The Not-So-Annual Parody Issue

Purple Parrot's American Home and the Duke'n'Duchess's Dook.

The Purple Parrot’s “American Home” (1945), the Duke’n’Duchess’s “Dook” (1949)

Remember my scare-quotes in the last post regarding “annual” parody issues of college humor magazines? I used them because most college hu… I’m tired of typing that … most CHMs, even in their 1920s-50s heyday, didn’t put out a major parody every year.

(By “major,” I mean a full-length parody of a national, or at least non-student, publication. This rules out every collegian’s favorite punching bag: the campus newspaper. Such papers are so ripe for parody that, in the absence of a CHM, student journalists will gleefully do the job on themselves, usually on April 1 or in the last issue before exams.)

The Harvard Lampoon's 1968 Life parody.The Harvard Lampoon may be the source of the “annual” misapprehension. Early on, its parodies really did appear every year: 27 in the quarter-century from 1919 to 1943. (Here’s a list.) They also came thick and fast in the ’60s, including “Pl*yb*y” (1966) and the brilliant but money-losing “Life” (1968). Since then, the Lampoon has produced a national parody roughly once every four years, and the intervals are getting longer. In the past 25 years there have been only two: “Premiere” (2005) and “National Geographic” (2008). Today’s ‘Poonies would rather parody best-sellers like The Hunger Games and websites like The Huffington Post, which inspired 2014’s online-only “Huffington Psst.” Links to the “Huffington Psst” no longer work, but copies of the Lampoon’s 1917 “Vanity Fair” still do. Advantage: print.

Others with long parody streaks include the Yale Record in 1954-67, the Ohio State Sundial in 1947-60 and the Stanford Chaparral in 1949-61; Chappie’s run ended with an item called “Layboy” that got the mag shut down for a few years. No doubt more examples are tucked away in college archives, but I suspect they’re exceptions. In every complete(ish) CHM collection I’ve examined in person or online, the parody issues are distributed fairly randomly. Four examples:

  •  Though the Ohio State Sundial (1911-73, with several interruptions) had a good run in 1947-60, its only full-length national parody in the three decades before that was “Vague” (i.e., Vogue) in May 1924. After the early ’60s, Sundial struggled to produce any issues on a regular basis, let alone parodies. The most recent resuscitation attempt was made in 2011-12.
  • Despite being a mixed humor-feature mag, the Northwestern Purple Parrot (1921-50; online here) put out five major parodies in its first 21 years, then got the bug and did nine in a row from 1942 to ’50. Its more feature-oriented successor, Profile, produced only one, “Esquirk,” in 1952.
  • The Duke University Duke ‘n’ Duchess (1936-42, ’46-51) did three full-length parodies in its eleven years. Two were produced by the same staff: “Esquire,” in November 1940 and the “D&D New Yorker” the following March. The third was put together quickly in November 1949 to answer a Look magazine photo-feature on homecoming at rival UNC. Called “Dook … ‘n’ Duchess,” it aimed its venom mainly at the Tar Heels; the Look format was only a vessel. D’n’D’s successor, Peer (1953-69), produced only one notable parody, a 1967 spoof of the local Durham Morning Herald.
  • The Missouri Showme (1920-63 with many interruptions; online here) was famous in college-humor circles for producing talented cartoonists and barnyard humor. The latter earned it several suspensions, though in the end it died of neglect rather than persecution. In the 29 years it did appear, Showme issued only two full-length parodies: “Strife” (i.e., Life) in February 1937 and the “Saturday Evening Pest” in November 1950. Later parodies of Confidential (“Confidental,” October 1957) and men’s adventure mags (“Sweat,” February 1961) were briefer and made little effort to duplicate their targets.
Covers of the Missouri Showme's Post and Sweat parodies.

Perils of parody: Showme’s 1950 “Pest” and 1961 “Sweat.”

Showme’s experience proves how tricky parody issues can be. “Sweat” was neither well-done nor popular, but its aroma of he-man raunch was strong enough to get the magazine shut down for over a year. “It included a parody of the life of a house-mother … who tried to trap a male janitor in the laundry,” co-editor Dale Allen said later. “University house-mothers were outraged by this affront to their dignity. They demanded that the university cease publication of this scandalous sheet … [and] the publications board … pronounced a death sentence.”

