Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why The Cowardly Lion Costume From The Wizard Of Oz Was So Disgusting

There are few more recognizable and beloved films than Victor Fleming's 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. This adaptation of L. Frank Baum's 1900 book of the same title is widely considered among the greatest movies ever made, and for good reason. Not only is it a visually spectacular piece of media, but it features a troupe of iconic characters and actors behind them, all encompassed in a lovely musical that'll have you yearning for a journey somewhere over the rainbow. Strangely enough, for such a cheery and family-friendly flick (aside from the villainous Wicked Witch of the West) the film's production was anything but — with no shortage of concerning behind-the-scenes stories that have since come to light.

Given that The Wizard of Oz came out in a time where safety guidelines and regulations on movie sets were in their primitive stages, the production turned out to be something of a free-for-all. Whether they were using asbestos as snow to sprinkle across Dorothy's (Judy Garland) sleeping face (via Snopes), or covering would-be Tin Man Buddy Ebsen in a dangerous concoction of white makeup and aluminum powder, those in charge were constantly putting their actors at serious health risks. In the case of Bert Lahr, who took on the Cowardly Lion, while his life wasn't on the line thanks to his wardrobe, the conditions it put him in were less than ideal. In fact, the Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz stands as one of Hollywood's most disgusting. Here's why.

The costume was made of genuine lion skins

Arguably one of the more difficult characters to adapt to the silver screen, in live-action especially, the Cowardly Lion required an extra bit of creativity from those in the wardrobe department to bring him to life properly. In the modern-day, a technique involving CGI or more advanced prosthetics would do the trick, but back in the late 1930s, those options were off the table. Instead of just making a suit from scratch, the folks in charge of costuming came up with the brilliant idea to craft Bert Lahr's lion suit out of actual lion skins, according the The Vintage News

The concept made a lot of sense on paper, but it ultimately pushed the acting veteran to his limits. Since every lion has a unique fur pattern, and those calling the shots wanted to keep each scene consistent with the last, they had to find a way to make every shot visually seamless. Their solution? Keeping Lahr in the same suit throughout the bulk of the production, supplying only a single backup (also made from lion skin) that proved equally troublesome. Not to mention, both turned out to be rather expensive, so the studio didn't budge on supplying any more than they had to.

Working in the suit was inconvenient and unhygienic

Additionally, the suit wasn't very functional for a film involving a fair bit of singing and dancing. For one, as reported by Screen Rant, the suit weighed in at nearly 90 pounds, making it incredibly hard to maneuver in, and only getting worse as the shooting day ran longer. This became especially problematic since the scorching stage lights made Lahr sweat buckets on a daily basis, leading the getup to become damp and smell pretty horrendous. 

Putting the suit together was a production in and of itself since the mask alone took hours to apply, and confined Lahr's face so much that he had to eat and drink through a straw. It didn't really allow for any accommodations for Lahr, either — apart from a zipper down the front so that he could slip in and out of from time to time. Even still, he clocked more hours in the bulky, odorous outfit than anyone should have to.

The Cowardly Lion is one of cinema's most popular characters, and a big reason for that is Bert Lahr's incredible performance. After all, it didn't fetch a $3 million price tag at auction back in 2014 for nothing. Bearing in mind the many challenges he faced to make his part in The Wizard of Oz something special, you have to give Lahr credit for sticking it out, even when things got a little hairy (and quite stinky).