Come along and see Buff'lo Bill with his lasso.
Just a little classic by Mendel Picasso.
Here is Captain Spaulding exploring the Amazon.
Here's Godiva but with her pajamas on.
Let's look at the last name first. It seems safe to assume that this is a reference to the great Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, shown to the left in 1962. Although he painted in a number of different styles, its unlikely that he was a tattoo artist. As far as I can tell, he never depicted Buffalo Bill in any medium.
And what of the first name? Picasso's given name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. There is no sign of "Mendel" in there.
So where did Mendel Picasso come from? I have consulted no less an authority than Ernie, the son of lyricist Yip Harburg. Ernie didn't know, but said he would put out feelers to see if anyone does know. So far, as we approach the first anniversary of the original publication of my article "Lydia the Tattooed Lady Revealed," no one has come forward with an answer.
Even though the song "Peasy Weasy" was a favorite of Groucho, and the priest Gregor Mendel performed his genetic experiments with pea plants, it seems unlikely that Yip Harburg was thinking of Gregor Mendel when he wrote the lyrics to "Lydia."
Through intensive research (i.e., typing "Mendel" in the Google search box), I have learned that in Yiddish, Mendel is the pet form of the Hebrew name Menahem. So, was Yip somehow implying that Picasso was Jewish? Well...it's not impossible.
Apparently, there is some speculation that Pablo Picasso's maternal grandmother was Jewish. In a speech made by Gary Schwartz at the opening of the exhibit, "The 'Jewish' Rembrandt" at the Jewish Historical Museum on 9/11/2006:
Not long ago I was surprised to read the following sentence about Picasso's grandfather in John Richardson's monumental biography of the artist: "Next to nothing is known about this bizarre gentleman...beyond the fact that he married a plump young woman from the province of Málaga, Inés López Robles, rumoured to be a Maranna (of Jewish descent)" (p. 22). This was thus Picasso's mother's mother. If the rumour about Inés López Robles were true then even the great goy Pablo Picasso was in fact Jewish according to Jewish law.Rumors about a woman who lived a couple centuries ago aren't much to go on, but then, wars have been launched on less substantial evidence.
In the end (or at the end of the day, as the talking heads on TV are so fond of saying these days), it really doesn't matter. Maybe Yip just threw Mendel Picasso into the song because it sounded funny, or because he knew it would drive people like me crazy through the ages, and that's good enough for me. I am reticent to pursue this topic any further for fear of being classified as that most unamusing of writers--the "humor analyst."
Sing along with me now:
La la laaa
La la la
La la laaa
La la la