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The Cowardly Lion
Oz character
Cowardly Lion.png
The Cowardly Lion as illustrated by William Wallace Denslow (1900)
First appearance The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
Created by L. Frank Baum
Portrayed by Fred Woodward (His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz)
Spencer Bell (The Wizard of Oz)
Bert Lahr (The Wizard of Oz)
Ted Ross (The Wiz)
Cedric the Entertainer (1995 Apollo Theater Revival)
John Alexander (Return to Oz)
David Alan Grier (The Wiz Live!)
Voiced by Jim Belushi (Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return)
Jess Harnell (Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz)
Aliases Dandy Lion
Species Lion
Gender Male
Occupation King of the Forest of Wild Beasts
Ozma's chariot puller
Title King of the Forest

The Cowardly Lion is a character in the fictional Land of Oz created by American author L. Frank Baum. He is depicted as an African lion, but like all animals in Oz, he can speak.

Since lions are supposed to be "The Kings of Beasts," the Cowardly Lion believes that his fear makes him inadequate. He does not understand that courage means acting in the face of fear, which he does frequently. Only during the aftermath of the Wizard's gift, when he is under the influence of an unknown liquid substance that the Wizard orders him to drink is he not filled with fear. He argues that the courage from the Wizard is only temporary, although he continues to do brave deeds.

The cowardly lion is in fact brave, but he doubts himself. In many scenes in this classic book and film, the Lion shows bravery in the face of danger, similar to the Scarecrow, who wants a brain whilst he is the smartest one, and the Tin Man, who wants a heart but cries to his detriment when he does anything remotely mean by accident and rusts himself still.


Cowardly lion2
Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, from the first edition.

The Cowardly Lion makes his first appearance in the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He is the last of the companions Dorothy befriends on her way to the Emerald City where he ambushes her, Toto, Scarecrow, and Tin Woodman. When he tries to bite Toto, Dorothy slaps him. She calls the Lion a coward and the Lion admits that he is. The Cowardly Lion joins her so that he can ask The Wizard for courage, ashamed that he is not brave enough to play his cultural role of the King of the Beasts. Despite outward evidence that he is unreasonably fearful, The Cowardly Lion displays great bravery along the way. During the journey, he leaps across a chasm on the road of yellow brick multiple times, each time with a companion on his back, and then leaps back to get the next one. When they come into another, wider chasm, the Cowardly Lion holds off two Kalidahs while the Tin Woodman cuts a tall tree to cross it. In spite of his fears, he still goes off to hunt for his food, and he even offers to kill a deer for Dorothy to eat, but the idea makes her uncomfortable.

The Wizard gives him a dish of unknown liquid, telling him it is "courage" to drink. In the remainder of the book, the Lion becomes almost like a bully and ready to fight. He accompanies Dorothy on her journey to see Glinda, and allows his friends to stand on his back in order to escape the Dainty China Country, where he damages the only church mentioned in an Oz book until Handy Mandy in Oz (1937).

His favored companion is the Hungry Tiger. This may well be the "Biggest of the Tigers" he and his friends encounter in the Forest of Wild Beasts in the Quadling Country In this forest, all of the lions and many of the other animals have been eaten by a Giant Spider. The Lion finds the Giant Spider asleep and decapitates it. The Tiger and the other animals bow to him and ask him to be their king, and he promises to do so upon his return from accompanying Dorothy to Glinda. Glinda orders the Winged Monkeys to carry him back to the Forest once Dorothy has returned home.

In the rest of Baum's Oz series, the Lion never again played a major role. In later books, The Cowardly Lion often accompanies Dorothy on her adventures. He is Princess Ozma's chief guardian on state occasions, and he and the Hungry Tiger pull Ozma's chariot. In subsequent Oz books by Baum, the Lion was shown to have continued being courageous and loyal, although still considering himself a coward and regularly frightened, even by Aunt Em. He befriended the Hungry Tiger in Ozma of Oz, if this was not the earlier Tiger (which The Patchwork Girl of Oz implies that it is by calling both Lion and Tiger "largest of their kind"), and the two have become Ozma's personal guards. In Glinda of Oz he is on Ozma's board of advisers.

In "The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger" in Little Wizard Stories of Oz, the Lion begins with cowardly bravado, intending to find a man to tear apart, and the Tiger a fat baby to devour. Instead, they find a small child (bigger than a baby) and return it to its mother.

In his titular novel by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Mustafa of Mudge, a wealthy sultan at the southern tip of the Munchkin Country, kidnaps the Cowardly Lion for his large collection of lions that he feels would be incomplete without Oz's most famous lion. He was turned to stone by the giant Crunch, but rescued by American circus clown Notta Bit More and orphan Bobbie Downs, whom the clown prefers to call by the more optimistic-sounding Bob Up.

