Leo the Lion (MGM)

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Mascot of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Leo the MGM lion 1928.jpg
Jackie, the third MGM lion, in-studio in 1928
(MGM Holdings, Inc)
Formation1917; 105 years ago (1917)
First holderUnknown (1917–1923)
Final holderLeo (1957–present)

Leo the Lion is the mascot for the Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and one of its predecessors, Goldwyn Pictures, featured in the studio's production logo, which was created by the Paramount Studios art director Lionel S. Reiss.[1]

Since 1917, and through the time the studio was formed by the merger of Samuel Goldwyn's studio with Marcus Loew's Metro Pictures and Louis B. Mayer's company in 1924, there have been eleven different lions used for the MGM logo.[citation needed] Although MGM has referred to all of the lions used in their trademark as "Leo the Lion", only the lion in use since 1957 (a total of 65 years), was actually named "Leo". In 2021, MGM introduced a new CGI logo which features a lion partially based on Leo.


Slats (1924–1928)[edit]

One of the lions used by Goldwyn Pictures. The name of the lion is unknown

Slats,[2] trained by Volney Phifer, was the first lion used in the branding of the newly formed studio. Born at the Dublin Zoo[3] on March 20, 1919, and originally named Cairbre[4] (“Charioteer” in Gaelic[5]), Slats was used on all black-and-white MGM films between 1924 and 1928. the first MGM film that used the logo was He Who Gets Slapped (1924).

Unlike his successors, Slats did nothing but look around in the logo, making him the only MGM lion not to roar. However, it is rumored that Phifer trained the lion to growl on cue, despite the fact that synchronized sound would not be used in motion pictures until 1927. Howard Dietz stated that he decided to use a lion as the company's mascot as a tribute to his alma mater Columbia University, whose mascot was the Columbia Lion. He further added that the school's fight song, "Roar, Lion, Roar", inspired him to make the subsequent logo lions roar.

Slats died in 1936, and is buried in Gillette, New Jersey by Volney Phifer, who planted a pine tree on his grave to "keep the lions spirit down."[6]

Jackie (1928–1956)[edit]

Jackie, used from 1928 to 1956
1928 poster promoting a traveling tour of Jackie

Jackie,[2] born in 1915, trained by Mel Koontz, was the second lion used for the MGM logo. He was a wild lion brought from Sudan,[7] and the first MGM lion to roar. This was recorded long after he was filmed and at least three different recordings of roars/growls were used, first heard via a gramophone record for MGM's first production with sound, White Shadows in the South Seas (1928). Jackie roared/growled three times before looking off to the right of the screen (the lion's left); in the early years that this logo was used (1928 – c. 1933), there was a slightly extended version wherein, after looking off to the right, the lion would return his gaze to the front a few seconds later. Jackie appeared on all black-and-white MGM films from 1928 to 1956 (replacing Slats), as well as the sepia-tinted opening credits of The Wizard of Oz (1939). He also appeared before MGM's black-and-white cartoons, such as the Flip the Frog and Willie Whopper series produced for MGM by the short-lived Ub Iwerks Studio, as well as the Captain and the Kids cartoons produced by MGM in 1938 and 1939. A colorized variation of the logo can be found on the colorized version of Babes in Toyland (1934), also known as March of the Wooden Soldiers; an animated version created using rotoscope appeared on the 1939 Captain and the Kids cartoon Petunia Natural Park. For the films Westward the Women and The Next Voice You Hear... (both 1950), a still frame of the logo -- sans growling—was used at the beginning. Jackie died on February 26, 1935, after suffering heart problems.[8][9] He would later make a comeback at the beginning of the film Hearts of the West (1975).

