Did You Know?

laughing lion

Did you know that the iconic MGM lion was the brainchild of Howard Dietz (Class of 1917, JRN 1917), who drew inspiration from The Jester’s Laughing Lion?

Dietz, a noted lyricist and librettist, is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the American Theatre Hall of Fame. After studying journalism at Columbia, he joined Goldwyn Pictures in 1919 as director of publicity and advertising and continued in that position after a merger created Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924. But before that, while an undergraduate, Dietz worked part-time for the Philip Goodman advertising agency, and that’s where the saga of the lion logo began.

As Dietz explained in his 1974 autobiography, Dancing in the Dark, “Goodman met Samuel Goldwyn and he became Goodman’s client. Goldwyn needed a trademark for his film company and asked us to design one. He did his producing in Fort Lee, N.J., and his home office was on Fifth Avenue and 40th Street, opposite the library lions. One would think that the Goldwyn trademark stemmed from such an obvious influence, but Leo the Lion, with the Latin Ars Gratia Artis (Art for Art’s Sake) decorating his proud dome, was my idea, not Andrew Carnegie’s. I got the idea from the laughing lion decoration in the college comic, The Jester. The lion used in the magazine was a symbol of Columbia … which in turn was taken from the lion on the crest of King’s College. That’s powerful lineage enough for a film company.”

Dietz went on to write the words to more than 500 songs, many of them with Arthur Schwartz, and collaborated on musicals with composers such as Jerome Kern and George Gershwin. He became MGM’s VP for publicity in 1940 and stayed in that role until his 1957 retirement. According to his 1983 obituary in The New York Times, “he was said to have been the man who made Greta Garbo’s line ‘I want to be alone’ world-famous.”