"Slats" the original MGM trademark mascot, posing for his portrait at Gay's Lion Farm, El Monte, California, circa 1925. Photo courtesy of Martin Turnbull.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer on Wikipedia
Leo the Lion on Wikipedia
MGM 90th Anniversary
& Leo the Lion
Forecourt Ceremony held on Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Born: April 17, 1924, in New York City, New York

Born: "Cairbe" March 20, 1919, in Dublin, Ireland
Died: 1936; on display at the McPherson Museum, McPherson, Kansas

Born: 1915, in Sudan
Died: February 26, 1956, in McPherson, Kansas

"Telly" No Dates

"Coffee" No Dates

"Tanner" No Dates

"George" No Dates

Born: Dublin, Ireland
Metro Goldwyn Mayer is a film studio founded in the mid 1920s, and has always been the high-water mark studio during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although sidelined now, "MGM" used to mean "the best."

MGM was pulled together after theatre owner Marcus Loew purchased Metro Pictures in 1919. Always looking for ways to provide product for his large (and increasingly lavish) chain of theatres in the New York area, Loew was approached by the Shuberts, who had invested in the now disfunctional Goldwyn Pictures (which had a lion in a ribbon of film as a logo). Former Metro boss Louis B. Mayer heard about this, and offered to manage the new entity, and voilá!: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Carl Laemmle's wunderkind Irving Thalberg became head of production.

They all decided to work out of the old Triangle studio in Culver City, which Goldwyn had purchased in 1918. A lion named "Slats" was found at Gay's Lion Farm in El Monte, where trainer Volney Phifer oversaw the filming of the silent version of the lion logo.

Almost every year of the "Golden Age" of Hollywood has one or more MGM productions listed in the top money-earners for a given year, and we list the biggest hits for your amusement, followed by the reported US box-office gross for each film (not ajusted for inflation).

MGM was lucky enough to have two of the biggest hits of the silent era, one right after the other: The Big Parade starring John Gilbert (released in November 1925 and grossed $6 million), and the problem-plagued Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ starring Namon Navarro and Francis X. Bushman (released in December 1925 and grossed $9.3 million).

Marcus Loew died in 1927, with control of the empire passing to his second-in-command, Nicholas Schenck, who was running the Loews Thetares chain out of New York City. In 1929, Schenck allowed William Fox of the Fox studio to purchase the Loew family stock. Mayer and Thalberg disliked the idea, bringing in the Justice Department to block the sale under "antitrust" grounds. This would have many repercussions. Then, four things happened.

First, sound was coming in. Another lion, named "Jackie" and trained by Mel Koontz was brought in and recorded for his roar. Jackie appeared in all MGM black and white films until 1956.

Second, the talkie musical The Broadway Melody starring Charles King and Anita Page (which played the Chinese in February 1929), grossed an astounding $4.3 million; then William Fox was crictically injured in a car crash in May 1929; and the stock market crash of October 1929 put the kabosh on Fox's plans to buy MGM.

Vertical intergration was coming to tinselftown, and with Sid Grauman selling his interest in the Chinese to Fox West Coast Theatres just before the crash, the fuzzy relationship between Fox and MGM allowed the Chinese to be the Hollywood showcase for MGM and Fox product all through the 1930s.

Additionally, MGM began issuing short films in Technicolor. A lion named "Telly" was used in these color films from 1928 to1932. After that, another lion was brought in for the color films: "Coffee" whose footage was used until 1935.

Min and Bill starring Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery (released in November 1930, and grossed $1.7 million) was such a big hit that Grauman asked both stars to make their imprints in the Forecourt. The wildly exotic Trader Horn starring Harry Carey (which played the Chinese in January 1931 and grossed $3.5 million), pointed toward MGM making all of their Tarzan movies.

Queen Christina starring Greta Garbo (which played the Chinese in February 1934) grossed $2.8 million, becoming Garbo's biggest money-maker. The musical The Merry Widow starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald played the Chinese in November 1934 and grossed $2.6 million.

By 1934, MGM was planning on making features in Technicolor, and so accordingly, another lion was brought in by trainer Mel Koontz to growl and roar in color. This is "Tanner" whose footage was used on color films from 1934 to 1956.

Mutiny on the Bounty starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton (which played the Chinese in December 1935 and grossed $4.4 million), and San Francisco starring Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald (played the Chinese in June 1936 and grossed $5.2 million), showed what could be done in the spectacle department. Irving Thalberg passed away in September 1936.

The musical Maytime starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy (which played the Chinese in March 1937, grossed $4 million to become MGM's top earner for that year, as did Test Pilot starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy (which played the Chinese in April 1938) grossing $4 million.

