SCORE: 2 out of 4 Tennis Balls

February 25, 1976

Dear Diary,

Mood Ring: Orange


Tonight the Bionic Woman let a girl bring a real lion to school! And then Jaime helped feed some zoo animals for a lady and the lion attacked her, but she saved it from being shot. She did not have to work for the OSI this week. I like how Jaime wears coats made out of blankets.





September 9, 2012

Dear Bionic Blondes,

Mood Ring: Yellow


Sharpen your Claws, kids. Tonight we get to spend an hour with Jaime at a "wild animal ranch" and learn to look the other way on a multitude of child endangerment violations, while reconciling a generation gap on what constitutes humane treatment for captive animals. But what ev, because most important was the fact the Bionic Woman was right on time tonight.


We begin in Jaime's classroom where it's Show and Tell day! It's little Katie's turn to make her presentation, but she battles awkward shyness—and little Robbie Rist complains "her stuff's always so dull!" Then suddenly a Lion wanders into the classroom, and the terrified students all shift back in their seats and gasp. No worries! Miss Sommers assures the children this lion is completely tame—which is why she follows it up with a fine print legal disclaimer— and cautions everybody to remain absolutely still and whatever you do, don't panic. Katie commands the lion, "Neil! Lie down!"  Naturally her fellow classmates are impressed with her show and tell demonstration, and jealous of all the brownie points she is scoring as the teacher's pet.


Then a woman named Susan Victor, Neil's real owner and trainer, trails in a few moments later, long after her lion has already mauled everybody. Just kidding, but woah, talk about a lawsuit risk by not even having the professional trainer present to control her lion during this meet and greet with a pantry full of child snacks. Anyway, she's played by Hollywood legend Tippi Hedren, best known for narrowly surviving Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller "The Birds."  Today, she has a different flock.


Jurassic Park: Tippi, I mean Susan, has rescued a menagerie of exotic animals and is caring for them on her newly acquired ranch in Ojai. This lion came from a circus, traumatized by his trainer's gunshots (yeah…um gunshots kinda make humans go nuts, too) so Susan took him in, where she practices a more humane technique with her animals called "affection training." In the following scene Jaime stops by Susan's ranch for an elephant ride on "Tusker," as we watch Katie feeding a chimpanzee, black bear, wild boar and a pair of llamas in the background.


Trouble in Eden: As the new kid on the block, Susan confesses to Jaime the neighbors have not been very welcoming. Because of the lion's roars, one rancher claims his dairy cows are "drying up."  Her finances appear to be drying up, as well… she's a month behind on her feed bill, had to let an assistant go, and has not been paying little Katie for all her child sweatshop labor, either. But Susan tells Jaime she has big hopes that she'll have some money coming in soon! She is waiting for a producer to call with a animal acting gig for Neil, who is too lazy to wait tables like the rest of the actors in Hollywood—hoping Cats will re-open on Broadway.


Suddenly, ring-ring! Jaime follows Susan into her house and they both cross their fingers while she answers the phone—terrifyingly located next to a Scarlet Macaw parrot sitting on a perch. (I guess this means Tippi trusts at least one bird, now?) The caller asks Susan to fly to New York tonight to audition for her lion, so Jaime offers to lock up all her animals (except Neil) over the weekend and help Katie babysit them until she returns. This will be fun! Did I mention this will be fun?


Zoo Crew: The next morning Jaime shows up for duty, wearing jeans and a multi-colored quilt jacket that reminds me of Dolly's Parton's living-in-poverty song, "Coat of Many Colors."  While I try to get that blessed tune out of my head now, Katie and Jaime are busy doing animal chores like diapering the chimp and bionic-lifting 100 lb. sacks of feed into the barn. (Guess which one Jaime did.) Neil, who does not like confinement and is given a roaming "Born Free" all-access pass to the property, suddenly starts to growl, which causes all the animals to get stressed. Oh no, the elephant breaks from its leg chain and smashes through the fence! But Jaime manages to secure the chain and pound the stake back into the ground, arresting the elephant’s rampage. Katie reckons Neil is upset because she forgot to feed him. Yes, these animals are in good hands.


Say Uncle: Just then Bill Elgin arrives in his pick up truck. We learn Bill is Jaime's uncle (her step father Jim's brother). Helen and Jim are out of town, so he has volunteered to babysit Jaime this weekend. Uncle Bill didn't realize Jaime was here zoo-keeping—he was actually looking for Susan, because this ornery man he has with him named Charlie Keys thinks her lion Neil killed one of his steers last night. When the lion wanders up, Keys pulls out his rifle. Jaime pleads with him to put the gun away because Neil is not a threat, and besides she's bionic-holding his cat collar. When they leave, Keys threatens to shoot the lion if he ever sets foot on his land.


