Don’t Believe Your Lion Eyes
The preposterous has surprising power. We often question the plausible but give the outrageous a pass. Preposterous practices of the past are particularly confusing. Who is to say how they did things in the foreign country we call history? This is especially confusing when we consider Hollywood, a business built on elevated visual trickery.
A sedated lion was stuffed through the famous black “Metro Goldwyn Mayer” frame to produce the MGM “roaring lion” logo. A reverse view photograph of the prostrate lion anchors the claim.
The photograph shows an Israeli Barbary lion named Samson getting a 2005 CAT scan to diagnose a neurological condition induced by vitamin deficiency. In classic Hollywood fashion, the MGM frame was added in digital post, an utter fabrication.
The photograph is false, but it uncannily echoes Hollywood reality. A string of seven lions have served as Leo the MGM trademark lion beginning with “Slats” in 1917. When talkies arrived in 1928, crews needed to film the second lion, “Jackie,” roaring in both sight and sound. To do so, they stuck Jackie’s head through a wide black frame to create a black surround. The footage first appeared at the opening of MGM’s inaugural sound production, White Shadows in the South Seas, and then in film after film.
The sedated lion story has a happy Hollywood ending. Samson underwent successful surgery at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, regained his health, and rejoined his sister Delilah at the Hai-Kef Zoo south of Tel Aviv.