On February 7, 1930 a lion cub was born at Goebel's Wild Animal Farm, an animal theme park and training facility in Thousand Oaks, California. Many of the wild animals there were destined for Hollywood to appear in movies. At the tender age of three weeks (!) this little lion cub was sold to Roscoe Turner, an airplane pilot, to help promote the Gilmore Oil Company. The cub was promptly named "Gilmore."
Image via Wikipedia
The Gilmore Oil Company already had the logo of a red and white roaring lion that they used in their advertising. Turner flew around the country in a Lockheed Air Express all decked out to promote the company and he thought that adding a real lion to his jaunts to participate in air races would help with extra publicity. When they stayed overnight in hotels Gilmore was often asked to leave his paw print in the cash registers.
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Little Gilmore rode freely in the cockpit and during rough weather he would curl up in the comfort of Turner's lap. The Humane Society petitioned to get Gilmore fitted with a parachute for safety and that added to his growing renown as "the flying lion."
Image via Air & Space
All too soon Gilmore had grown too big (at 150 pounds) to fit in the plane, but he continued to be a public figure by hanging out at the airport in Burbank, California, and at a Gilmore Oil service station until 1940. Gilmore lived at Turner's home and would freak out the mailman and other visitors to their home. Before his grounding he had logged more than 25,000 miles in flight.
Upon his retirement, Gilmore went to live at the World Jungle Compound and Turner continued to pay for his upkeep. Gilmore died on December 17, 1950 and Turner had him stuffed and mounted. Eventually Gilmore and the old Gilmore plane were donated to the Smithsonian Institution where they were displayed for several years.
R.I.P. Gilmore. You may not have had a proper lion's life but you did made one heck of a footnote in aviation history.