MGM's mega musical version of The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland (which played the Chinese in August 1939), only grossed $3 million on its original release, but has been a perennial favorite ever since. We pass over Gone with the Wind, as the studio did not make it — they handled the distribution of the film in exchange for the loan-out to producer David O. Selznick of actor Clark Gable.

Boom Town starring Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy (played the Chinese in August 1940) opened the 1940s, grossing $5 million. The similarly titled Honky Tonk starring Clark Gable and Lana Turner (played the Chinese in October 1941 and grossed $4 million). With the US in World War II, the uplifting Mrs. Miniver, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon (which played the Chinese in July 1942) grossed an amazing $8.9 million.

While Thousands Cheer, starring Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson (played the Chinese in December 1943) took in $5.8 million, MGM decidedd to move their Hollywood first-run showcase to Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, where Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien (released in December 1944) did even better, grossing $6.5 million.

With the end of the war, a lot of things began to change. Many contract players left to go elsewhere. Arthur Freed Unit musicals like Anchors Aweigh, starring Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson (released in August 1945 and grossing $4.7 million) looked good, as did The Postman Always Rings Twice, starring Lana Turner and John Garfield (released in April 1946 and grossing $8.3 million), but the rest of the studio's output was getting ragged. Television was a fact of life.

Former RKO head Dory Schary was brought in to become VP of production in July 1848, but Mayer dislike him and his approach, witness The Three Musketeers, starring Gene Kelly and Lana Turner (released in October 1948 and grossing $4.5 million), and Battleground, starring Van Johnson and John Hodiak (released in December 1949 and grossing $5 million); These films filled Mayer with distaste.

While the musical Annie Get Your Gun, starring Betty Hutton and Howard Keel (released in May 1950 became a whopping hit, grossing $7.7 million, the two men clashed over John Huston's film of The Red Badge of Courage ending with the firing of Mayer by Schenck in August 1951. Dory Schary was now in charge of the whole studio.

Quo Vadis, starring Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr (released in December 1951and grossing $12 million), was a bright spot, but in 1952, the Justice Dept. ordered Loews to relinquish control of MGM, a process which wouldn't be final until 1959.

The Hollywood story, The Bad and the Beautiful, starring Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas (released in December 1952) grossed an astounding $8.5 million, and Mogambo, starring Clark Gable and Ava Gardner (released in October 1953) grossed $5.2 million. The weepie I'll Cry Tomorrow, starring Susan Hayward and Richard Conte (released in December 1955) took in $5.8 million. At this point, Nicholas Schenck retired at the end of 1955.

In 1956, a more heavily-maned lion named "George" was used for the next couple of years on the studio's redesigned widescreen logos. MGM also entered into television production in 1956, as well as licensing films to television, including a deal to show The Wizard of Oz on CBS yearly at Thanksgiving. The epic losses on Raintree County, starring Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor (released in December 1957 and grossing $5.8 million), forced Dory Schary out, with Joseph Vogel and Sol Siegel taking over.

Finally, a much younger (with a shorter mane) lion actually named "Leo" was filmed to replace George in 1957. Purchased by the studio from Henry Trefflich and trained by Ralph Helfer, Leo appeared onscreen in movies when needed, and was also in the famous TV commecials for Dreyfuss Investments in 1961.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman (released in August 1958, and grossing $7.8 million), didn't fit the pattern the new team championed; they wanted a blockbuster every year to carry the rest of the overhead. Ben-Hur, starring Charlton Heston and Jack Hawkins (released in November 1959) grossed $37 million, but other films, like Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard (released in November 1962 and grossing only $13.6 million), meant to do the same, practically sank the studio.

While the super epic How the West Was Won, starring an All-Star Cast (of thousands!) (released in November 1962) became a welcome hit, grossing $46.5 million, management turned once more, with Vogel and Siegel being preplaced by Robert O'Brien and Robert M. Weitman. The pair would oversee the release of Doctor Zhivago, starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie (released in December 1965 and grossing $43 million [or more] ), Grand Prix, starring James Garner and Eva Marie Saint (released in December 1966 and grossing $20.8 million), The Dirty Dozen, starring Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine (released in June 1967 and grossing $45.3 million), and 2001: A Space Odyssey, starring Keir Dulla and Gary Lockwood (released in April 1968 and grossing $56 million).

Weitman jumped ship in 1967. MGM was buffeted by corporate raiders, who smelled blood in the water. Edgar Bronfman Sr. and Time Inc. began amassing stock in the company, with investor Kirk Kerkorian purchasing their shares in 1969. Kirkorian began selling off the Culver City backlots and props, and started the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas (opened in 1973).

