Bert Lahr


Actor
Bert Lahr

About

Also Known As
Irving Lahrheim
Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
August 13, 1895
Died
December 04, 1967
Cause of Death
Massive Internal Hemorrhage And Complications From Cancer

Biography

One of the leading burlesque and vaudeville stars who went on to Broadway musical comedies, Bert Lahr had a film career highlighted by his delightful turn as the Cowardly Lion in the now-classic 1939 version of "The Wizard of Oz." Born to a German immigrant father in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, the precocious Lahr dropped out of school at age 15 and quickly found success with the...

Photos & Videos

Meet the People - Lobby Card Set
Flying High - Bert Lahr Publicity Stills
The Wizard of Oz - Movie Posters

Family & Companions

Mercedes Delpino
Wife
Vaudevillian. Teamed with Lahr in a a dance aact from c. 1919; had common law marriage until they officially wed on August 29, 1929; Lahr was granted an annulment in 1940 on the grounds that Delpino was clinically insane; mother of his son Herbert.
Mildred Schroeder
Wife
Actor. Married from February 11, 1940 until his death in 1967; mother of his son John and daughter Jane.

Bibliography

"Notes on a Cowardly Lion"
John Lahr (1975)

Biography

One of the leading burlesque and vaudeville stars who went on to Broadway musical comedies, Bert Lahr had a film career highlighted by his delightful turn as the Cowardly Lion in the now-classic 1939 version of "The Wizard of Oz." Born to a German immigrant father in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, the precocious Lahr dropped out of school at age 15 and quickly found success with the Seven Frolics, a children's stage act. Altering his last name from Lahrheim to Lahr, he went on to a successful career as a burlesque comic (performing "Dutch" characters, replete with accent) and later in an act paired with his future wife Mercedes Delpino, eventually playing the Palace Theater in 1925. After debuting on Broadway in "Harry Delmar's Revels" in 1927, Lahr had his first major success in a stage musical playing the prize fighter hero of "Hold Everything" (1928-29). Several other musicals followed, notably "Flying High" (1930), Ziegfeld's "Hot-Cha!" (1932) and "The Show Is On" (1936), which teamed him with Beatrice Lillie in a show conceived and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Audiences loved Lahr's penchant for mugging. twisting his face into comic grotesques and ad-libbing hilarious quips. Often onstage, he would perform routines that became signature pieces, like his famous "Stop in the name of the fire house" routine.

Lahr made his film debut in 1931's "Flying High" playing an oddball inventor. Like several other stage stars (e.g., Ethel Merman), his personality was too larger-than-life to be captured on screen. In his early films, Lahr comes off as too broad and overbearing. Despite an on-again, off-again film career over the next thirty-odd years, he had only one role that perfectly suited his unique abilities. Some critics have made a case that Lahr's portrayal of the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz" is not only his best screen work, but also one of the greatest screen performances ever. Debate over that will undoubtedly rage into the next century, but there is not doubting that children of all ages respond to the character. Teamed with fellow vaudevillians Ray Bolger and Jack Haley, Lahr proves close to perfection whether warbling the number "If I Were King of the Forest" or cowering in fear of Margaret Hamilton's truly scary Wicked Witch of the West. None of his other film roles allowed him to tap into his personality in quite the same way.

Even though his film career proved minor, Lahr continued to triumph as a stage performer. The same year as "Oz," he and Ethel Merman scored a hit in the Cole Porter musical "Du Barry Was a Lady" as did his reteaming with Bea Lillie for Billy Rose's "Seven Lively Arts" (with another Porter score) in 1944, A rare dramatic role in "Burlesque" (1946) proved that there was more to his talent than just a funny man and it paved the way for future roles that would tap hitherto unknown sides of his persona. Notable stage successes in revues like "Two on the Aisle" (1951) and "The Girls Against the Boys" (1959) bookended triumphs like his starring role opposite E.G. Marshall in the 1956 landmark Broadway production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." Beckett had conceived the piece as a vaudeville and Lahr was more than in his element. Turns in Shakespeare (particularly as Bottom, one of the Bard's best comic roles, in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1960) and in such sophisticated comedies as "Hotel Paradiso" (1957) and "The Beauty Part" (1962) further testified to his versatility. Lahr's career culminated in a Tony-winning star performance in "Foxy" (1964), a musical adaptation of "Volpone." The actor collapsed on the set of his last film "The Night They Raided Minsky's" (1967), which ironically was set in the heyday of burlesque. A trouper to the end, Lahr succumbed to a hemorrhage that was a result of complications from cancer on December 4, 1967 as age 72. His son, author and critic John Lahr, wrote a biography "Notes on a Cowardly Lion," that proved (like many other comedians) he was a troubled and unhappy individual. Despite his private persona, the public Lahr was a consummate entertainer and forever holds a special place in the hearts of children everywhere who perennially watched "The Wizard of Oz."