The “Pest,” on the other hand, succeeded editorially but failed commercially. It was Showme’s most elaborate parody at 52 pages, some enhanced by spot color; highlights included a nonsensical short story by editor-in-chief Jerry Smith and convincing imitations of famous Post cartoonists by artist Glenn Troelstrup. “Unfortunately, the very costly issue was late in arriving, and [was] sold on the worst day of the week for student activity on campus. It was quite a monetary loss,” Smith recalled. Promo ads had promised the “Pest” would be Showme’s “First Annual Parody,” but instead it was the last to fill a whole issue. Who knows how many “annual” parodies at other schools ended up in the same position? — VCR

The Most Parodied Magazine?

Parodies of Life, The New Yorker, Playboy and Time.

College parodies from Missouri (1937), Yale (1961), Arizona (1955) and Penn State (1928)

(WARNING: The following observations are based on the author’s own haphazard — though extensive — collecting and are informed speculation, not gospel. It is even possible  his list of Most Parodied Magazines is imperfect and should include Confidential, Liberty, Mad, National Geographic, Police Gazette, Popular Mechanics, Rolling Stone or Vogue. Further research is called for, as they say in grant proposals.)

What is the most parodied magazine of all time? Playboy thinks it is, but magazine parodies were popular decades before Playboy. The ’20s saw an explosion of “Burlesque Numbers” on campus and in Life and Judge. College mags put out “annual” parody issues  — sometimes decades apart — until they fell on hard times in the ’60s everywhere but Cambridge. Newsstand parodies spiked in the early ’30s and boomed in the ’70s and ’80s in the wake of National Lampoon.

Four New Yorker parodies.

New Yorker parodies from Duke (1941), Ohio State (1947), Punch (1954) and Harvard (1976).

Titles from The Harvard Law Review to Strictly Elvis have been spoofed multiple times, but only a few can draw parodists year after year the way a flame draws moths. My own list contains an even dozen, only four of whom are contenders for the Top Spot. In order of appearance (or reappearance after major surgery), the eight runners-up are:

  • Ladies’ Home Journal (1883)
  • The Saturday Evening Post (revamped 1897)
  • Reader’s Digest (1922)
  • Esquire (1933)
  • TV Guide (1953)
  • Sports Illustrated (1954)
  • Cosmopolitan (revamped 1964)
  • People (1974)

The Journal was the first magazine with one million subscribers; the Post the first with twice that. Their oversize pages were thick with four-color ads and the best illustrations money could buy, which likely made some would-be parodists despair of getting a likeness. Similarly with Esquire, though its risqué content in the ’30s and ’40s led many collegians to plunge ahead regardless. Spoofing the Digest or TV Guide in normal-sized magazines posed an unwelcome choice: Print the parody separately (expensive), or run it sideways, two-up (awkward). SI, Cosmo and People are among the top targets of the past forty years, but they missed all or part of college-parody era.

Four Playboy parodies.

Playboy parodies from Texas (1956), U. Mass (1964), West Point (1965), and Berkeley (1966).

So who are the top targets? Chronologically, the Four Most Parodied Magazines Ever are:

  • Time (1923)
  • The New Yorker (1925)
  • Life (1936)
  • Playboy (1953)

The top twelve share three qualities that appeal to parodists:

Familiarity: It’s no fun imitating something nobody recognizes. All these magazines except The New Yorker and Esquire achieved multi-million circulations, and all except Life and People ran at least sixty years. (People will reach that milestone in 2034; Life’s logo still turns up on newsstand specials.) All are, or were, Top Dogs in their respective categories: There are ten parodies of Time for every one of Newsweek, and the ratio is similar for Playboy over Penthouse and Life over Look.

Personality: Parody thrives on distinctive voices and viewpoints: the tortured syntax and “jeering rancor” of early Timestyle, the folksy certainty and small-town conservatism of Reader’s Digest. A strong personality also keeps a magazine from vanishing up its own genre. There are many parodies of movie, scandal and pulp-fiction mags, for instance, but few target one particular title. (Science-fiction parodies, on the other hand, tend to be very specific.)

Adaptability: A “magazine” was originally a storehouse, and the most parodied can accomodate a huge variety of goods in many sizes. Ten of our twelve could plausibly run a story on any subject, though some would skew it toward a particular demographic; the other two cover television and sports, which barely restricts them. Parodists also favor magazines that run many pieces of varying lengths and styles rather than a few long ones; they’re more likely to tackle the New York Times Book Review than the New York Review of BooksThe New Yorker is a partial exception here, but its air of detached, worldly amusement was a model for four decades of college humorists, and the urge to try on Eustace Tilley’s monocle often proved irresistible. It still does, if this summer’s “Nuë Jorker” is any indication.

