Her Father, The Cowardly Lion: Bert Lahr’s Daughter Shares Her Memories of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Star

When she thinks of the enduring memory of her father, Bert Lahr, and the way it intertwines with his most famous role as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, Jane Lahr finds herself remembering the day she and brother John visited their father’s gravesite at Union Field Cemetery in Ridgewood, New York for the first time since his death in 1967.

“His gravesite is supposed to have perpetual care,” Jane says in an exclusive interview. “Well, I don’t know what they mean by perpetual care, but as we got there we saw there wasn’t a lot of it being done. But on his stone, a child had left a toy lion, and that speaks to me of Dad. We fixed up the gravesite, I planted a plant and we moved the little toy lion right up front and left everything in good shape. But that’s when I really think of Dad; the thought of that child leaving that lion. I can see a mother with a little boy, saying, ‘Oh, this is the lion in The Wizard of Oz’ and the toy is left in tribute. It’s so sweet.

bert-lahr-gravesite
Courtesy Jane Lahr

“My father,” she continues, “would never watch his own movie work, because he didn’t really like his movies except for Zaza. When The Wizard of Oz came to TV, he never watched it until very close to the end of his life. I was home from college and it came on television and he watched it. And he thought, ‘Hmm, that’s okay. That was good.’ He was a great stage performer, because of his energy and his physicality and his sounds. He was a perfect Lion, because even when he was a vaudevillian, he made these animal sounds. He had all of the body movements, all of the power, all of the physicality, but he also had a sweetness and a pathos — a vulnerability that we all, as human beings, understand. We love that and so, in a way, at the end of the movie, when Judy Garland kisses Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow, and says, ‘I’m going to miss you most of all,’ I always thought, ‘Oh, you are not. You’re going to miss the Lion most of all, because he was the most adorable.’”

Shucks, folks, he’d be speechless.

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