When it comes to Hollywood studios, the most iconic and recognizable production logos is that of MGM. Founded in 1924, when Samuel Goldwyn, Marcus Loew's Metro Studios, and Louis B. Mayer joined studio forces to become a powerhouse, MGM used several lions before settling on Leo in 1957. First came Slats who wasn't as magnificent as the roaring lion we are familiar with today. Slats started things off before talkies, so he just looked around checking things out before the film's titles rolled in. Volney Phifer, or Captain Phifer as he was known was his trainer, and the chief animal trainer for the MGM for almost half of the century. He loved Slats so much he had him buried on his property after his death in 1936.
Next was Jackie, also trained by Phifer, who first gave his roar to the audience as sound was coming into use until 1956. He was also the first Lion to be used in technicolor and is the lion seen in The Wizard of Oz and was used for over 100 films. Later came lions Coffee (1932-1935), Tanner (1934-1956), George (1956-1957) and finally Leo, which is the longest standing lion used for MGM.
Captain Phifer and Slats
Ralph Helfer was Leo's trainer and cared very deeply for him. Ralph started a new way of training called "affection training" that didn't involve whips or chains, but was based on respect and love for the animal.
MGM lions at work:
Alfred and Leo
Greta Garbo and Leo. She doesn't look to thrilled to be at work that day.
MGM now uses a digitally enhanced lion for it's logo. Not as triumphant or as exciting as the lions used throughout it's history. One thing is certain, the visuals and audio of the MGM logo is a direct connection to film, and one can recognize what is to come by just a glimpse of the lion on the screen. Next time you go to watch an MGM film, pay attention to the fuzzy animal on screen, you might be able to decipher which lion you are seeing, and have a more nostalgic feeling about how he got there.