We’ve seen him roar countless times but how was one of the world’s most renowned animated logo, the legendary Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion intro recorded? And does any of the legends circulating around the recording prove to be true?
“The well-known symbol of the MGM movies, the roaring lion was originally planned to be silent, but during filming a pair of burglars – Boris Regina and Karl Maninovsky – incidentally walked in on set. The lion started roaring and attacked the burglars – one of them died of his injuries in the hospital, the other was hit in mid-escape by a police car that just arrived to the crime scene … the lion killed his trainer and the two assistants of his the next day… the recording was supervised by Alfred Hitchock himself” – these are only a few often-quoted trivias related to the most well-known animated logo. But how much of these are actually true?
The first thing that needs clarification before anything else: there wasn’t only one Marlboro Man in world history and certainly not one single lion who posed in front of the camera for long decades. The idea actually predates 1924 – when MGM was founded by the merger of three film studios) and it was Goldwyn, one of the original companies, who actually used it.
As it turns out from the ex-MGM Ed Vigdor’s retrospective article, it was the Dublin-born Slats (worked between 1916 and 1928) who first hung his head, silently, in the midst of the logo. Slats was not only trained by Volney Phifer, but also buried on his estate after the lion died in 1936.
Jackie, the second lion in the line of many (1928-1935) was the first audible, loud-roar specimen. So, if we want to actually believe the legend that originally MGM wanted to record a silent animal but burglars messed it up, then this peculiar case had to happen sometime around 1928. I haven’t found anything trustworthy about this, though and if you ask me, this doesn’t seem to be very probable.
Jackie (born in 1915), a full-time cast member in the Tarzan movies, also bore the nickname “The Lucky”, as the animal survived multiple accidents, including a plane crash and a studio explosion.
Two further lions (Telly and Coffee) were employed during the Technicolor colouring experiments between 1927 and 1934, but according to the corporate notes, they do not qualify as official logo lions.
This was followed by a 22-year old period of Tanner (1934-1956): he might have been the most sullen of all the lions but his was the second longest period among them all. Vigdor’s post answers neither why he had to be substituted with George in 1956, nor why George served only for two years. (Although this is good ground for conspiracy theories, because I couldn’t find anything else in the official source on the trainer attack case.)
Finally came Leo, who – apart from a brief period between ’66 and ’68 – fills the logo since 1957 until the present day (during the two intermittent years MGM used a stylized logo, similarly to the one that can be seen in 2001: Space Odyssey). In cases different roars were played simultaneously, moreover, each lion had a longer and a shorter performance (three- or two-roar versions).
As for Hitchcock’s so-called supervision: there really is a picture by Clarence Sinclair Bull dating to 1958, depicting the director at the scene. This, though, was more of a PR image shot for his only MGM movie North by Northwest. There’s another image of him having tea with the lion and yet another one with a car where he saves the animal from the studio.
And for those of you in dire need of MGM and lion assaults: a lion jumped on an animal trainer in 2010 at the Las Vegas MGM Casino. Although the trainer survived the attack, not all trainers are this lucky: ABCNews talks about previous tragedies in greater detail.
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