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Back in the early 1950s, LIFE magazine saw fit to report on — and to exhaustively photograph — a lion named Fagan not just once, but twice. The first time the magazine ran a story on Fagan was in February 1951, when an article informed LIFE’s readers that a 24-year-old Army private stationed at Fort Ord, Calif., had requested a 14-day furlough for his cat. That is to say, for his really big cat: a mature male lion.
Private Floyd C. Humeston had raised the lion from a cub, brushed its teeth, combed its fur and, LIFE claimed, had “evolved an English-German gibberish that Fagan not only understands but answers with growls and gurgles which his master understands.” Humeston was trying to find a home for the growling, gurgling beast after he (Humeston, not Fagan) had been drafted.
Flash forward five months, to July 1951, when a “sequel” to the first article, titled “Fearless Fagan Goes Hollywood,” appeared in the magazine’s pages. (The photos in this gallery were shot for that July ’51 feature.) LIFE provided a recap of the previous article, while revealing the lion and its master’s latest adventures:
The movie that Franklin produced, Fearless Fagan (1952), had real talent attached to it: Charles Lederer, the writer of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Ocean’s Eleven, wrote the screenplay; Stanley Donen (who helmed Singin’ in the Rain) directed; and Janet Leigh was one of its stars.