Leo the Lion...is the lion you have seen time and time again throughout the years on the beginning of all MGM films!! It's only appropriate you heard him upon arrival to this page!! Go ahead, click play again..you know you want to. ;) He is not the only lion MGM has ever used however ... a full list of the MGM lions list is located here. Video, is here! This page spotlights the Hollywood lion, LEO. Leo was used on all MGM films from circa 1957 through 1983.
In 1924, studio publicist Howard Dietz designed the "Leo The Lion" logo for Samuel Goldwyn's Goldwyn Picture Corporation. He based it on the athletic team of his alma mater Columbia University, the Lions. When Goldwyn Pictures merged with Metro Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer Pictures, the newly formed MGM retained the logo.
Since then, there have been five lions playing the role of "Leo The Lion". Leo's reign was the longest, and still remains today with each MGM film. His likeness appears on buildings, in statues, and signs. No doubt, his history is an important one to the MGM brand! In 1992, MGM even made a 'inside the studio' type film entitled, "When The Lion Roars."
Leo was born in 1915, on a New Jersey farm. He was born into the family of a famed animal trainer by the name of Volney Phifer. Volney loved his animals, and vice-a-versa (the chimp in Tarzan named Cheetah, he was property of Volney as well. Volney was a well known Hollywood animal trainer and had loaned some of his other, lesser known animals to studios such as Universal, and Warner Bros. Studios rented (no doubt), a plush house for him when coming to California. Upon being hired - he would come to Cali. When done and paid, he would return to his farm in New Jersey. He took pride in his animals and Leo was no exception. Leo was, by his own merit, his favorite (even before his close-up!). A former resident of his farm shares a note and photo from Volney's farm one Christmas saying quote: "I lived at Phifer's Animal Farm back in the late 60s & 70s and I knew Volney very well. Volney often cooked breakfast for me and told me wonderful animal stories. This is a Christmas Card that Volney gave me in 1972 and, of course, this is Leo."
Leo made his track to California with Volney in 1951 and famously did the deed in a round of takes..vwala, history was made. The roar continues even today with each and every MGM film!! Leo returned to California over the years to make cameos, but never on the scale of the MGM gig.
Leo spent the better part of retirement on Volney's farm and died in 1938. Volney buried him on his farm. The tiny granite block still marks the site today. You'd think a multi-billion dollar company, like the one that branded Leo..MGM (now owned by Sony Pictures), would at least give Leo's grave an update. Or maybe at least donate a statue marker.
ABOUT THE GRAVE OF LEO:
Phifer buried Leo in the front yard and marked the grave with a small, blank block of granite. More significant is the pine tree that Phifer, full of secret European wisdom, planted directly over Leo's body. He insisted that its roots would "hold down the lion's spirit." The grave now is in bad shape. The tree slopes and looks like it could fall any minute, and the granite is getting old and weathered. MGM (moreover, MGM's current parent company- SONY Pictures) refuses to contribute to the grave of the lion that has been (AND IS STILL) their trademark for well over 80 years now. They claim that there are no ties that bind and Leo's contract has long since run out (& even as they were typing that BS email - LEO's image is welcoming folks to their headquarters!)
Yet they can also put the image of Leo on their stores, and erect HUGE ass statues over THIS TRADEMARK Lion of theirs but there are no ties that bind?? Gimme a break! MGM (SONY group) is a multi-billion dollar company, you'd think they could afford to give their trademark's grave some well-deserved dignity.
Leo the Lion with Greta Garbo
Before Leo, there was, JACKIE the Lion - pictured here with Cecil B DeMille..