Lydia the Tattooed Lady

"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


  1. 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 0-19-923716-6.
  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. "S01E02". Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel. Series 1. Episode 2. June 9, 1990. Event occurs at 16:06. BBC Radio. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
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