Despite that, The New Yorker isn’t THE most parodied magazine. Neither is the other third-place contender, Life, though the first full-length parody appeared within months of its debut (the Missouri Showme’s “Strife,” February 1937). Playboy is comfortably ahead of both, but hasn’t inspired a notable parody in the U.S. since “Playbore” and “Playboy: The Parody” fought it out on newsstands in 1983-84. Which leaves Time.

Mock Times from, top row: Annapolis (1928), Harvard's Advocate (1932) and Lampoon (1941), Dartmouth (1948), Ohio State (1948); bottom row: Alabama (1952), Davidson (1953), Punch (1960), National Lampoon (1984), Emory (1998).

Mock Times from, top row: Annapolis (1928), Harvard’s Advocate (1932) and Lampoon (1941), Dartmouth (1948) and Ohio State (1948); bottom row: Alabama (1952), Davidson (1953),
Punch (1960), National Lampoon (1984) and Emory (1998).

The Penn State Froth’s “Froth Time” of January 1928 is the earliest Time parody I’m aware of. The Navy Log and Yale Record piled on the same year, and in the late ’40s and ’50s parodies of Time popped up on one campus or another almost every month. The Harvard Lampoon issued four between 1941 and 1989. At the other extreme, in 1953 Davidson College’s Scripts ‘n Pranks slimed Time in its only full-length parody ever.

Newsstand mags that have mocked Time include Vanity Fair (in 1933), Ballyhoo, Punch, Esquire and National LampoonThe New Yorker’s 1936 “Time, Fortune, Life, Luce,” written by Wolcott Gibbs in maliciously heightened Timestyle, is thought to be the most reprinted magazine parody ever. It’s certainly the most quoted: “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind” supplied the title for a Gibbs anthology only a few years ago. Just recently, Tom Connor and Jim Downey (“re-Wired,” “Is Martha Stuart Living?”) released a 64-page one-shot with “President-Elect” Donald Trump inside the famous red border.

In February 1952, the University of Alabama Rammer Jammer celebrated the school’s centennial with its “first 100% parody issue,” called, appropriately, “Tide.” (One contributor was a junior named Gay Talese.) “We had several national magazines in mind before we struck our colors to Time,” editor Leo Willette wrote. “Though a good portion of our readers had heard of The New Yorker, only about ten percent ever read it with anything approaching regularity…. Comparable shortcoming manifested themselves with Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, True, Argosy and most of the spectrum of reading fare. In Time, we assume, the student will find a familiar friend. Then, too, Time (1) has a style not difficult to interpret and copy; [and] (2) gives outlet for a potpourri of short, easily digested chunks of gripes and gags….”

What more could a parodist want — except, maybe, a centerfold? — VCR

 

Aardvark’s “National Reactionary,” 1964

Aardvark's National Review parody

Aardvark magazine, Winter 1964

Parody Of: National Review. Title: “National Reactionary.”
Parody By: Aardvark Magazine. Date: Winter 1964. Pages: 3
Contributors: None credited.
Availability: Not online; hard to find elsewhere.

In the early 1960s, a number of college jesters around the country independently had the same idea: Why not move off-campus, where Deans and Publications Boards hold no sway, and turn our anemic humor rag into a slick, money-making, grown-up magazine? The results included Bacchanal in Texas (1962), Charlatan in Florida (1963-66) and Aardvark in Chicago (1961-64?). They weren’t particularly slick, and none made money, but they displayed early work by Gilbert Shelton, Jay Lynch and other future stars of underground comics.

Aardvark cover Winter 1964Aardvark was going to be the humor magazine at Chicago’s Roosevelt University until the Powers That Be saw the first issue. Shut out at home, founders Jeff Begun, Ron Epple and Howard R. Cohen decided to broaden their reach to all the city’s campuses. Aardvark survived for at least 11 issues (the last I know of is Vol. 3, no. 2, from 1964) and at its peak was distributed from Madison to Urbana. Its strengths were sharp writing and smart interviews with humorists including Mort Sahl and Shel Silverstein; its handicaps included cheap paper, sloppy layout and ugly columns of typewriter-font text.

