MGM Celebrates its 100th Anniversary: What’s the Deal With the Lion?

Metro Goldwyn Mayer logo, ca. 1950s
MGM/Everett Collection

Did you know that the lion associated with MGM and featured at the beginning of every MGM film has a name? Leo the Lion gives that classic roar before the start of MGM films and has been synonymous with the studio for over 100 years. It all began around 1917 when there was a merger between Metro Pictures Corporation, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Productions. Louis B. Mayer was the one who thought a lion would be a symbol of power and majesty in the cinema. It was a year prior that publicist Howard Dietz had the idea of a lion as a mascot as well for Goldwyn Pictures as a tribute to his alma mater Columbia University.

In 1924, when MGM truly began, a lion named Slats was chosen as the mascot. However, in these times, there were only silent movies so the roar was only seen and not heard. By 1928, you could start to hear the lion’s iconic roar. The signature roar is the work of sound engineer Douglas Shearer who recorded several roars and blended them together to create that powerful sound that lets you know a great movie is about to begin.

Alfred Hitchcock posing in a car with Leo the Lion on the MGM lot, 1959

Everett Collection

In Hollywood history, there have reportedly been seven lions that have been cast as Leo. As technology changed over the years, MGM experimented with different ways to showcase their mascot. In the late ’20s and early ’30s, they switched up the colors and added more vibrant images. In 1934, a lion named Tanner, trained by Mel Koontz would become the face of MGM until 1956, seen in films such as The Wizard of Oz and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer 75th anniversary logo, 1999

MGM/Everett Collection

Then it was a lion named Leo, who had the longest career as the MGM mascot from 1957 to 2021. He was so talented that he made his mark in feature films such as King of Kings and The Lion as well. Now, the latest edition is actually a CGI lion based on Leo, prepared to extend his legacy. If you’re interested in seeing the changes in the lions over the years, this is a neat video. Then watch the current version:

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Hollywoods Golden Year

April 2024

Return with us to the year film fans acknowledge as the finest in Hollywood history, 1939.

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