University of California Press / ISBN 0520223047 (2000)
Back in my tiny home-town library, where I prowled the theatre section once I'd finished reading all the OZ books
(at least five times each), I would be the first to discover and check out any new addition. That is how I remember
so clearly in late 1969 or early 1970 the book with the curious title, Notes On A Cowardly Lion, which seemed
to bring my two greatest loves together. Yes, it was about the man who had played the Cowardly Lion in the fantastic
1939 Wizard of OZ film, Bert Lahr -- and written by his son, a theatre critic. An amazing story of burlesque,
vaudeville, musical comedy, movies, Broadway drama... how much can one performer's life cover? When you start at
fifteen and never stop working for nearly sixty years, a lot of territory -- and some of it was pretty rocky.
One of the stories I'd remembered so well over the years was the heart-breaking outcome of his first marriage to the
beautiful dancer, Mercedes, his partner in vaudeville. He never stopped blaming himself for her descent into insanity.
Had he pushed her too hard in the act? Had he blamed her for every time the crowd didn't cheer them? She was such
a sweet, gentle soul. She would simply retreat into her own world. Years later, with her declared legally insane
(living with her sister) and him remarried with two children, he still couldn't get past the guilt and pain.
They say a broken heart is what makes a great clown.