February 3, 2019 6:14 am
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Bert Lahr Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz

130. The Original “Cowardly Lion” costume worn by Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz. (MGM, 1939) After an absence of nearly 60 years, the “Cowardly Lion” triumphantly returns to center stage! Yes, this is the ACTUAL costume worn by Lahr in the revolutionary 1939 fantasy classic, “The Wizard of Oz”. This film was notable not only for its amazing story, which virtually transported the audience from their chairs to the wonderful Land of Oz — but did so by using the most exciting and imaginative sets AND breathtaking costumes that moviegoers had ever seen! The art of filmmaking was forever changed. The history of the “Cowardly Lion” costume since the completion of filming is interesting, if not miraculous. Presumed lost after the last frame was shot, it was literally discovered at the 11th hour before the 1970 MGM/David Weisz Auction, the most famous and legendary sale in the history of Hollywood memorabilia. The costume had been bagged and tucked away in Mrs. Culver’s barn in Culver City, California, and was stumbled upon by some Wiesz staff members who’d been looking through the barn for a few last items. The costume had literally been forgotten for the previous 39 years! Understanding the magnitude of this discovery, Weisz had an addendum to the auction catalog printed that very afternoon, which was passed out to the bidders who turned out on auction day. Thus, there were no advance announcements or publicity for the costume. A California chiropractor who happened to be at the auction bid on and won this magnificent costume for the bargain price of $2400. Without the cash on hand to pay for it in full, he put down a $1000 cash deposit to hold his purchase, and returned approximately one week later to pay the balance and take possession of his prize. A perfect case of being in the right place at the right time! Since 1970, the costume has changed hands only once — purchased by the current owner, world-renowned artist Bill Mack, in 1985. However, the costume sat quietly until 1996, when Mack set about having it preserved and displayed in all its original glory. As the costume is constructed of real lion pelts, some minor deterioration had occurred over its 50-year life span. Mack took the costume to a well-known Midwest taxidermist who painstakingly restored the costume, added a lining, and mounted the costume on a flexible steel armature. Mack then skillfully recreated the headpiece with a lifelike sculpture of Lahr in character in all its glory Thus, the costume has arisen from the clutches of time, so to speak, to re-emerge as a fantastic and gorgeous relic from the past — a touchstone to one of the greatest films in the history of the art. This beautiful costume is composed of real lion pelts, which have been sewn together to form the complete outfit. The costume is positioned in the memorable “Put ‘em up, put ‘em up” pose from the film, and is mounted on a wood pedestal with a Yellow Brick Road diorama and poppyfield border. Designed to accommodate interchangeable tails, the costume comes with the one supported by wire apparatus. Complete documentation accompanies this piece, including the David Weisz Co./MGM auction catalog and addenda (showing the costume as lot #950A); the original auction tag with cash receipt for the first $1000 payment (made the day of the auction); 1970 bidder’s paddle; and detailed ledger pages of the items in which the buyer was interested, at the head of which is noted the Cowardly Lion’s costume. One of the most coveted pieces of Hollywood history extant, it stands alone as the sole “Wizard of Oz” costume that remains available to collectors in the public domain: the “Tin Man” was largely destroyed (only pieces remain), and the “Scarecrow” is currently housed in the Smithsonian. Considered the “Holy Grail” of all Hollywood memorabilia, this costume is worthy of inclusion in the very finest collections of film artifacts! Judy Garland’s blue and white gingham pinafore, of which at least ten were made for the film, and at least six survive in private hands, sold at auction in England in 2005 for $285,000.00, and another sold at auction in England in 1999 for $324,000.00. $400,000 – $600,000

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