The iconic roaring lion of MGM films dates to 1924. But by 1939 Lions Clubs were so well-known that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer turned to Lions when it needed to film a cub to introduce its short features. Headquarters publicized the contest in the LION and told clubs to mail photos of a cub to headquarters in downtown Chicago. Lions Clubs, not taking a back seat to Hollywood press agents when it came to rhetorical flourishes, asked members to find a Leo Jr. with “the earmarks of a Gable, the natural exuberance of Mickey Rooney, the savior faire of a Robert Benchley and more fuzz on his chest than on Robert Taylor’s.” The cub’s place of origin did not matter—a zoo, a lion farm, a private owner. Hundreds of clubs submitted entries. Many submitted photos of their mascots including the Chicago Central Lions, founder Jones’ club. Mel Chico (a play on Jones’ name) resided at Lincoln Park Zoo on the city’s North Side when he wasn’t with the club. The nine finalists were escorted to the international convention in Pittsburgh, where they ambled across a stage in a Lion Beauty Parade. The winner was three-month-old Cubby, representing the Kalamazoo Lions in Michigan. Lions of Little Rock, Arkansas, who had championed their own Rocky, mock-protested the decision, saying Cubby was a “runt without personality or voice.” Leo Jr. quickly made his first public appearance—a highly dramatic one—on Lions Day at the World’s Fair in New York. As flashbulbs popped, Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan fame made a grant entrance with Cubby in his arms. The pair’s court of honor, astride a giant elephant, were no less than Jimmy Stewart, Frank Buck (the ringleader of an animal show) and Bert Lahr (the cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz). Leo Jr. was then whisked off to Hollywood by plane for fame, if not fortune.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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