In the early 1930s, MGM reissued some of its earlier, pre-1928 silent films with prerecorded music soundtracks and sounds; such films included Greed (1924), Ben-Hur (1925), Flesh and the Devil (1926), and The Unknown (1927). For these sound reissues, the original Slats logo was replaced with Jackie, causing many film authorities[who?] to assume that the Jackie logo had been in use prior to 1928.[citation needed]

In addition to appearing in the MGM logo, Jackie appeared in over a hundred films, including the Tarzan movies that starred Johnny Weissmuller. Jackie also appeared with an apprehensive Greta Garbo in a well-known 1926 publicity still. A short 1933 film of a very annoyed Jackie receiving a bath from trainer Mel Koontz also exists. The lion is also known for surviving several accidents, including a sinking ship, two train wrecks, an earthquake, and an explosion in the studio. In the most famous case, a pilot had to crash-land his plane, and left Jackie stranded in the Arizona wilderness for four days with some water and sandwiches.[10] Jackie received the nickname "Leo the Lucky".

Bill (c. 1927-1928), Telly (1928–1932), Coffee (1932–1935)[edit]

Coffee, one of the three lions used for Technicolor test logos on early MGM color productions from 1932 to 1935.

MGM began experiments with two-strip color short subjects in 1927 and animated cartoons in 1930. For these productions, three different lions were used.

Footage of the first lion (unnamed) is widely inaccessible, although a few frames of the logo with this lion exist in the public domain. He is known to have appeared in the silent color films Buffalo Bill's Last Fight (1927) and The Heart of General Robert E. Lee (1928). The former gave him the nickname Bill, while the latter is currently being restored by the Library of Congress.

The second lion, Telly, appeared on color MGM movies between 1928 and 1932.[11] An extended version of the logo featuring Telly appears at the beginning of the film The Viking (1928), featuring the lion having the same roar as Jackie. In current prints of The Mysterious Island (1929), Telly appears in black and white because the color version is lost.

The third lion, Coffee, appeared on color films between 1932 and 1934[11] or 1935 for the Happy Harmonies shorts, until production was switched to full three-strip Technicolor filming. The Cat and the Fiddle (1934) had brief color sequences, but was otherwise in black-and-white including its opening credits, so it used Jackie instead of Coffee. The Cat and the Fiddle however, showed its "The End" title card against a Technicolor background. An extended version of the logo featuring Coffee appears at the beginning of the short Wild People (1932), featuring the lion roaring three times, rather than just twice.

Tanner (1934–1967)[edit]

MGM began producing full three-strip Technicolor films in 1934. Tanner,[2] also trained by Mel Koontz, was used on all Technicolor MGM films (1934–1953) and cartoons (1935–1958, 1963–1967, except for 1965's The Dot and the Line), replacing Telly and Coffee. The Wizard of Oz (1939) had the Oz scenes in color, but it had the opening credits, closing credits, and the Kansas scenes in sepia-toned black-and-white, so it used Jackie instead of Tanner. Third Dimensional Murder (1941) was shot in 3-D and in Technicolor, but it had the opening credits in black-and-white, so it also used Jackie instead of Tanner. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and The Secret Garden (1949) both had brief color sequences, but were otherwise in black-and-white including their opening credits, so they used Jackie instead of Tanner as well. The Secret Garden, however, showed its "The End" title card and the cast list against a Technicolor background. The Long, Long Trailer (1954) and Forever, Darling (1956) use Tanner with Jackie's roar instead. Tanner roared three times in the logo; an extended version of this logo appeared on the Color tone and several early James A. Fitzpatrick Traveltalks color shorts, with two additional roars from the lion.

Tanner, used from 1934 to 1956, also used in the 1960s

Tanner, whose first appearance was before the short subject Holland in Tulip Time (1934), was MGM's third longest-lived lion to be used, for a total of 22 years). His first feature film appearance was before Sweethearts four years later, in 1938. He featured after Jackie, who was used for a total of 28 years, and the current lion, who has been retained for 65 years. It is this version of the logo that was the most frequently used version throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, although color did not really become the norm until the 1960s, and even then, many movies were still being made in black-and-white.

