Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr, With a New Preface by the Author” as Want to Read:
Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr, With a New Preface by the Author
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr, With a New Preface by the Author

by
3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  127 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
With a New Preface by the Author
First published in 1969, Notes on a Cowardly Lion has established itself as one of the best-ever show business biographies. Drawing on his father's recollections and on the memories of those who worked with him, John Lahr brilliantly examines the history of modern American show business through the long and glorious career of his father--the
...more
Paperback, 417 pages
Published March 3rd 2000 by University of California Press (first published 1969)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Notes on a Cowardly Lion, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Notes on a Cowardly Lion

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Amara
A copy of this book was provided free via Netgalley for the purpose of review.

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
...more
Debra Pawlak
Dec 01, 2016 Debra Pawlak rated it really liked it
This book surprised me. As a boomer who grew up watching Bert Lahr play the Cowardly Lion in 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939), I had no idea that the actor was a huge star on Broadway. Chronicled by his son, John, Lahr's career began in vaudeville and burlesque where he honed his skills. The younger Lahr was a theater critic and sometimes delved a little too deeply into the plays in which his father appeared. He did cover Lahr's first wife who had a history of serious mental illness, but the son they h ...more
Marilyn
Mar 06, 2013 Marilyn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
By Garry Armstrong

It’s been more than a week since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved. Why?

Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who
...more
Marilyn
Sep 14, 2014 Marilyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s been a while since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved.

Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.

Part of
...more
Tony
Jul 23, 2010 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Lahr, John. NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION: The Biography of Bert Lahr. (1969). ****. The author is Bert Lahr’s second son, the first from his second marriage, and tells the story of his father’s life in a very personal, but factual way. Lahr grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to struggling Jewish parents who were very close with their money. He dropped out of school early on to get a job and, hopefully, to get out of the house. Looking at the success of some of the other neighborhood kids in the ...more
Pamela Simone
Sep 16, 2016 Pamela Simone rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Insightful

It was a heartfelt tribute from a son to his father. John Lahr's biography is not only a revelation to the reader but based on the narrative, it was the way John finally gained access to his father.
With actors, there are the roles they play for the audience and the roles they play in their real lives. Lahr is revealed to be a sad, complex man behind the public personae.
While his father was distant in many ways, John's love and respect shine through this "warts and all" biography of man
...more
Lori
Feb 08, 2016 Lori rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I would give this book a 3.5. It was written by John Lahr, Bert Lahr's son. It took him six years to write the book about his dad. He interviewed many people who worked with and knew the actor. including Bert Lahr himself. This book originally came out in the late 1960s. I was glad to see the author reissued the book. As in any biography, it starts at Bert Lahr's birth in 1895 in New York, New York. It spans his whole life. Bert dropped out of school at 15 and started in show business, at first ...more
Allen
Dec 06, 2009 Allen rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Allen by: Saw it in a used store
I was eager to read this since I saw it in a comic store in their book bin section. I got the first edition of the paperback that came out in 1970. There are lots of laborious parts where the writer, son of Bert Lahr, goes into way too much detail about some of the broadway shows reviews and such, but if you stay with it it is really worth it. The writing gets better as it goes on. I particually liked the end where we sort of go on an outing with Bert to some of his old haunts around NY in 1967. ...more
ED Martin
Jan 13, 2016 ED Martin rated it liked it
A nice theater history book, with a back drop of the life of Burt Lahr. A respectful, objective, loving memoir of a son. I was disappoint that the objectivity did not extent to completing the story of Lahr's 1st wife Mercedes and oldest son Herbert. I found on You Yube a 1956 "What's Mine Line" episode featuring Lahr. At the end of the show, the host asks him about his 3 children, and he claims only to have two. There is an obvious uncomfortable moment for him. In the book, it is mentioned that ...more
Ron
Jan 20, 2012 Ron rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This is Bert Lahr's biography by his son, John. Because Bert Lahr was so private, except on stage where he revealed so much of himself, we don't really get to know the man. We do learn about the changes in comedy through his lifetime as Lahr responded to changing tastes in comedy and theater. Lahr, worked from his gut. His son makes clear that Lahr did not overthink his craft or even the parts he played. He simply knew at a gut level what to do and then refined his performance based on audience ...more
Anna (Yoda Is My Spirit Animal)
This was a DNF (did not finish) for me. I respect the effort of the son to chronicle the life of his Father, who to the public was a larger than life figure, at least for a little while. But the way the beginning of this book is written, with a scene between the aforesaid Father and son (Bert and John Lahr) was boring to me. I'm not really interested in John's insights, experiences or feelings. I just want facts that are well-written, interesting anecdotes and maybe something a little deeper. In ...more
Andrew
Jan 15, 2016 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great Biography

