Tuesday, May 30, 2017

MGM's First Star: The True Story

Slats, the first lion in his first appearance

MGM Studio was billed during the golden era as having "more stars than there are in the heavens," a not wholly unrealistic statement given their impressive stable of talent.  The one constant throughout the years, from the first, has been their logo and mascot, the roaring lion.

The lion was chosen for Goldwyn Pictures Corporation in 1916 by Howard Dietz, an ad executive, in honor of his alma mater, Columbia University, whose athletic team was known as The Lions.  Dietz also claimed that Columbia's fight song "Roar, Lion, Roar" inspired him to make the lion roar.

To represent the logo, a lion named Slats was chosen.  Slats was born in the Dublin Zoo and originally named Cairbre.  He would represent Goldwyn Pictures Corporation from 1917 until 1924.  He didn't roar but rather watched his audience pensively.

Slats
In 1924, at the end of Slats' career representing Goldwyn, Marcus Loew gained control of and merged Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer Pictures.  A giant was born.   The first MGM production that featured Slats was He Who Gets Slapped, starring Norma Shearer.  As he did with Goldwyn, while representing MGM, Slats did not actually roar.  It is rumored, however, that Slats' trainer, Volney Phifer, taught Slats to growl on cue, even though synchronized sound was still a few years away.

Slats would continue to appear as MGM's first official lion until 1927 and he would die in 1936, being buried on trainer Volney Phifer's property.

Jackie at work, recording his famous roar
The spotlight then shifted to a lion named Jackie, born in 1915.  Jackie was, according to his trainer Mel Koontz, the "ugliest cat you had ever seen."  Jackie would be the first lion whose roar was recorded for the movies.  His film debut was in 1928's White Shadows in the South Seas.  Because the film was silent, Jackie's roar was heard on a gramophone record.

In order to capitalize on Jackie's popularity, and to publicize MGM and its productions, MGM toured Jackie as "Leo The MGM Flying Lion" across the States.   They modified a plane to accommodate Jackie's cage in the body of the craft with tanks for milk, water and extra fuel.

Jackie's plane before 
During a flight in September of 1927, from San Diego to New York, the plane crashed in the Arizona desert.  The pilot, Martin Jensen, left Jackie in his cage with a supply of milk, water and sandwiches and went for help.  (Remember, these were the days before mobile phones.)  Four days later, Jensen was found and taken to a telephone.  He called MGM, whose main concern was Jackie.  Fortunately, Jackie was unharmed and safely rescued.  This crash, along with reported train wrecks, an earthquake and a studio explosion in which he escaped unscathed earned him the nickname "Leo the Lucky."

Jackie's plane after
 

Jackie
When talkies became the fashion within the year, a soundstage was built around Jackie's cage in order to make the official recording for use in the intro of MGM films.  In the early years of this recording (1928 - 1933) an extended version was made in which Jackie not only roared three times but looked away and then turned back to gaze at the camera.  He would appear as the mascot in all MGM films from 1928 until 1956, including the sepia toned opening for The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Jackie was a star in his own right.  He would appear on films in over 100 features for MGM, including Johnny Weissmuller's popular Tarzan films.

Some reports claim Jackie died in 1935; others in 1952.  What is known for certain is that Jackie would appear as the MGM logo off and on for twenty-eight years.  

In 1928, MGM began experimenting with two color short subjects and animated cartoons in 1930.

Telly


Telly, the first of two lions, was used from 1928 until 1932.










Coffee






Coffee, the second lion, was used from 1932 until 1934.

Tanner
Tanner stepped in to his first appearance in 1934 with Star Night at the Coconut Grove, a short.  His first feature film appearance was in 1938 with Sweethearts.   He would appear in a Three Stooges short in 1947 and his roar would be a sound effect for many of MGM's features.  Tanner's logo was the most frequently used throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood; Tanner's reign would last for twenty-two years, the third longest.

Tanner the lion would be the second MGM lion used for Technicolor, from 1935 until 1956.

George

George was the sixth lion, the one with the shortest reign and longest mane.  He would be introduced in 1956 and would only make appearances for a year.











Leo
The seventh, and longest lasting lion, named Leo was born in the Netherlands.  Leo has appeared on the most MGM films, with his first appearance in 1957 and was the youngest to start, explaining his small mane.  He would appear in a television commercial in 1961 and on the show The Pet Set in the early 1970s, gentle enough that a blind girl could pet him.