In addition to being used as MGM's lion mascot, Tanner also made an appearance before the film Countdown for Zorro (1936), Three Stooges shorts Movie Maniacs (1936), Wee Wee Monsieur (1938), Three Missing Links (1938), You Nazty Spy (1940) and Hold That Lion! (1947). Also, between the mid 1940s and 1960s, MGM's cartoon studio would use Tanner's roar as a sound effect for many of their animated shorts.

Tanner and Jackie were both kept in the change from Academy ratio films to widescreen CinemaScope movies in 1953, with Tanner for color movies and Jackie for black-and-white films. The logo was modified for this change; the marquee below the ribbon design was removed, and the company name was thus placed in a semi-circle above the ribbon.

George (1956–1963)[edit]

George, used from 1956 to 1963

The seventh lion, called George,[12] was introduced in 1956, and appeared more heavily maned than any of the other lions.[11] There were at least three different variations of the logo with George.

Leo (1957–present)[edit]

Leo, the eighth and current lion, is by far MGM's longest-used, having appeared on most MGM films since 1957. Leo was born in Dublin Zoo, Ireland, the same as Slats. He was also the youngest at the time MGM filmed him roaring, hence his much smaller mane. It debuted for the film Tip on a Dead Jockey, but since the release date of the aforementioned film was unknown, The Seventh Sin actually has credit for the official debut.

Leo was purchased from famous animal dealer Henry Trefflich, and trained by Ralph Helfer. In addition to being used as the MGM lion, Leo also appeared in other productions such as the religious epic King of Kings (1961), The Lion (1962), Zebra in the Kitchen (1965), Fluffy (1965), and Napoleon and Samantha (1972); as well as a memorable TV commercial for Dreyfus Investments in 1961. Leo also made several appearances on the 1971-72 TV series The Pet Set, proving himself gentle enough to let a blind teenage girl pet him in one episode.

Two different versions of this logo were used: an "extended" version, with the lion roaring three times, used from 1957 to 1960; and the "standard" version, with the lion roaring twice, used since 1960. In the Chuck Jones-directed Tom and Jerry cartoons released between 1963 and 1967 (as with cartoons from the same series made between 1957 and 1958), Tanner was used in the opening sequence instead of Leo, albeit using Leo's roar. Three MGM films, Raintree County (1957), Ben-Hur (1959), and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), utilized a still-frame variation of this logo on Raintree County and Mutiny of the Bounty, however, would also have the lion's roar played along with their opening scores. For Ben-Hur, the reason for this was because the film's director, William Wyler, thought that the roar would feel out of place for the opening nativity scene of the movie. This logo would also appear on black-and-white films, such as Jailhouse Rock (1957) and A Patch of Blue (1965). Some television prints of the 1943 film Cabin in the Sky, have replaced the Jackie logo with Leo for unknown reasons. The logo was modified for MGM's 50th anniversary in 1974. The usual film ribbon appeared on screen with the phrase "BEGINNING OUR NEXT 50 YEARS..." on a black background within the film circle; the phrase dissolves as "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer" (above the ribbon) and "GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY" (in place of the usual "TRADE MARK") both rendered in gold fade in along with Leo, who roars twice. This logo appeared on most MGM films released during 1974-75.

MGM's short-lived "Stylized Lion" logo.

In 1965, in an attempt to update its image, MGM recruited Lippincott to create a more contemporary logo.[13] The result, a circular still graphic of a lion known as "The Stylized Lion", appeared at the beginning of two films in the 1960s: 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Subject Was Roses, both released in 1968. Afterwards, Leo was reinstated for the opening logo. The Stylized Lion, however, was retained by the studio as its print logo, used on theatrical posters and by the MGM Records division studio advertising, in addition to being shown at the end of credit rolls following most MGM movie releases of this period, continuing until 1982. It was later used by the MGM Grand casinos. A refined version of it is used as the logo for their parent company, MGM Resorts International.

