Lampoon vs. Crimson since 1901

Hailing the dawn of the Nixon-Agnew-Pusey Adminstration (1968)

College humor magazines and college newspapers were natural enemies back in the day. They still are at Harvard, where the feud between the Lampoon and the Crimson is now in its second century. “Opposition to the Crimson . . . makes Lampy what he is,” the Lampoon said in its Hundredth Anniversary Issue, saluting “The Crime” as “a dependable butt of practical jokes [and] an inexhaustible source of unintentional humor.” For its part, the Crimson has ID’d the Lampoon as “a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine” at every opportunity for the past six decades.

Crimson parodies . . . are occasionally supplied to the student body in deference to the overwhelming demand,” Eric Rayman and Jim Downey wrote in 100 Years of Harvard Lampoon Parodies (1976). “As popular today as they were then, Crimson parodies are governed by just one rule: they may never appear on April First.” No one knows exactly how many times the Lampoon has made fools of the paper on other days, but two things seem beyond dispute: (1) The Lampoon was the first college comic to issue a full-size, full-length fake issue of a college newspaper, and (2) it first did so 120 years ago this spring, on May 30, 1901, Memorial Day.

Back then Memorial Day was always May 30, and in 1901 it fell on a Thursday. Knowing the Crimson would take the day off, the Lampoon assembled a four-page substitute under an ill-gotten Crimson nameplate and left it in the usual locations. Earlier Lampoon press parodies had occupied one or two pages in regular issues; the 1901 “Crimson” not only looked like the real thing, it was understated and strewn with enough half-plausible misinformation to create one of the great college pranks.

The first fully fake college newspaper, May 30, 1901

“The whole Cambridge community was for a time in turmoil,” the Bookman magazine recalled ten years later. “Information that the janitor of one of the college laboratories had upset a jar of microbes and that all those who had been near the lab should report at once to the college doctor . . . was given with the utmost gravity.” Other straight-faced reports said the school had changed its mind about giving President McKinley an honorary degree and that a lit bomb had been found in Memorial Hall. But it was an item about the Crimson itself that raised the biggest ruckus: Because the paper’s prosperity was threatening its non-profit status, it said, all paid-up subscribers who came to the office that afternoon would get half their money back. “A sign hung in the night over the Crimson office reiterating this announcement was another part of the hoax,” said the Bookman. “Its complete success was for long the talk of Cambridge, and the forbidden subject of conversation in the Crimson sanctum.”

The Bookman credited the parody to a “suggestion” by Lampoon writer Richard Washburn Child (1881-1935, class of ’03), who later became U.S. Ambassador to Italy and a leading American cheerleader for Mussolini. That fact likely went unmentioned in 1941, when the Poonsters of ’01 reprinted the parody for their Fortieth and sent a copy to President Roosevelt. FDR, who had been a freshman Crimson editor at the time, recalled it as “the first and only successful attempt on the part of the Lampoon to get really funny at the expense of the Crimson.”

The credulous reception of the first parody suggests such things were new and strange in 1901. Further evidence of priorty comes from all the dogs that didn’t bark. Though other college mags were more than happy to take the Lampoon down a peg or two, not one ever claimed to have beaten it to the idea. The earliest similar item I’m aware of is “The Cornell Deadly Sin,” a 1906 spoof of the Daily Sun by the Cornell Widow.

Crimson parodies from 1926 and 1946
Lampoon vs. Princeton (1926); Harvard vs. football (1946)

Eight years passed before the Lampoon’s next assault: a two-page insert in the real Crimson that was “as convincing if less spectacular than the pseudojournal of 1901,” according to The Harvard Lampoon Centennial Celebration. The pace eventually picked up but remained erratic: The Anniversary Issue counted “nineteen full-length Crimson parodies and three one-page sheets for insertion into legitimate issues” over the previous 75 years. My source in the Castle said a few years ago that the Lampoon “produces a parody of the Crimson (sometimes multiple issues) every January/February,” but isn’t sure when they became annual events.

The most explosive parody was a “Football Extra” handed out during the 1926 Princeton game, where the visiting Tigers blanked Harvard for the third straight year, 12-0. It carried the truthful but premature headline, “Princeton Wins” and a fact-free report that the school’s coach had expired in the game’s final minutes from holding his breath too long. The parody was “the second half of a one-two punch,” the Anniversary Issue recalled: “On the day before the game, one of the most notorious Lampoon issues ever had appeared . . . [portraying Princeton men] as pigs, homosexuals and bond salesmen.” The two Lampoons, plus a snide reference in the real Crimson to Princeton’s “inferiority complex,” so inflamed the school it cancelled all athletic contests with Harvard, a move that made the front page of The New York Times. Relations didn’t resume until 1934, when the Tigers returned for a fourth consecutive shutout, this one 19-0.

The 1926 parody made headlines by being outrageous; the 1933 issue made them by being plausible. On February 22, when the Crimson was off for Washington’s Birthday, a four-page “Extra” reported the Harvard Corporation had chosen Midwestern businessman Henry Eliot Clarke ’04 to succeed retiring President A. Lawrence Lowell. Lampoon editors then took over the Crimson’s empty office and spent the day assuring the Associated Press and other callers the extra was legit. “The story was picked via by the wire services and printed in all parts of the country before a suspicious AP staffer discovered that the Harvard Corporation had not selected a new president, that the Crimson had not published an extra, and that there was no Henry Eliot Clarke,” the Anniversary Issue notes.

The New York Times, February 23, 1933

The Lampoon soon confessed to the hoax, which it claimed was motivated only by a desire to free its “distinguished contemporary” from “the crysalis of drab and schoolboy journalism.” The U.S. Congress responded by passing a law making it a federal crime to knowingly send false information through the news wires. Since then, fallout from fake “Crimsons” has seldom spread beyond Cambridge, though a 1946 report that Harvard would drop football and perhaps all other sports prompted headlines and official denials. Other issues have claimed Memorial Hall would be razed (1939) and Harvard’s president would become Postmaster General in the Nixon Administration (1968).

But the chief target of the Lampoon’s mind games has always been the Crimson itself. The ’01 parody infuriatd the paper’s editors — “Crimeds,” in Lampoon-speak — by reproducing what the Bookman called “certain typographical errors for which the Crimson had become notorious.” In 1966, when Radcliffe junior Linda Mcveigh became the paper’s first female Managing Editor, the Lampoon broke the news a day early in a perfume-scented, pink-tinted extra that misspelled her name in the headline and claimed the entire Board had quit in protest. (The Lampoon, meanwhile, stayed all-male for another six years.) The next parody in September 1967 was “written entirely in sub-par high-school journalese . . . and distributed to freshmen the day before registration” — perfectly timed to blight the annual drive for new staff and subscribers.

Crimson parodies from 1966 and 1973
Making the Crimson see red in 1966 and 1973

On the eve of the Crimson’s elaborate centennial celebration in 1973, the parody uncovered an issue from 1872 that proved the party was a year late. “Crimson  editors, who the night before had unsuccessfully attempted to sabotage the prank by hijacking the issue from the Lampoon’s printer, were not amused,” the mag recalled in its own 100th birthday number; “some even talked of going to court to prevent future parodies of their newspaper.”

Lampoon, March 1958; “Lampoo” cover and poem, November 1958

Such talk came to nothing, and the two sides resumed swapping insults and abducting each others heirlooms and editors. Only once did the Crimson respond to a parody in kind: In November 1958, when the Lampoon was at its most exclusive and its sales had hit a postwar low, the paper came out with a 16-page magazine insert called “The Harvard Lampoo” (no “n”) that was snobbish, unfunny and even a bit smutty. John Berendt, chief Lampoon versifier and future author of Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, disputed the last point in a poem-to-the-editor that ended:

Your parody’s often obscene;
Now really, that’s being quite mean.
The
Lampoon is cruelish;
It’s morbid and ghoulish
But one thing it’s always — is clean.

Crimson parody from 1972
The first 1972 “Crimson” on the front page of the second.

Fearing readers were catching on, the Lampoon in 1963 put out Crimson parodies on consecutive days: The first, on November 10, reported that female guests would no longer be allowed in student housing; the second “humorlessly dismiss[ed] the fake of the day before and darkly warn[ed] of repercussions,”according to prank historian Neil Steinberg.

The same trick worked even better in 1972, during President Nixon’s historic visit to China. On Sunday, February 20, an unimpressive one-page “Extra” appeared claiming the trip had been cancelled. The next day — another Crime-less Washington’s Birthday — a very convincing six-page issue reported that the Lampoon’s prank had so offended the Chinese they’d cancelled the trip for real. “Even Crimson editors, who the day before had sniffed at the Lampoon extra, were forced to admit that the Monday edition was a success,” says the Anniversary Issue; “the kicker above the Crimson logo on Tuesday’s issue assured readers, ‘This really is … the Harvard Crimson.'”

