Monday 22 March 2021

Signed Books: NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION by John Lahr


Today's volume from my collection of signed books is Notes on a Cowardly Lion, John Lahr's wonderful biography of his father Bert Lahr (real name Irving Lahrheim), American actor of stage and screen, vaudevillian and comedian and best known – throughout the world – for his role as the Cowardly Lion (as well as his counterpart Kansas farmhand, Zeke) in the 1939 MGM musical film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.


The Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?

Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man: Courage!

The Cowardly Lion: You can say that again!


This book is an example of one of my favourite kind of signed books, which I might categorise as 'Subsequently Discovered'. 

I spotted it – an unassuming paperback – in a cardboard box on a trestle-table outside an antiquarian bookshop in London's Charing Cross Road. All the books were marked "50 pence to clear".

Being a fan of The Wizard of Oz and having an interest in American vaudeville theatre, I seized the book – not bothering to examine it (it was only 50 pence!), hurried into the shop, proffered a fifty-pence piece and duly received my purchase in a brown paper bag. 

It was only when I was sitting on my homeward bound train that I pulled the book out to have a closer look and discovered that it was signed by the author and inscribed "With admiration" to one of the great knights of the British theatre, Sir Ralph Richardson...



I was thrilled to have picked up – for a song – a truly wonderful 'association copy'.

There is, however, a slightly sad sting in the tail to this story in that, some years later, I had occasion to interview John Lahr and, during our pre-recording chit-chat, I told him the story of my copy of Notes on a Cowardly Lion. Unfortunately, Mr Lahr was not amused – upset, I imagine, that Sir Ralph had got rid of a  book that had been given to him "With admiration"! From that point on, the interview, regrettably, went downhill pretty fast...

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