Leo's reign has lasted sixty years and counting.



The Stylized Lion
In 1965, MGM would attempt to update its image with a more contemporary logo, dubbed "The Stylized Lion."   The contemporary logo would only appear in front of three films (Grand Prix; 2001: A Space Odyssey; and The Subject Was Roses) before MGM reverted back to Leo, although a refined version of The Stylized Lion is in use today for MGM Resorts.










Monday, May 29, 2017

A Memorial Day Observance

Honoring and giving thanks today to the many men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country.

Four golden era Hollywood personalities lost their lives during World War II, and they are noted below.  I'm also sharing other Hollywood notables who served in the military.


ROBERT E. "BOBBY" HUTCHINS



Bobby was a child actor who appeared in the Our Gang shorts from 1927 to 1933.  He was better known as "Wheezer," a nickname he was given after his first day on set when he ran around so much that he made himself wheeze.

He would appear in fifty-eight episodes of Our Gang, running from the silent period through the talkies.  While he did appear as the main character in several of his appearances, he was mostly the younger tag-along brother.

It's unknown exactly why Bobby appeared to have fallen out of favor with Hal Roach - - there were rumors that his parents were abusive - - but he left the series in 1933 and made one feature film appearance before retiring from the business and returning to his hometown of Tacoma, Washington.

Bobby enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school and was awarded both a Bronze and Silver Star for his actions in France and Belgium, respectively.  In early 1945, he enrolled to be an air cadet and attended flight school.  It was in May of that same year, a week before the graduation his mother was scheduled to attend, that Bobby was killed in a mid-air collision with another pilot in Merced, California.  The other pilot survived.  



LESLIE HOWARD





Best known as Gone With the Wind's Ashley Wilkes, the debonair Leslie Howard was also a stage actor, director and producer as well as an author of articles for The New York Times, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.   During his career he would receive two Academy Award nominations.

Leslie served during The Great War (World War I) for the British Army but suffered from shell shock and relinquished his commission before the war ended.  With the outbreak of World War II, he offered his services and returned to Britain.  In so doing, he gave up his share of the box office gross for Gone With the Wind as, at that time, British citizens could not return to live in the UK while holding foreign interests.  By the way, Gone With the Wind is still the highest grossing film, allowing for inflation, in history.

Leslie made propaganda announcements, reminding all of the values of decency, tolerance and freedom - - everything Hitler was fighting against.  He also directed and starred in a number of patriotic films, including one that ridiculed the Nazis.  It was the this film, Pimpernel Smith, that infuriated Goebbels, especially since Gone With the Wind was Hitler's favorite film.

By 1943, Leslie was 50 years old and basically being a "British Cultural Ambassador."  On June 1 of that year, he boarded Flight 777 in Lisbon, Portugal headed for Bristol.  Over the Bay of Biscay, despite the flight being known as a civilian plane, it was surrounded by a squadron of German fighter bombers and shot down.  Sadly, Leslie Howard wasn't scheduled to be on the plane that day.  He had planned on flying a day later but was impatient to get home to see his family and pulled strings to get on the flight.

Leslie Howard would be remembered as a war hero and a gentleman who cared.  Friend Humphrey Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall would name their daughter Leslie after Leslie Howard.



GLENN MILLER

Glenn Miller is remembered to this day as one of the best, if not the best, big bandleaders of the golden era.  From 1939 to 1943 he was the best selling recording artist, with "In the Mood," ""Chattanooga Choo Choo," and "Moonlight Serenade," among others to his credit.  In 1942, at the height of his popularity, Glenn decided to join the war effort, forsaking his New Jersey home and his $15,0000 to $20,000 per week income.  He was then 38, too old to be drafted and the Navy, his first choice, rejected his services.  He wrote to and was accepted in the Army, with his design being that he would put together an Army band to entertain and inspire.  Captain Glenn Miller would modernize the military music and he would host a popular weekly radio program.  His music would not only energize the enlisted but would also be used as propaganda.   Miller himself would state "America means freedom and there's no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music."

In the summer of 1944, Miller was stationed in England, with he and his band headquartered at a BBC Radio office in London.  A bomb landed three blocks away, leading him to relocate to Bedford, England.  The day after his decampment from London, a bomb demolished his former office, killing at least seventy of his former office mates.

