This is a salute to this iconic moniker that used to sit perched a top Stage 6 on the MGM main lot. This Lion illuminated at night and looked down not only on the MGM property, including their backlots, but this entire city. You could see it from the 405 freeway. That certain section of buildings exclusively captures MGM, past and present. The three iconic identifiers are the Scenic Arts building, The Water Tower, and the Lion on the tallest stage on the main lot.
I fell in love with this studio long before I started sneaking in MGM. In the sixties, on my way to elementary school at St. Augustines, I looked upwards at Leo in passing every day. The only thing changing it seemed was the calendar and the films promoted below Leo’s proud roar. By the time I made it to school, I roared into class.
How could I not, I left an hour early because I liked looking through Holes in the Fence all along my journey. My lunch pail was THE RAT PATROL. Lucky me, I passed by these desert squad vehicles often, often staged up by the main gate. I couldn’t drive yet, but I imagined myself not only behind the steering wheel, but also at the handles of the 50 caliber machine guns. It was an adventure for me just to get to school. I’d rather be “On Location”
At night, the lion was like a porch light from the backlot perspective. My life wishes eventually led me to the top of this sign on top of Stage 6, but also, The Water Tower, I was able get up on the very top with the help of scaffolding. For me, these were lifetime goals. Over the course of my life, I’ve made my own history in every iconic building or set on this property.
Legendary MGM security guard Ken Hollywood took special care of me. It was Ken who hooked me up with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire while filming That’s Entertainment.All this took place with the Lion looking down watching me, like my personal pet in neon form. Old MGM guards were very kind to me, sharing their studio experiences with me at the guard shacks I always stopped at on the way home from school.
In 1981, I was hired by MGM film labs as a reel router. My job was to get reels of film to various stops needed for laboratory processing. Six reels per film, Victor Victoria was our hit, starring James Garner. CHIPS was the hit Tv show along with Highway to Heaven. I met Michael Landon on the main lot. Lorimar Telepictures owned the studio, and the MGM sign was replaced, but my checks said MGM. It still had contract fulfillments.
MGM Film Labs was the last department to capitulate, and MGM was officially no more as this department faded to black. I was there, my dream job. Rumors persisted prior to this decision so I crossed my fingers, wore a rabbit’s foot, and prayed to God for this to never end. But God had other plans-bigger and better in the long run. You probably are already aware I had a long fascinating career at Universal Studios. Still today, I walk around the Sony lot as if it were 1972 again.
I want to graciously thank Mr. Steven Bingen for including me- of all people– to his latest latest work of art. It’s now available on Amazon. I’ve earned my MGM stripes along with couple scars to go with a knocked out tooth. MGM was that kind of place. Steven’s book is the type you see proudly displayed at Barnes and Noble, the kind of book you turn pages with white gloves on. Decadent to say the least.
It’s a complete contrast from my old green fence covered book topped off with barbed wire. You have to trespass to enter my book. Beware of splinters and yes- security. I can get you a helmet, their’s a room full.
I very much look forward to yet another fabulous Steven Bingen book, I can’t thank him enough for including ME. I wish his books existed when I was trespassing, that would have helped.So why don’t we all meet in the middle of the lot that will always be MGM. Beneath a lady holding a torch and a sign promoting Bullet Train– in a place where- A Lion Once Roared.