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Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info

17 Aug 99 - 11:24 AM (#105828)
Subject: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: CeltArctic

This silly song has been on my mind for a long time (Lord knows why!!) I was delighted to find the lyrics in Digitrad, but I was wondering if anyone could suply me with more background.

The author, according to Digitrad, was E.Y. Harburg. Who was he (or she)?

When was the song written?

I've seen the song used in three films, that I know of. The first one, I believe, was the Marx Brothers "Join the Circus" (I'm uncertain of the title). Groucho sings it on the train. Was the song written for that film?

The other two films are Philadelphia Story (Catherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart) and more recently, The Fisher King (Robin Williams.) Williams seems to sing the most complete version of the song in the three films. Has it been sung in any other films?

Has anybody recorded this ditty?


Moira Cameron

17 Aug 99 - 11:30 AM (#105829)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Margo

I can't believe it! Just when I get this out of my mind you bring it back! We used to sing this on the farm......go figure. I don't know anything about it except that Groucho sang it. It has a catchy little chorus, doesn't it? Gads.


17 Aug 99 - 11:33 AM (#105831)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Allan C.

We have had a couple of threads about this:Lydia I

Lydia II

17 Aug 99 - 12:04 PM (#105846)
Subject: Lyr Add: LYDIA, THE TATTOOED LADY (from G Marx)
From: Tiger

Lot's of version of this around. This one was transcribed from the movie.....

From "At the Circus" - Groucho Marx

Ah, this meeting brings back memories.
Childhood days, lemonade, romance!
My life was wrapped around the circus.
Her name was Lydia.
I met her at the World's Fair in 1900, marked down from 1940.
Ah, Lydia.

She was the most glorious creature under the su-un.
Guiess, DuBarry, Garbo, rolled into one.

Lydia, oh Lydia, say have you met Lydia,
Lydia, the Tattooed Lady?
She has eyes that folks adore so,
And a torso even more so.

Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclopedia,
Oh, Lydia, the Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is the Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it the wreck of the Hesperus, too,
And proudly above waves the Red, White, and Blue,
You can learn a lot from Lydia.

La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la

When her robe is unfurled, she will show you the world,
If you step up and tell her where.
For a dime you can see Kankakee or Paree,
Or Washington crossing the Delaware.

La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la

Oh, Lydia, oh, Lydia, say have you met Lydia,
Oh, Lydia, the Tattooed Lady
When her muscles start relaxing,
Up the hill comes Andrew Jackson.

Lydia, oh, Lydia, that encyclopedia,
Oh, Lydia, the queen of them all!
For two bits she will do a mazurka in jazz,
With a view of Niagara that nobody has.
And on a clear day you can see Alcatraz.
You can learn a lot from Lydia.

La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la

Come along and see Buff'lo Bill with his lasso.
Just a little classic by Mendel Picasso.
Here is Captain Spaulding exploring the Amazon.
Here's Godiva but with her pajamas on.

La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la

Here is Grover Whalen unveilin' the Trylon.
Over on the West Coast we have Treaure Island.
Here's Najinsky a-doin' the rhumba.
Here's her social security numba.


Oh, Lydia, oh, Lydia, that encyclopedia,
Oh, Lydia, the champ of them all.
She once swept an Admiral clear off his feet.
The ships on her hips made his heart skip a beat.
And now the old boy's in command of the fleet,
For he went and married Lydia.

I said Lydia. (He said Lydia.)
I said Lydia. (We said Lydia.)

La La!

17 Aug 99 - 02:27 PM (#105896)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Lorne Brown

Yip Harburg wrote, among other things, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Brother Can You Spare a Dime? and It's Only a Paper Moon. He is somewhat unknown for some strange reason, but those are songs everyone knows. Lorne Brown

17 Aug 99 - 02:35 PM (#105902)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Lorne Brown

Burl Ives recorded "Lydia the Tattooed Lady". I have a Yip Harburg CD (Koch label) where he sings his songs, including "Lydia". And "Old Devil Moon", "If I Only Had a Brain", "April in Paris". My, my but he wrote fine lyrics. Lorne Brown

17 Aug 99 - 03:47 PM (#105926)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: bigJ

As you say, Lorne, it's a shame that Yip Harburg isn't better known.He was a friend of and grew up with George and Ira Gershwin; wrote the songs that you mention plus 'Let's Take a Walk Around the Block' - 'I'll Be Tired of You' (recorded by Lena Horne)- 'Old Devil Moon' and the lyrics for the musical Finian's Rainbow. He promoted the cause of women's rights when it wasn't fashionable, was anti (Second World) war, and was attacked by the HUAC of Senator Joe McCarthy. On the folky side, his songs were recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary and the Chad Mitchell Trio. He died in 1981

18 Aug 99 - 11:14 AM (#106168)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Frank Hamilton

E.Y. Harburg affectionately known as "Yip" was one of the greatest American songwriting lyricists. He wrote countless famous songs, lyrics for Wizard of Oz including Somewhere Over the Rainbow. One of his most famous song with tune by Jay Gorney was Brother Can You Spare A Dime which keeps getting revived for good reason. With Burton Lane he wrote the lyrics for Finian's Rainbow with such gems as How Are Things in Glockamorra and Old Devil Moon.

Let's hear it for the Yipper!

Frank Hamilton

18 Aug 99 - 11:16 AM (#106173)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Frank Hamilton

Oh yes, Micheal Feinstein has recorded it. Show singer and pianist ala Bobby Short cabaret style.


