‘Gunsmoke’: One Star Once Brought a Lion to the Set

by Katie Maloney
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When you’re a famous actress who starred on Gunsmoke for 19 seasons, you bring your pet lion to set. They called her “Miss Kitty” for a reason, after all.

And that’s exactly what Amanda Blake, who played Miss Kitty on the show, did. During her 19th season with Gunsmoke, she decided to bring a family member to the set – her pet lion cub. At the time, Blake lived on a 4,000-acre property in Arizona. She and her then third husband would commute from Arizona to the set of Gunsmoke. One day in 1974, Blake decided she wanted to introduce her fellow cast members to one of her favorite pets, Kemo.

Kemo was a lion cub who Blake walked on a leash around the set. Some people rushed to hold and cuddle the wee cub, while others panicked and scattered to other locations.

“People were scattering like mad and just going bananas,” said Blake during an interview. “He was… so cute and playful that I couldn’t imagine anyone being afraid of him.

Blake even brought him to her character’s famed watering hole, the Long Branch Saloon. Kemo hopped on top of the bar and “he posed for a photograph like a true ham,” said Blake.

Producers Banned Blake’s Pet Lion From the Gunsmoke Set

Blake tried to keep Kemo on set while the actors filmed. However, as soon as the cameras started rolling and James Arness tried to deliver his lines, Kemo would make little cub roaring noises. So, producers quickly banned Kemo from the set.

To say that Amanda Blake was a fan of cats would be an understatement. In 1975, a year after his visit to the Gunsmoke set, People magazine published an update on Kemo. He was declawed and weighed 400 pounds. Along with Kemo, Blake also had a leopard, four smaller leopard cats, and 10 cheetahs.

Naturally, not all of Blake’s neighbors were happy that there were 400-lb exotic felines living next door. One of her neighbors even tried to claim that Blake was holding the animals in her home illegally. In response, Blake headed right to the Arizona Fish and Game Commission and produced her valid permits. Blake said that she didn’t want to keep the animals as pets. She wanted to recreate their natural habitats on her land.

“We don’t want them as pets,” said Blake. “Our goal is to keep them genetically as close to the origins as possible.”

Blake and her husband even hired animal caretakers to live on their property and care for the cats.

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