For the most part in later Oz books, though, the Cowardly Lion is a cameo appearance rather than a major character. His other significant appearances include Ojo in Oz, where he is turned into a clock by Mooj and saved by Ozma and the Wizard. He assisted against the Stratovanians in Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz, Terp the Terrible in The Hidden Valley of Oz, and accompanied Dorothy and Prince Gules of Halidom in Merry Go Round in Oz. John R. Neill played him primarily as a beast of burden in his three Oz books. In all, the only three books in which the Cowardly Lion does not rate at least a mention are The Tin Woodman of Oz, Grampa in Oz, and The Silver Princess in Oz. (In The Marvelous Land of Oz he receives a bare mention in the eleventh chapter.)

Film portrayals

His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz

In the 1914 film His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz, the Cowardly Lion was played by Fred Woodward.

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

In the 1925 silent film The Wizard of Oz, directed and starring Larry Semon, the Cowardly Lion was played in disguise by Spencer Bell.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wizard of Oz Bert Lahr 1939
Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion for the 1939 film.

In the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion was a humanoid biped and played by Bert Lahr, a popular vaudeville and Broadway star, with many of Lahr's trademark mannerisms deliberately worked into the film. In this version, the liquid courage given to him by the Wizard is replaced with a medal marked "Courage". Bert Lahr's biography, written by his son John Lahr, is entitled Notes on a Cowardly Lion.

The movie was made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which uses a lion as its mascot. In fact, MGM even considered using their mascot for the role of the Cowardly Lion.

In the movie, the Lion walks on his hind legs instead of all four, except when he is first seen bounding out of the forest to attack Dorothy's friends. After roaring fiercely at them on all fours, he does stand up on his hind legs.

Lahr also portrayed the Lion's Kansas counterpart, Zeke (one of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's farmworkers). Screenwriter Noel Langley created this character for the film. Zeke helps Hickory (Tin Man's alter ego) lower a bed into its place on a wagon at the farm. He then moves the hogs into the pig pen and pours feed into their trough. When Dorothy falls off the railing that encircles the pen, Zeke jumps in and rescues her. With Dorothy safe, Zeke sits down beside the pen, breathing heavily and seemingly about to faint. The others realize that he had been afraid of the pigs, and playfully mock him. Zeke wears his hat throughout the entire film because he does not struggle to open the cellar when the tornado approaches the farm. Hunk (Scarecrow's alter ego) closes and locks the cellar with him when Dorothy arrives at the farmhouse. Zeke and Professor Marvel (The Wizard's alter ego) are the only men wearing hats when Dorothy awakens from being unconscious.

Cowardly Lion Courage Medal

Cowardly Lion's courage medal used for the 1939 film.

The original Courage Medal prop from the 1939 film, a cross-shaped medal made of poly-chromed metal and measuring 7.5 × 7.5" (19.1 × 19.1 cm), features a lion in profile above a crown and a knight's helmet and the word "Courage" in raised blue scroll lettering. In the late 1950s, Mal Caplan, the head of the costume department at MGM was in a life-threatening automobile accident, and spent months in the hospital before returning to work. For some time he was unable to sit upright and had to work from a chaise longue. In recognition of his courage, his colleagues and the management at MGM presented him with the Cowardly Lion's Courage Medal. He was also given the Tin Man's "heart", but he gave that to "someone who needed it", a man in the same hospital who was having open heart surgery. The current whereabouts of the heart clock are unknown. The Courage Medal remained in the Caplan family until it was consigned to a Sotheby's Entertainment Memorabilia auction in May 1997. The medal was purchased by a New Jersey collector, and in November 2010 was featured on episode 7 of the TV show Hollywood Treasure.

Cowardly Lion costumes

An original Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz was packed away after filming and forgotten for decades. It was found barely in time to be included in the landmark 1970 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer auction, where it sold for $2400 to a California chiropractor. In 1985, sculptor Bill Mack acquired it; he could not recall the exact price, but stated, "It was several thousand dollars, instead of several hundred thousand". He had it restored by a taxidermist and "recreated the headpiece with a lifelike sculpture of Lahr". In December 2006, he sold it for $826,000.

Another costume currently resides in the Comisar Collection, the largest collection of television artifacts in the world. Curator James Comisar acquired the costume, after verifying to his satisfaction that it had been worn in the film, and set about restoring it. The major challenge was the weight of the tail caused rips across the back of the costume that needed to be patched, which was done by Cara Varnell, a textile conservation expert at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Cowardly Lion's original facial appliances had been glued directly to Bert Lahr's face and did not survive the production, so Comisar asked Lahr's son, Herbert, to model for another face cast, as he had an uncanny resemblance to his father. Herbert Lahr remarked:

The Lion’s suit was very interesting. It was a real lion skin, and it weighed 60 lbs. My dad had to be in it all day, he couldn’t eat because of the way the mask was, so he had to eat his lunch through a straw.

The Cowardly Lion's mane was re-created from human hair imported from Italy at a cost of $22,000, and more than twenty-one artisans worked for two years completing the conservation.

Comisar's Cowardly Lion costume has been featured in the national media, including on The Oprah Winfrey Show, when it was then valued at $1.5 million. The costume is thought to be among the most valuable and iconic Hollywood objects in existence. “Most of us cannot relate to not having a brain or a heart; we can all relate to not having enough courage, and it is for this reason I believe the Cowardly Lion is the character we respond to the most,” said Comisar. Many potential buyers have expressed interest in buying the costume, but so far he has rejected all offers. Comisar's costume was offered by Bonhams in their TCM-themed auction that took place in New York City on November 24, 2014, where it received great interest and realized the selling price of $3.1 million, and this is the highest known price point for a costume worn by a male performer in any Hollywood production.

William Stillman, a noted historian and co-author of several books about the film, featured a full-page photograph of this Cowardly Lion costume in his book, The Wizardry of Oz: The Artistry and the Magic of the M.G.M. 1939 Classic. The accompanying text states, "While Bert Lahr appears to wear the same costume throughout the picture, others were available for dress rehearsals or for the stunt double to bound onto the Yellow Brick Road, leap through a window in the Emerald City, or scale the cliffs outside the Witch’s castle." In 1998, both Comisar and auctioneering company Profiles in History, on behalf of Mack, insisted they had Lahr's costume.

The Wiz

In the 1978 film version of the all black Broadway play, the Lion was portrayed by Ted Ross, who won a Tony for his Broadway portrayal. David Alan Grier portrayed the Lion in 2015's The Wiz Live!.

Return to Oz

In the 1985 spiritual sequel to The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion is briefly seen at the end of the film. Unlike the 1939 film, this version is a puppet and walks on all fours. He is also shown growling rather than speaking.

The Oz Kids

In 1996, they made an animated cartoon series The Oz Kids. The Cowardly Lion rules the kingdom to the south of Emerald City, Quadling Country and has two cubs, Bela and Boris. His son Boris is afraid of things just like his dad.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

The Cowardly Lion appeared in the animated film Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return (which is based on Dorothy of Oz), voiced by Jim Belushi.

Oz: The Great and Powerful

The Cowardly Lion makes a brief cameo in ', as a CGI character. He briefly tries to attack Oz (played by James Franco) and his monkey companion Finley (voiced by Zach Braff), but Oz uses his magic to create a velvet fog that intimidates the lion, causing him to immediately retreat.

Speculated origins

In the original Oz books, the Lion's origins were never explicitly stated. However, many works since then have either hinted at or revealed elements of backstory for the Cowardly Lion. Partly due to the large amount of written material about Oz, many of these stories are contradictory to each other or to the "Famous Forty" Oz books, and many fans do not accept them as canonical. The canonical books give no indication the Lion did not originate in Oz, essentially as a normal, if unique, lion.

A skittish and fearful lion cub is seen at Shiz University in Gregory Maguire's novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. The cub had been the result of cruel experiments by Dr. Dillamond's replacement teacher (in the musical, it was an agent of the Wizard) and was saved by Elphaba and some other students. This is heavily hinted to be a younger form of the Cowardly Lion. The Tin Woodman confirms this in the Broadway musical adaptation Wicked, in the song "March of the Witch Hunters": "And the lion also has a grievance to repay! If she'd let him fight his own battles when he was young, he wouldn't be a coward today!"

Maguire's third book in The Wicked Years, A Lion Among Men, is told primarily from the Lion's viewpoint, and its plot is centered around Brrr's account of his own origins, or lack thereof (he is unsure, as his narration begins, of the whereabouts of his parents, pride, etc.).

The book Lion of Oz and the Badge of Courage and its accompanying animated feature, Lion of Oz, show the Lion as having grown up in a circus in America. His caretaker, Oscar Diggs, was the man who would become the Wizard of Oz; this man took the Lion on a balloon ride one night, which resulted in the two becoming stranded in Oz.

The film Oz the Great and Powerful shows Oscar Diggs driving away an attacking lion with a smoke bomb, suggesting that this lion is Dorothy's future companion.

In the 2017 TV series Emerald City, the Lion is a former guard in the Wizard's army who is cursed into the form of a beast for his actions against the former Royal Family of Oz.

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