Cowardly Lion Costume Purrs its way to auction

cowardlylioncostumeIt is 75 years since the Wizard of Oz started to wow the generations and the film and merchandise to continue to attract collectors old and new. For collectors the Bonham’s TCM Presents … There’s No Place Like Hollywood auction on November 24th in New York has some of the holy grail of Oz items.

These include the original Cowardly Lion costume worn by actor Bert Lahr; Bert Lahr’s original script; the Witch Remover prop wielded by the Cowardly Lion in pursuit of the Wicked Witch; a Winkie spear head; and an assortment of memorable Munchkin, Flying Monkey and Emerald City costumes.

Another rare items will be a blue gingham “test” dress and pinafore worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy during the essential pre-production period, when costumes, hairstyles and all artistic aspects of moviemaking are refined prior to filming.

The Cowardly Lion Costume

The Cowardly Lion costume was worn by Bert Lahr in a number of iconic scenes, including when he first meets Dorothy and her friends along the Yellow Brick Road; as he sings the songs “If I Only Had the Nerve” and “If I Were King of the Forest”; when he skips down the Yellow Brick Road on the way to Oz; when he helps rescue Dorothy; when the Wicked Witch melts; when the Wizard awards him a medal for “conspicuous acts of bravery”; and when Dorothy clicks her heels together to return to her Kansas farm home.

For famed MGM costume designer Gilbert Adrian, the only option for creating a realistic lion costume in 1938 was to fashion it out of actual lion hides. He was challenged with locating several that visually matched each other so a few costumes could be made and used interchangeably throughout filming. Adrian soon discovered, however, that every available lion hide had very distinctive colors, hair patterns and scars, so he had no choice but to dress Lahr in a single costume for much of the filming.

In the Hollywood memorabilia art market, coveted costumes are often worn in one stellar scene or even a single memorable moment, but this Cowardly Lion costume – screen-matched by the distinctive features of the lion hide – was worn in more than a dozen scenes, making it a cultural touchstone. The costume has been given the white glove treatment by conservators at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the make-up was reproduced with the direct involvement of Bert Lahr’s family and members of the special effects team who worked on Jurassic Park.

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