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New York, Dec. 4 (AP) -- Bert Lahr, 72, Broadway's versatile clown and Hollywood's unforgettable Cowardly Lion in the movie. "The Wizard of Oz," died today.
Lahr probably never exceeded in comic artistry his role in "Oz." But as he observed philosophically: "Well, how many lion parts are there?"
The old trouper and comic actor, master of the idiotic grimace and the deep vocal inanity, was at work on a new movie, "The Night They Raided Minsky's," when he became ill with a back ailment Nov. 21.
Has Internal Hemorrhage
Pneumonia set in and a subsequent massive internal hemorrhage took his life at Columbia Presbyterian Medical center.
Lahr made his initial mark on Broadway as a comic symbol of hapless ineptitude. He was the type who got the arrow in the seat of his pants, as he did when starring with Ethel Merman in "Du Barry Was a Lady."
But his talent was amazingly diverse.
Critics hailed his performance in 1956 in Samuel Beckett's difficult drama, "Waiting for Godot." Its director, Herbert Berghof, asserted: "He is unslick, he moves completely according to his own laws. He is a genius, God help him."
Had to Find Out
"I just had to find out if I could do it." Lahr said of Godot, "It changed my whole career. Before that I was a buffoon."
Lahr's performance in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was acclaimed as the best Shakespearean performance of 1963. And only last year, Lahr played in Aristophanes' satire, "The Birds," at a Greek Theater festival in Ypsilanti, Mich.
But to the younger, television generation, Lahr was best known as the Cowardly Lion in the frequent revivals of "Oz." He also was an entrancing potato chip huckster, whose television commercial was intended to demonstrate that nobody could "eat just one."
Recognized from TV
To his amazement, Lahr found that, despite his resounding theatrical fame, the potato chip commercial made him for the first time a recognized figure to casual passers-by on the street.
Born Irving Lahrheim in the Yorkville section of Manhattan's upper east side, Lahr was of the generation of great baggy paints clowns who came out of burlesque and vaudeville. He toured in vaudeville with his first wife, Mercedes Delpino, before their marriage was annulled.
"Burlesque was clean in those days," Lahr recalled in an interview.
Lahr attracted his first attention on Broadway in 1937 in "Delmar's Revels." A year later he gained stardom as a punchdrunk fighter in "Hold Everything" with the late Victor Moore, Lahr made his first Hollywood picture, "Frank Heart" in 1931, but it was not until 1939 that he entranced a nation as the Cowardly Lion in "Oz."
Lahr is survived by his second wife, the former Mildred Schroeder, their son, John, and daughter, Jane, and a son by his first marriage, Herbert.
--- Chicago Tribune, December 05, 1967
Marriage with Mercedes Delpino:
Birth, death: Dowling Family Tree - Tim Dowling - rootsweb, 2001-2014 - - electronic - I501496
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