Friday, August 13, 2010
BERT LAHR'S BIRTHDAY AND THEATRICAL POSSIBILITIES
Today would have been dear Bert Lahr's Birthday, the one and only Coward;y Lion from MGM's classic "The Wizard Of Oz" The movie poster on the left is the last movie that dear Bert was featured in, dying of cancer in December of 1967. Bert had been suffering secretly from cancer a good while and everyone thought he had been a victim of pneumonia. The poor producers had to use a double to replace Bert in key scenes. Interesting to note that there is work today on aBroadway musical version of this motion picture. Bert's most famous role was of course The Coward;y Lion in the MGM classoc "The Wizard of Oz" Bert Lahr was signed to play the role on July 25, 1938. He starred opposite Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Frank Morgan, and Margaret Hamilton. Lahr's lion costume was composed of real lion fur and, under the high-voltage lighting required for Oz's Technicolor scenes, was unbearably hot. Dear Bert also contributed ad-lib comedic lines for his character. The Cowardly Lion is also the only character in the movie who has two solo song numbers-"If I Only Had the Nerve", performed after his initial meeting of Dorothy, The Scarecrow, and The Tin Man in the forest, and "If I Were King of the Forest", performed while he and the others are awaiting their audience with the Wizard. Bert made the transition to straight theatre with "Waiting for Godot. " He got a script of Waiting for Godot, and after reading he was greatly impressed but unsure of how the revolutionary play would be received in the United States. It had been performed in Europe to great acclaim, but was somewhat obscure and intellectual. He co-starred in the premiere of Waiting for Godot in 1956 at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Florida, playing Estragon to Tom Ewell's Vladimir. The performance bombed, a large amount of the audience left before the show was over, and the critics did not treat it kindly. In his book 'Notes on a Cowardly Lion', John Lahr describes the problems as being caused partly by the choices of the director, including the decision to limit Bert's movement on stage, filling the stage with platforms, a misguided advertisement of the play as a light comedy, and other issues. Bert reprised his role in the play's short-lived Broadway run. This time, however, it was with a new director, who had met with Beckett in Europe and discussed the play. The set was cleared and Bert was given more control over his performance. Ads were taken out urging intellectuals to support the play. It was a success and received enthusiastic ovations from the audience. Bert was praised and though he claimed he didn't understand the play, others would disagree and say he understood it a great deal. The other news is that my company Creative Horizons is in discussion and negotiations with a theatre in San Fernando to bring our original plays there. We talk to the financial folks on Monday, August 16th at 10:30 AM. John Nugent and I are really hoping for this to go well. A lot of hard work will be ahead, but hey, hard work is part of anything creative you set out to do. I feel the Good Lord behind me and encouraging me so I am ready for the challenge.