A Design Icon and New Jersey's Roaring Star
(I actually meant to write about this at the beginning of the month, since March “comes in like a lion”. But that didn’t happen, and now it’s busy going “out like a lamb”. Oh well. We’ll just go with the March/Lion connection.)
But I’m particularly proud that it’s also been home to one of the best-loved design icons of the last century: Leo the Lion. Yup, the one who roars at the beginning of movies made by one of Hollywood’s all time biggest film studios.
Anyone who’s gone to see a movie in the last 90 years is familiar with the lion inside a circle that’s engraved with the latin words “Ars Gratia Artis” (which means, by the way, “art for art’s sake”). The logo first appeared in 1916 as the brand for Goldwyn Pictures Corporation. When Louis B. Mayer came on the scene (so to speak…) in 1924, it became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Now we simply call it MGM. And we know it by the lion.
One of the most recognizable and memorable logos ever, the MGM design has remained essentially the same from the very start. That in and of itself is a testament to good branding.
The lions have changed over the years, but the first – whose name was Slats (although we often refer to all the MGM lions as “Leo”) – had been brought to the States during World War I by animal trainer Volney Phifer. After touring with MGM, Slats was loved, along with other retired Hollywood animals (including Tarzan’s chimp “Cheetah”), and then buried, about 10 minutes from my home.
Slats died in 1938, so we only knew “Leo” by the unmarked gravestone in front of a then run-down Phifer’s Farm ~ but we were proud, nonetheless. Today, the granite marker is gone, his remains resting obscurely (the last I heard) beneath a large pine tree.
Slats, the most famous lion who ever lived, an American legend and New Jersey’s biggest star, set the stage for nearly 100 years of iconic design. I think that’s something to roar about.