Roar in California’s Soledad Canyon recently, the five-ton bull tossed his trainer, Patricia Barbeau, into a tree, breaking her shoulder. A few days later Tembo had another tantrum, wrapping his powerful trunk around co-star Tippi Hedren, late of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and tossing her onto his head. She came down with a fractured leg and ankle.
“It really was a freak accident,” explains Tippi, whose husband, Noel Marshall, is producer and director of Roar. “Tembo and I have been friends for four years.” The elephant apparently became confused during a scene in which the actress was supposed to plunge from his back. “I’ve ridden him before and never fallen,” Tippi says. “That’s what went wrong. He just couldn’t understand why I kept screaming and falling off while the cameras were rolling.”
The screaming, unhappily, became real. “It was much worse than anything that happened in The Birds,” says Tippi, 47. “You can’t imagine the pressure. An elephant can lift half his own weight with his trunk alone, so the pain was unbearable.” The result: surgery and skin grafts, complicated by phlebitis and a touch of gangrene.
Though Tippi has suffered from nightmares since the incident, she is determined to finish the movie, which features a snarling cast of 107 lions, leopards, jaguars and cougars. But her relationship with Tembo, one of several animals who live with her and her husband on their Soledad Canyon ranch, may have gone pffft. “I certainly look at him differently,” Tippi concedes with a sigh. “We’re still talking, but it’ll never be the same.”