Poonies pranking potential POTUS, 2015

In recent decades, the parodies have largely traded hoaxes for hilarity. Reactions only get heated when the jokes misfire — as happened in 1990, when back-to-back issues “designed to startle Harvard out of its complacency about a few persistent social problems” were accused of exhibiting the same homophobia, sexism and anti-Semitism they claimed to ridicule. The last time Poonies made headlines impersonating the Crimson — in 2015, when they fooled Donald Trump into accepting a fake endorsement — they did so in person and spread the news on a parody website. Current fake “Crimsons,” like real ones, appear simultaneously in ink and pixels.

Three-day bender: “Crimsons” from Jan. 20-22, 2018

In 2018, the Lampoon set a new record by issuing full-length “Crimsons” three days in a row and vowing to maintain the pace for an entire year. The ongoing lead story was more bizarre than clever — something about a freak mutation of actors Paul Rudd and Mila Kunis — and on Day 3 the staff admitted defeat in a report headlined “Harvard Lampoon Can’t Do This Shit Anymore.” “A recent Crimson survey revealed that zero people on campus have ever expressed interest in reading a parody version of the Crimson,” the story claimed, but the 2019 edition came out right on schedule. It’s the most recent edition on the Lampoon website, but parodies will surely return as the pandemic recedes. Just don’t look for them on April 1. — VCR

Crimosn parodies from 2017 and 2019
Crimes and punishments in 2017 and 2019

The Parodies:

This list has many gaps, especially post-1976. I’ll add more info as I find it. Items with asterisks(*) are discussed more fully in the text.

March 30, 1901: First stand-alone Crimson parody; bacteria escape laboratory.*

Spring 1909: First single-sheet insert in real Crimson.

Nov. 6, 1926: Princeton wins but coach dies at game.*

1928: Unknown content; production process recalled in Centennial Celebration (p. 241), which says 1,400 copies were printed.

Feb. 22, 1933: Nonexistent “Henry E. Clarke” named Harvard President.*

Feb. 22, 1939: Memorial Hall to be razed for student housing.

April 26, 1946: Harvard drops football, may drop all sports.*

Spring 1961: Half those accepted into Class of ’65 decide to go elsewhere.

Nov. 10-11, 1963: The first back-to-back parodies. Female guests banned; reactions to previous day’s hoax.

Jan. 16, 1966: Crimson Board quits over female editor.*

Sept. 17, 1967: Very unimpressive Crimson given to incoming freshmen.

Nov. 11, 1968: Harvard President Pusey named Postmaster General.

Feb. 20-21, 1972: Back-to-back parodies. Nixon’s China trip cancelled; China trip really cancelled.*

Jan. 23, 1973: Crimson misses its own centennial.*

Feb. 1975: Boston doctor Kenneth Edelin vows to “appeal his conviction in a widely-publicized abortion trial on grounds of self-defense.” (Hundredth Anniversary Issue)

Spring 1978: Unknown content; the Crimson later contrasts it with a “notably more witty, insightful, professional, informative, innovative, colorful, intelligible, and legible” Crimson parody done at Dartmouth.

Early summer 1979: Unknown content; the Crimson later calls it “one of their best efforts.”

April 23-24, 1990: Back-to-back parodies, the second attacked as offensive.*

Jan. 21, 2000: The fate of the Crimson president’s chair, which Poonies had stolen.

Feb. 2011: All classes cancelled when building keys lost.

Feb. 4, 2015: First parody to appear in print and on fake Crimson website (link now defunct).

Jan. 30, 2016: First inclusion of Crimson blog Flyby in the website parody. Flyby’s verdict: “Nice Try, Lampoon.”

Jan. 2017: “Most Interesting Seniors” feared missing. This and later parodies dated by month only.

Jan. 2018: Three Crimson parodies in as many days, all covering Paul Rudd-Mila Kunis mashup.*

Jan. 2019: Harvey Weinstein defends dean’s decision to defend Weinstein.

Portfolio: 10 Parodies from the 1920s

In an effort to pick up the posting pace just a bit, I’m introducing a new category called “Portfolio,” which will offer many pictures and few words. Today being palindromic 02/02/2020, it seems appropriate to begin with twenty magazine covers from the previous ‘2os: ten of them real, ten from parodies they inspired:

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1921; Harvard Lampoon, October 1921. (Above) The Journal was one of the first magazines to focus on connecting with readers, and the first to reach one million circulation.

New Republic and Advocate Parody

The New Republic, March 16, 1927 (and every week); Harvard Advocate, April 1, 1924. Between 1906 and 1937, the Advocate also parodied the Lampoon, The Atlantic Monthly, The Dial, Time and Saturday Review.

SatEvePost and Judge parody

The Saturday Evening Post, July 31, 1920; Judge, May 8, 1926: The first of a series of parodies published by Judge under editor Norman Anthony. The list of “contributors” at the bottom is a nod to the Post’s overwhelming lead in ad pages.

Vanity Fair, September 1926; Judge, October 23, 1926: A year earlier, Judge’s cover artist Rea Irvin had created the iconic first cover of The New Yorker.

Film Fun and Yale parody

Film Fun, November 1927; Yale Record, April 20, 1927: Film Fun mixed pinups, risque jokes and movieland gossip; future Record editor Dwight Macdonald helped spoof it his junior year.

The American Mercury, February 1925 (and every month); Northwestern Purple Parrot, March 1928.

The New Yorker, March 10, 1928; Harvard Lampoon, April 19, 1928.

Child Life and Purple Parrot parody

Child Life, October 1924; Northwestern Purple Parrot, April 1929.

The Sportsman, February 1929; Harvard Lampoon, April 18, 1929.

True Story, May 1929; Judge, Nov. 23, 1929.

— VCR

Wisconsin Octopus Parodies, 1920-1959

Six Octopus parodies.

The Magazine

Before The Onion, the most famous humor magazine to come out of Madison was the University of Wisconsin Octopus, b. November 1919, d. 1959, after UW officials found the May issue so offensive they extinguished the title. The editors did ask for it: On one page they reproduced an official warning to quit printing smut like the previous issue; on the others they parodied Playboy. The cover of “Blayboy” — a takeoff on Playboy’s for the same month — showed the mag’s eight-handed mascot joining three startled young ladies in a bubble bath. Bye bye, Octy.

Covers of Playboy and parody

Though they shared a cover date, Playboy’s May issue came out several weeks before Octy’s “Blayboy.” Right: Official displeasure

Sixty years on, Wisconsin seems willing to forgive and remember: There are now 281 Octopus issues in the UW Digital Collection, where they can be read by just anybody. “Blayboy” is represented only by a cover and its smutty predecessor is missing entirely, but most of the rest are on hand. Rather than link to individual issues, here’s the whole set.

First Octopus cover

Vol. 1, no. 1

Octy was UW’s third humor magazine, following the Sphinx (1899-1913) — also online, though I haven’t found any parody issues — and the short-lived Awk (1915-1917). It was started privately by three students who turned it over to the school after two profitable issues. The U. mostly left it alone, though a “risque cartoon” in 1928 “led for a time to a closer review of all material by the faculty majority on the Octy board of directors,” says UW’s official history. Despite vowing in its first editorial to make “no attempt to issue numbers regularly,” Octy appeared eight to ten times a year for 23 years before pausing for World War II. Its return in 1946 was misnumbered Vol. 25, an error never corrected.

1939's one-page Life spoof

Spoofing Life, 1939

Octy flourished in the ’20s. The history tells of “glossy, quarto-sized issues running as many as sixty-four pages, colored covers, clever cartoons and graphics by student artists, and humorous prose and poetry.” At the depth of the Depression issues shrank to sixteen pages and the price fell from a quarter to a dime, but for most of the ’30s Octy was “a handsome, professional-looking magazine, better in design that most of its peers, and nearly as attractive as Vanity Fair or [The] New Yorker, on both of whom it had a noticable crush,” according to uwalumni.com. It ranked high in college humor polls and sometimes addressed serious subjects: A 1938 story by future New York Times reporter Leonard Silk exposed the Fascist leanings of a new Wisconsin-based third party called the National Progressives, and in 1939 the mag ridiculed the DAR for not allowing Marian Anderson to sing at Independence Hall.

The first sign of postwar trouble was a nearly year-long gap after the December 1951 issue. When the mag reappeared in November 1952 it was briefly called The New Octopus, though editor Ken Eichenbaum joked(?) that it looked “so damn much like the old one that six of us have decided to hang it up and transfer to Marquette.” He didn’t even mention the long hiatus. Octy retrenched to six issues a year, briefly tried a “more mature” policy and hit the financial rocks in 1955-56. “Too many students are READING the Octy without BUYING it,” grumbled an ad in the May 1956 issue, which begged for a thousand students to pledge — “NOW!” — to subscribe next fall. They didn’t, and Octy vanished for three semesters, reappearing with three issues in spring 1958 and three more in ’58-59. The last twitch was an undated reprint collection the next year that failed to spark a fourth revival. Three decades would pass before UW produced another nationally known humor rag.

1951 DailyCardinal parody

Cover and three inside pages from Octy’s 1953 “Daily Cardinal” issue

II: The Parodies

Octy's 1920 "Vie Parisienne" cover.

