Lights, camera, mascots!
What do a roaring lion, a woman carrying a torch, and a solitary fisherman all have in common? Each is an instantly recognizable longstanding film studio icon. While the on-screen appearance for these characters only lasts a few seconds, their presence is universally acknowledged as the audience cue to simmer down and enjoy the movie.
When the film lets out, you’re more likely to be discussing a sequel or quoting dialogue than you are wondering why MGM chose a lion as their mascot or if a real person inspired the Columbia Lady. Get a refill on your popcorn, folks — it’s time for some old school cinema mascot trivia! We’re exploring three of film’s most legendary logos — the Columbia Lady, the Dreamworks Fisher, and the MGM Lion — and their journey to Hollywood superstardom.
The Columbia Lady (Columbia Pictures)
Few icons are as shrouded in mystery as the Columbia Lady for Columbia Pictures. Making her debut in 1924, her concept is best attributed to studio founder, Harry Cohn. While it remains unclear why Cohn chose a woman holding a torch, theories have speculated that the Columbia Lady’s most striking comparison is to the Statue of Liberty. Patriotic parallels include the word “Columbia” which is in linguistic terms synonymous with the word “America” and that Cohn himself was the son of immigrants.
With features created by a computer composite, the Columbia Lady’s style evolution over the decades has included donning ceremonial headdresses and draping herself with an American flag. In 1992, illustrator Michael Dees helped redesign her image into the statuesque icon we see today.
The Dreamworks Fisher
Founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen in 1994, Dreamworks was created as a new kind of film studio. Spielberg himself came up with the concept of a man fishing from the moon and reached out to visual-effects legend Dennis Muren to help execute the icon.
Rather than immediately opt for CGI, Muren suggested using a painting. He commissioned illustrator Robert Hunt for the assignment, who created a few versions of the image including one modeled by his son of a young boy fishing. The young boy won Spielberg over instantly and a motion version was created.
As an extra tidbit of film trivia, if you ever wondered who is responsible for the nostalgic musical accompaniment for our young fisher, John Williams is credited with this wistful score.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wasn’t founded until 1924, but its furry mascot roared onto the scene in 1916. Created by Howard Dietz, a publicist for Goldwyn Pictures, the earliest incarnation of the lion was surrounded by a ring and scrollwork of film and chosen as a nod to Dietz’s alma mater, Columbia University.
Since 1916, six lions have served as the MGM mascot beginning with Slats, who quietly observed audiences without making a peep and retired in 1928. After his retirement, the baton was passed along to Jackie (1928-1956), Coffee (used in two-strip Technicolor from 1932 – 1935), Tanner (1934 – 1956), and George (1956 – 1957).
In 1957, the infamous Leo the Lion joined the lineup, where his mighty roar remains a classic constant on silver screens everywhere.