Lydia the Tattooed Lady

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"Lydia, the Tattooed Lady" is a 1939 song written by Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen.[1] It first appeared in the Marx Brothers movie At the Circus (1939) and became one of Groucho Marx's signature tunes.

The complex lyrics by Harburg – with clever rhymes such as "Lydia/encyclopedia" and "Amazon/pajamas on" – were inspired by W. S. Gilbert.[1] Harburg made many contemporary references to topical personalities such as Grover Whalen, who opened the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Among the items, persons, and scenes tattooed on Lydia's body are the Battle of Waterloo (on her back), The Wreck of the Hesperus (beside it), the red, white and blue (above them); the cities of Kankakee and "Paree", Washington Crossing the Delaware, President Andrew Jackson, Niagara, Alcatraz, Buffalo Bill, Captain Spaulding (Groucho's character in Animal Crackers) exploring the Amazon, Lady Godiva (with her pajamas on), Grover Whalen, the Trylon, Treasure Island, Nijinsky, Social Security Number (behind her earlobe) and a fleet of ships (on her hips).[2] Alternative lyrics suggest that Lydia's buttocks have tattoos of a map and a caricature of Hitler: "When she stands, the world grows littler. When she sits, she sits on Hitler."[3][4]

In 1950, Groucho famously "stopped" trading at the New York Stock Exchange by commandeering a microphone and singing the song before telling jokes for 15 minutes, during which time traders suspended their work to watch him perform.[5]

Other uses[edit]

  • In the 1940 movie The Philadelphia Story, Dinah Lord (played by Virginia Weidler) sings the song's first verse.
  • The song has been recorded by Stubby Kaye (1961), Michael Feinstein (on his 1992 album Pure Imagination), and Joan Morris (on the 2003 album Bolcom, Morris & Morath sing Yip Harburg).
  • Kermit the Frog sings this song, complete with a Muppet pig version of Lydia, on the second episode of The Muppet Show, which features Connie Stevens as the guest star. Muppets creator Jim Henson is said to have considered the song one of his favorites. Henson also drew all the tattoos on the Lydia puppet. The song was also used in Jim Henson's memorial service, sung by Muppet performer Kevin Clash in the voice of Elmo.
  • On the television series M*A*S*H, Maxwell Klinger sings part of this song in the episode "Images" after seeing the extensive tattoo work on a wounded soldier.
  • An abridged arrangement was performed by The New Tradition barbershop quartet while dressed and acting as the Marx Brothers as part of their final song set as they won the 1985 International Barbershop Competition. They subsequently repeated this performance during shows they performed, and finally recorded it as part of an LP.
  • The song is sung by Robin Williams in the 1991 film The Fisher King. In this version, the reference to Andrew Jackson is changed to Michael Jackson.
  • In the 1995 Disney comic "The Treasury of Croesus"[6] by Don Rosa, Donald Duck sings the song throughout the comic. This is a pun on the ancient kingdom of Lydia—as Donald asks whether King Croesus really existed, his uncle Scrooge asks him if he has never heard about Lydia, to which Donald replies that he learned all about Lydia on last night's late movie. When asked to share his newfound knowledge, he starts singing "Lydia the Tattooed Lady".
  • In the fifth season of the situation comedy It's a Living, pianist Sonny Mann (Paul Kreppel), meeting Nancy's visiting cousin, whose body is covered with tattoos, plays the song until Nancy flips the keyboard cover onto his fingers (a running gag in the series).[7]
  • In a sketch in season 4 of the Canadian sketch comedy series The Kids in the Hall, an escape artist, played by Dave Foley, performs the song at Carnegie Hall whilst being hung from the ceiling and bound in a straitjacket as part of his final public performance.
  • In the series finale of Breaking Bad, "Felina", part of this song is featured as a ringtone on Todd Alquist's cellphone when he receives a phone call from his boss and love interest, methamphetamine distributor Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, after Todd has been strangled to death by Jesse Pinkman.
  • The song was included in the second episode of the first series of the BBC's Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel.[8]
  • In the ninth season of AMC's The Walking Dead, primary antagonist Alpha is seen singing the song to her daughter, Lydia, in multiple episodes.
  • The song is sung on a January 20, 1942 episode of the radio program Fibber McGee and Molly.
  • The song is sung in season 1 episode 3 “3 stars” of the show, “Evil”.


  1. ^ a b Philip Furia, Michael L. Lasser (2006-05-12). America's songs. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-415-97246-8.
  2. ^ Meyerson, Harold; Harburg, Ernie (1995). Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz?: Yip Harburg, Lyricist. University of Michigan Press. pp. 161–163. ISBN 0-472-08312-0.
  3. ^ Sherrin, Ned (2008). Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations. OUP Oxford. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-19-923716-6.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Groucho Marx". Biographies. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  6. ^ "The Treasury of Croesus". I.N.D.U.C.K.S. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  7. ^ List of It's a Living episodes#Season 5 (1987–1988)
  8. ^ "S01E02". Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel. Series 1. Episode 2. June 9, 1990. Event occurs at 16:06. BBC Radio. Retrieved April 9, 2018.