20 Aug 99 - 12:56 AM (#106732)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: CeltArctic

Well, that certainly answers my questions. Thanks guys.

Now all I've got to do is learn the song.


27 Aug 99 - 09:14 PM (#109188)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Tiger


28 Aug 99 - 11:13 AM (#109276)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Frank Hamilton

Hi Gang,

You missed an important verse:

Lydia, oh Lydia, have you met Lydia Lydia that tatooted lady When she stands the world seems littler When she sits she sit on Hit-le-ler

then it goes into the Admiral verse.

Frank Hamilton

28 Aug 99 - 12:45 PM (#109288)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Tiger


Methinks you've sanitized that other verse a bit. How about posting it all?

It wasn't in the movie, where the song was released (1939) but, judging by the topic, was added almost immediately thereafter. The folk process in action.

28 Aug 99 - 01:27 PM (#109294)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: allan S.

In the book "Who Wrote that Song by Dick Jacobs &Harriet Jacobs There are 103 songs listed that he wrote. Too many to put down here

28 Aug 99 - 04:24 PM (#109319)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Frank Hamilton


Yip probably wrote many versions of the song. He was a well-known lyricist and highly respected in the musical theater community. That snippet goes into the verse about "She once swept an admiral right off of his feet".

I think it would be an interesting project to chase down all the famous lyricists' out-takes. I hear that Cole Porter wrote a few X-rated versions of his standards.

If enough folks rewrite Yip's song adding their own verses, it might be a candidate for a future folk song, who knows?

Meanwhile thass all I know.

Frank Hamilton

03 Mar 01 - 09:15 AM (#410173)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: GUEST,

Any suggestion or sources of information that I can check to prove that "Lydia the Tatoo'd Lady" is a Harold Arlen Waltz?

03 Mar 01 - 08:28 PM (#410509)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Sourdough

Yip Harburg was a friend of my late grand uncle. After my uncle's dath, I went searching for information on Harburg, I found a website opeated by Harburg's son. He was gracious enough to answer some questions. Since I have no record of the website's URL, I can only tell those of you who might be intersted that it may still exist and that his son answers questions from strangers.


01 Apr 09 - 03:31 PM (#2602495)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info

I know she was a real person -- what was her name? somewhere in the 1890's turn of the century.

07 Sep 09 - 02:53 AM (#2717848)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady (Arlen / Harburg)
From: Genie

One source of info about other lyrics (verses) to "Lyria,The Tattooed Lady" is Michael Feinstein. He had a TV special (PBS, I think) back in the early 1980s, in which he sang a version of this song that included the line
"When she stands, her lap gets lit'ler,
When she sits, she sits on Hitler."

Feinstein was an apprentice to Ira Gershwin for some time and that, apparently, was one source of his "inside information" about songs and songwriters from the jazz era It will probably surprise no avid Marx Brothers fans to know that, according to Michael Feinstein, the original lyrics that Yip Harburg wrote for this song for Groucho were much bawdier than the ones that eventually made it (past the Hays Code into the movie.

Per Wikipedia (today):
"As lyricist Harburg explains, the final stanza originally contained the lyrics "When she stands her lap gets lit'ler/When she sits, she sits on Hitler"; the lines were removed because the studio feared the song would sound too dated. On some subsequent radio appearances, Groucho sang the song in its entirety. [Michael] Feinstein's recording omits a number of other lines, but restores the "Hitler" couplet ... ."
Marx Brothers: At the Circus

One thing that has long puzzled me about this song is who the heck "Mendel Picasso" was.
Apparently that's still a mystery, even to Yip Harburg's son Ernie:
Mendel Picasso.
I guess it just sounded good enough and silly enough for this song.

07 Sep 09 - 10:44 AM (#2718045)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Charley Noble

I wonder if "Lydia" had a sister "Lillian"? Here's a much older song as sung by Oscar Brand:

Her Name Was Lil

Well, her name was Lil and she was a beauty,
She came from a house of ill reputy,
Gentlemen came from miles to see
Lillian in her deshabille.

She was comely and she was fair,
She had lovely golden hair,
But she drank too deep of the demon rum,
She smoked hashish and opium.
Yeah, she smoked hashish and opium.

Well, day by day her form grew thinner,
From insufficient protein in her,
She grew two hollows on her chest,
Why, she had to go around completely dressed.

Now clothes may make a gal go far,
But they have no place on a fille de joie,
Lillian's troubles started when
She concealed her abdomen.
She concealed her abdomen.

Well, she took to treatments in the sun,
She drank of Scott's Emul-si-on,
Three times daily she took yeast,
But still her clientele decreased.

For you must know her cliente-le,
Rested chiefly on her belly,
She rilled this thing like the deep Pacific,
It was something calorific.
Why, it was something calorific.

So, she went to the house physician,
To prescribe for her condition,
"You have got," the doctor did say,
"Pernicious anem-i-a."

As Lillian lay in her dishonor,
She felt the Devil's hand upon her,
She said, "Me sins I now repents,
"But Satan, that'll cost you fifty cents.
"That's gonna cost you just fifty cents."

Charley Noble

07 Sep 09 - 11:32 AM (#2718076)
Subject: RE: Lydia the Tatooed Lady-info
From: Genie

DK if she's Lydia's kin, Charlie, but she's shown up in a couple other threads here and, in sightly different guise (using an alias) at the 2008 Getaway workshop on naughty ladies.

... ladies of the night