The Cowardly Lion’s Medal
This Famous Antique Game - August 2015
By Mike McLeod
This medal in the shape of a cross with the word COURAGE emblazoned across it was awarded to the Cowardly Lion by the Wizard of Oz in the movie of the same name. The Wizard called it “the Triple Cross,” a joke since it was obviously just one cross and a slight pun on the word double cross. In the book, instead of a medal the Wizard gave the Cowardly Lion courage in the form of magic liquid—in other words, “liquid courage.” Get it?
The next time you watch the movie, pay attention to when the Cowardly Lion tells Dorothy to “Read my medal; it says ‘Courage’!” Before and after the close-up of the medal, the Cowardly Lion is holding the medal in his hand; in the close-up, it hangs loosely against his chest.1
The Cowardly Lion costume was made from actual lion skins and weighed about 70 lbs. Bert Lahr, the comedian who played the Cowardly Lion, only put on the suit completely when it was time to shoot a scene to avoid overheating. In addition, the set was lit with intensive lights so it could be filmed in Technicolor. This made the temperature on the set rise to 100 degrees at times. To give Lahr some breathing room—so to speak—small holes were cut into the costume to give him some ventilation.2
Lahr negotiated a salary of $2,500 for the six weeks of planned filming. He ended up working for six months on the movie during 1938 and 1939. The two highest paid actors in the movie were not Judy Garland or Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West. (They made $500 and $1,000 per week, respectively.) Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow, and Jack Haley, the Tin Man, earned the most at $3,000 per week,3 not bad in 1939 or today.
With a long career lasting from about 1929 to 1968 that spanned movies, television shows and the theater, Bert Lahr also made famous commercials. He was a spokesman for Lays Potato Chips4, and in one commercial, he played himself and the Devil who tempts Bert with, “Betcha can’t eat just one”—a slogan that has gone down in advertising history.
The Cowardly Lion’s medal and the Tin Man’s heart were both given to the costume director at MGM. Mal Caplan had been seriously injured in a car accident and was in a hospital for quite a while, and the “awards” were given to bolster his spirit while recuperating. Caplan gave away the Tin Man’s Heart to a patient having open-heart surgery.5
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz novel was written by L. Frank Baum. It was made into unsuccessful silent movies in 1910 and 1925. In the 1910 version, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Toto, and a cow and donkey (people in costume) were whisked away from Kansas to Oz by a cyclone while they hid in a haystack. A 12-minute version of it can be viewed on YouTube.
When the “current” movie debuted in 1939, it met with critical acclaim. However, its $3+ million cost not surpassed and a profit made until the movie was released again in the 1940s. Eventually, television brought the movie home and made it a classic, airing it year after year.
Ted Carlton of Utah, Julie Kimbrel of The Old School Antique Mall in Sylva, N.C., Dr. Scott and Carolyn Brown of Montgomery, Ala., and Doug Tyler of Marietta, Ga., correctly identified the Cowardly Lion’s medal.
The Wizard of Oz FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Life, According to Oz, by David J. Hogan.
2 The Wizardry of Oz: The Artistry and Magic of the 1939 M-G-M Classic, by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman, p. 94.
3 Geocities.ws, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz List of Frequently Asked Questions.”
4 The New Yorker, “My Father, the Potato Chip,” May 6, 2011.
5 LA Times, “Lights, Camera, Auction,” John M. Glionna, May 22, 1997, Articles.latimes.com.
The Cowardly Lion’s medal.
The Cowardly Lion
L. Frank Baum (May 15, 1856–May 6, 1919), author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, also wrote 14 more books about Oz.