The logo was retained in the corporate revamp following their acquisition of United Artists in 1981. The logo now read "MGM/UA Entertainment Co."; this logo would appear on all MGM/UA films from 1983 until 1986 and again in 1987 on the film O.C. and Stiggs, which was originally produced in 1985. It was also at this time that the original lion roar sound which actually sampled Tanner's roar was replaced with a remade stereophonic one, redone by Mark Mangini. This later version featured tiger sounds; as Mangini would later explain, "[L]ions don't make that kind of ferocious noises [sic], and the logo needed to be ferocious and majestic.".[14] The first film to use the new roar sound was Poltergeist (1982). Incidentally, the sound effect was also used for the "door ghost" near the end of the film.

Lion statue in front of the MGM Grand Resort & Casino, Las Vegas

From 1984 to 1985, MGM used a variation of its main studio logo for its 60th anniversary based on the print logo, with the ribbons in a golden color. Above the ribbons were the words "Diamond Jubilee", replacing the standard company name, and its font color was silver and below the ribboning was the phrase "Sixty Years of Great Entertainment". The "Ars Gratia Artis" motto was removed from inside the circle and replaced with the text "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists". The drama mask from the bottom had its surrounding laurels removed, and the mask itself was moved up a little so that an additional golden ribbon with the text reading "Entertainment Co." below would be added. Although the new roar effect done by Mangini was primarily being used at the time, 2010: The Year We Make Contact had both the original and 1982 roar effects mixed together.

When the company began using MGM and UA as separate brands in 1986, a new logo for MGM was introduced; the same gold ribbons used for the "Diamond Jubilee" variant was retained, and the text was redone in exactly the same color. The following year, a new "MGM/UA Communications Co." logo was introduced, and would precede both the MGM and UA logos until it was dropped in 1990. However, both logos would maintain the byline "An MGM/UA Communications Company" until 1992. Mangini remixed Leo's 1982 roar in 1995, using digital audio technology to blend it in with several other roar sounds; the remixed sound effect debuted with the release of Cutthroat Island (1995). This was done in order to give the roar more "muscle" which an MGM executive reportedly had found the iconic sound to be lacking beforehand, as well as fit it into films with 5.1 surround sound. In 2001, MGM's website address, "www.mgm.com", was added to the bottom of the logo.

The logo was revised again in 2008, with the ribbons, text, and drama mask done in a more brilliant gold color. Also, Leo's image was digitally restored and enhanced, thanks to the work of staff at Pacific Title: first off, a three-dimensional model of Leo's mane was designed, and then composited and blended onto the lion's actual mane; secondly, the tips of the lion's ears were digitally remodeled, so that the tip of his left ear would now cross in front of the film ribbon, in an effort to give the logo more depth.[9] For the restoration process, the extended "three-roar" version of Leo's footage was used, sourced from the master negative print of 1958's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as the original, raw footage of the lion, which was originally going to be used for the restoration, had been considered lost by this point.[9] For MGM's upcoming feature films, it would have to be shortened to show the lion roaring just twice. The new logo's design was based on that of MGM's then-current print logo, which had been introduced in 1992. The website address was also shortened to "MGM.COM". The lion's roar was remixed once again by sound editor Eric Martel,[9] maintaining most of the original 1982 sound elements. However, beginning with The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009), the 1995 roar was reused. The newly-done logo debuted with the release of the James Bond film Quantum of Solace.

In 2012, Shine Studio was chosen to redesign and animate the logo in stereoscopic 3-D (three-dimensional). Shine modeled a close up of Leo's eye creating an element to pull back through for a dramatic reveal of the lion, laurels and filmstrip. All the elements of the logo were re-built in 3-D and then placed on different planes to add dimensional layers and drama. The 1995 roar is reused once again as Leo roars and the company name is brought in from above to center the top screen, which completes the logo sequence. MGM's website address was removed, as MGM is no longer as of 2012 a self-distribution entity, but rather a production company. This logo was first used in the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall.

