Leo the Lion (MGM)
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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.
Since 1916 (and when 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 seven different lions used for the MGM logo. Although MGM has referred to all of the lions used in their trademark as "Leo the Lion", only the current lion, in use since 1957, was actually named "Leo".
Slats, trained by Volney Phifer, was the first lion used for the newly formed studio. Born at the Dublin Zoo on March 20, 1919 and originally named Cairbre, Slats was used on all black-and-white MGM films between 1924 and 1928. The original logo was designed by Howard Dietz and used by the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation studio from 1916 to 1924 (see left). Goldwyn Pictures was ultimately absorbed into the partnership that formed MGM, and the first MGM film that used the logo was He Who Gets Slapped (1924). Dietz stated that he decided to use a lion as the company's mascot as a tribute to his alma mater Columbia University, whose athletic teams' nickname is The Lions; he further added that Columbia's fight song, "Roar, Lion, Roar", inspired him to make the lion roar. Ironically, unlike his successors, Slats did nothing but look around in the logo (as did the Goldwyn Pictures lion), and was there for the only MGM lion not to roar (although it is rumored that Volney Phifer trained the lion to growl on cue, despite the fact that synchronized sound would not officially be used in motion pictures until 1927). Slats died in 1936; however, his hide is currently on display at the McPherson Museum in McPherson, Kansas.
Jackie, trained by Mel Koontz, was the second lion used for the MGM logo. He was the first MGM lion to roar, which was first heard via a gramophone record for MGM's first production with sound, White Shadows in the South Seas (1928). In the early years that this logo was used (1928–c. 1933), there was a slightly extended version wherein, after growling three times and 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 (done via rotoscope) appeared on the 1939 Captain and the Kids cartoon Petunia Natural Park. Jackie died on February 26, 1952. 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 silent films with soundtracks containing recorded music and sound effects. Among the films reissued in this manner were Greed (1924), Ben-Hur (1925) and Flesh and the Devil (1926). For these sound reissues, Slats was plastered over by Jackie, causing some film authorities to assume that the lion had been in use before 1928.
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. The lion is also known for surviving several accidents (including two train wrecks, an earthquake, and an explosion in the studio), giving him the nickname "Leo the Lucky".
Telly (1928–1932) and Coffee (1932–1935)
MGM began experiments with two-strip color short subjects in 1928 and animated cartoons in 1930. Two two-strip Technicolor variations of the MGM logo were created, with two different lions being used. The first lion, Telly, appeared on all color MGM movies between 1928 and 1932. The second lion, Coffee, appeared on color films between 1932 and 1934 (and 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. Also, an extended version of the logo featuring Telly appeared at the beginning of the film The Viking (1928), featuring the lion roaring/growling three times, rather than twice.
MGM began producing full three-strip Technicolor films in 1934. Tanner, 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.)
Tanner, whose first appearance was before the short subject Star Night at the Coconut Grove (1934) (his first feature film appearance was before Sweethearts four years later, in 1938), was MGM's third longest-lived lion to be used (for a total of 22 years), after Jackie (who was used for a total of 28 years) and the current lion (who has been retained for 59 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). An extended version of this logo appeared on the short Star Night at the Coconut Grove and early James A. Fitzpatrick Traveltalks color shorts, with two additional wild roars from the lion.
In addition to being used as MGM's lion mascot, Tanner also made an appearance in the Three Stooges short 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 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 placed in a semi-circle above the ribbons.
The sixth lion, officially named George, was introduced in 1956, and appeared more heavily maned than any of the other lions. Two different versions of this lion clip were used; one with the lion roaring toward the right of the screen and then roaring at the camera, and another with the lion roaring toward the upright corner of the screen. This logo would have either a black or dark brownish/grayish background, although a blue background variant has been spotted on The Wings of Eagles (1957). This logo would also appear on black-and-white movies.
Leo, the seventh lion, is by far MGM's longest-used lion, having appeared on most MGM films since 1957. He was born in Burgers Zoo in Arnhem, the Netherlands. He was also the youngest at the time MGM filmed him roaring (hence his much smaller mane).
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), 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 1957–1960); 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, Tanner was used in the opening sequence instead of Leo. Three MGM films, Raintree County (1957), Ben-Hur (1959), and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), utilized a still-frame variation of this logo (Raintree County (1957) and Mutiny of the Bounty (1962), however, would also have the lion's roar played along with their opening scores). For Ben-Hur, the reason for this was because the director 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.
In 1965, in attempt to update its image, MGM recruited Lippincott to create a more contemporary logo. The result, a circular still graphic image of a lion known as "The Stylized Lion", appeared at the front of three films in the 1960s: Grand Prix (1966), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and The Subject Was Roses (1968). Afterwards, Leo was reinstated for the opening logo. The Stylized Lion, however, was retained by the studio as its print logo, used 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, in fact, sampled Tanner's roar) was replaced with a new tiger sound, recorded and edited by Mark Mangini and mastered in stereophonic sound; the first film to use the new roar sound was Poltergeist (1982). Incidentally, the sound effect was also used for a beast in the film (Manjini, ironically, had also recorded lion vocalizations for the beast, although these would not be used for Leo's new roar).
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 it's 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 (1984) 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 a year later; the same gold ribbons used for the "Diamond Jubilee" variant was retained, and the text was redone in exactly the same color. Subsequently, 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 still have the byline "An MGM/UA Communications Company" until 1992.) Leo's roar was remixed again in 1995, because an MGM executive found the then-current roar to be "lacking muscle". Using digital audio technology to blend many roars together, including the 1982 tiger roar, the new roar effect debuted with the release of Cutthroat Island (1995). (The purpose of the new roar, also done by Mark Mangini, was not only to give the sound more "muscle", but also to fit 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 enhanced. (The new logo was apparently based off MGM's then-current logo, which had been introduced in 1986.) , The website address was also shortened to, "MGM.COM". The lion's roar was remixed once again, but 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.
Unknown lion (Strange Brew - 1983)
The 1983 Canadian beer-themed film Strange Brew opens with a one-off version of the MGM logo where the lion belches within one second of the fade-in. Then the lion grunts and the camera begins a sweeping dolly move to the right and then the rear of the logo. Behind the logo, Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as Bob and Doug McKenzie are trying to goad the sedate lion into roaring. Thomas (as Doug) says, "Maybe I oughta crank his tail, eh? That oughta start him up." He then begins cranking the lion's tail, yelling "start up, eh!" When the lion stirs, Moranis (as Bob) says "Oh, jeez, he's getting mad, eh?" Then, in a breaking of the fourth wall, they both notice the camera and run to their "Great White North" set to begin the movie.
Secondary MGM logo
MGM also used a secondary logo, seen in the opening and closing credits of many classic MGM movies. This design originated as the Metro-Goldwyn Pictures logo from 1923 to 1924. The logo features a graphic image 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, 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 1920s until the early 1960s, then moved to the main film credits until the mid-1980s. For example, the logo is seen on the 1983 release A Christmas Story during the closing credits.
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, many 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. Among the 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.
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- "The life and times of the MGM Lion". MentalFloss.com.
- "MGM lion born in Dublin, and other curiosities". The Irish Independent. 18 July 2004. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
- "Leo, the MGM Lion". RoadsideAmerica.com.
- "Skin of Leo the MGM Lion". RoadsideAmerica.com.
- "MGM Logo History and the 2008 Restoration Process" (PDF).