Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The MGM Lions


Vintage: Hollywood Lion – Fearless Fagan in 1951


monovisions.com  Feb. 28, 2017

The lion was owned by Floyd C. Humeston, who raised Fagan from a cub. In the early 1950s, Humeston was drafted into the Army and couldn’t find a suitable caretaker for his pet lion.

Humeston first raised suspicions when he requested an emergency 14-day furlough to take care of his giant pet. Without a permanent home for Fagan, Humeston then asked to bring his pet with him to training at California’s Fort Ord, explains Hal Erickson in “Military Comedy Films.” The request denied, Fagan lived briefly at the Monterey Humane Society before being placed in a circus.



Fagan the lion on an MGM set, 1951. Photo by Loomis Dean – TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images



From a chauffer-driven convertible Fagan trades glances with fellow M-G-M star Esther Williams. Photo by Loomis Dean – TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images



A photographer shoots publicity photos of Fagan the lion, 1951. Photo by Loomis Dean – TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images



Fagan the lion on the MGM lot, 1951. Photo by Loomis Dean – TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images




Fagan the lion on the MGM lot, 1951. Photo by Loomis Dean – TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images



Fagan the lion in his “dressing room” in 1951. Photo by Loomis Dean – TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images



Fagan the lion with movie producer Sidney Franklin, 1951. Photo by Loomis Dean – TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images



Fagan the lion on the MGM lot, 1951. Photo by Loomis Dean – TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images



Fagan the lion, ready for his makeup, 1951. Photo by Loomis Dean – TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images
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Fearless Fagan: Portrait of the Lion as a Young Actor



Back in the early 1950s, LIFE magazine saw fit to report on — and to exhaustively photograph — a lion named Fagan not just once, but twice. The first time the magazine ran a story on Fagan was in February 1951, when an article informed LIFE's readers that a 24-year-old Army private stationed at Fort Ord, Calif., had requested a 14-day furlough for his cat. That is to say, for his really big cat: a mature male lion.


Private Floyd C. Humeston had raised the lion from a cub, brushed its teeth, combed its fur and, LIFE claimed, had "evolved an English-German gibberish that Fagan not only understands but answers with growls and gurgles which his master understands." Humeston was trying to find a home for the growling, gurgling beast after he (Humeston, not Fagan) had been drafted.


Flash forward five months, to July 1951, when a "sequel" to the first article, titled "Fearless Fagan Goes Hollywood," appeared in the magazine's pages. LIFE provided a recap of the previous article, while revealing the lion and its master's latest adventures:


Readers of LIFE's Feb. 12 issue may remember the house-hunting tribulations of fearless Fagan, a pet lion whose master, Floyd Humeston, had been drafted. One reader not only remembered the story but thought it would make a movie. Since he happened to be an M-G-M producer named Sidney Franklin Jr., nothing was easier than to whip up a script and get it put on the production schedule. The only thing lacking was Fagan himself. Tracking him down, the studio learned he was undergoing some new tribulations. Expelled from his temporary shelter at the Monterey Humane Society because he couldn't pay for cage and board, he had wound up at a circus in Ohio where a keeper was trying to alienate his affections from his old master. Private Humeston wrangled a furlough to get his pet back to California. There Fagan is being introduced to those alternations of luxurious ease and hard work which make up a movie star's life.


The movie that Franklin produced, Fearless Fagan (1952), had real talent attached to it: Charles Lederer, the writer of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Ocean's Eleven, wrote the screenplay; Stanley Donen (who helmed Singin' in the Rain) directed; and Janet Leigh was one of its stars.


Fearless Fagin preview clip


So it seems that Fagin was in an MGM film, but was not one of the lions that were pictured roaring, surrounded by the MGM logo. Fagin ended his days in a zoo, and died of an ulcerated stomach.


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Meet the Incredible Lion Who Became a Hollywood Star

The Huffington Post  20/09/2013  James Gerken

Meet Fagan.
The lion was owned by Floyd C. Humeston, who raised Fagan from a cub. In the early 1950s, Humeston was drafted into the Army and couldn't find a suitable caretaker for his pet lion.

Humeston first raised suspicions when he requested an emergency 14-day furlough to take care of his giant pet. Without a permanent home for Fagan, Humeston then asked to bring his pet with him to training at California's Fort Ord, explains Hal Erickson in "Military Comedy Films." The request denied, Fagan lived briefly at the Monterey Humane Society before being placed in a circus.

