Heavens to Murgatroyd in musical history

This phrase, “Heaven’s to Murgatroyd,” which denotes an exclamation of surprise is American by origin and comes from a 1944 movie called “Meet the People.” The actor who spoke the lines was Bert Lahr who is best remembered for another movie, “The Wizard of Oz” in which he played the Cowardly Lion.

The 1944 “Meet the People” was an MGM movie with Lucille Ball and Dick Powell about a Los Angeles stage revue. Ball plays Julie Hampton, an actress, who is forced to work in a shipyard after the play she was to star in was canceled. The playwright, William “Swanee” Swanson (played by Dick Powell) also works at the shipyard. Swanee had artistic differences with the play’s director. Hampton finds out that the shipyard workers could do the play, but only if Swanee will recognize that even with authenticity there’s a need for a little theatrical tweaks to make a professional theatrical production.

The movie was promoted as “the gayest musical” and during World War II people did need something to laugh about, but since then the word “gay” has changed meanings.  The movie also featured June Allyson, Rags Ragland, Virginia O’Brien, Vaughn Monroe and his orchestra, Spike Jones and the City Slickers and in one musical number includes a chimpanzee playing Hitler. Remember the war didn’t end until 1945.

“Meet the People” trailer

In the 1960s, the children’s cartoon, “Yogi Bear Show” had a character named Snagglepuss who often used the phrase.

Snagglepuss was a pink mountain lion given a voice by Daws Butler.  Originally called Snaggletooth and orange. First appearing in “The Quick Draw McGraw Show,” the cat became part of “The Yogi Bear Show” (1961) with a total of 32 episodes. Butler was also the voice of Yogi Bear.

Snagglepuss also appeared on the 1973 “Yogi’s Gang,” the 1977 and 1978 “Laff-A-Lympics,” the 1985 “Yogi’s Treasure Hunt” and the 1991 “Yo Yogi!”

Where the writers of “Meet the People,” Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy, might have been referring to an actual person, but no one seems to know for sure.  Perhaps they were fans of Gilbert and Sullivan. There were ten characters in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera “Ruddigore” named Murgatroyd. The name is a historical name from the English aristocracy.

“Ruddigore” is one of the so-called Savoy Operas (comedic operas popular during the Victorian era which were performed at the Savoy Theatre) and the tenth (of 14) comic operas the pair wrote. “Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse” debuted in 1887, two years after “The Mikado, or the Town of Titipu” and just before the 1888 “The Yeomen of the Guard.”

“Ruddigore” is about the baronets of Ruddigore who were cursed by a witch. Each Baronet of Ruddigore, starting with Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, must commit a crime every day or die an agonizing death. Rose happens to be in love with one of the current Baronet, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, who pretends to be a farmer.

  • Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd Disguised as Robin Oakapple, a Young Farmer
  • Sir Despard Murgatroyd of Ruddigore, A Wicked Baronet
Ghostly Murgatroyds
  • Sir Rupert Murgatroyd The First Baronet
  • Sir Jasper Murgatroyd The Third Baronet
  • Sir Lionel Murgatroyd The Sixth Baronet
  • Sir Conrad Murgatroyd The Twelfth Baronet
  • Sir Desmond Murgatroyd The Sixteenth Baronet
  • Sir Gilbert Murgatroyd The Eighteenth Baronet
  • Sir Mervyn Murgatroyd The Twentieth Baronet
  • Sir Roderic Murgatroyd The Twenty-first Baronet
Act II of “Ruddigore” with Sir Roderic singing “When the Night Wind Howls.”

About Jana J. Monji

I've written for the Rafu Shimpo, LA Weekly, LA Times, Examiner.com and, more recently, the Pasadena Weekly and RogerEbert.com. I formerly worked for a dot-com more interested in yodeling than its customers.

Posted on September 19, 2011, in Dancing with the Stars: Season 13 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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