What's Your Sofa Sleep Number? That night under a full moon, Jaime is trying to sleep on the couch, but the world of Dr. Doolittle in this living room is too noisy. The lion, chimp and parrot are all sounding off and Jaime can't count sheep! She rolls over and puts the pillow over her head, which effectively obstructs her bionic hearing and quiets the noisy room. And then, having not yet been briefed on the 3rd season episode lineup, Jaime mumbles in frustration, "Oscar, I hope you never send me on a safari." Unbeknownst to Jaime as she drifts back to sleep, the lion opens the front door and wanders out into the night.


Rise and Shine: When Jaime wakes up the next morning, Neil is lying on the floor next to her—but the front door is wide open. Oops, hope there weren’t any hamburgers on the late night drive-thru menu! After morning chores like bionic-fixing the fence and feeding the animals again, Jaime learns from Katie that they recently had to cut back on meat in Neil's carnivorous diet due to budget constraints. Cue the arrival of the Sheriff and Keys, there to inform Jaime that a wild cat ate another one of Keys’ cattle last night and Neil is the #1 suspect. The Bionic Woman cleverly tells a babysitter’s observational truth regarding the lion's whereabouts last evening:



With her sworn testimony, the sheriff backs down and just orders her to lock Neil up for a few days so they can rule him out in the event of another attack.


I’ll Be A Monkey’s Uncle: Later the phone rings and Jaime cutely lets the chimpanzee pick up the receiver. Her uncle Bill is checking in, because after all, as a member of the family, he's been in the habit of exercising this obligation since Jaime “was 12 years old.”  I think it was really nice of Jaime's parents—not to mention eerily foreshadowing— they turned over custody of their only daughter to the Elgin family four years before they died. #FactCheckers  But no worries Uncle Bill, everything is fine. When Jaime bids goodnight and hangs up, Katie yells for help, which affords us the opportunity to see the really lovely embroidery detail on the back of Jaime’s denim blouse as she races out the door. Oh no, Neil has run away because Katie did not follow directions and let him out of his cage! (Wow, your grade just dropped to a D, kid.)


So Jaime races off into the night to find Neil and brings him back. Then it's time for Katie to go home, because Jaime thinks the plot is getting too dangerous for her. That night with Neil caged in the barn, his growl alarm goes off again—alerting Jaime to a wild cougar approaching the Daili llamas by the barn. Jaime bionic-tosses a rock to scare the cougar away, earning her 150 Points. Woo-hoo! (Notice how I avoided saying ‘Angry Birds score’ for fear this could cause a psychological setback for Tippi.)


Who Ordered The Spaghetti Western? The next morning Jaime changes into another coat of many colors—we'll call this episode her Amish Quilt phase. Keys and Uncle Bill are visiting again, and Jaime tries to convince them she saw a cougar last night and that it's responsible for the cattle killings, not Neil. When Keys accuses her of lying, Jaime hops on a freshly saddled horse (hey, where did that come from?) and takes off to find the cougar and prove them all wrong. Uncle Bill can't let his headstrong niece do this alone, so he mounts the second horse from out of nowhere and gallops after her. It is at this point that we suddenly seem to get dragged into an episode of Gunsmoke.


Blazing Saddles: With Jaime and Bill riding into the sunset, cowboy Keys takes this opportunity to set the falsely accused lion free from the ‘town jail’ so that he can legally shoot him when he trespasses on his land. Out on the range, Jaime bionic hears the lion and cougar angrily bumping into each other again, so she splits with Uncle Bill to investigate by taking a bionic shortcut through a rocky canyon. But then Uncle Bill gets ambushed by the cougar, so to break up the attack, Jaime reaches into what I thought was her purse—but it turns out this was a designer handbag of tranquilizer darts. Score: 500 (You Know What) points, because of course Jaime’s precision aim nails the cougar with a single, freestyle dart throw. Afterwards, the cougar got to have a really nice, American Humane Association nap.


Flash Mob: By now Keys has organized him a posse to go git this Injun, I mean lion, vigilante-style. The only difference is that instead of riding horses, all these guys lazily drive around in trucks and SUVs and jeeps waving their rifles, calling each other on their CB radios.  Keys shoots and wounds Neil, and they all track the injured lion to “the old Bennet place,"  an empty farmhouse and barn (namesake nod to producer Harve Bennett), and I guess since it's for sale, Keys, the posse decider, decides they should throw flares into the barn where Neil has retreated and just burn it to the ground. WTF?  Even though there’s a dozen armed NRA cowboys here full of testosterone eager to hunt and shoot anything that moves, what the heck—let’s just burn him alive instead!


