Leo the "Lucky" Lion

Tale of the Flyin’ Lion

If you don’t know the story, in 1924 Metro, Goldwyn and Meyer merged to form MGM Studios. The famous movie mogul used “LEO” the lion as a mascot and marketing tool for their brand. Lindbergh had just successfully completed his flight across the Atlantic in 1927 in the now famous Ryan B-1 Brougham. MGM wanting to capitalize on all the publicity and attention surrounding the airplane decided to send Leo on tour.
The lion who’s actual name was “Jackie,” was a full time cast member and star of the Tarzan movies. Ryan aircraft set to work to create accommodations for Leo, who was a considerable sized passenger to say the least, weighing in at over 400 pounds. They would add a cage for safety and modifications for extra fuel. The first time the pilot and lion went flying together, Leo was able to lick the pilot on the back of the neck. This was a bit unsettling for the pilot.

MGM choose pilot Martin Jensen to fly Leo from Southern California to New York. About five hours into the trip, Jensen realized he would not have enough altitude to clear the mountains. Soon after he crash-landed in the canyon tearing off the landing gear, one wing and came to rest in a tree. He gave the lion some food and water and went to get help.

After four days he found some cowboys who got him to a phone to call MGM who asked, what about the lion? The boys soon returned to get Leo who was only a little less for wear. Factors contributing to the crash were weight and the center of gravity for the big cat as he moved around in the cage. Anyway, they crashed in the mountains of Hells Canyon, AZ – now known as “Leo Canyon”. The lion was renamed “Lucky” because she had now survived and plane crash and a studio explosion.

The Tale of the Flyin' Lion
M.G.M. Lion on tour