Life Events

1910

Spent three years touring with Seven Frolics, a children's vaudeville act; adopted stage surname of Lahr

1913

At age 18, joined the Columbia burlesque circuit; perfected act playing burlesque "Dutch" characters

1919

With Mercedes Delpino, formed act Lahr & Mercedes

1925

First played NYC's Palace Theater

1927

Broadway debut in "Harry Delmar's Revels"; show closed in 16 weeks

1930

Appeared in the stage show "Flying High"

1931

Feature film debut in "Flying High"

1932

Starred in "Hot-Cha!", produced by Florenz Ziegfeld

1936

Played opposite Beatrice Lillie in "The Show Is On", staged and conceived by Vincente Minnelli

1939

Portrayed the Cowardly Lion/Zeke in "The Wizard of Oz"

1944

Reunited onstage with Beatrice Lille to star in Billy Rose's "Seven Lively Arts", featuring songs by Cole Porter

1946

Made rare dramatic appearance onstage in "Burlesque"

1948

Toured in "Make Mine Manhattan" in the role originated by Sid Caesar; appeared in film version

1949

Reprised stage role in the TV adaptation of "Burlesque" (NBC)

1951

Starred in the revue "Two on the Aisle"

1956

Had leading roles in two TV productions, "Androcles and the Lion" and "School for Wives"

1956

Played opposite E G Marshall in the Broadway production of "Waiting for Godot"

1956

Returned to the stage opposite Tom Ewell in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Florida

1959

Starred in the unsold pilot "Mr. O'Malley" (CBS)

1959

Appeared alongside Nancy Walker, Dick Van Dyke and Shelley Berman in the revue "The Girls Against the Boys"

1960

Made first appearance in Shakespeare, cast as Bottom in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Autolycus in "The Winter's Tale"

1962

Appeared in "The Beauty Part" by S J Perelman

1964

Played the father in the TV production of "The Fantasticks" (NBC)

1964

Won Tony Award for turn as Volpone in the musical "Foxy"

1967

Collapsed during filming of last movie, "The Night They Raided Minsky's"

Photo Collections

Meet the People - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from MGM's Meet the People (1944), starring Lucille Ball and Dick Powell. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Flying High - Bert Lahr Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken of Bert Lahr to help publicize MGM's Flying High (1931). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
The Wizard of Oz - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters from MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring Judy Garland.

Videos

Movie Clip

Ship Ahoy (1942) - I'll Take Tallulah Like many Eleanor Powell numbers, another suggesting she was the best dancer of her generation, devised by Billy Connolly, Bert Lahr and Red Skelton warbling, Tommy Dorsey's band, song by Burton Lane and Yip Harburg, clever bit for drummer Buddy Rich, in Ship Ahoy, 1942.
Ship Ahoy (1942) - Poor You Frank Sinatra is the dandied-up singer performing Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg's "Poor You," with Tommy Dorsey's band in the Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton vehicle Ship Ahoy, 1942.
Wizard Of Oz, The (1939) - I'd Turn Back If I Were You! As chilling as any sequence, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Lion (Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr), sent to the retrieve the Wicked Witch’s broomstick, run into trouble as she (Margaret Hamilton) looses the flying monkeys, in MGM’s The Wizard Of Oz, 1939.
Meet The People (1944) - Heave Ho! In the context of the dispute-cum-romance between Broadway star Julie (Lucille Ball) and shipyard worker-composer "Swanee" (Dick Powell), his tipsy colleague "The Commander" (Bert Lahr) offers this Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg primer on how to christen a boat, in MGM's Meet The People, 1944.
Houston Post Contest Winners - (A Short Subject) In late 1938, contest winners tour MGM studios and visit the set of The Wizard Of Oz including Buddy Ebsen, then cast as the Tin Man.
Sing Your Worries Away - My Uncle Nancy Daffy songwriter Chow (Bert Lahr) visits hat-check girl Bebe (Patsy Kelly), boss Chesty (Morgan Conway) and his cousin the cigarette girl Carol (Dorothy Lovett) at the night club in Sing Your Worries Away, 1942.

Trailer

Family

Jacob Lahrheim
Father
Upholsterer. German immigrant; settled in the Yorkville section of Manhattan.
Herbert Lahr
Son
Born in 1929; mother, Mercedes Delpino; survived him.
John Lahr
Son
Author, critic. Born on July 12, 1941; mother, Mildred Lahr; survived him.
Jane Lahr
Daughter
Mother, Mildred Lahr; survived him.

Companions

Mercedes Delpino
Wife
Vaudevillian. Teamed with Lahr in a a dance aact from c. 1919; had common law marriage until they officially wed on August 29, 1929; Lahr was granted an annulment in 1940 on the grounds that Delpino was clinically insane; mother of his son Herbert.
Mildred Schroeder
Wife
Actor. Married from February 11, 1940 until his death in 1967; mother of his son John and daughter Jane.

Bibliography

"Notes on a Cowardly Lion"
John Lahr (1975)