Hail to Thee Fat Person!

Allan Sherman, of Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh fame, enjoyed an intense but brief popularity, releasing three albums in 1963 and then a rapid decline and premature death at age 49.  But it is still easy to identify an Allan Sherman fan some 46 years later.  I was standing in a buffet line with a medical colleague and a third person came up and said, “I always appreciate a good pair ‘o docs,” and both of us the recited the complete stanza, “a pair o’ noia is just a bunch of mental blocks, and when Ben Casey meets Kildare, that’s a ‘pair o’ docs.” 

Allan Sherman was a staple of my childhood since my mother idolized his word play and parodies, a talent that was right smack in her wheelhouse as she routinely wrote similar songs for birthdays and other family events.  An Allan Sherman biography notes that he started as a producer of the quiz show, “I’ve Got a Secret,” which landed him in Hollywood where he entertained at parties, including his neighbor Harpo Marx, and ba-da-bing all of he suddenly had a record contract and became a bi-coastal toast of the town.  Even as a ten year old, I knew something extraordinary was happening when my mother  put on her heels and poppit faux pearls to go downtown to a nightclub to hear Allan Sherman perform.  My parents never strayed from the comfy confines of their leafy suburb and rarely socialized with anybody beyond two or three degrees of separation.  Who knows, there might have been some swingers at a nightclub!  Maybe my mother was a bit jealous of Allan Sherman, but probably more excited that this sort of clever talent was well appreciated. 

Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh apparently reached number 3 on the popular record charts, surpassing Elvis Presley and the early efforts of the Beatles.  The song, which is set to the tune of a Ponchielli opera, recounts the misery of a child just arriving at a summer camp.  “I went hiking with Joe Spivey, he developed poison ivy. Do you remember Leonard Skinner, they’re organizing a search party after dinner.”  It is hard to explain the popularity of this song – I certainly don’t think that it was his best – but one commentator thinks that it touched on the universal themes of fitting in, and in fact, assimilation was a central theme in Allan Sherman’s life.  His early songs were mostly parodies on Jewish folk songs and culture.  “Hava Nagila” became “Harvey and Sheila” and Alouetta became “Al ‘n Yetta.”  “Frere Jacques” became Sarah Jockman and Jerry Bachman exchanging gossip (How’s your cousin Shirley, well she got married early) and God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman turned into “God Rest You Jerry Mendelbaum.” 

However, Allan Sherman expanded beyond Jewish folk tunes – there were send ups of suburbia (Here’s to the Crabgrass), space travel and aliens (Six Foot Two, Solid Blue) and technology (Automation).  He frequently poked fun at himself.  In “Hail to Thee Fat Person” Sherman explained that his rotund figure was essentially the result of the Marshall Plan – his mother constantly told him to clean his plate because there were people starving in Europe.  In fact due to his efforts and those of other tubby patriots, “we kept this country out of war!” 

Allan also went were the where the original lyrics and his fervid imagination took him.  The song “You Went the Wrong Way Old King Louie,” was one of his better efforts, set to the tune of “You’ve Come a Long Way From St. Louis.”  This song was one of our family favorites. 

 You went the wrong way old King Louie, you made the population cry

‘Cause all you did was sit and pet with Marie Antoinette at your place in Versailles.

 Now we’re gonna take you and the queen down to the guillotine somewhere in the heart of town.

And when that fella’s through with what he’s going to do you’ll have no place to wear your crown.

 And now the country has gone kablooey -To King Louie was say fooey you disappointed all of France

But what can you expect from a king who wears silk stockings and pink satin pants.

 Allan Sherman was the master of the unexpected rhyme, which turned the lyrics from stupidly stupid to funnily stupid.  As you listened to the song, you would hear the word France and know a rhyme was coming, and you might anticipate dance, chance or evey romance, but you would never expect that it could be pants.  “C’est Si Bon,” became “I See Bones,” about a radiologist who sang, “I see things in your peritoneum that belong in the British Museum.”  I could picture Allan Sherman thumbing through his rhyming dictionary trying to find a rhyme for peritoneum.  Presented with few choices, he figured out a way to work “museum” into the verse. 

Similarly, my mother had a pink rhyming dictionary always at the ready near the kitchen telephone.  I think that her parodies peaked with a birthday song that she wrote for one of her friends with the improbable name of Hempie, who had just had a bout with jaundice after eating some bad sea food.  

“Hempie you excite us when you talk of hepatitis,

Your stool they had to study, since your eyeballs were so cruddy”

She was so taken with the excite us/hepatitis doublet that she used it almost annually as she serenaded Hempie.

“Hempie you no longer can excite us since you don’t have hepatitis

When your eyeballs stopped being yellow, you became a mellow fellow.”

 Sherman also wrote entirely new music which set him free from the limitations of a parody.  I think that his tour de force was “Good Advice” a song running about as long as Don McLean’s American Pie, where he provided advice to the great inventors throughout history.  Sherman encouraged Ben Franklin to go fly a kite even though it was raining, he told Isaac Newton to go take a nap under the apple tree to avoid getting sunburned, he pointed out to Otis that his moving box would work better if it went up and down instead of from side to side.  He gave his best piece of advice to the caveman Ooga MaGook who was uncertain what to do with his big square stone with a hole in the middle.  “Round off those corners, and Ooogie Baby, you’ve got the wheel!”  He would finish each verse with a two liner praising the advice – “I’m so worldly wise, I deserve a Nobel prize,” or “Harvard offered me a phi beta kappa key.”  I routinely use one of these lines as a staple of birthday songs that I have written – “The world is a better place since you joined the human race.”  (My other favorite line was written by my friend Sallie, “You are so very kind, you’d give your eyeballs to the blind.”)

 After poking around the internet, I found a YouTube video of Allan Sherman singing, which made more sense of the theme of assimilation.  Allan was singing with Dean Martin and Vic Damone, two of the coolest cats of the mid 1960s.  You sensed that Allan thought that he was finally part of the Hollywood elite, but it also looked like he was just trying a bit too hard, and that it just wasn’t going to happen.  Dean and Vic looked donair and elegant in their tuxedos, and the short, fat, Sherman with a buzz cut and heavy black glasses just looked out of place. The two men also had beautiful voices, and even though Allan sang on key, he really was not a great singer.  Sherman was eagerly grinning at his songs and glancing over at Dean and Vic, asking for approval.  Although Dean and Vic were smiling, it really looked more like they were laughing at him.  I think that Allan had failed to see the distinction between being part of the elite crowd and a buffoonish mascot, easily disposable.  Check out the video below.


After his initial three top selling albums, his songs became more pointed and bitter, perhaps because he found that the success he so coveted was actually hollow.  The Kennedy assassination soured the country’s mood as well.  He slipped into obscurity and found himself reduced to writing jingles for television commercials.  If Allan Sherman didn’t write it, he most certainly inspired the Burger King song from the 1970s:

“Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us.”  

All we ask is that you let us do it your way.”

The missing words in the following poem are all anagrams (i.e. like post, stop, spot) and the number of dashes indicates the number of letters.  One of the missing words will rhyme with the previous or following line.  Your job is to figure out the words based on the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers. 

After Word War II, food was scarce and Europeans were starving and thin,

 That’s when Allan Sherman says his weight problems began to —–.

His mother said, “people are starving so you must clean your plate,

So he started to —– on pies and sweets and generally overate.   

This was the message of the Marshall plan that he could not ignore

He was told that —–fat is what keeps this country out of war!








Answers:  begin, binge, being

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