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Did MGM’s Leo the Lion Really Munch His Trainer?





Everyone’s familiar with Leo the Lion, Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s iconic roaring mascot. Since 1916, there have been seven different lions used for MGM’s animated logo. Although the studio referred to all the lions as “Leo,” only the present one, in use since 1957, bears the official name.

For decades, there have been urban legends surrounding Leo the Lion and his MGM animated logo recording. Rumor has it that the lion killed his trainer during one of the shoots.

Could there be any truth to the story?

Source: MGM

The urban legend goes like this:

The animated MGM logo featuring the roaring lion was supposed to be silent. But during filming, a pair of burglars named Boris Regina and Karl Malinovsky entered the set. This agitated the lion and caused it to start roaring and attacking the burglars.

One of the burglars died in the hospital two days later due to injuries, while the other quickly passed away after getting hit by a police car outside the studio. The next recording day, the lion killed his trainer and two assistants on set. And Alfred Hitchcock himself was there supervising the filming.

It’s quite the story, really, and nobody knows its origins. But looking at the history of MGM’s seven lions might help shed some light.

The first lion was Slats from Dublin, who was used in all black-and-white MGM films between 1924 to 1928.

Source: MGM

Slats was trained by Volney Phifer. The lion was even buried in Phifer’s estate in 1936. Some suspect Slats is the one identified in the urban legend, but his peaceful burial in his trainer’s land proves otherwise. Slats was also a silent lion. He was the only one, out of all the MGM lions, who did not roar in the animated logo.

The second lion, Jackie, was the first MGM lion to roar on film.

Source: MGM

Jackie, trained by Mel Koontz, appeared on all black-and-white MGM films from 1928 to 1956, as well as the sepia-tinted opening credits of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. Jackie’s roar was recorded separately and then married with a clip of him in a frame and black background. It was well documented that Jackie did not maul anyone on set during recording.

Lions Telly and Coffee were employed between 1927 and 1934, but they were not considered as official logo lions.

Source: MGM
Then followed Tanner, who took on the MGM mascot role for 22 years.

Source: MGM

The animated logo featuring Tanner was used in MGM’s films and cartoons from 1934 to 1956. MGM’s cartoon studio used his roar as a sound effect for many of their animated shorts, too. There’s no clear record of why Tanner was replaced, so people speculate that he’s lion who caused terror on set. But if he was trouble, how could he have lasted so long on the job?

The sixth MGM lion, George, only served for two years.

Source: MGM

George is another contender for the urban legend because of his short stint as MGM’s mascot. Very little is known about George and his recordings for MGM, so some suggest he could have possibly made an attack during filming.

The seventh and current MGM lion, Leo, has been in use since 1957.

Source: MGM

Leo is the longest used MGM lion, appearing in films since 1957. He was born in Royal Burgers’ Zoo in Arnhem, the Netherlands. He was also the youngest MGM lion at the time of his filming, explaining the smaller mane. In addition to being in the animated logo, Leo also appeared in other movie and television productions, so his demeanor disqualifies him as the lion who supposedly killed his trainer.

And what about Alfred Hitchcock’s supposed involvement on set?

Source: MGM

This rumor sprung from an actual photo taken by Clarence Sinclair Bull in1958, which shows the director at the scene. The photo, however, was more of a PR shot for his only MGM movie, North by Northwest. There’s another snap of him having tea with the lion, and another one with a car where he saves the animal from the studio. But that’s about it.

It’s easy to believe that one of the seven MGM lions might have wreaked havoc on set during their recording. Lions, after all, are creatures of the wild. But based on available information, there’s just no solid proof that the incident actually happened. So no matter how colorful the urban legend is, we stick with the facts and let fiction remain as fiction.

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