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The Facts and Fictions: Did MGM “Leo” The Lion Really Killed its Trainer?

Ian Smith

The MGM iconic trademark- the roaring lion appears at the beginning on every MGM Movie. 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 Malinovsky – 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 at the crime scene … the lion killed his trainer and the two assistants of his the next day… the recording was supervised by Alfred Hitchcock himself” – these are only a few often-quoted trivia related to the most well-known animated logo. But which of these actually happened and which are a pure hoax?

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First of all, as  Mythbusters, we want to clarify: 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.

In fact, “Leo” has not been one lion but seven, starting with “Slats” the Dublin-born lion who first hung his head, silently, in the midst of the logo from 1917 to 1928. Slats was not only trained by Volney Phifer but also buried on his estate after the lion died in 1936.There’s an old urban legend that says that the original MGM lion, presumably Slats, went a bit berserk when they were trying to get him to film the clip of the logo. Rumor had it that he killed his trainer and two other people on set after the filming was finished, but it’s absolutely not true.

Jackie,” born in 1915, was the second MGM lion and the first celebrated roar. The roar was recorded separately and then married to a film of Jackie roaring, with Jackie’s head in a frame to give a black surround. The final product was first used in MGM’s first sound production, White Shadows in the South Seas (1928).It is Jackie and his roar that is seen in sepia at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz (1939). As well as being MGM’s living logo, Jackie’s also appeared in over 100 films, including several Tarzan movies.

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The sound was provided to the studio microphone by a gramophone record.

The myth about Jackie’s roar is the following 

It goes that the lion was originally meant to be standing proud and silent but roared when two burglars rushed into the warehouse. The burglars in question were Boris Regina and Karl Maninovsky. Supposedly, Regina and Maninovsky would regularly rob banks and stash their loot at a warehouse a few blocks away. One day, while the burglars’ warehouse was normally empty, MGM and their lion were recording there. The lion roared at Regina and Maninovsky as they entered, after which MGM stopped recording. The lion then jumped off the platform and mauled Maninovsky, who died two days later. Regina ran out of the warehouse and got run over by a police car heading to the bank he had just robbed.

This tale was nothing more than an amusing fabrication, one of a number of invented urban legends presented in video form on the JKCinema.

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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.

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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 we couldn’t find anything else in the official source on the trainer attack case.)

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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:A BCNews talks about previous tragedies in greater detail.

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