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The Surreal History Of The MGM Lions

Updated October 30, 2020 6.2k views13 items

For decades, motion picture studios have captivated audiences around the globe, and no studio is more well-known than MGM and its distinctive lion logo. While it’s important that studios gain recognition for their filmography, it’s also essential a studio has a recognizable logo, and MGM's lions are unforgettable. But did you know the lions used in the original logo were real?

In 1916, an ad executive named Howard Dietz created a logo for an up-and-coming film studio known as Goldwyn Pictures. The logo was unique as it showcased a live lion as the mascot. Little did Dietz know, the signature trademark lion logo would become a classic icon for the company as it evolved into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM Studios. Although the history of MGM Studios is interesting with its scandals and movie innovation, the history of the MGM lions is a fascinating tale in itself; one that is rich with myths and cinematic experiments. So, pull up a comfy chair, grab some theater-style popcorn and discover some amazing facts about the real MGM lions. 

  • There Are Two Origin Stories Of How The Lions Came To Be

    Photo: Pacific & Atlantic Photos / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    What inspired Dietz to use a lion as a mascot? Surprisingly, there are two versions of this tale. Some believe Dietz used a lion to pay homage to the Columbia University, his alma mater. The school’s athletic team was nicknamed "The Lions." Others believe he chose lions as a nod to the company’s co-founder Marcus Loew, who's German surname translates to lion. Whichever the case may be, the MGM lion mascot is a classic trademark within the entertainment industry.

  • The Studio Used Seven Different Lions To Create The Logo

    Photo: MGM

    Although the MGM logo only features one lion on it, the studio actually used seven different lion mascots to create it. For marketing purposes, the team of lions would all be dubbed as the logo's mascot "Leo The Lion." Aside from featuring a live roaring lion and the MGM marquee, the iconic logo also features a Greek drama mask, film-like ribbon that encircles the beast, as well as the Latin words that read: "Ars Gratia Artis," meaning "Art For Art's Sake."

  • Slats Was The First Lion Mascot Used

    The first live lion to adorn the MGM logo was Slats, whose logo variation ran from 1924 to 1928. Because films were still silent, Slats was the only live lion who did not demonstrate the signature roar, instead he only moved his head around. Slats was born at the Dublin Zoo in 1919 and was originally named Cairbre. However, the animal trainer who worked with him named him Slats, while the studio knew him as Leo. 

  • Jackie - The First MGM Lion To Roar - Survived A Plane Crash, Among Many Other Things

    Photo: MGM / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    Jackie the Lion was the second live lion used by MGM studios. He was recognized as MGM's first roaring lion thanks to the invention of the gramophone. Jackie's real roar was used up until 1932 when it was replaced with a panther’s roar track. His logo variant was displayed from 1928 to 1953 and would also become one of the first MGM logos done in limited colors. 

    While working with MGM Jackie was nicknamed Leo the Lucky. This was because he had miraculously survived various tragedies including a plane crash, an earthquake, a studio explosion, a boat sinking incident, and two separate train wrecks. Talk about a lucky cat with nine lives.