Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Head of a Lion

The Cowardly Lion was a popular element in the 1903 Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz. The character was played by Arthur Hill, and was a traditional 4-legged pantomime beast with no dialog in the production. Hill remained with the show throughout its long run and married a member of the chorus, Alice "Stubby" Ainscoe. The photo on the left, from the NYPL Digital Collections, shows the actor with his lion costume.

Hill had been portraying animals in English pantomimes for 8 years before landing the job in the Wizard. He was a pupil of Charles Lauri, (1860-1903) a celebrated English animal impersonator who was known for his versatility in portraying a variety of animals including monkeys, poodles, and Puss in Boots. On the right, Lauri is seen with two of his costumes.

Publicity for the 1903 Wizard of Oz made much of the news that the head for the lion was modeled after a famous painting by Rosa Bonheur. Bonheur was a French painter and sculptor, primarily of animals, and was one of the best known female painters of the 19th century. Her painting An Old Monarch was the supposed source of inspiration for the Oz lion head. The painting was well known in its time, and was loaned by George Vanderbilt for display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

I can't say I see a particularly strong resemblance between the two!


J. L. Bell said...

The costume lion's expression seems to have much more Denslow in it than Bonheur. But Broadway publicists were never limited to the facts.

Bill Campbell said...

Very true!

Bell-Snickle said...

Heh, that Puss In Boots costume is so creepy/cute!

Cindy said...

Interesting post. Reminds me of the story that the "North Wind" relief sculpture on the side of the Roycroft Chapel looks like Denslow's Cowardly Lion. While Denslow is said to have helped design the Chapel, and could possibly have been involved in the sculpture, I don't see the resemblance to the Cowardly Lion...well, maybe the hair!
(Btw, the two lion heads you show look to be a little different?)

Bill Campbell said...

It's possible that the lion heads are different - there would have been more than one, for the multiple companies performing the show. Also, I believe the photo of Arthur Hill was from several years later, when he was performing in a production of the show in Boston. Publicity of all kinds was cranked out for The Wizard of Oz, so it's not too surprising that a story would have been devised for the lion.
I'll have to look at the Roycroft relief - so often it's easy to find resemblences after the fact, particularly if you are looking for them!

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