Bert Lahr was a great entertainer , starring in burlesque, vaudeville and Broadway, not to mention his classic cowardly lion role in the Wizard of Oz. This book written by his son ,noted theater critic John Lahr, is a tribute by son to father and a history of show business during the first sixty years of the twentieth century. Having recently lost my father, I found this book particularly moving as the love John shows for his dad, who was a difficult dad to be sure, is evident th
...more
Ellen
Aug 26, 2011 Ellen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've long been a fan of show business biographies -- more so the performers from the first half of last century. "Notes on a Cowardly Lion" did not disappoint. Bert Lahr's accomplished career was an education to me. John Lahr's account through his father's eyes was entertaining if not a bit skewed (I'm sure) and at times overly informative. I continue with my amazement by the dichotomy of many great performer's personalities: star quality performances mixed with a lot of low self esteem and self ...more
James Roman
Jun 09, 2010 James Roman rated it it was amazing
This has gotta be the best book ever written about the history of show business in America! From Second Avenue vaudeville, to "The Wizard of Oz" in Hollywood, to the groundbreaking theatrics of "Waiting For Godot," to the final money-maker: selling potato chips on TV commercials, Bert Lahr did it all! Well-written by his son John, with fascinating anecdotes about some of America's most important entertainment milestones. Funny, sad, and absolutely haunting.
Corey
This was just a great book. Don't get distracted by the great coverage of the Wizard of Oz, it is really tempting to put the book down and find a great book on Oz. Also, make sure you have YouTube all fired up. There are great clips of Bert Lahr to accompany your reading and make this an interactive experience.
Michelle's Book
Jul 21, 2016 Michelle's Book rated it really liked it
While I would not have generally chosen this book, I did find it a good read. I do reccommend this book as I learned a lot about the person who played the cowardly lion.


I was given an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion. This book cover is on my Pinterest board and my blog, Michelle Dragalin’s Journey.
Christopher
Aug 16, 2007 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: theatre folk
Shelves: biography
John Lahr is one of the best theatre critics writing today. This biography on his father is an excellent and frank account of a complicated man and a particularly interesting time in American theatre/film history. A must grease paint and lime light crowd. Should be on your shelf right next to Moss Hart's Act One.
Tracy
Aug 11, 2013 Tracy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
3.5
Bert Lahr is one of my favorite personalities, so i was very excited to read this bio written by his son.
John Lahr is able to recreate the "good old days" of entertainment for those of us who weren't even born during most of his father's career.
John Brown
Dec 26, 2015 John Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Son Writes About His Father

Bert Lahr gained immortality with one role: The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard Of Oz. His son fills us in on the rest of career in film and, more importantly, on the stage.
Karen
Feb 11, 2015 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful biography, beautifully written, full of insightful details. Both a history of early-to-mid 20th century theater and a touching portrait of a surprisingly complex man.
Thomas Emerson
Oct 23, 2012 Thomas Emerson rated it it was amazing
Best show-biz bio I've read, as well as a moving essay about a distant parent. Who's Bert Lahr? The Cowardly Lion in Oz, of course.
Wileyacez
Jun 30, 2016 Wileyacez rated it liked it
Pretty interesting; not an easy read, but definitely an interesting life. Also obvious was his son's affection for him.
James
Dec 27, 2015 James rated it really liked it
In depth but it felt repetitive at some points. His most famous role (the lion) feels glossed over. Great perspective of one of last performers of his kind.
Steve Shilstone
Jan 28, 2013 Steve Shilstone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The fine writer, John Lahr, tells his dad's story beautifully. Fine look at hard scrabble vaudeville days, Wizard of Oz, Waiting For Godot.
Debi M.
Debi M. rated it it was amazing
Apr 10, 2011
David
David rated it really liked it
Mar 11, 2008
Jim
Jim rated it really liked it
Sep 23, 2011
Jelena H
Jelena H rated it it was ok
Jan 12, 2016
Teddie
Teddie rated it liked it
Feb 04, 2011
David Lerner
David Lerner rated it really liked it
Jun 01, 2016
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Blessings in Disguise
  • Don't Shoot, It's Only Me: Bob Hope's Comedy History of the United States
  • The Wendy Williams Experience
  • The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood? and Other Essays
  • Ernie: The Autobiography
  • Hollywood Babylon II
  • Spencer Tracy
  • Knock Wood
  • This 'n That
  • Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit
  • The Name Above The Title
  • My Life as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and Other Action Heroes
  • Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino
  • Still Talking
  • Lana: The Lady the Legend the Truth
  • Confessions of an Actor
  • Are You Hungry, Dear?
  • The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage
36139
John Lahr is the senior drama critic of The New Yorker, where he has written about theatre and popular culture since 1992. Among his eighteen books are Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr and Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton, which was made into a film.

He has twice won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. Lahr, whose stage adaptations have been perfor
...more
More about John Lahr...

Share This Book