Want The ‘Oz’ Lion Suit? You’ll Need Big Bucks!


This is kind of old news, but it was new news to me: I just read that in 2014, the lion costume that Bert Lahr wore in The Wizard of Oz sold at a Bonhams auction for $3 million.

You know what it cost to make that film back in 1939? That’s right, $3 million.

Ironic, huh? They didn’t even break even on the movie. I mean, movie tickets were selling for ten cents each — maybe a quarter in the ritzier theaters. And, having been one of the first ever filmed in color, it had been extremely expensive to produce. The Wizard of Oz didn’t break even until it was run on television years later — where almost everyone saw it in black and white! If you told those harried producers back then what that raggedy old outfit would sell for in the future, they would’ve laughed in your face.

But, as Bonhams pointed out, it is a one-of-a-kind item.

Unlike the other actors, ol’ Bert didn’t have more than the one costume. It turned out to be too difficult to make an exact copy. In the days before imitation fur, it was constructed of real lion skins. Real lions have identifying swirls and patterns to their coats the way human beings have identifying swirls and patterns to their fingerprints.

Can you imagine how much that thing weighed? And how hot it was? Bert’s original perspiration is probably still in there. Maybe that’s what pushed it over the three mill mark — someone hoping to preserve his DNA until they figure out how to make a new Bert Lahr.

Or it could simply have been that the buyer shares my philosophy that the best line in the whole movie is when the Cowardly Lion cries, “Somebody pulled my tail!” and he had done it himself. That scene makes me laugh every time. The delivery is perfect… and the very tail he pulled now has a new home.

Speaking of obscure “Oz” facts, did you know that Toto (the dog) was paid $125 a week while each (human) Munchkin received only $50 per week? I guess little people had no rights back then, but little dogs had a few. Or maybe the dog had a better agent.

And here’s something even more unbelievable. Do you remember Professor Marvel who appears in the first Kansas scene, then again later as the “Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz?” Costumers wanted the professor to look distinguished in a vintage sort of way, so a rack of coats from a thrift store was brought in for him to try on. According to Oz lore, when they decided on the perfect coat, Morgan noticed a label inside that read, “L. Frank Baum.” Could the coat have once belonged to the author of the book? Baum’s widow ascertained that it had.

This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder if those who have assed still walk among us. I mean, L. Frank Baum obviously wanted to be in that movie! Incidentally, upon completion of filming, the coat was given back to Baum’s widow even though there is no record of her saying she wanted it. Poor thing. She may have tried to surreptitiously donate it again when no one was watching. Or maybe she sold it at auction. If she did, back in 1939, she probably made about $3.58. In which case, her heirs would never forgive her.