Friday, March 14, 2014

The MGM Lion: From Then to Meow

You've probably seen it a million times. Any cartoon or movie made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc (also known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or simply MGM) is prefaced with a majestic roaring lion dubbed--Leo. Trust me, you've seen him. And if you haven't, you're about to see more Leo's than most people will ever be exposed to. Oh wait, did I make a typing error? Surely I didn't mean to make Leo plural. I mean, how could there be more than one famous MGM roaring lion?

Oh dear naive reader, you have a lot to learn.

First, a brief history--

Once upon a time, there existed three independent film companies: Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer Pictures. Then, one fateful day in 1924 entertainment entrepreneur, Marcus Loew, decided to squish all of the little production companies into one big production company he named (oh so originally) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

"Oh no," thought Mr. Loew to himself, "I just made this new company, and I have no logo. What ever should I do?" Then he came up with the most genius plan. You see readers, Loewe is German for lion, therefore, Mr. Loew could take Goldwyn's previous logo, (he did buy it after all), and not even have to worry about creating something new and original.

Just a side note, the original lion logo was designed by studio publicist Howard Dietz in 1917 who wanted to give a little shout out to his alma mater: The University of Columbia             

Although in 1917, the mascot probably looked more like this:
Alright, so as I was saying, Loew decided to stick with the Goldwyn logo. But the very first "Leo the Lion" wasn't named Leo at all! In fact, the original roaring lion was named "Slats." 
Here's the handsome fellow during a shoot in 1924:

No one can deny that the lion earned the part after submitting this suggestive headshot:

And here's the Logo featuring Slats (used 1917-1927):

Some of our wittier readers may have already realized something interesting. Sure Slats was the first roaring lion, but MGM didn't produce their first sound-accompanied film until 1928. Therefore, it was not the majestic roar of Slats that audiences first heard, but the roar of Slats' look-a-like,"Jackie." Jackie continued to appear on all of MGM's black and white films until 1956, even with the development of color film. In fact, if you've ever seen the beloved 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, you've seen Jackie.

Here's Jackie doing his thing:

Hollywood stars used to take it as a high honor to get a photograph with the MGM lion.
Here's a snapshot of a slightly nervous looking Greta Garbo and Jackie:

Still she had little reason to be nervous. Jackie just liked to play.

During and after Jackie's reign a couple other MGM lions hit the big screen. 

   There was "Telly" the Lion                         Then  "Coffee"                              And then "Tanner" 
              (1927-1932)                                     (1932-1934)                                      (1934-1956)

And we can't forget the scariest MGM lion, "George"

^Is that even a lion?

Yupp. That's a lion alright.

Anyway, that brings us to the most famous MGM lion of them all: "Leo" the Lion. Leo is the most commonly used/seen lion in recent years because he's the lion you see (and hear) roaring in almost every MGM film made after 1957. 


A different logo, a circular still graphic image of a lion known as "The Stylized Lion", appeared on three films in the 1960s including Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and The Subject Was Roses (1968).

The "Stylized" Lion

No one really liked the fake lion, so it was discontinued pretty quickly. Still, the Stylized Lion was retained by the MGM Records division and was also used as a secondary logo on MGM film posters, in addition to being shown at the end of credit rolls following most MGM movie releases of this period. 

After the stylized lion failed, MGM went back to the lion that worked: Leo. It's Leo the Lion that audiences know and love today. 

The End.

P.S. Ever wondered what the phrase scrawled across the top of all of the logos mean? 
"Ars Gratia Artis" is Latin for "Art for Art's Sake." I think Dietz chose this mantra so that if people asked why he chose a lion he could just respond with, "Art for Art's Sake." Cause you know, he didn't want to look like a nerd who went to Columbia University.

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