Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Lydia the Tattooed Lady

The Marx Brothers' post-Paramount films suffer from the infusion of too much "plot" and the boys having to take on supporting roles to far less interesting characters. Sometimes, as in A Night at the Opera, the mix is right; sometimes , as in A Day at the Races, it's almost there, but after that, it's the law of diminishing returns. That's not to say there aren't any worthy moments in the later movies. At the Circus has several great scenes, if you can wade through business like Florence Rice singing 'Stand Up and take a Bow' to a circus horse (!), or any scene she shares with Kenny Baker...

One of the highlights, of course, is Groucho singing Lydia the Tattooed Lady:

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.
Thais. DuBarry. Garbo.
Rolled into one.

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

Lydia oh lydia, that encyclopidia,
Oh Lydia the Queen of Tatoo.
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 Paris,
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 Tatooed Lady
When her muscles start relaxin',
Up the hill comes Andrew Jackson

Lydia oh Lydia, that encyclopidia,
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 Buffalo 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 Trilon.
Over on the West Coast we have Treaure Island.
Here's Najinsky a-doin' the rhumba.
Here's her social security numba.

{whistles}La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la

Oh Lydia, oh Lydia that encyclopaedia,
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}
They said said Lydia
{We said Lydia}
La La!

Written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg (writers of Over the Rainbow and many other American songbook classics) for At the Circus in 1939, it also appeared in The Philadelphia Story in 1940 and The Fisher King in 1991. Originally, it contained the lyrics, ""When she stands her lap gets lit'ler/When she sits, she sits on Hitler"; fortunately, MGM wanted the lines removed because the song would sound too dated, although Groucho did sing that version on various radio broadcasts following the film's release.

If you can't work it out, there's a concordance for the song here - http://davecory2.blogspot.com/2008/06/lydia-tattooed-lady-revealed.html

Like me, however, that blogger's stumped by "Mendel Picasso", but it has been suggested elsewhere that this was something of a conceit and was the name of a famous tattoo artist of the time.

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