Books: Where the Laughs Came From

NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION by John Lahr. 394 pages. Knopf. $8.95.

Later this season, when Dorothy and her friends again gather in Oz on their annual TV rerun, only the singing of Over the Rainbow will be more fondly familiar to Americans than the sight of the Cowardly Lion in his boxer's stance, hopefully spluttering "Put 'em up. Put 'em uuuup." Bert Lahr played the lion, of course, and like all his performances, it bore the mark of a unique talent. Most comedians rely principally on their tongues, and Lahr's scratchy voice, wobbly warble...

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