The Cowardly Lion costume screen-worn by actor Bert Lahr in "The Wizard of Oz" (MGM, 1939). Designed by the legendary Gilbert Adrian, the costume is constructed from an African lion skin with unique markings and hair patterns that are as individual as a ﬁngerprint. While at least two Lion costumes are known to have been used in the production, this costume was specifically worn by Lahr throughout the motion picture, including when the Cowardly Lion first meets Dorothy and sings “If I only had the Nerve,” when he later sings his trademark, “If I were King of the Forest,” when he helps rescue Dorothy from the Wicked Witch, and when Dorothy clicks her heels together and returns to her Kansas farm home.
Hollywood curator James Comisar supervised the preservation effort: “We knew only the best would be appropriate when caring for an icon as indelible as the Cowardly Lion.We assembled a team of experts who conserved the costume at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Herbert Lahr, the son of actor Bert Lahr, had a strong resemblance to his dad and allowed us to mold his face because the Cowardly Lion’s original foam rubber make-up appliances did not survive.” Optical-quality glass eyes that capture a faint sparkle of the Yellow Brick Road were also created and metal whiskers and acrylic teeth add further realism to a newly sculpted head; a wig and flowing mane were created using Italian human hair, and thousands of hair strands were painstakingly hand-tied into a Max Factor lace foundation in the same manner used by MGM Studios in the 1930s; and a contemporary pair of the Cowardly Lion’s footwear was meticulously rendered out of lion hide and toned by art conservators to match the screen-used pair.
William Stillman, the well-respected Oz historian who has co-authored numerous books (with Jay Scarfone) on the film, states in a letter that this costume is authentic wardrobe worn by Lahr in "The Wizard of Oz," and a full-page photograph of this conserved costume appears in his book, The Wizardry of Oz – The Artistry and Magic of the 1939 MGM Classic.
This costume has also been the focus of documentaries produced by The Learning Channel, The History Channel, and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show; and it has been in the possession of this cultural archive for nearly 20 years, where it has been maintained to the highest standards. The Cowardly Lion costume is exhibited in front of a painted canvas backdrop of the rolling hillsides that lead up to the Emerald City that was created by Disney artists as a freestanding installation, and the mounted costume and environmental elements are housed in museum-quality shipping crates. According to the Library of Congress, "The Wizard of Oz" is the most watched film of all time, and the American Film Institute rates it as the #1 fantasy genre motion picture. Certainly, the Cowardly Lion stands as Hollywood’s most regal and enduring icon of courage.
Photo Credit: Mr. Lou Bustamante
Watch The Cowardly Lion
at LACMA on The Learning Channel