The release of Ryan's Daughter, starring Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles (in November 1970) grossed only $30.8 million, forcing O'Brien out. He was replaced by James Aubrey, who oversaw a severely reduced production slate. Even still, none of the films cracked the top 10 box-office performers.

Aubrey was out by 1972, being replaced by Dan Melnick, who authorized some hits, but who continued to sell off MGM assets. With nowhere to go but down, David Begelman was appointed president and CEO in 1980. The studio and the casino were spun off into separate groups. Needing to revive an atrophied distribution setup, MGM bought United Artists from Transamerica in 1981. Now the studio was known as MGM/UA Entertainment Company.

Despite Rocky III, starring Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire (released in May 1982), bringing in $124 million, Begelman was let go in July 1982. Even though WarGames, starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy (released in June 1983) brought in $79 million, and the rise of home video revenues, MGM was still not making enough money for Kirkorian, who proposed to buy all the remaining stock to take the company private. His plan was met with resistance.

After Rocky IV, starring Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire (which played the Chinese in November 1985) became a hit with $127 million, broadcaster Ted Turner purchased the entire shebang in 1986. Turner sold everything but the film libraries (MGM, RKO and pre-1950 Warner Bros.) back to United Artists, controlled by Kirkorian.

Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise (released in December 1988) was the only substantial hit at this time with $172 million. In 1990, Giancarlo Paretti bought the company, now known as MGM/Pathé, installing Alan Ladd Jr. as CEO in 1991. This arrangement blew up in 1992. Credit Lyonnais took over, renaming the company (surprise!) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Lyonnais got rid of Ladd and installed Frank Mancuso Sr. as CEO. John Calley was brought in to oversee UA.

Since UA owned the film rights to the James Bond franchise, the company enjoyed the success of GoldenEye, starring Pierce Brosnan (which played the Chinese in November 1995) and which brought in $352 million. Meanwhile, frustrated in Hollyweird, the French bank Credit Lyonnais sold the whole mess back to — Kirk Kirkorian in 1996. Kirkorian began acquiring other film libraries and assets.

The Bond films Tomorrow Never Dies, starring Pierce Brosnan and Jonathan Pryce (released in December 1997, grossing $333 million), and The World Is Not Enough, starring Pierce Brosnan and Sophie Marceau (released in November 1999 and grossing $361 million), were the only top-10 performers during this period.

Well — that's not true. Hannibal, starring Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore (released in February 2001) grossed $351 million, and the Bond movie Die Another Day, starring Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry (released in November 2002) took in $435 million.

Sony (looking to support its Blu-Ray format) purchased the company in 2004. MGM films were distributed by Columbia (!). In 2006, Tom Cruise was asked to run United Artists. That didn't last long. MGM began to focus on the digital distribution of its various film libraries — pretty boring stuff.

Huge debt problems continued. In 2009, MGM hired Stephen F. Cooper to handle things, but the facade nearly collapsed in 2010. After Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2010, MGM creditors now owned the studio. Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum became co-CEOs. In 2012 Birnbaum was out.

The 90th Anniversary of the MGM studio was observed with a Forecourt ceremony involving a lion, a lion trainer, Sylvester Stallone, and MGM CEO Gary Barber. It was an odd celebration, as there was promise of a year-long schedule of retrospective screenings, but this failed to materialize. Barber was uncerimoniously dumped in March 2018. The company's COO, Chris Brearton was now running the operation, forming a deal with Smokehouse Pictures, and with AGBO Films to develop remakes from the MGM library. A partnership with Bron Creative to remake Orion Pictures films has resulted in a musical remake of Valley Girl, with Jessica Rothe (released in May 2020). The studio has another Bond film in the can, No Time to Die, but the release had been pushed to October 2021.

MGM continues to exsist, but as what, we don't really have a clue. Morgan Stanley has been placed in charge of finding a new buyer for the whole shootin' match. Looks as though Amazon will be the eventual buyer — they entered negotiations with Morgan Stanley in May 2021. They are talking about keeping it as a "label." Gosh. The deal was finalized in March, 2022; sale price: $8.5 Billion.
TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX® , Hollywood, California. MGM 90th Anniversary / Leo the Lion Forecourt block. Executed by unknown, Wednesday, January 22, 2014. 36 x 24 inches.
TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX®, Hollywood, California. MGM 90th Anniversary / Leo the Lion Forecourt ceremony, Wednesday, January 22, 2014. Leo presses his paws into a small block of cement, which was then placed into a larger block (see below).
TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX®, Hollywood, California. MGM 90th Anniversary / Leo the Lion Forecourt ceremony, Wednesday, January 22, 2014. Sylvester Stallone stands with then MGM CEO Gary Barber, who is pressing the "MGM 90" logo into the block. Leo's pawprints were inserted below the logo.
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