On December 15, 1944, Glenn Miller boarded a single engine plane, headed for Paris.  He was in the process of moving his band to Paris in the near future.  Somewhere over the English Channel, the plane, with Miller, Lt. Col. Norman Baessell and pilot John Morgan aboard, vanished. There are many theories as to what happened, the likely of which that the plane had a technical failure and crashed into the Channel. All three men are still considered Missing in Action.

In 1945, Miller's widow Helen would accept the Bronze Star Medal on her husband's behalf.

In 1953, James Stewart, himself a WWII veteran, starred in The Glenn Miller Story.

Archives and monuments have been devoted and dedicated to Glenn Miller.  There are at least two annual festivals that celebrate Miller's music and life.  Three of Glenn Miller's recordings were posthumously inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, in 1983, 1991 and 1996.



CAROLE LOMBARD




Carole Lombard was not actually in the military but the joyfully patriotic actress - - the highest paid star in Hollywood in the late 1930s - - wanted to do her part to support her country.  She had finished filming To Be Or Not To Be, one of her happiest movie experiences, in the fall of 1941 and was hoping to start a family with her husband, Clark Gable.  When the U.S. entered World War II at the end of 1941, she left Gable, who was filming, behind to head to her home state of Indiana for a war bond rally.  She took her mother, Bess, and Clark's press agent and friend, Otto Winkler with her.

Thanks to Carole's presence and verve, the rally was a massive success, raising more than $2 million (that's over $35 million in today's dollars!) in one evening.  She was quite a saleswoman, wasn't she? Carole, Bess and Otto were due to return to Los Angeles by train but she was anxious to get home, reportedly because her husband was currently filming with Lana Turner and she did not trust the young blonde starlet.  Carole wanted to fly back, an option that scared Bess and Otto.  In those days, travel was not a quick process, no matter the type.  Airplane travel was not yet as common and flying from Indiana to Los Angeles would still take a total of seventeen hours, due to the multiple stops necessary.  Airplane travel was also not as comfortable as today, with no central heating and excessive noise.  Despite the reservations Bess and Otto held, it was decided that a coin toss would determine their travel plans.  Unfortunately for all concerned, Carole won.  Bess was a numerologist and found their flight number (3), party number (3) and Carole's age (33) to be foretelling of tragedy. Thirteen minutes after takeoff from Las Vegas, TWA Flight 3, with Carole Lombard, Bess Peters, Otto Winkler and nineteen others, including servicemen, aboard, crashed into Potosi Mountain, killing all.

Clark Gable was grief stricken and insisted on traveling to Nevada to retrieve the bodies of his wife, mother-in-law and friend and accompany them back home.  He would then enlist in the Army Air Force, something his wife, while she was alive, had wanted him to do.  He would settle with the airline for $10, in order that he would not have to testify in public and relive the tragedy.

At the time of her death, Carole was scheduled to film They All Kissed the Bride.  Joan Crawford stepped into the role and donated her entire salary in Carole's name to the Red Cross, the organization that helped in recovering the bodies.

On January 15, 1944, the two year anniversary of Carole's record breaking war bond drive, a Liberty ship christened the SS Carole Lombard was launched.  Gable was in attendance.  The SS Carole Lombard was involved in rescuing hundreds of survivors from sunken ships in the Pacific and returning them successfully.


And a sampling of those who served . . .


Alan Ladd
Bob Barker

Alec Guinness

Audie Murphy

Buddy Ebsen
Burgess Meredith
Cesar Romero

Charles Laughton
Clark Gable

David Niven

Desi Arnaz
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Eddie Albert
Elvis Presley
Fred Gwynne
Gene Kelly
Glenn Ford

George Reeves

Guy Madison
Henry Fonda
Hugh O'Brian

Humphrey Bogart

Jack Benny
Jackie Coogan

Jackie Cooper
James Gleason

James Arness
James Doohan

Jeff Hunter

Jimmy Stewart
John Payne 
Lee Van Cleef



Lex Barker

MacDonald Carey

Michael Redgrave

Mickey Rooney

Paul Newman

Ronald Reagan

Richard Greene

Richard Todd

Robert Cummings

Robert Montgomery

Robert Stack

Robert Taylor

Rock Hudson

Sean Connery

Steve McQueen

Tony Curtis

Tyrone Power

Van Heflin

Victor Mature

Walter Matthau

William Holden