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The story of Groucho Marx's "Lydia the Tattooed Lady"

Lydia the Tattooed Lady is an entertaining song about a lady covered in tattoos that depict historical events, famous landmarks and iconic figures. Written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harbug, the song became a signature song of Groucho Marx. This is the story of Lydia the Tattooed Lady.

About Groucho Marx

Born as Julius Henry Marx on 02nd October 1890, Groucho Marx was an influential member of the family comedy act, The Marx Brothers. With his family, Groucho starred in 13 feature films and is remembered for his ability to deliver quick-fire innuendo-loaded banter. The third-born of the family, he also had a successful solo career, in particular with You Bet Your Life, a radio and TV game show.
Lydia the Tattooed Lady
Complete with his trademark glasses, cigar and over exaggerated moustache and eyebrows, Groucho's most famous rendition of Lydia the Tattooed Lady came in 1950 at the New York Stock Exchange. Taking hold of a microphone, Groucho brought trading to a halt for 15-minutes whilst he performed the song and narrated jokes.

The song: Lydia the Tattooed Lady

Lydia the Tattooed Lady was written in 1939 by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, two popular American composers and songwriters. In addition to the song made famous by Groucho Marx, the two also composed the songs for The Wizard of Oz.
Lyrics Inspired by the English poet and dramatist WS Gilbert, Arlen and Harburg used intelligent lyrics to make reference to events and personalities from contemporary culture. The song was first performed in the Marx Brothers 1939 movie, At The Circus.
Covered head to toe in tattoos, some of the people and events displayed on Lydia's body include the Battle of Waterloo, The Wreck of the Hesperus and Lady Godiva. There are also tattoos of US soldier Buffalo Bill, politician Grover Whalen and Russian ballet dancer Nijinsky. It is also possible that Arlen and Harburg were inspired by the likes of Miss Irene Woodward, aka La Belle Irene, and Nora Hildebrandt. During the Victorian era, they were the first women to achieve fame for being covered in tattoos.

Adaptations of the song

Since it first appeared in At The Circus, Lydia's music has been performed and adapted on numerous occasions. The first to sample the song was Virginia Weidler as Dinah Lord in The Philadelphia Story (1940), when she sang the first verse.
Performances on the song In 1976, Kermit the Frog performed the song in the second pilot episode of The Muppet Show. Rumours abound that the song is one of Muppet creator Jim Henson's favourites. The song was also performed by Donald Duck in the 1995 Disney comic story, The Treasury of Croesus.

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