Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr by John Lahr

Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert LahrNotes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr by John Lahr

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

I was quite excited to read Notes on a Cowardly Lion, but unfortunately I found myself somewhat disappointed.

Most people know Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion from the famous film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. In that role, his character is–as the name implies–not the most ferocious or intimidating of beasts. He’s hilarious, really, and so I think I must have been expecting to see that reflected in this retelling of Lahr’s life. But the vast majority of what I read was far from hilarious.

When deciding whether or not to read this book, I advise caution. If you’re a fan of early Hollywood and are willing to see its stars with all their human flaws, this is the perfect book to help you explore Bert Lahr’s life. Written by his son, it recounts his entire showbusiness career and much of his family life. And it certainly isn’t shy about the shortcomings of its subject; Bert Lahr is presented with surprisingly little bias, considering who the author is. That’s certainly admirable.

Unfortunately, it backfired on me. I, regrettably, am not one of those aforementioned Hollywood fans. I prefer to keep my creators–my actors and actresses, my musicians, my authors–a mystery; I’ve found that in my case, becoming aware of their flaws detracts from my enjoyment of their works. Notes on a Cowardly Lion reinforced this for me like nothing else has; by the time I was finished the book, I’d developed a strong dislike for Bert Lahr as a person… which is certainly hard to reconcile with my favorable opinion of Bert Lahr as the Coward Lion.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Notes on a Cowardly Lion. It truly is a fascinating book, offering priceless glimpses into a world I knew nothing about–vaudeville, Broadway during the first half of the 20th century, early Hollywood. I adored the chapter about The Wizard of Oz. I delighted in the peripheral name-dropping of some of my favorite early celebrities.

If you’re the kind of person willing to embrace artists as people with all their flaws, I definitely recommend Notes on a Cowardly Lion to you. If you’re not, you might be better served with a non-biographical look at Bert Lahr’s world.

A copy of this book was provided free via Netgalley for the purpose of review.


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