On March 8, 2021, MGM unveiled an updated logo, with Leo now being CGI animated, while being based on its 1957 footage, the first major redesign for the mascot in over six decades. The latest rendition leans into the company's traditional gold design, filtering out sepia tones and modernizing the logo by sharpening the film roll, mask and lettering. The biggest change is evident in the brand's new monogram, which uses the classic font of the MGM logo rather than the blocky lettering associated with MGM Resorts. Furthermore, the motto now shows its English translation, "Art for Art's Sake", then changing to its original Latin motto. It also had a proper fanfare alongside the re-used 1995 roar. MGM worked with Culver City, Calif.-based Baked Studios on the new look. While the new logo, similar to the previous logos, was set to be unveiled with the James Bond film No Time to Die, it was frequently delayed over 2 years from its intended November 2019 release to October 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It instead debuted with the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, which was released on August 13, 2021.[15]


MGM also used a secondary logo, seen in the opening and closing credits of most classic MGM movies. This design originated as the Metro-Goldwyn Pictures logo from 1923 to 1925. The logo features a graphic of a reclining lion (from a side view) on a pedestal that has the text "A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Picture" inscribed on it. Behind the lion is a semi-circular film ribbon with the "Ars Gratia Artis" motto ("Art for art's sake"), much like the film ribboning of the company's primary logo. On either side of the pedestal are torches. This secondary logo was used in the opening title and end titles of most MGM films from the mid 1920s until the early 1960s, then moved to the main film credits until the early 1980s. This logo was last seen in the 1994 film That's Entertainment! III.[citation needed]

Many of the short subjects produced by Hal Roach studios during the late 1920s and 1930s such as Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy featured a variation of the secondary logo in their closing titles. This variation had a lion cub on the pedestal, looking straight at the viewer.

In addition, several MGM films made in the late 1930s and early '40s set their entire opening credits against a background of a relief carving of an outline of the reclining lion image, similar to the one seen on the secondary logo. Among the many films that include this kind of credits sequence are the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol, based on the Charles Dickens novel, and Ninotchka from 1939, starring Greta Garbo. This reclining lion image was later used as the logo for MGM Television in the late 1950s.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Reiss, Lionel".
  2. ^ a b c "TV ACRES: Advertising Mascots – Animals – Leo the MGM Lion (MGM Studios)". TV Acres. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05.
  3. ^ "The life and times of the MGM Lion". MentalFloss.com. 21 October 2012.
  4. ^ "MGM lion born in Dublin, and other curiosities". The Irish Independent. 18 July 2004. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  5. ^ "Behind The Name Cairbre". BehindTheName.com.
  6. ^ "MGM Logo History and The 2008 Restoration Process" (PDF).
  7. ^ Joseph, Albright (2018-06-13). "Original MGM lion rests in N.J. & other historical tidbits". Newjersey.com. Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  8. ^ "Forensic Genealogy Book Contest".
  9. ^ a b c d https://garycoates.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/logo-history-restoration-article.pdf
  10. ^ Pigott, Peter (2016). Brace for Impact: Air Crashes and Aviation Safety. Dundurn. p. 45. ISBN 9781459732544. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Vignol, Christian (2017). Les animaux les plus célèbres: Anecdotes sur nos héros à poils et à plumes. Jourdan. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  12. ^ "MGM Logo History and the 2008 Restoration Process" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-07-25. Retrieved 2014-09-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Times, Navhind (2015-11-23). "'Sound helps filmmakers achieve narrative value for their films'". The Navhind Times. Retrieved 2021-07-01.
  15. ^ LundstromMarch 8, Kathryn; 2021. "MGM Studios Unveils New Brand Evolution". Retrieved 2021-07-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)

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