What did Miss Otis regret?

A while back the song “Miss Otis Regrets” came on my car radio. I didn’t recognise the singer and so made a point of listening at the end of the song to see who the artist was, it turned out to be Bette Midler.

This song is a rather unusual tale of seduction, abandonment and murder. It was written in the 1930s by Cole Porter. While I was listening I remembered a couple of things I thought might be worth sharing.

I didn’t find the Bette Midler rendition of “Miss Otis Regrets” particularly inspiring and recalled seeing a video of Kirsty MacColl performing it. I decided to try and look it up when I got home. I found the video of Kirsty below on YouTube.

The origin of “Miss Otis Regrets

The other thing I remembered while the song was on the radio was a story I had heard of how Cole Porter had come to write “Miss Otis Regrets“. It is one of those tales that you hope is true but you know is probably an urban legend. Either way it is a story worth telling.

It goes that while Cole Porter was dining in a restaurant he boasted that he could write a song on any subject. His companion then issued a challenge to write one about whatever the next thing was that they overheard being said. At this point a waiter is supposed to have approached another table and said to the diner waiting for someone to join them “Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today, Madam“.

As I said it is a nice, if rather dubious tale.

Miss Otis Regrets” – The Lyrics

Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today
Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today
She is sorry to be delayed
But last evening down on Lovers Lane she strayed
Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

When she woke up and found that her dream of love was gone
Madam
She ran to the man who had led her so far astray
And from under her velvet gown
She drew a gun and shot her lover down
Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

When the mob came and got her and dragged her from the jail
Madam
They strung her upon the old willow ‘cross the way
And the moment before she died
She lifted up her lovely head and cried
Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

I also came across a 1934 recording of the song by Ethel Waters, which I have also included below.

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