The trials and tribulations of Fagan and his 24-year-old owner were chronicled in Life magazine in 1951.

MGM producer Sidney Franklin Jr. read the story and saw an opportunity for a movie. The film version of Humeston's story, starring Fagan himself, was released in 1952.

"Fearless Fagan" also featured Carleton Carpenter as Humeston and Janet Leigh, who was only five years into her career.

The Army granted Humeston leave during production, and allowed him to serve as a technical advisor for the film.

The film was well-received by the public, according to Turner Classic Movies, and Fagan's performance in particular was praised. A Variety review said Fagan was the real star of the film.

"The animal being so well trained that it never gets out of character as the affectionate, well-instructed pet of the Army private," they wrote.

Yet a stand-in lion named Jackie was actually used for some scenes in "Fearless." Jackie was awarded the top honor at the American Humane Association's 1953 PATSY Awards.

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The Life and Times of the MGM Lions






The famous mascot of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer is not one lion, but five lions. These are their stories.

Slats (1917–1928)




Slats, born at the Dublin Zoo, was MGM's first lion. He had previously appeared in the logo of the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, where designer Howard Dietz chose the lion as a mascot as a tribute to his alma mater Columbia University and its athletic teams, the Lions. Slats was trained by Volney Phifer, Hollywood’s premier animal trainer, and the pair toured the country to promote MGM’s launch. The two became close, and when Slats died in 1936, Phifer had the body sent to his farm and buried it there, marking the grave with a granite slab and a pine tree to “hold down the lion’s spirit.”


Jackie (1928-1956)


Jackie, aka "Leo," in a Ryan Brougham airplane modified to take him on a transcontinental flight in 1927. Photo Courtesy of San Diego Air & Space Museum Flickr Stream


Jackie was the first MGM lion to make his voice heard, thanks to the gramophone. He introduced MGM's first sound production, White Shadows in the South Seas, with a roar. The lion came from something of an acting animal dynasty. His mother, Stubby, was part of a performance troupe, and his grandmother, Mamie, was one of the first animals to ever appear on film in the U.S. Jackie's own resume went beyond roaring in a studio logo—he also appeared in 100+ movies.


Jackie had another claim to fame. He survived two train wrecks, an earthquake, a boat sinking, an explosion at the studio, and a plane crash that left him stranded in the Arizona wilderness for several days (pilot Martin Jenson left the cat with some snacks while he went in search of help). After all that, he earned the nickname "Leo the Lucky."


Jackie, rescued after the plane crash. Photo Courtesy of San Diego Air & Space Museum Flickr Stream


Jackie wasn't much of a looker, apparently, and trainer Melvin Koontz called him "the ugliest cat you had ever seen." He did get along well with other felines, though. One night, an alley cat and her kittens crawled into Jackie's cage for shelter, and when Koontz found them later, the kittens were dripping wet from Jackie licking them clean.


In 1931, Jackie retired from the studio and went to live at the Philadelphia Zoo. He died in February 1935 after battling a heart problem for several months. Through a chain of events isn't quite clear (and may even be more myth than fact), Jackie's body wound up in the hands of a Los Angeles taxidermist, who preserved his skin and then sold it to McPherson Museum in McPherson, Kansas.



Early MGM Jackie the Lion "roars" from 1928-9


Tanner (1934–1956) and George (1956–1958)


Not much is known about either of these guys. Tanner reigned through the "Golden Age Of Hollywood” and was described as MGM's “angriest” lion by Koontz because he snarled all the time. George apparently didn't make much of an impression on anyone—one of the only things you can find about him in the history books is that he had a bigger mane than the other lions.


Leo (1957-present)


Leo is MGM's longest-serving lion and was also the youngest at the time his roar was filmed. In addition to his appearance in the logo, he appeared in several Tarzan movies, the Tarzan television adaptation, and other films. Leo may or may not have been the lion's actual name, but after he was purchased from animal dealer Henry Treffich, the name was used by someone at the studio and stuck both there and in the public consciousness.


Other "Lions"


The lions have occasionally been spoofed at the beginnings of films, with replacements including the Marx Brothers, a lion with blood-dripping fangs in The Fearless Vampire Killers, a croaking frog, Mimsie the Cat the in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show, a meowing Tom in Tom and Jerry, Animal in The Great Muppet Caper and a drunk lion, plus Bob and Doug McKenzie, in Strange Brew.

And leave us not forget: possibly the most famous "MGM lion."

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