Stranger’s Face — or Fate?

This post was going to be quite different.

I’ve recently heard various versions of the song “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” (Kurt Weill music / Ogden Nash lyric) where I thought the singers were getting a bit casual with the lyric.  So I was going to do a blog piece listing the various variations I’ve heard of late and what they should be. 

I was planning to start with a change that particularly annoyed me of late, a singer who has been performing the lyric “I dream of a day, a gay warm day, with my fate between his hands” when everyone knows the lyric should be “with my face between his hands.”  But just to give Cabaret Performer X the benefit of the doubt, I decided to look at my sheet music.  So I pull out the copy from my loose music file, and there it is: “fate.” 

I’m stunned, aghast, and wondering how I could have been so wrong all these years.

So I went to the Mary Martin recording, figuring that the woman who introduced the song on Broadway would surely sing the correct lyric on the cast album.  Mary Martin sings “face.” 

The sheet music that I was looking at was from the published vocal selections for One Touch of Venus.  The version of the sheet music in Kurt Weill Songs: A Centennial Anthology has “face.”

I decided to seek outside help. 

I contacted noted Ogden Nash scholar George Crandell of Auburn University* who wrote:


The sheet music that I’ve seen also has “fate” rather than “face.”  You might also want to check the copy of ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, published by Little Brown in 1944.  It should also include the lyrics to “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.”  I don’t have a copy here to check for you. 

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin also has a large collection of Nash’s manuscripts.  It’s possible that they have a manuscript version of the lyrics.  If that’s the case, it could provide some insight into whether Nash intentional wrote “fate” or whether it’s a misprint. 

I hope this information helps.

I went to the DC public library and found the script to One Touch of Venus anthologized in Ten Great Musicals of the American Theatre.  It lists the lyric as “face.”  I would consider that definitive, except that toward the end of the song, it has a whole line, “This is a case for a woman’s intuition” that is never performed and has “You perceive before you a woman with a mission” instead of “You see here before you…”  Oy!

I then called the always-lovely Joanne Schmoll who played the role when American Century did it a few summers ago.  Turns out that the licensed version of the printed script has “face” but also has the problematic “This is a case for a woman’s intuition.”  (At least the script has “You see here before you…” rather than “You perceive before you…”)

I decided to go to the recorded versions in our iTunes library.  Here’s the round-up:

  • Fate
    • Maree Johnson
    • Sally Mayes
    • Mark Nadler
    • Kurt Weill in  America (as directed by Andrea Marcovicci and Shelly Markham)
  • Face
    • Mary Martin
    • Kristen Chenowith
    • Ralph Pena
    • Ute Lemper
    • Angelina Reaux
    • Patti LuPone
    • Teresa Stratas***

 So “face” or “fate” ? 

Maybe the deeper issue is “truth.”  Who can really know what Ogden Nash’s intentions were?  Who is in authority to say what a lyric SHOULD be, especially once the lyricist is gone?  And maybe I should just lighten up when I hear someone sing a “wrong” lyric.**

*I try not to let my work life bleed into this blog, but I have to say, I was very happy that it took me about 2 minutes to use one of the resources my company ProQuest publishes to find a scholar who is an expert and has published on the works of Ogden Nash.

**Although really, there is no excuse for the people singing “I am a stranger here myself” instead of “I’m a stranger here myself.”  C’mon, it’s the damn title of the song!

*** Given her relationship with Lotte Lenya, I’m pretty willing to take this as the Kurt Weill side of the argument


2 Responses to Stranger’s Face — or Fate?

  1. Emily Leatha Everson says:

    I have long loved Ogden Nash poetry…he’s funny, whimiscal, wonderful. His habit of words to suit his needs delights me to no end. I just wish he wrote more lyrics for songs. Maybe some wonderful composers will put more of his poetry to music!

  2. Lonny Smith says:

    Michael – I found a digitized version of the 1944 script (see link), and searched for the lyric before. It also says “face.”

    If you’ve got the passion, you might want to find out where Nash or Weill’s papers are located. These collections can be a treasure trove. For example, browsing through the Wisconsin State Historical Society collection, I found Sondheim’s “Climb High” (annotated by Oscar Hammmerstein II) and original drafts and notes for Fiddler – including a stern warning from Jerome Robbins to tone down the piece’s Jewishness and to make sure that Perchik didn’t come off as a communist. It’s a lot of work, travel, and paper cuts, but also very rewarding to actually touch history.

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