History | Did You Know

The Truth About The Most Famous Cat In The Movie Business Will Make You Wonder If He Was Cursed


Movie fans will recognize this famous lion as the logo for movie studio MGM, and true film buffs might even know that his name is Leo (supposedly), but this cat has a secret history as interesting as any Hollywood star.

Slats, the first MGM lion.MGM

When MGM was in the market for a new logo in 1917, designer Howard Dietz was inspired by his college mascot and suggested a lion. The lucky feline who was picked to be the first ever MGM lion was Slats, a lion from the Dublin Zoo who traveled to Hollywood for his big break. But audiences never heard Slats roar, since this was before movies even had sound!

Jackie the lion records his roar.MGM

When the studio need to record a new version of "Leo" for the 1920s (including the sound of his roar) the cat they picked for the job was named Jackie. This was a true show business lion: he was the grandson of one of Hollywood's first trained lions, and the son of a circus performer.

Jackie poses for a photo with Greta Garbo.MGM

After recording the movie opening, Jackie had a long movie career with more than 100 credits. He rubbed shoulders with some of Hollywood's biggest stars - including Greta Garbo - and he was featured in lots of classic Tarzan movies.

Jackie, on the set of one of his films.The Museum of San Fernando Valley

But Jackie was best-known as "Leo the Lucky," a nickname he won by surviving a bizarre string of workplace accidents that would have driven a human actor to leave Hollywood for good.

But earthquakes, explosions, and even a plane crash couldn't scare Jackie...

After recording his roar, Jackie traveled across the country to meet his adoring fans and raise publicity for MGM.

Jackie's early tours used a special circus truck.MGM

Leo usually traveled in a circus truck, but for one trip the studio built him a special (and expensive) modified airplane. Of course, flying with a lion is a recipe for disaster, and the plane crashed just hours after takeoff. The pilot, Martin Jenson, left milk and sandwiches in Leo's cage before walking into the Arizona desert to find help.

Who could have guessed that something would go wrong with the lion-plane.San Diego Air and Space Museum

It was four days before Jenson could reach civilization and call MGM, but when he did the first question they asked him was "How's the lion?" That short flight earned Jackie the nickname "Leo the Lucky," but it wasn't his only brush with death.

You can still visit Jackie's crash site in Arizona.San Diego Air and Space Museum

In his long career, Jackie survived two train wrecks, an earthquake, a boat sinking with him on it, and an on-set explosion. Talk about lucky!

After Jackie died, the studio went through a string of lions - Telly, Coffee, Tanner, George - but none had a career as exciting as his. In 1957 the first lion to actually be named Leo got the job, and we still see his roar before every MGM movie.

Leo the lion as we know him today.MGM

But keep your eyes peeled when you re-watch The Wizard of Oz, because that's Jackie roaring in the credits.

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[H/T: Mashable]

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