Actor. Known for his comedic roles, his most famous was as ‘The Cowardly Lion’ in the 1939 MGM classic “The Wizard of Oz.” But long before “Oz," he was an established name in burlesque, vaudeville, and Broadway. He starred in Broadway's "Ziegfeld Follies" and had his own show on radio before venturing into feature films. He was born Irving Lahrheim in 1895, in New York City, New York. Dropping out of school at 15 and taking the stage name ‘Bert Lahr’ to join a juvenile vaudeville act, he worked his way up from second comic to top banana on the Columbia Burlesque Circuit. Lahr gained popularity with lowbrows and the intelligentsia alike with his grotesque facial expressions, his apparently ad-libbed one-liners, and his plaintive expletive "gnaang, gnaang gnaang!" He graduated from vaudeville to Broadway in 1927, going on to star in such fondly remembered musicals as “Hold Everything,” “Flying High,” and “Life Begins at 8:40.” Lahr starred in his first film in the 1931 movie adaptation of “Flying High,” but never truly caught on as a screen personality, possibly because the scale of his gestures and reactions were too broad for the comparatively intimate medium of films. Lahr's greatest screen performance -- indeed, one of the greatest performances ever captured on celluloid -- was as ‘The Cowardly Lion’ in the perennial favorite “The Wizard of Oz.” He was a member of the Hollywood Victory Caravan, which toured the country putting on shows to help sell War Bonds during World War II. In the mid-1950s, Lahr gained a latter-day reputation as a sensitive dramatic actor when he was co-starred with E.G. Marshall in the first New York staging of Samuel Beckett's “Waiting for Godot.” In the early 1960's Lahr appeared in the American Shakespeare Festival as ‘Bottom’ in “Midnight's Summer Dream.” His performance won a nod of approval from the American Shakespeare Academy for the best performance of the year. In private life, Lahr married Mercedes Delpino in 1929, who was his onstage partner at the time. They had one son John and divorced in 1937. He married Mildred Schroeder in 1940. This marriage produced 2 children and lasted the rest of his life. After making more money than he'd ever seen in his life as star of a series of potato chip commercials, Bert Lahr was cast as ‘Professor Spats’ in the nostalgic 1967 film “The Night They Raided Minsky's;” Lahr died of cancer during production, forcing the producers to use a double for him in several scenes.
Bio by: Edward Parsons
Herbert E. Lahr