Amanda Blake disrupted filming when she brought a lion to the Gunsmoke set

No wonder they called her Miss Kitty.

It's a good thing cowboys don't ride zebras. In 1974, in her final season on Gunsmoke, series star Amanda Blake brought her pet lion to work. His name was Kemo. The incident made headlines. 

Amanda Blake's Lion Upsets 'Gunsmoke' Set, declared The Toledo Blade on February 27, 1974. The headline sensationalized things a bit. Kemo was but a wee cub. And the "upset" was more of a cuddle party and adorable noise disturbance.

Blake, who was in her 19th season portraying Miss Kitty on the show, lived on a large property in the Arcadia area of the Phoenix metro area. She and her (third) hubby at the time, Arizona businessman Frank Gilbert, would commute from their Arizona home to the Gunsmoke set. This time, they packed the lion in the car.

When Blake brought Kemo to the set, a panic settled over the production. "People were scattering like mad and just going bananas," Blake recalled. "He was… so cute and playful that I couldn't imagine anyone being afraid of him."

Blake walked Kemo on a leash onto the set of the Long Branch Saloon, the establishment owned and operated by Miss Kitty. Kemo hopped atop the bar. "He posed for a photograph like a true ham," Blake gushed about her prized pet.

However, Blake and James Arness soon began filming a scene. As the cameras and sound rolled, whenever Marshal Matt Dillon began speaking, Kemo would roar and mewl. The production quickly banned Kemo from the set.

This would not be the only time that Blake and Kemo made the news. Animal lover Blake was hardly a stranger to exotic felines. In fact, she was one of the first people on the planet to successfully breed cheetahs in captivity. The Blake-Gilbert estate spanned four acres and featured long runs for her cheetahs and other large cats.

A year later, in 1975, a People magazine profile provided an update on Kemo. Blake at that point owned a leopard, four smaller leopard cats and 10 cheetahs, five of which were cubs. The declawed Kemo weighed in at 400 pounds by then, too. His days of sitting atop the Long Branch bar were certainly behind him.

An angry neighbor charged that Blake and Gilbert kept the animals illegally. Blake marched into the Arizona Fish and Game Commission and produced her valid permits for keeping such pets. Blake and Gilbert even hired a couple to live on their property and care for the beasts. 

"We don’t want them as pets," Blake clarified in People. "Our goal is to keep them genetically as close to the origins as possible."

No wonder they called her Miss Kitty.

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djw1120 12 days ago
Declawing a lion is NOT keeping him as genetically close to origins as possible.
If anything, it is a sin.
UTZAAKE 18 days ago
"'Amanda Blake's Lion Upsets 'Gunsmoke' Set,' declared The Toledo Blade on February 27, 1974. The headline sensationalized things a bit." Wow. Right next to a picture with both Bob Hope and Ara Parseghian.
RandyStegemann 19 days ago
Kemo must have been a little bit bigger than a wee cub if he could roar. I'd love to see the picture of him being a ham on the Long Branch bar. He must have been cute.
stephaniestavropoulos 19 days ago
Amanda "Miss Kitty Russell" Blake was "The Cat's Meow" for taking care and loving those furry, fabulous, fantastic, four footed, feline friends!
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