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Vaudevillian and Broadway actor Bert Lahr, who wore a costume made of actual lion fur to play the Cowardly Lion across from Judy Garland in MGM’s 1939 classic version of The Wizard of Oz, died at 72 on this date in 1967. Lahr dropped out of the New York school system at 15 to join a vaudeville act and worked his way to the top of the bill on the Columbia Burlesque Circuit. He had his first role on Broadway in 1927, and performed in several shows on the Great White Way before entering into film. He also costarred in the American premiere of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Florida, and then on Broadway. Lahr was performing in the film The Night They Raided Minsky’s when he died. His son, New Yorker theater critic John Lahr, wrote a biography of his father, Notes on a Cowardly Lion, published in 1969. To see Bert Lahr singing “If I Only Had the Nerve” (written, like most of the songs in The Wizard of Oz, by Harold Arlen [music] and Yip Harburg [lyrics]), look below.
“I’m afraid there’s no denying
I’m just an awful dandy-lion
A fate I don’t deserve
But I could show my prowess
Be a lion, not a mouse
If I only had the nerve” —Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion