Cowardly Lion

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The Cowardly Lion
Oz character
Cowardly Lion.png
The Cowardly Lion--illustration by William Wallace Denslow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
First appearance The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
Created by L. Frank Baum
Portrayed by Bert Lahr
Aliases Dandy Lion
Species Lion
Gender Male
Occupation King of the Forest of Wild Beasts
Ozma's chariot puller
Title King of the Forest
Nationality Ozite

The Cowardly Lion is a character from the fictional Land of Oz created by American author L. Frank Baum, in his 1900 children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and its several sequel books writtren by Baum as well.[1] He is a wild African Lion, but is able to speak intelligently due to coming from a fairy-region, thus interacting and communicating with humans in a civil manner.

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 aftereffects of the Wizard's gift, when he is under the influence of an unknown liquid substance that the Wizard orders him to drink (perhaps gin) is he not filled with fear. He argues that the courage from the Wizard is only temporary, although he continues to do brave deeds while openly and embarrassedly fearful.

The Classic Oz Books[edit]

Dorothy and her company meet the Cowardly Lion, from the first edition of Baum's 1900 novel.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion is the last of the companions Dorothy Gale encounters and befriends in the Land of Oz while on her way down the road of yellow brick to Oz's imperial capital the city of emeralds. At first, he attempts to ambushe her and her dog Toto, along with the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman to scare them off as they past through his part of the forest. This almost works until he tries to bite Toto, and the little girl slaps him for trying to attack her beloved pet. The travelers quickly discover that he is actually a coward when the huge beast begins crying, and which he shamefully admits that he is one. The Cowardly Lion joins them on their journey so that he can ask the great and powerful Wizard for courage, being ashamed that, in his cultural role as the King of the Beasts, he is not indeed brave.[2] Despite outward evidence that he is unreasonably fearful, the Cowardly Lion displays great bravery along the way. During the journey, he leaps across a broken chasm on the yellow brick road multiple times, each time with a companion on his back, and the leaps back to get the next one. When they come into another, wider chasm, the Cowardly Lion holds off two dangerous creatures called Kalidahs, while the Tin Woodman cuts a tall tree to cross over to the other side so the party can safely escape them. 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. When they finally speak to the Wizard, he orders them to travel to Oz's western quadrant, the Winkie Country, to kill the Wicked Witch of the West and prove themselves worthy of having their wishes granted.

When the Wicked Witch sees them coming with her one telescopic eye, she sends her forty wolves, her forty crows, and her forty stinging bees to kill the group. Each of the witch's attempts are unsuccessful. When she sends her army of Winkie soldiers to attack them, the Cowardly Lion frightens them all by ferociously roaring them away. Finally, when he, Dorothy and Toto are captured by the Winged Monkeys and brought forth to the Wicked Witch, she enslaves the girl and her dog but keeps the beast locked in an iron cage within the coutyard of her castle. She cruelly starves him until he agrees to obey and submit to her. The Cowardly Lion refuses to do so, only because Dorothy secretly sneaks him food at night when the witch is asleep. When Dorothy slays the witch with a bucket of water, the group return to the Emerald City to collect their promised rewards only to discover the Wizard is indeed a humbug.

After a long confrontation, the group sees that the humbug Wizard isn't such a bad man after all, as he does his best to keep his promises to them. He gives the Cowardly Lion a dish of unknown liquid (hinted to be gin), telling him it is "courage" to drink, which he glady does and becomes "full of courage". In the remainder of the book, the Lion becomes very proud and protective of his friends as he accompanies Dorothy on her journey to see Glinda. While on their way to see her, the Cowardly Lion allows his friends to stand on his back in order to get over the wall that surrounds the tiny enclave, the Dainty China Country. He also saves the animal kingdom in a forest where the other lions and many different animals have been being terrorized and eaten by a Giant Spider. The Lion finds the Giant Spider asleep and decapitates it. The animals bow down to him and ask him to be their king, and he promises to do so upon his return from Glinda.

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[3] In the end, 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 presence 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[edit]

The Wizard of Oz[edit]

Cowardly Lion's Courage Medal

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. [4] 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 and later rescues Dorothy when she falls off the railing that encircles the pen. He 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[edit]

The original Courage Medal prop from the 1939 film has been recently rediscovered. The cross-shaped medal is made of poly-chromed metal and measures 7.5 × 7.5" (19.1 × 19.1 cm) It 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 lounge. 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.[5][6][7] The medal was purchased by a New Jersey collector, and in Nov. of 2010 was featured on episode 7 of the TV show Hollywood Treasure.

Cowardly Lion costumes[edit]

An original Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz was packed away after filming and forgotten for decades.[8] 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.[8] In 1985, sculptor Bill Mack acquired it;[8] he could not recall the exact price, but stated, "It was several thousand dollars, instead of several hundred thousand".[9] He had it restored by a taxidermist and "recreated the headpiece with a lifelike sculpture of Lahr".[8] In December 2006, he sold it for $826,000.[9]

Another costume currently resides in the Comisar Collection, the largest collection of television artifacts in the world.[10][11] Curator James Comisar acquired the costume, after verifying to his satisfaction that it had been worn in the film, and set about restoring it.[12] 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.[13] The Cowardly Lion’s original facial appliances had been glued directly to Bert Lahr’s face and did not survive the production,[13] so Comisar asked Lahr’s son, Herbert, to model for another face cast, as he had an uncanny resemblance to his father.[13] 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.[13]

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.[12]

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.[14] The costume is thought to be among the most valuable and iconic Hollywood objects in existence.[citation needed] “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.[12] Many potential buyers have expressed interest in buying the costume, but so far he has rejected all offers.

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."[15] In 1998, both Comisar and auctioneering company Profiles in History, on behalf of Mack, insisted they had Lahr's costume.[16]

Return to Oz[edit]

Main article: 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.[citation needed] He is also shown growling rather than speaking.

The Oz Kids[edit]

In 1996, they made an animated cartoon series The Oz Kids. Lion becomes a father and has two cubs Bela and Boris. His son Boris is afraid things just like his dad. His voiced by Andy Milder.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return[edit]

The Cowardly Lion appeared in Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return (based off Dorothy of Oz) voiced by Jim Belushi.

Recent works and parodies[edit]

The Cowardly Lion is a minor character in author Gregory Maguire's 1995 revisionist novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and its 2003 Broadway musical adaptation. In both works, he is first seen as a Lion Cub (lion with human attributes) who has been torn from his mother and used as an experiment (in the book by Doctor Dillamond's replacement, Doctor Nikidik, and in the musical an agent of the Wizard) on the nature of Animals. Elphaba (the future Wicked Witch of the West) saves the Lion Cub that in the end of both adaptations attempts to kill her. He also appears in Maguire's 2005 sequel Son of a Witch, also in a minor role. The Cowardly Lion is the central character in the third book of the series, A Lion Among Men, where he is given the name of Brrr, which was the name given to him in Wicked. Doctor Nikidik mentions that he intended to give the Lion Cub the name of Prrr, but since "it shivers more than it purrs," he names it Brrr.

In an episode of The World's Greatest Super Friends, Wonder Woman temporarily became the Lion after a tornado took her, Superman, and Aquaman to Oz. While passing Mister Mxyzptlk’s dangerous landscape, she had lower legs of an African lion. She did not get her red boots back until she reached the Wizard (Mister Mxyzptlk himself) with Superman and Aquaman.

In a 1981 episode of Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo, Scooby is dressed as the Lion after a tornado took him, Shaggy, and Scrappy to "Ahz", a direct spoof of Oz with a different spelling by its enunciation.

He appears in the The Wizard of Oz cartoon voiced by Charlie Adler. The Cowardly Lion has his brave/cowardly persona intact, and even gets to wear the Ruby Slippers for a short while in one episode.

Nathan Lane performs as this character in the 1995 television stage performance The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True. The Kansas farmworker Zeke does not appear in this production. He sings the longer version of "If I Only Had the Nerve" including the bridge verses sung by the Scarecrow (Jackson Browne), Tin Man (Roger Daltrey), and Dorothy (Jewel). In his version of If I Were King of the Forest, he has an addition into the lyrics "Not queen, not duke, not prince...or the Artist Formerly known as Prince".

In the ABC television film The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, Fozzie Bear plays the role of the Lion. Fozzie's other role is himself. He shows up at the end of this film in the Muppets' show.

In the VeggieTales episode The Wonderful Wizard of Ha's, he is renamed the "Hungry Lion" who was played by Pa Grape. His Kansas counterpart from the 1939 film also appeared in this Christian cartoon.

In the 2007 Sci Fi television miniseries Tin Man, the Lion is re-imagined as a character named Raw, a member of the race of Viewers - half-man, half-lion beings with telekinetic and empathic abilities. He is played by Raoul Trujillo

The Cowardly Lion appears in Dorothy and the Witches of Oz played by Barry Ratcliffe. He appears on Earth in the form of Dorothy Gale's lawyer Bryan Jennings.

The Cowardly Lion appears in the direct-to-DVD animated film Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz, voiced by Todd Stashwick.

The Cowardly Lion appears in the Lego Dimensions video game voiced by Jess Harnell.

Speculated origins[edit]

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!"

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.

Gregory Maguire's most recent book, 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, herd, etc.).

Political interpretations[edit]

Some historians, such as Henry M. Littlefield in American Quarterly,[17] have suggested that Baum modeled the Cowardly Lion after politician William Jennings Bryan, or politicians in general.


  1. ^ Jack Snow, Who's Who in Oz, Chicago, Reilly & Lee, 1954; New York, Peter Bedrick Books, 1988; p. 46. ISBN 0-87226-188-3
  2. ^ L. Frank Baum,The Annotated Wizard of Oz, Michael Patrick Hearn, ed., New York, Crown, 1976; p. 148. ISBN 0-517-50086-8
  3. ^ Snow, p. 99.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Sotheby's Auction Catalog – May 21, 1997
  6. ^ Sotheby's Entertainment & Memorabilia Auction Beverly Hills, CA – May 21, 1997
  7. ^ John M. Glionna (May 22, 1997). "Lights, Camera, Auction". Los Angeles Times. 
  8. ^ a b c d David Allen Ibsen (January 1, 2007). "Cowardly, but Costly: Wizard of Oz's Cowardly Lion Costume Auctioned-off on eBay". Retrieved June 29, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b Chuck Haga (December 19, 2006). "King of Forest rules at auction; Somebody put up $826,000 to buy the Cowardly Lion costume from a Twin Cities artist.". Star Tribune. 
  10. ^ M. P. McQueen (May 16, 2007). "Perishable Art: Investing In Works That May Not Last". The Wall Street Journal. 
  11. ^ "Ann Curry interview with James Comisar on The Today Show". 
  12. ^ a b c "The History Channel documentary on the Cowardly Lion costume". 
  13. ^ a b c d "TLC’s Hunt for Amazing Treasure April 27, 2004 episode". 
  14. ^ "The Oprah Winfrey Show episode "America’s Fascination with Hollywood Memorabilia"". 
  15. ^ The Wizardry of Oz: The Artistry and the Magic of the M.G.M 1939 Classic, William Stillman and Jay Scarfone
  16. ^ "Whose Cat Suit Is It, Anyway?". People magazine. December 21, 1998. Retrieved June 29, 2011. 
  17. ^ Gerald Leinwand, William Jennings Bryan: An Uncertain Trumpet, Lanham, MD, Rowman and Littlefield, 2007; p. 171. ISBN 0-7425-5158-X