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This story first appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Does someone in Hollywood have the courage to buy the Cowardly Lion?
Memorabilia collector James Comisar is searching for an industry benefactor to help save one of Bert Lahr‘s original costumes from 1939’s
The Wizard of Oz. Comisar is selling the furry outfit — acquired in 1991 from a salvage dealer who found it covered in dirt and mouse droppings in an abandoned MGM building — to fund a TV history museum in Phoenix.
Experts consider it the more historically important of the two surviving Lion costumes because Lahr wore it in the film’s most memorable scenes.
Considering the eye-popping prices paid recently for significant memorabilia — TV’s original Batmobile sold for $4.6 million in January, and a dress Audrey Hepburn wore in My Fair Lady went for $4.55 million in June 2011 — the Lion is likely worth several million dollars.
Plus, while several pairs of ruby slippers and Dorothy’s blue dress still exist, none of the Tin Man costumes has survived, and there’s only one ragged Scarecrow costume (it’s in the Smithsonian).
After acquiring the costume, Comisar engaged professional conservators from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to save the Lion, a process that took almost two years.
Comisar’s concern isn’t getting the highest price: He wants the Cowardly Lion to end up alongside a pair of ruby slippers in the planned Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, and he’s even offering to sell it for a discount.
But the Academy, which has raised about $100 million of a projected $250 million budget for the museum, isn’t ready to shell out for acquisitions.
So he’s hoping an angel will step up, as when Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg and Terry Semel helped buy the slippers and donated them to the Academy.
Comisar plans to use the proceeds from the sale for the endowment for his TV museum, which will house one of the best collections of memorabilia from the medium in the country. Among the items it has are a George Reeves Superman costume, Johnny Carson‘s Tonight Show set and George Costanza’s driver’s license from Seinfeld.
A few foreign buyers have made offers, but Comisar is holding out hope the Lion will be reunited with the slippers for “the magical Hollywood ending it deserves.”
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