Cat Scratch Fever: Jaime follows Katie's screams for them to leave Neil alone, and arrives just as the posse was about to move in and burn the barn. After some arguing, Jaime barrels through their barricade and convinces them to let her handle the lion herself. Which doesn't go so well once she enters the barn… Neil, who is exhibiting aggression thanks to his bloody paw injury, immediately attacks her and scratches her human hand with his, you guessed it, claws. Jaime kicks Neil away and escapes up a ladder. Wait, wardrobe on set! Jaime's jeans have been accidentally soiled here from the fall!  (I choose to believe this was mud she fell in, instead of the possibility Neil may have missed the litter box.)


Nine Lives: But Jaime refuses to give up… she joins Neil at ground level again and tries to offer him gentle, Dr. Sommers Irritable Lion Syndrome therapy, but accidentally trips over a shovel while backing up, leaving her in an assailable position again on the barn floor. With bionic fist drawn, Jaime warns, "If you come in for another bite, man, I'm gonna have to deck you." Neil stalks her again, but instead of attacking, this time he lies down next to Jaime and purrs like a kitten. Awww.


Just then the Sheriff arrives and splits up the angry posse, opens the barn door and finds Jaime hugging Neil. Sigh, don't you just love happy endings?


In the final scene, we're back at the animal ranch, where Jaime tells Katie she was really proud of the way she stood up to that posse in the name of animal welfare. Suddenly Neil runs off again… to meet Susan, who is coming down the driveway! After happy greetings all around, plus the news that Susan got the entertainment gig for Neil and they can finally pay the bills again, Susan notices the bandage on Jaime's wounded hand.


"Hey, you didn't have any trouble while I was gone, did you?" Suddenly all the animals begin to vocalize and chatter again, causing all the humans to laugh and freeze their pose until the credits clawed, I mean rolled.


However, don’t think I didn’t notice that Susan’s parrot was mysteriously missing here at the end. Hmmm...


Out Claws; Back After These Messages: Here’s the thing. I spent nearly 7 years working closely with a licensed, non-profit sanctuary. So I really appreciated the humane treatment of animals message this episode was trying to convey way back in 1976. But I also could not help but cringe as I watched the animals used in this filming—an elephant covered in bull hook scars with stereotypic swaying behavior, and this lion's incisor teeth had been filed down and/or removed. So unfortunately, I kept being taken out of the story on screen, terrified for Ms. Wagner's life (and the child actors) in each and every scene filmed with this lion. As seen in real-life tragic events, at any given moment these wild animals can and do snap, regardless of the presence of their handlers. I lost a friend this way, so it is in her memory that I'm using this as a teachable moment, Jaime Sommers-style.


Today, this progressive "affection training" method is more commonly known as positive reinforcement, where an animal is praised and rewarded by their handler for doing what is asked of them, rather than physically punished for doing something wrong. A few years after this Bionic Woman episode, Tippi Hedren went on to found the Shambala Preserve and Roar Foundation in California, and has been a wonderful advocate in rescuing and raising awareness about exotic cats, which sadly are still being sold in the wild animal trade for private ownership.


Ima get off my animal crackers soapbox now, but ask that before you ever consider attending a circus, please do some research first (looking for facts that are not sponsored by the circus itself), and never be afraid to question your local zoos and explore sanctuaries before you donate, too. And examine your legislators’ views before you vote. These animals still need a voice, and it is thanks to the public and private efforts of people like Tippi Hedren and Ms. Wagner that we can measure some progress today. Sadly, there is still a lot of deception going on out there on the humane treatment of animals from their profiteers. Please support the ones who truly put the welfare of these animals first, not their ticket sales. You'd be surprised how many so-called "reputable" entities continue to be fined by the USDA for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.





Addendum: On Oct. 17, 2014, TIME Magazine’s website featured this story and reprinted pictures from a LIFE magazine photographer—with Tippi Hedren and her then-teenage daughter Melanie Griffith at home with their pet lion Neil in 1971.


From the article: “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."





Aside from a nice green dress at school in the beginning, Jaime had a very casual Gap-style wardrobe for her weekend on Noah’s Ark, pairing different blouses and jackets with bell-bottomed blue jeans and tennis shoes. I counted 6 different outfits in all this week. Her long-sleeved denim shirt had some nice embroidery details, two different quilted jackets (aka her Amish Quilt phase, the rust one was hooded, too) and at the end, she had on a gold blouse with the same sweater she wore in Welcome Home Jaime (Part 1). Shown above (but not counted) is the tan colored top she wore while sleeping on the couch.  I couldn’t tell if these were actual “jammies” or just a blouse.




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Jaime plays bionic zoo keeper for the weekend and battles her lions share of danger. Here kitty, kitty, kitty...


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