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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

DIDJA KNOW: Wee Little Tid Bit

"Leo the Lion" - the iconic MGM logo with which modern movie goers
are very familiar.
Every movie studio has its own logo - a visual stamp with which it identifies itself as a film's owner. Paramount has the mountain, Warner Brothers has the big WB, Universal has, well, the world. However, the greeting of "Leo the Lion" at the start of any Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film is somehow always the most exciting and nostalgic for audiences. But didja know that the MGM calling card was very nearly not a lion's roar but an eagle's caw? When the company formed in 1924, Louis B. Mayer wanted the MGM logo to be an eagle! It wasn't too crazy a concept. The eagle possesses all of the symbolism of liberty, beauty, and pride that a lion does, but it somehow isn't quite as cuddly. Leo the eagle??? I think not. In the end, Howard Dietz was able to convince all concerned that Samuel Goldwyn's original lion icon was best, so... the cat ate the canary, as it were. Dietz also designed the logo and added the (slightly grammatically incorrect) Ars Gratia Artis to it: "Art for the sake of art." Dietz is rarely given credit for this, nor for also coining the phrase "More Stars Than in the Heavens."

Slats becomes King of the Movies.
The first official MGM lion was named "Slats." However, with the sound boom of 1928, another lion, "Jackie," was brought in to record the new opening logo, complete with the now notorious roar. Douglas Shearer, brother to Norma, had gotten his start in films when he made an off-hand remark at a party about how he thought that the "talkies" were the wave of the future. Everyone ignored him, until time proved him to be correct. He was hired, and soon enough found himself unceremoniously adding sound to MGM's first sound film: W.S. Van Dyke's White Shadows of the South Sea. Most importantly, he gave Jackie his voice, and it was the first time audiences would hear it. Allegedly, they applauded and enjoyed that moment more then the rest of the picture, which was otherwise forgettable.

Jackie takes his place in history.
Jackie would not be the last MGM lion. Just how many different furry mammals have held the privilege seems debatable, but there appear to have been at least 6. Slats was around until 1928, followed by Jackie, who held reign over all black and white films until the mid '50s. With the appearance of technicolor, "Coffee" was brought in for a couple of years, but was replaced by "Tanner," who too reigned supreme in his color corner until the mid '50s. "George" was added into the mix for a brief time after, but from 1957-the present, Leo has held center stage. Though he wasn't the first, he has been in the spotlight the longest, and is the lion with whom most viewers are familiar. With the lion being such a memorable symbol in cinema, it is hard to imagine an eagle in his place. Thanks to Howard Dietz, things worked out purr-fectly.


  1. isn't it weird when you watch one of those early MGM silents and the Lion doesn't Roar? Thanks, Meredith

    1. It is! I always think I've gone deaf for a minute! Hahaha.