May 1920

Though it modeled a cover on France’s racy La Vie Parisienne its first year, Octy produced few parodies before the 1930s and only about two dozen total. Nearly half were of the student newspaper, always impersonated under its real name: the Daily Cardinal. Most Cardinal parodies appeared as magazine pages on authentic (and cheaper) newsprint, though in 1953 a tabloid was printed separately and folded into the March number. (Such inserts tend to stray; the UWDC has the mag but no paper.) Octy’s “Cardinals” were dryer and funnier than most such efforts and not afraid to razz local heavyweights, including Wisconsin’s junior U.S. Senator from 1947 to 1957, Joe McCarthy.

Covers of Chicago Tribune and Time parodies

The Tribune was Octy’s only off-campus newspaper target, Time the only magazine hit twice.

Octy’s first big parodee was the Police Gazette, traditional reading matter of barber shops and saloons. It was a relic of grandpa’s day even in 1929, but the Bootleg Era saw the 1890s the way later generations saw the ’20s: as the last time people knew how to have fun. This foolery was followed by a jaundiced look at Hearst’s jingoistic Sunday magazine The American Weekly in 1935 and an even sharper mauling of the arch-Republican Chicago Tribune in ’38, cowritten by Leonard Silk. Octy didn’t attempt a cover-to-cover parody until 1949, when it put Republican Gov. Oscar Rennebohm, a very dark horse in the 1952 presidential stakes, inside the red borders of “Timf.” After that, parodies came out almost annually.

Pages from Octy's Life parody

Collegiate whimsey meets Korea and custom cars in Octy’s “Liff,” 1953

The 1949 Badger yearbook called “Timf” the magazine’s “best post-war issue” and claimed it outsold the Daily Cardinal. The 1950 edition called “The Old Yorker” “the editorial and financial high point of the year.” My choice for best mock Oc is 1953’s “Liff.” Too many college parodists were content to focus Life’s wide-ranging lens on their own anthills and play the findings relatively straight; Octy highjacked the format to satirize Hollywood movies, Congressional hearings, cheesecake photos and Life itsef: “We do not believe in slanting words or pictures,” the lead editorial declared. “People look too thin that way.” Even the Korean stalemate was played for laughs in the “war memoirs” of a male-turned-female photographer named after Marguerite Higgins but inspired by Christine (née George) Jorgensen, who in early 1953 was as famous as Mamie Eisenhower.

Real 1950 Flair cover

Flair, Feb. 1950

Octy’s oddest parody was “Flare,” a sendup of Flair. The brainchild of Fleur Cowles, wife of Look publisher Garnder Cowles, Flair was a lavish monthly blend of heavyweight bylines, trendy arts coverage and innovative graphic design, featuring pekaboo covers, half-size and translucent pages, bound-in booklets and accordion foldouts. It appeared for exactly one year starting February 1950 and was four months dead when “Flare” appeared in May 1951. Two years later, a parody of campus mag The Wisconsin Idea coincided with the real thing’s last issue. Thereafter Octy picked sturdier targets: Life, Mademoiselle, Time again (with Athletic Director Ivan B. Williamson on the cover) and, fatally, Playboy.

Octopus Parodies of the Wisconsin Daily Cardinal, 1932-1958:

(Issues are listed by volume and number in the Digital Collection, so I’ve included that.)

  • The Daily Cardinal, Vol. 13, no. 6, Feb. 1932 (16 pages + 1 cover)
  • —–, Vol. 15, no. 6, Feb. 1934  (18, some with real ads)
  • —–, Vol. 18, no. 6, Feb. 1937  (13, inc. 3-page “Collegiate Digest” photo section)
  • —–, Vol. 20, no. 8, April 1939 (4)
  • —–, Vol. 22, no. 3, Nov. 1941 (4)
  • —–, Vol. 25, no.6, Feb. 1947 (4)
  • —–, Vol. 26, no. 6, Feb. 1948 (8 + 1c)
  • —–, Vol. 27, no.7, March 1949 (8 + 1c)
  • —–, Vol. 28, no. 3, Nov. 1949 (8 + 1c)
  • —–, Vol. 29, no. 5, Feb.-March 1951 (8, called “1950 [1951]” online)
  • —–, Vol. 31, no. 4, March 1953 (insert, not online)
  • —–, (“Tri-Weakly Cardinal”), Vol. 32, no. 5, March 1954 (8)
  • —–, Summer 1958 (4, tabloid)

Other Octopus Parodies, 1920-1959:

  • La Vie Parisienne (“La Vie Wisconsienne”), Vol. 1, no. 5, May 1920 (cover only)
  • Police Gazette, Vol. 11, no. 1, September 25, 1929 (16 + 1c)
  • American Weekly (“American Weakly”), Vol. 17, no. 4, Dec. 1935 (10) (called “Vol. 15 [17]” online)
  • Chicago Daily Tribune, Vol. 20. no. 4, December 1938 (4)
  • Life (article: “Life Discloses the Happy Weekend of a Wisconsin Coed”), Vol. 21, no. 3, Nov. 1939 (1)
  • Time (“Timf”), Vol. 27, no. 5, Jan. 18, 1949 (44 + 4c)
  • The New Yorker (“The Old Yorker”), Vol. 28, no. 8, April 1950 (40 + 4c)
  • Flair (“Flare”), Vol. 29, no. 7, May 1951 (36 + 4c)
  • The Wisconsin Idea (“The Wisconsin Idear”), Vol. 31, no. 4, March 1953 (10)
  • Life (“Liff”), Vol. 31, no. 5, April 1953 (40 + 4c)
  • Mademoiselle (“Madmoiselle … and the Arts”), Vol. 33, no. 2, Dec. 1954, (28 + 4c)
  • Time (“Tum”), Vol. 34, no. 4, Feb. 1956 (28 + 4c)
  • Playboy (“Blayboy”), May 1959 (not online)

Sources:

E. David Cronon and John W. Jenkins. The University of Wisconsin: A History: Volume III: Politics, Depression, and War, 1925-1945 (U. of Wisconsin Press, 1994), pp 626-629.

Matt Rogge. “Through the Eyes of the Octopus,” uwalumni.com, posted July 12, 2017.

— VCR

Parodies of Mad, 1954-2019

Covers of 8 Mad parodies

Top: Crazy (1959), National Lampoon (1971), Bijou Funnies (1973), Hans Gamber (1986); bottom: West Point Pointer (1983), Simpsons Comics (2013), Syracuse Syracusan (1957), Esquire (1964)

Some folks can’t handle success. Last year, Mad (b. 1952) passed Judge (1881-1947) to become the longest-lived U.S. humor magazine, newsstand division. This summer, it announced its October 2019 issue — number 9 of the current series — would be the last to run all-new material. Number 10 has since emerged looking just as new, so the obits need updating, but number 9 is still a keeper for its clever recreation of Mad’s mid-’60s heyday.

Cover and 2 pages of Mad Tarantino issue

Tom Richmond channels Jack Davis (left) and Mort Drucker (right) in Mad # 9 (Oct. 2019).

TV Guide and Mad parodies from the film

Leo-as-Rick by Tom-as-Jack; cover of the DVD bonus.

The “Special Taratino Time Warp Issue” — actually, the first twelve pages plus covers — began as a prop in Quentin T.’s latest film, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood!, set in 1969. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a fading TV star whose one hit was an early-’60’s oater called Bounty Law. Tarantino commissioned Mad’s Tom Richmond to forge Jack Davis-style covers of Leo-as-Rick for Mad and TV Guide. The job grew to include a five-page Bounty Law spoof, “Lousy Law,” written by Andrew Secundo and drawn by Richmond in a fine pastiche of Mort Drucker’s early duoshade work. (They also did a second, digest-size parody for the film’s high-priced deluxe home edition.) “I was totally blown away by how much screen time [the art got] and how big it was displayed,” Richmond told the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna.

“Lousy Law” is the heart of the “Time Warp,” which also recycles Harvey Kurtzman’s nymphs-and-satyrs nameplate, an early Al Jaffee Fold-In, and real and fake ads. Peter Kuper apes Antonio Prohias’s “Spy vs. Spy” look, and Jon Adams approximates Dave Berg in a “Lighter Side” that links then to now and ushers in the rest of the issue. It’s a good-looking piece of self-kidding nostalgia and a convenient excuse to run this semi-comprehensive list of parodies of Mad. (For parodies in Mad, see here.)

Cover-only parodies not discussed here.

Not present: Cover-only parodies like these from Mod (1981), NatLamp (Aug. 1971), Wax Paper (Oct. 1978), Esquire and Texas Monthly (both June 1992), Weird Fiction Review #3 (2012), and Der Spiegel (July 20, 2019) are discussed nowhere in the text.

The list doesn’t include the dozens of wannabes examined in two excellent books: John Benson’s The Sincerest Form of Parody (2012) and Craig Yoe and Ger Apeldoorn’s Behaving Madly (2017). Nor does it note every publication that morphed a cover subject into Alfred or faked a Fold-In. The following vary in length and quality, but all have some heft: Most run three-plus pages and parody several articles; the handful that don’t have a mock cover are so noted.

Panel from "The Seventh Schlemiel"

J.S. Martin in “MADvocate” (1980)

The cover, “Spy vs. Spy,” Fold-In, Don Martin and “Lighter Side” are the most copied features, by my count. Only the bravest parodists attempt Drucker-style movie satires: The most successful before “Lousy Law” are Ernie Colon’s “Citizen Gaines” in National Lampoon and Jeff S. Martin’s “Seventh Schlmiel” in the Harvard Lampoon’s “MADvocate,” which is by far the best student spoof. Also the briefest.

Parodists have viewed Mad with feeling ranging from adoration to contempt, but their laughter is mostly affectionate. I’ve sorted them into four groups based on attitude and affiliation: the Usual Gang itself,  rivals and critics, college humorists, and miscellanous fans.

Parodies of Mad, 1954-2019, . . .

. . . by Mad Itself:

  • “Julius Caesar,” Mad #17, Nov. 1954, 7 pp., no cover.
  • “How to Put Out an Imitation of Mad,” Mad #41, Sept. 1958, 2 pp., no cover.
  • “Some Mad Articles You Never Got to See,” Mad #120, July 1968, 8 pp., no cover.
  • “Madde,” bonus in Mad Super Special #19, Fall 1976, 24 pp.
  • “The Book of Mad,” Mad #243, Dec. 1983, 5 pp.
  • “Mad: Tarantino Time Warp Edition,” Mad #9 (new series), Oct. 2019, 12 pp + 4c.
  • “Mad: No. 98, Oct. ’65,” bonus in Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood! 4K Ultra HD Collector’s Edition, Dec. 2019, 24 pp.

Mad could kid its own formulas but had no desire to share them. In the comic, Kurtzman and Wallace Wood namecheck eleven rivals, including EC stablemate Panic, then break the fourth wall to “point out the various routines” in “a typical-type lampoon” of the 1953 film Julius Caesar. The assumption that Mad pioneered those routines hovers unspoken. By contrast, “How to . . .” openly and sourly attacks Mad-the-mag’s copycats, some of whom sassed back. It’s less a parody than a humor-mag parts catalogue, but it reveals the professional pride behind the what-me-worry facade.

Panels from Mad self-parodies,

Clockwise from left: “How to Put out an Imitation of Mad” (1958) and “Julius Caesar” (1954), George Woodbridge in “Madde”(1976), a Berg’s-Eye View “You Never Got to See” (1968)

Later self-parodies are less meta. “Some Mad Articles You Never Got to See,” by Frank Jacobs, presents a dozen that supposedly “ended up dull” or otherwise misfired. Most are bland except “The Lighter Side of Death,” a cringe-worthy takeoff of Dave Berg drawn by Berg himself. In “Madde,” the Gang travel back to the Revolutionary Era for some Bicentennial satire. Lou Silverstone does the same for Biblical times in “The Book of Mad,” cramming a Noah’s Ark cover and seven story ideas into five pages.

. . . by Rivals & Critics:

  • “How To Put Out An Imitation of ‘Angry’,” Thimk #4, Dec. 1958, 1 p., no cover.
  • “How To Put Out An Imitation of Frantic,” Frantic #2, Dec. 1958, 2 pp., no cover.
  • “Bad,” Crazy, Charlton Publications, March 1959, 6 pp.
  • “Special Sophistication Issue: Bad,” Esquire, Aug. 1964, 5 pp.
  • “Mad,” National Lampoon, Oct. 1971, 15 pp.
  • “You Know You’re Grown Up When . . .” (article), National Lampoon, Sept. 1977, 2 pp., no cover.
  • “Mud,” in Trash, Trash Publishing Inc., March 1978, 10 pp.
  • “Müd,” ed. by Hans Gamber, Maya Verlag, Munich, Germany, 1986, 36 pp.
  • “Mad” [with “a” inverted], Barf #1, Revolutionary Comics, April 1990, 2 pp + 2c.

Pages from Crazy and Trash magazines.

Mocking Mad merch in Crazy’s “Bad” (1959) and Trash’s “Mud” (1978)

“How To Put Out an Imitation of Mad” didn’t go unanswered. Loco ran “How to Be A Copy-Cat” in October 1958; the next month Frenzy reprinted bits from Judge, Ballyhoo and the old Life in “How to Take All The Credit For Originating a Humor Magazine.” Thimk and Frantic piled on in December with parodies of the original story. The biggest pushback was “Bad,” a six-page look at “the great humor magazine that invented satire” (sarc.) in This Magazine Is Crazy, by future Mad and television writer Gary Belkin and artist Tony Couch, Jr. It mocks several long-gone features including Bob and Ray’s skits and the t-shirt ad. Trash delivered the most recent assault in its March 1978 debut; “Mud” looks a bit like Mad, but so do the 42 derivative pages around it. Though uncredited, it’s likely the work of  Trash editor Tony Tallarico.

Mad spoofs from Esquire and Barf

Two pages from Esquire’s “Bad” (1964); cover and page of Barf’s “Mad” (1990)

“For some time I too have been intrigued by the idea of doing a takeoff of Mad . . . and I wondered if it could be done,” Mad’s Larry Siegel wrote Esquire after its “Bad” appeared. “Well, I just saw yours, and believe me it hasn’t been done yet.” He went on to call the parody “cruel, vicious” and “more heavy-handed than Mad at its worst,” and ended with: “The guy who did your piece should have studied his subject more. You don’t do a takeoff of Mad simply by filling your article with ‘mainly,’ ‘gang,’ and ‘ecch.'” Siegel was too kind: Mad à la Esquire is an unrecognizable stew of horror comic, gags-and-gals humor and bathroom graffiti. Illustrator Blake Hampton may have glanced at the source material but didn’t bother imitating specific artists.

By contrast, National Lampoon’s John Boni, Sean Kelly and Henry Beard approached the job with the intensity of  ex-lovers. Though uneven, their “Mad” (see also here) comes closest to meeting Siegel’s standards — unlike the two-page filler “You Know You’re a Grown-Up When . . .” six years later. Munich’s Hans Gamber translated these and other NatLamp pieces in his spoof of Mad’s German edition, “Müd” (which, with umlaut, means “Tired”). I believe it’s the only Mad parody published outside the U.S. San Diego comic Barf offered humor in a punk-grunge-anarchist vein from 1990 to slightly later in 1990 (three issues); it gave fuddy-duddy Mad the finger in a few snide pages and is mainly notable for beginning on the back cover.

. . . by College Humor Magazines:

  • “Dam,” Syracuse Syracusan, March 1957, 32 pp.
  • “????,” Michigan Gargoyle, 1957-58, ?? pp.
  • “Mud,” U. of Massachusetts Yahoo, January 1965, 32 pp. + 4 c.
  • “MADvocate,” Harvard Lampoon, April 1980, 5 pp., no cover.
  • “Grad,” West Point Pointer, May 1983, 23 (of 44) pp. + 4 c.

Pages from college Mad parodies

Pages from Syracuse (1957), cover from U. Mass (1965), back cover from West Point (1983)

Mad was required reading for college humorists in the 1950s and ’60s, but most knew they lacked the chops to make a reasonable facsimile. The Syracusan tried anyway in March 1957, when black-and-white Mad was just two years old. “Dam” contains nearly 30 pages of original illustrated stories; many are funny, but they’d never pass for the real thing. Yahoo’s “Mud” and the Pointer’s “Grad” are cruder, though “Mud” found a clever way around Mad’s plug-free purity in “If Comic Strip Characters Patronized Our Advertisers.”

Two pages of the Lampoon's Madvocate

Two-fifths of the Harvard Lampoon’s 1980 Mad-Advocate merger

The Lampoon’s mashup of Mad with the highbrow Harvard Advocate starts with a strong premise and dispatches it in five brisk pages: Contents, Movie, “Don Martin,” Fold-In. Future Simpsons showrunners Mike Reiss and Al Jean, both ’91, contributed. Gargoyle’s parody is the big unknown: The 1958 Michigan yearbook says “this year’s Garg staff . . . satirized Mad,” but the Michigan Daily’s reviews don’t mention it. Anybody got a copy?

. . . by Fans:

  • “73,” 73 magazine, Wayne Green Inc., April 1967, 3 pp. + 1 c.
  • Bijou Funnies #8, Kitchen Sink Press, 1973, 36 pp.
  • Screw #1013, Milky Way Productions, Inc., Aug. 1, 1988, ?? pp.
  • Jab #1, Cummings Design Group, Spring 1993, 24 pp. + 4 c.
  • “Bits and Pieces,” Hustler, Sept. 1995, 13 pp.
  • Chunklet #14, pub. by Henry H. Owings, 1998, 2 pp. + 2 c.
  • The Comics Journal, Fantagraphics, July 2000, 3 pp. + 2c.
  • We’re MAD … about Machine Vision, Cognex Corp., Dec. 31, 2002, 12 pp + 1c.
  • “D’oh,” in Simpsons Comics #203, Bongo Comics Group, June 3, 2013, 7 pp. + 1c.

Pages from 73 and Bijou

Cover and Spies from 73 (1967); opening page from Bijou (1973)

Sometimes, kids who fall in love with Mad grow into adults with access to printing presses; the results can turn up anywhere from porn mags to earnings reports. In 1967, Wayne Pierce drew an Alfred E. Neuman cover and “Ham vs. Ham” for the amateur radio monthly, 73. (The title is short-wave for “Best Regards.”) R. Crumb, Bill Griffith and other heavyweights mocked each other’s creations in the eighth and final issue of Bijou Funnies in the spirit of Mad comics. Editor Jay Lynch wrote an EC-style anti-censorship editorial and parodied Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. The cover was drawn by fabulous though not furry Harvey Kurtzman, who started the whole thing.

Cover of Screw (1988)

Screw (1988)

Screw’s August 1, 1988, front shows owner Al Goldstein grinning gap-toothed beneath the headline “Alfred E. Neuman’s Sex Secrets” as his old pal Bill Gaines vomits in the background. (Don’t ask how Screw treated people Goldstein didn’t like.) Inside are a long interview with Gaines and X-rated spoofs of Berg, Martin and the spies. Those features also turn up in Hustler’s 1995 salute, along with “You Know Your Girlfriend’s a Slut When…” and similar delicacies. It’s one of the longest Mad parodies at thirteen pages and captures Mad’s look and rhythm, but the humor ranges from juvenile to hateful and too many panels are “improved” by ‘shopped-in nudes.

Chunklet was a music and comedy magazine out of Athens, Georgia, known for its putdowns of “overrated” acts (basically all of them) and unhurried schedule (twenty issues in fifteen years, the last in 2008). Issue #14, undated but copyright 1998, says “completely Mad” up front but delivers only a bleakly funny “Pomo Spy vs. Pomo Spy” by Ted Rall and an advertiser’s Fold-In. There are clues that a longer parody was planned and dropped: Chunklet.com calls #14 “The Mad Magazine Issue, a.k.a. The Cease & Desist Issue.” The cover of The Comics Journal #225 was painted by Kelly Freas, Mad’s cover artist from 1958 to 1962; TCJ also imitated Mad’s contents, letters pages and Fold-In to plug interviews with Jaffee, Jack Davis and Al Feldstein.

Pages from Chunklet and Comics Journal

Chunklet’s cover and Ted Rall’s pomo Spies (1993); TCJ’s cover and Fold-In (2000)

Cognex Corp. of Massachusetts makes robotic gadgets that can see defective products on assembly lines. In 2002, founder Robert Shillman got so “MAD about the negative effect of the worldwide economic slowdown” he made it the theme of the company’s annual report. The usual one-pagers are present, all involving gags about machine-vision quality-control systems. Highlights are the uncredited Norman Mingo-style cover and the very idea of doing such a thing. Jab was a humor mag out of Birmingham, Alabama, in the early ’90s that doubled as a sampler for publisher Frank Cumming’s design firm; all four issues contain Mad-like illustrated satires, but only #1 makes the connection explicit.

Mad parodies by Jab, Cognex and Simpsons Comics

Covers from Jab (1993) and Cognex (2002); “Don Martin” by Cognex and Simpsons Comics (2013)

Simpsons Comics #203 may be the most loving tribute: The lead story is about Krusty the Clown’s attempts to profit off Bart’s hand-drawn comic book “Bad” (renamed “D’oh!” because the title was too close to goth monthly “Sad”). The flip-side samples “D’oh” itself, bending the usual Simpsons line just enough to hat-tip Drucker, Martin and Aragones. Bongo Comics shut down last October after Simpsons Comics #245, and Mad is tottering, so I’ll close with the final panel of “The Rise and Fall of D’oh.” —VCR

Simpson's panel of "Doh!" mag's funeral

Online: Collier’s WW3 & Shaft’s “Collera’s,” 1951-52

Collier's cover and Shaft's parody

Collier’s cover, by Richard Deane Taylor (1951), and Shaft’s response (1952).

Parody Of: Collier’s, Oct. 27, 1951. Title:Collera’s,” for Oct. 27, 1951
In: U. of Illinois Shaft, Jan. 1952. Format: 13 b&w pages + 1 cover.

Magazine parodies rarely focus on one particular issue of their subjects, but the “preview” of World War III that filled Collier’s on October 27, 1951, made a big enough splash to earn its own spoof. Printed copies are scarce, but luckily both have been posted online in their entirety. (Links above.) Together they capture the nation’s jittery mood during the coldest years of the Cold War, between the outbreak of fighting in Korea in 1950 and the death of Stalin in 1953.

Mushrooms over Moscow in Collier’s, Oct. 27, 1951.

Collier’s’ what-if was assembled by associate editor Cornelius Ryan, future author of The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far, after “study and consultation with top political, military and economic thinkers, including high-level Washington officials and foreign-policy experts.” Supposedly written in 1960, it begins in 1952, when a bungled Soviet attempt to assassinate Yugoslavia’s Marshall Tito sets the tanks rolling. The Good Guys eventually win, but only after millions on both sides die in A-bomb attacks. (Alt-history buffs should read Ron Miller’s detailed play-by-play at GorillaWorldPress.com.) After that bitter pill, a score of writers from Arthur Koestler to Walter Winchell share their visions of the next postwar world, where communism is defunct and Moscow hosts fashion shows.

The assumption there would be a world post-War No. 3 may strike today’s readers as the least likely part of the scenario, especially after they see Chesley Bonestell’s lurid, full-page paintings of the Kremlin, U.S. Capitol and other landmarks melting under nuclear fireballs. But the hydrogen bomb was still under wraps in 1951; A-bombs were relatively small and hard to come by, and the dangers of fallout largely unknown. Within a few years all that changed, opening the gates for apocalypses like On the Beach (1957) and Red Alert (1958), the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Excerpts from Collier's and Shaft

Collier’s (left) and “Collera’s” make their cases.

The sober realists in Collier’s roundup could still picture total war ending in victory — they’d seen it happen, nukes and all, just six years earlier — and the contributors who had dealt with Stalin’s regime weren’t shy about hailing its demise in essays titled “Freedom at Long Last” and “We Worship God Again.” Lest this seem a bit trigger-happy, the editors reminded readers this was a “PREVIEW OF THE WAR WE DO NOT WANT” across dozens of pages in prophylactic capitals. Meanwhile, all the usual features and fillers were either dropped or drafted into service, including the usually featherweight love story and cartoons. Mike Ingram of bookfightpod.com recently called the result “one part anti-communist propaganda and one part teenage war fantasy.” Some early-’50s readers felt a similar disconnect: As the parody put it, “Oh, do we hate war. Ugh! Here’s a whole issue about it.”

Shaft, Jan. 1952

That jibe appeared not in some pinko-pacifist Greenwich Village organ but in Shaft, the off-campus humor magazine at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Set up by returning World War II vets as a for-profit business, Shaft at first pledged “to avoid the pitfalls of smutty material which have wrecked every previous attempt to publish a strictly college humor mag here,” the Daily Illini reported in 1947. In reality, it soon migrated to the gals-‘n’-gags end of the college-humor spectrum, correctly assuming its mostly male readers would overlook primitive design and sloppy paste-up if given enough raunch. Future film critic Gene Shalit and Mad writer Larry Siegel boosted the satire content in early years, while an ambitious young man named Hugh Hefner supplied cartoons.

Shaft was a headache for U. of I. officials from the start, despite never being their baby. The end came when copies of the “lewd” April 1954 issue were sold to high-schoolers in town for their statewide basketball tournament. Offended parents blamed the U., which threatened “disciplinary action” against students aiding and abetting Shaft. The mag cut local ties and moved to Chicago, where it lasted another year.

Covers of Shaft's other parodies.

Shaft also mocked the Post (1950), Esquire (1951) and fan mags (1952), the last featuring MM.

Shaft ran only four magazine parodies in its seven years in Champaign. A 14-page “Saturday Evening Pest” filled the back half of the October 1950 issue, followed by “Esqueer” in the same spot in April 1951. The next school year brought “Collera’s” and a generic movie mag called “Succulent Screen” in January and April 1952. All four reused art and headlines from their targets, which if not cheating is still the laziest way to achieve a likeness. Only “Collera’s” put much satiric spin on its model, reversing WWIII’s outcome and Collier’s’ allegiance to expose the triumphalism behind the caveats and hand-wringing.

Cartoon and Illustration from Collier's

Left: Bill Mauldin’s G.I.s Willie and Joe gave Collier’s war-gaming its most human touch. Right: Predicted Russian editions of Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, Time, Life, Collier’s and SatEvePost.

“Collera’s” main target, though, is not war as much as the kind of thinking that reduces war to a thought experiment with paper casualties. Though G.I.-Bill enrollment was falling fast by 1951-52, roughly a quarter of American college men that year were World War II veterans, and the percentage was higher at tech-focused schools like Purdue. The men who created “Collera’s” had either seen war up close or were steeling themselves to face it in Korea. College mags didn’t debate the draft and foreign policy in 1950-53 with the fervor they showed in 1940-41 before Pearl Harbor, but from Yale to UCLA, old jokes about the consequences of flunking out acquired a sour edge.

Collier's and Shaft inside art.

Armageddon and absurdity in Collier’s and “Collera’s.”

Some pages of “Collera’s” are typical collegiate wackiness (the decisive battle becomes a Russian assault on U.S. canned tuna reserves). Others view official wisdom and motives with a skepticism that seems more late-’60s that early-’50s. And when the parody translates Collier’s’ uncomfortable mix of righteousness and realpolitik into Russian-accented gangster-speak (“This is only what you might be calling a helpful hint — just in case!“), it sounds positively contemporary.   —VCR

Playboy Parodies 1: College, 1955-1989

Twelve collegiate Playboy parodies.

Parodies by Penn State Froth, Harvard Lampoon, Clemson Chronicle, NYU Vulture, MIT Voo Doo, Purdue Engineer, Purdue Rivet, Cal Pelican, Annapolis Log, Tulane Urchin, Amherst Sabrina, West Point Pointer.

Parodies of Playboy fall roughly into two groups and two eras: those created by college students, mostly in the 1950s and ’60s, and those done by commercial publishers, mostly in the ’70s and ’80s. The catalyst for the shift was the Harvard Lampoon’s “Pl*yb*y,” a glossy, 102-page spoof that sold more than half a million copies in the fall of 1966. Its production values — including a full-color centerfold of a real, live naked lady — were impressive enough to discourage most amateurs, while its success on newsstands showed the pros there were Big Bucks to be had from this parody thing. This post deals with ersatz Playboys produced at U.S. colleges and universities; the next will tackle commercial and foreign specimens.

Illinois Chaff, 1958.

In its 20th Anniversary issue, Playboy boasted of being “parodied more often than any other magazine in the world.” I’m not sure that’s true (see here), but there’s no question it was the most parodied magazine on campus from its birth in 1953 until the Lampoon shattered the backboard in ’66. “Every year college publications across the nation issue one best issue, … usually a parody of a national magazine,” the Illinois Chaff said in 1958. “When the artists and writers of Chaff looked around for a publication to parody, they didn’t have to look far. Leading the newsstand derby by miles was a publication which college men use as a yardstick of sophistication and urban living.”

The attraction ran both ways: Playboy founder Hugh Hefner had edited Chaff’s predecessor Shaft in the late ’40s, and his new magazine — with its cartoons, girls of the month, and focus on liquor, love and laughs — was in many ways a college humor mag writ large. Not too large, however: A typical Playboy from the mid-’50s had fewer than 80 pages, used color sparingly and carried little advertising. A talented college staff could produce a pretty good likeness on the cheap, which wasn’t the case with Esquire or Life or the Ladies’ Home Journal — or Playboy itself a few years later.

Cover of 1955 Arizona Playgirl

Arizona Kitty Kat, 1955.

From the start, Playboy had a soft spot for parodies. The Arizona Kitty Kat’s April 1955 “Playgirl,” which may have been the first, opened by thanking Playboy for permission to copy its format and style, a favor later extended to dozens of campus copycats. Playboy gave the Lampoon so much help with “Pl*yb*y” it was practically a co-publisher: “We cold-called Hefner to ask his permission,” the Lampoon’s Henry Beard recalled. “Not only does he say he’d love to have it parodied, but he says, ‘I’ll arrange for you to use my printing plant. I will tell them that you’re solid citizens. And all you guys have to do is make sure you get signatures from some of your rich graduates on the bill to make sure we don’t get stiffed.’”

Such help carried a few strings: “We must be afforded the opportunity to review the layout and art work of the cover in final form so that we can be certain that the parody will not be confused with the real McCoy,” Playboy’s William M. Klein wrote the Lampoon, adding that the parody should “maintain the standards heretofore evidenced by products of the Harvard Lampoon. It is only because of our high regard for your standards that the permission which you have requested is being granted. We would not wish material from the parody reprinted in non-prestigious or competitive publications.”

Cover and pages from Yale's 1958 Ployboy

Cover girl for “Ployboy” was Yale Drama student Carrie Nye, who also graced an inside feature.

Most of the early parodies are pure emulation, sometimes with a twist. Three are called “Playgirl” and display men dressed either scantily or to the nines. The former are usually hairy and unkempt and not at all sexy. (Sometimes the only way to get skin past a censor is to play it for laughs.) Elsewhere, centerfolds ranged from rag dolls to rabbits; those that featured actual women tended to display them either clothed or carefully cropped. The left third of Chaff’s “Payboy” foldout showed an attractive model’s legs; readers who opened it found a black rectangle blocking the rest of her. The Yale Record’s 1958 “Ployboy” replaced most of its centerfold with a (genuine?) letter from the printer explaining that plates for a three-page, full-color photo would cost a budget-busting $1,480.

Cover and three pages from Texas Ranger's 1963 Playbull

Gilbert Shelton spoofed Annie Fanny and Jules Feiffer in the Texas Ranger’s 1963 “Playbull.”

The Record was one of several college comics to spoof Playboy twice, but the most prolific parodist wasn’t a magazine but a yearbook. In 1959, the editors of La Ventana at Texas Tech split its contents into eight separately printed sections made up to resemble popular magazines and packaged them in a three-ring binder: “Tyme” focused on the year’s major events, “Mademoiselle” on sororities, and so on, with “Playboy” handling social life and fraternities. A few titles changed over the years, but “Playboy” was in the mix every year through 1973, when the format was dropped. La Ventana’s “Playboys” were about 10 percent parody and 90 percent standard yearbook, but what little spoofing they did, they did well, especially the covers and foldouts.

Covers and foldouts from three yearbooks.

Yearbook pinups from South Carolina (1974), Kansas Med School (1969) and Texas Tech (1969).

The same is true of the Garnet and Black at the University of South Carolina, which picked up the parody torch from Texas Tech. Its 1974 and ’75 editions spoofed eight mags including National Lampoon, Ms. and Southern Living. The G&B called its version of Playboy “Carolinamen,” possibly to avoid riling local bluenoses, but the resemblance was unmissable. The 1969 Jayhawker M.D., a.k.a. “Playdoc,” from the Kansas Med School is the only attempt I know of to extend a Playboy spoof through an entire yearbook. Its 200-plus pages featured two foldouts, one of which could almost pass for the real thing (above).

Addis apes Wilson in “Peelboy.”

The best of the collegiate parodies mocked the Playboy lifestyle even as they copied it. “We considered ourselves serious satirists with a sense of fun, not just naughty fellows,” recalled Frank Stack, who edited the Texas Ranger’s second parody in 1963. “[We] aspired to the kind of authoritative satire of the New Yorker and Punch, rather than the sophomoric tone of Playboy.” Stack (a.k.a. “Foolbert Sturgeon”) and Wonder Wart-Hog creator Gilbert Shelton gave the Ranger’s takeoff some of the sass and irreverence they brought to underground comics. Their “Playbull,” the UCLA Satyr’s 1964 “Preyboy” (edited by Harry Shearer) and the Lampoon’s “Pl*yb*y” are the most fun to reread today. Highlights elsewhere include Don Addis’s cartoons in the Florida Orange Peel’s “Peelboy,” the photobombed fashion spread in the Cal Pelican’s “Peliboy,” and the backtalk to the Playboy Advisor in the Amherst Sabrina’s “Playboy” — which somehow got away with not altering the name.

Not everyone appreciated these homages. Administrators found the Wisconsin Octopus’s 1959 “Blayboy” so offensive they made it Octy’s last issue. The Stanford Chaparral and its grad-student editor Bradley Efron were both suspended over 1961’s “Layboy,” the editor for two quarters, the mag indefinitely. “They got me on sacrilege,” Efron said then. “The thing that did it was a Ribald Classic version of the Nativity. The University was flooded with protests from the local clergy. … It was my first issue. It was a little dirty, but no dirtier than previous issues. We sold about twice as many issues as usual, though. You can’t get anybody to part with his copy now.” Fortunately, both magazine and editor were back by the end of the year; Efron eventually became Professor of Statistics at Stanford and in 1983 was awarded a MacArthur Foundation genius grant.

The most recent kerfuffle came in 1989, when the Log at the U.S. Naval Academy put out a “Playmid” that featured midshipmen’s girlfriends in bathing suits. Decrying “sexual stereotyping,” Academy superintendent Virgil Hill Jr. ordered all 5,000 copies destroyed. About a hundred weren’t, and one made its way to Playboy, which reprinted excerpts in September 1989. “Destroy 5,000 copies, end up with 18,000,000 readers,” Playboy wrote. “That’s the lesson in censorship.” The Log may have learned a different lesson: There had been at least three previous parodies of Playboy at Annapolis, but there hasn’t been one since.

Nor has there been one anywhere else, as far as I’ve found. Apart from the Lampoon, few current college mags have the money or resources to parody slick national magazines. Even if they did, they wouldn’t target Playboy, which now has one-tenth its 1970s circulation and hasn’t been a yardstick of sophistication for decades.

Covers of 6 Playboy parodies

Pseudo Playboys from Texas (1956), Florida (1959), Wisconsin (1959); Stanford (1961), U. Mass-Amherst (1964) and UCLA (1964); at right, the covers they copied.

This inventory is surely incomplete, but it contains all the college parodies of Playboy I know of. (For some, their existence is all I know of.)  I’ve tried to include school name, parody-issuing publication (in italics), parody title (in quotes), date and page count (in parentheses) in each listing. Parodies that don’t include front and back covers in their page numbering are marked “+ 4.” (FYI, the “+ 8” for the 1958 “Ployboy” isn’t a typo; it was distributed behind a second cover with the Yale Record nameplate to pacify the Post Office.)  The word “in” before a date means the issue’s front cover wasn’t part of the parody; “no cover” and “article” denote parodies that don’t begin with fake covers. As always, I’d welcome additions and corrections.

Playboy Parodies I: College, 1955-1989

A. By Magazines

Princeton's 1955 Placebo.

Princeton Tiger, 1955.

1950s:
Princeton Tiger: “Placebo,” 1955
Arizona Kitty Kat: “Playgirl,” April 1955 (36 pages)
Oregon State Beaver Dam: “Beaver Dam,” Dec. 1955 (28)
Indiana Crimson Bull: “Playbull,” March 1956 (28)
Texas Ranger: “Playgirl,” March 1956 (36 + 4)
Penn State Froth: “Playgirl,” April 1956 (64)
Purdue Rivet: “Playbouy,” May 1956 (32 + 4c)
Michigan Gargoyle: “Plowboy,” Nov. 1956
Tulane Urchin: “Gayboy,” c. 1956-57
Babson Inst. Beaver: “Playbeaver,” c. 1956-58
Cornell Widow: “Play Boy,” Dec. 1957 (36)
Yale Record: “Ployboy,” Feb. 1958 (86 + 8)
Ohio U. Green Goat: “Pla_boy,” March 1958 (40)
Illinois Chaff: “Payboy,” May 1958 (32 + 4)
NYU Vulture: “Payboy,” [spring] 1959
Annapolis LogSplinter: “Playbouy,” April 10, 1959
Florida Orange Peel: “Peelboy,” May 1959 (44 + 4)
Wisconsin Octopus: “Blayboy,” May 1959

1960s:
Penn State Froth: “Playboy,” April 1961 (38 + 4)
Amherst Sabrina: “Playboy,” May 1961 (24 + 4)
Stanford Chaparral: “Layboy,” June 1961 (60 + 4)
Cornell Widow: “Gayboy,” March 1962
Texas Ranger: “Playbull,” March 1963 (40 + 4)
California Pelican: “Parody,” in May 1963 (13, no cover)
Yale Record: “Pwayboy,” Feb. 1964 (52 + 4)
UCLA Satyr: “Preyboy,” June 1964 (38 + 4)
U. Mass-Amherst Yahoo: “Preyboy,” June 1964 (40 + 4)
MIT Voo Doo: “Gayboy,” Feb. 1965 (36 + 4)
West Point Pointer: “Prayboy,” March 26, 1965 (32 + 4)
California Pelican: “Playgoy’s Handy Guide to Successful Summer Seduction” (article), in May 1965 (5)
Clemson Chronicle: “Plowboy,” May 1965 (36 + 4)
Stanford Chaparral: “Layboy,” June 1965 (56 + 4)
California Pelican: “Peliboy,” May 1966 (56 + 4)
Princeton Tiger“Placebo”, May 1966
Harvard Lampoon: “Pl*yb*y,” Fall 1966 (102 + 4)
Annapolis Log: “Log,” April 18, 1969

1970s on:
Purdue Engineer: “Playboy Engineer,” March 1970 (34 + 4)
Emory Spoke: “Playbod,” March 1979
Northwestern Rubber Teeth: “The Girls of the Midwestern Schools With Ridiculously High Tuition and Habitually Defeated Football Teams” (article), in Spring 1980 (2)
Annapolis Log: “Playmid,” March 1984
Hofstra Nonsense: “Playdoh,” in Nov. 1988 (5)
Emory Spoke: “Playspoke,” Dec. 1988
Annapolis Log: “Playmid,” March 1989

B. In Yearbooks

Texas Tech La Ventana, “Playboy,” 1959-1973
Kansas Med. School Jayhawker, “Playdoc,” 1969
U. of South Carolina Garnet and Black, “Carolinamen,” 1974-75

— VCR (updated 11/13/19)

 

Jester’s “Columbia College Toady,” 1969

Covers of real CCT and Today

Two flags over Math Hall, one accompanied by Santa Claus.

Parody Of: Columbia College Today. Parody By: Jester of Columbia.
Title: “Columbia College Toady.” Date: April 1969. Format: 8.375″x11″ stapled magazine, 32 pp. + covers. Availability: Very scarce.

The Columbia Jester’s 1969 parody of the school’s alumni mag is no match for such classics as “Liff” (1948) and “Reader’s Dijest” (1949), but the wonder is it exists at all. “Columbia College Toady” was Jester’s only issue of any kind between fall 1967 and April 1971. It was also the last major parody produced by a magazine not named Lampoon during the Golden Age of college humor, and one of the few to address the upheaval that helped bring that age to an end.

The spark for “Toady” was the real Columbia College Today’s coverage of the student uprising in the spring of 1968. What started as a protest against putting the school’s new gym in Harlem’s Morningside Park became national news when radicals led by Mark Rudd, head of Columbia’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), occupied five campus buildings on April 23rd, including president Grayson Kirk’s offices. For six days administrators dithered, then let police forcibly evict the protesters, which satisfied no one and led to classroom boycotts and a second, shorter occupation in May. The year ended with canceled exams, competing graduation ceremonies and bad feelings all around.

Excerpts from both introductions

Excerpts of intros to the real CCT (left) and “Toady.”

In response, editor George C. Keller held off publishing the Spring CCT until he could complete a long, detailed and sometimes personal account of the Recent Unpleasantness. When the issue finally appeared in January 1969, still dated “Spring 1968,” Keller’s “Six Weeks That Shook Morningside” filled most of its 96 pages. The cover showed a red flag flying over one of the occupied buildings, Mathematics Hall. Inside, every sidebar, photo, drawing and pull-out quote dealt with the uprising and its aftermath — usually disapprovingly. Even the Annual Fund ad sighed, “College today is a different world.”

Keller’s report won him an Education Writer of the Year award from the Atlantic Monthly, but on campus it pleased almost no one. Columbia Daily Spectator reviewer Robert Friedman called it “the worst thing that I have read on the events of last spring. … The issues are minimized and the crisis is blamed on the manipulative tactics of a small band of militant radicals.” Activist faculty demanded the school “publicly repudiate” Keller’s “errors of fact, distortions of history and assassination of character.” Later reviews have been kinder. James C. Shaw, a freshman in Spring ’68, praised Keller in CCT in 2008 for his “research, serious discussion of ideas and his obvious passion and anguish,” and found his portrait of Kirk and Co. about as harsh as you could expect from a mag aimed at old grads and potential donors. (You can read Shaw’s article here.)

Art from CCT and Toady

Stanley Wyatt’s zoo in CCT prompted Jester’s Lincoln Perry to make critters of provost David Truman, acting dean Henry Coleman, president Grayson Kirk and his successor Andrew Cordier.

Enter Jester. “We are presently at work on a malicious, vicious, and nasty parody,” the editors said in the February 14 Spectator. “We are anxious to meet malicious, vicious, and nasty people. You can bear your fangs in Room 304 F.B.H. [Ferris Booth Hall] at 10 p.m. tonight.” Turnout must have been poor, for a second ad in late March began: “Many people have been asking whatever happened to Jester. The three or four people left on the staff have been working on a parody of Columbia College Today for several weeks. However, there is a limit to the amount of work that four people can do. If you are really interested in seeing this issue come out — and it is an issue which promises to be the funniest in years — you can show your interest by attending the staff meeting tonight … If we do not get your help, we will not be able to publish a complete parody.”

First words of CCT and Toady

The report’s opening words, before and after Jesterization.

The parody finally appeared in mid-May, a month after the cover date, with the cover line, “96 Pages That Distorted Six Weeks That Shook Morningside.” Most readers were underwhelmed. “A Great Idea, But…” ran the headline of David Rosen’s review in the Spectator, which praised the writers for capturing “the pompous, overblown style of the Keller original,” but faulted them for not having a point of view. “In their version of the Great Disruption, everybody, from Kirk to Rudd, comes out looking like an idiot,” Rosen wrote. “Some of the resulting caricatures — Dean [Henry] Coleman as the dumb jock, Kirk as the bumbling fool, Rudd as the wild-eyed revolutionary — are fairly amusing, but these, like everything else in the issue, are entirely predictable.”

Three poems from Toady

Putting dirty words in the mouths of the Great and Good will never not be funny.

Some of the problem was structural: When the report appeared, Jester editor Tom Kramer parceled it out in chucks to his “three or four” staffers for rewrites, then knitted their contributions together. The result is less a parody of Keller than a condensation peppered with jokes and insults; it sticks too close to events to admit the fantasy and nonsense that are college humor’s strengths. The best bits are the briefest: the photo captions, the obscene poems attributed to faculty luminaries, and the wheedling desperation of the fake Annual Fund appeal.

“As I sat there, with CCT in one hand and ‘Toady’ in the other, I found it increasingly difficult to determine which one I was reading,” Rosen wrote. Both publications seem unhappy with the tasks they set themselves: Keller strains after objectivity despite identifying with one side of the conflict and being largely clueless about the other; the Jester crew spell out Keller’s implied disdain for The Kids and throw their own barbs at The Man, but often they seem on autopilot. Individual jokes land but don’t build, and the whole thing lacks exuberance. For all its rowdy disdain, “Toady” feels distant from the passions that had convulsed Columbia the previous spring.

Back covers of CCT and Toady

Their back pages: Famous quotes from Burke (real) and Hitler (spurious).

Tom Kramer told James Shaw in 2008 that the parody “was more a reaction to the reaction to [Keller’s] issue than to the issue itself.” When meta-commentary reaches this level, humor tends to gasp for air. “None of us was terribly political,” Kramer also said. That may help explain why only “three or four” Columbia students thought a humor magazine was worth their time in 1968-69. — VCR

Harvard’s “New York Times,” March 7, 1968

Parthanon falls in the Lampoon's Times

Reports of (weeping over) the Parthenon’s death were greatly exaggerated.

Parody OfThe New York TimesTitle: “The New York Times”
Parody By: Harvard LampoonDate: March 7, 1968. Length: Front page only?
Contributors: Rob Hoffman, Jonathan Cerf, Peter Gable. Availability: Very rare; reprinted in the Harvard Lampoon Centennial Celebration (pp. 38-39) and 100 Years of Harvard Lampoon Parodies (pp. 30-31).

Fifty years ago today, on March 7, 1968, the Harvard Lampoon pulled off one of the great college pranks, replacing the 2,000 copies of The New York Times distributed in Cambridge with a year-old paper inside a fake front page. Among the headlines: “Khesanh Airlift Proves Mistake,” “Governor Warns of Water Surplus,” “Ancient Parthenon Topples As Quake Rocks Greece.” Only a few items hinted something might be amiss: A one-sentence notice that the Times would begin printing funnies, for instance, or the bland headline, “Walrus in Central Park Zoo Speaks.”

“Most fake newspapers err on the side of burlesque, but the 1968 Times is masterfully subtle.” Neil Steinberg wrote in If At All Possible, Involve a Cow. “The stories are alarming — with headlines such as ‘Castro Seizes U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo’ — but not implausible…. There were some ludicrous touches … but you had to stop and read the thing to catch them. In all, it made for a neat package that caused a lot of momentary puzzlement.”

The Lampoon recalled things more dramatically: “In a daring 4 a.m. maneuver, Poonies had substituted their version of the morning news for that contained in the March 7 Times, and then sat back to watch the impact,” Martin Kaplan wrote in 1973’s Centennial Celebration. “One woman wept to learn of the Parthenon’s collapse, and amazed students combed page 30, column 2, to discover what the Central Park Zoo walrus had actually said. Most disturbing of all, however, was the reaction of one faculty club member who carefully read the entire bogus front page and the year-old Times it enclosed without any distress whatsoever.” Three years later, in 100 Years of Harvard Lampoon Parodies, the weeping woman had been replaced by “Harvard’s senior classics professor [who] was so grief-stricken at the Parthenon’s collapse that he cancelled his classes.” (Steinberg, a stickler for facts, says there “no evidence” for any weeping professor stories.)

The Lampoon put as much care into distributing its “Times” as it did into creating it, maybe more. The plot almost unravelled at the start, when the Poonies’ order for a thousand copies of its March 2, 1967, issue raised eyebrows at the real Times. “Inquiries were initiated, and members of The Lampoon explained that delft wall tiles had been ordered and delivered defective and that The Times was considered ideal for wrapping them to be returned,” the Newspaper of Record wrote the day after the parody appeared:

“Then Mr. [Rob] Hoffman, a sophomore, and his two key assistants, Jonathan Cerf, son of Bennett Cerf, the book publisher, and Peter Gabel, son of Martin Gabel and Arlene Francis, went more deeply underground. A few weeks ago, as deadline time neared, several of the Lampoon’s trusted spies were assigned to trailing distributors of the genuine Times, noting which newsstands were major drops.

“Wednesday night, other valiants from The Lampoon went to Times Square area and gathered up some 500 copies of the Thursday morning paper shortly after they hit the street. With these papers they flew back to Cambridge. In this the men of Lampoon were being particularly devious. They reasoned that many Harvard students who got the fake edition of The Times might turn first to the sports page and realize the hoax. Those 500 copies are this morning’s Times except for Page One.

“But no such precautions were taken for Cambridge residents who get their papers from newsstands. Those copies had the false Page One wrapped around the edition of last year’s March 2 edition.

According to Sheldon Cohen, operator of the newsstand kiosk in Harvard Square, no one has requested a refund for the parodied Times.” (“The Times Gets a Lampooning at Harvard,” NYT, March 8, 1968, p 36.)

The same day the Times‘ unsigned but obviously inside-sourced account appeared, the Lampoon’s old adversary the Crimson tried to spoil the party: “The New York Times Company announced yesterday afternoon that it will sue the Harvard Lampoon for $175,000 for ‘willful deceit, commercial libel and commercial defamation’ in its March 7 Times parody,” wrote the Crime’s James R. Beniger. “U.S. Justice Department officials are presently studying the parody to determine whether they will file criminal charges for ‘willful fraudulent claim of copyright.’ It is a federal offense to appropriate copyright for material not clearly a parody.”

The story went on to claim the Lampoon might also be sued by Time Inc. and Murray’s News Agency, the latter seeking the return of 800 stolen copies of the real Times. It ended: “Thomas S. LaFarge ’69, Lampoon president, said last night his organization would not return the 800 newspapers stolen from Harvard hallways. ‘We sold them to a waste paper dealer for $2.37,’ LaFarge said. ‘It was our biggest sale since the Playboy parody.’

Ouch.—VCR

Duke + Look = “Dook,” 1949

Covers of real Look and fake Dook

Oct. 25, 1949, Look; Duke ‘n’ Duchess’s quick retort.

Parody Of: LookTitle: “Dook (and Duchess).” Parody By: Duke and Duchess.
Date: November 19, 1949. Length: 28 pages plus covers.
Availability: Hard to find; one copy sold on eBay in late 2017.

College humor mags were prone to grumble-brag about how much time and effort they put into parody issues, but they could turn one out quickly enough with the right motivation. Take Duke University’s Duke and Duchess (1936-51), which sprang into action in the fall of 1949 after Look devoted six pages to homecoming celebrations at hated rival UNC. Look had shot the feature the previous November, when the Tar Heels, led by two-time All American Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, skunked the Blue Devils 20-0 in Chapel Hill. It was published in the issue dated October 25, 1949, which came out around mid-month. The D’n’D’s response appeared November 19, the day the two schools clashed again at Duke’s homecoming in Durham.

Three pages from Look's story.

Opening and last page of Look’s “Big Game” feature.

“Dook” is so well done it’s hard to believe editor Art Steuer and staff put it together in only four weeks — or less, as it likely spent a week at the printer. The highlight is associate editor Walt Wadlington’s almost shot-by-shot spoof of Look’s account of the big weekend “as it was lived by Betty Lokey, pretty, 21-year-old senior from Raleigh, with her date, Jake Bowman.” The D’n’D’s version followed “Gertude Abernathy, 14-year-old senior from Low Point” and date Rudoph Ballentino (“a typical Carolina man” whose ambition is to own a liquor store) from their first meeting in a pool hall Friday morning through Rudoph’s drunken collapse on Sunday. Duke sophomore Kate Bullington and senior Earl Humphrey gamely posed as the mismatched couple.

The Big Game story in Dook

“Dook’s” version, starring typical Tar Heel “Rudolph Ballentino.”

Almost every page of the parody was modeled on a specific page in the 10/25 Look. “Dook” aped Look’s lead story on FDR’s legacy with a similar take on one Hubert Humperdink. (“MYTH: He founded Duke University under the fictitious name of Benjamin Duke. FACT: He did found the University of North Carolina under the fictitious name of North Carolina.”) There were also fake letters to the editor, a “Dook Photocrime” and a version of Look’s most-parodied feature, the Photoquiz.

A profile of the unkempt mountaineer who cared for UNC mascot Ramses the Ram might strike current readers as too broad for effective satire, but Bob Jordan’s reporting was strictly factual. George B. “Bushy” Cook was a former textile worker from Haywood County, N.C., who settled on a farm near Chapel Hill after World War II; he was Ramses’s official guardian from 1947 to 1957 and died in 1974 at the age of 76.

Bushy Cook and Ramses in Dook.

Yale QB Levi Jackson and Coach Herman Hickman in Look; Ramses and Cook in “Dook.”

All this cleverness was not quite enough to push the Blue Devils over the top on game day, however. Led again by Justice, the Tar Heels thwarted a last-minute field goal attempt by Duke to preserve a 21-20 lead in the closest game of the season for either team. The pen may be mightier that the sword, but it proved no match for the Choo Choo.   —VCR