That’s not a big problem for “National Reactionary,” whose target was no designer showcase itself. Aardvark‘s parody limits itself to National Review‘s cover and two pages of front-of-the-book material, including table of contents and “In This Issue” column, an efficient way to mock a publication’s editorial matter without having to replicate much of it. The humor is broad — changing “Buckley” to “Cuckold,” for instance — but not deep. The main running joke has the “Reactionary” lauding largely forgotten troglodytes like Gerald L.K. Smith and Father Coughlin. Most NR readers had other heroes in 1964. (Strangely, the parody makes only one brief mention of Barry Goldwater.) A couple of items satirizing conservative unease over the civil rights movement are funnier and more pointed: “New facts just brought to light: … American Negroes, although they speak a different language, are, in appearance, identical to Cuban Negroes. Cuban Negroes are strong advocates of Castro’s bloody communism.”

Maybe “National Reactionary” was a victim of circumstances. On one page its date is given as “October 22, 1963″— exactly one month before John Kennedy’s assassination — but on the next there’s a reference to Lyndon Johnson being president. If Aardvark’s “NR” was planned and largely written before JFK’s death, the editors might have found themselves cutting a lot of suddenly inappropriate material just before going to press. That could explains the parody’s truncated feel and its reluctance to poke fun at current public figures. As always in comedy, timing is everything. —VCR

Two pages of Aardvark's National Review parody

 

 

More New Yorker parodies online

New Yorker parodies from Northwestern and Dartmouth

New Yorker parodies from Northwestern (1942) and Dartmouth (2006).

In case “The Neu Jorker” doesn’t sate your appetite for fake New Yorkers, here are two more you can read in their entirety online:

Parody Of: The New YorkerTitle: “The New Yorker.”
Parody By: Northwestern Purple Parrot.  Date: February 1942. Pages: 36.
Contributors: Portia McClain, Mary Ellen Sams (editors), et al.
Availability: Online here in the Northwestern University Library.

College humor magazines flourished from the 1920s through the ’60s. Now that most are safely dead, the same institutions that barely tolerated them alive are digitizing the remains. Northwestern University, for one, has a nearly complete run of the Purple Parrot in its online archive. The Parrot (1921-1950) was not so much a humor magazine as a general-interest mag with a large humor section, but in the 1940s it imitated a different publication almost every year. In February 1942, it chose The New Yorker.

The Parrot‘s version — called, oddly enough, “The New Yorker” — is more an impersonation than a parody: The “Talk” items, articles and reviews concern Evanston, Illinois, rather than Manhattan, but they’re straight-faced and factual. The “Profile” is of future TV star Garry Moore, then a young local radio emcee; and the “Department of Correction” is a real letter complaining of errors in the previous issue. Like most collegiate parodists, the Parrot crew easily nail The New Yorker‘s typeface and layout but can’t touch the effortless-looking professionalism of its art. Some of the cartoons are funny enough to overcome their visual awkwardness, but overall the Parrot’s “New Yorker” has more to offer Northwestern alums than parody buffs.

"My Face," from Dartmouth's 2006 New Yorker parody

“My Face,” by “John Terwilliger” (Mike Trapp) in “The Nü Yorker.”

Parody Of: The New YorkerTitle: “The Nü Yorker.”
Parody By: Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern.  Date: Fall 2006. Pages: 28.
Contributors: Cole Entress, Fred Meyer, Alex Rogers, Owen Parsons (editors), et. al.
Availability: Online here at the Jack-O-Lantern.

Cartoon of two dogsThe Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern‘s “Nü Yorker,” unlike the Purple Parrot‘s, is all fake and strictly for laughs, from Jerry Lewis’s letter to the editor (“I respectfully request … that neither my social  security number, nor a photostat of my birth certificate be reprinted in any subsequent issues”) to the caption contest featuring Jacko‘s favorite running gag, “Stockman’s Dogs” (two canines drawn in 1934 and present in nearly every issue since). Notably funny pieces include “Letter From A Truck Stop Outside Neola, NE: This Place Sucks”; a deranged “Profile” of a poor guy named Jack Napier who can’t convince the author he’s not the Joker; and a wonderfully pretentious poem, “Skipping Cultural Stones on the Sea of Aspersions.”

The Jacko folks don’t show much interest in parodying specific writers and artists, and in the “Talk of Town” they don’t even bother to use The New Yorker‘s detached, distinctive editorial “we.” Some of the cartoons are so aggressively dumb they’re funny, but too many look like they were drawn with chewed toothpicks; they’re out-of-place amid the clean design and cleverly faked ads. Such flaws are easily outweighed by the silliness of a piece like “My Face” (above) or a “Shouts and Murmurs” column made up entirely of voices murmuring and shouting. College humor mags were the breeding ground for this type of crazy/clever whimsy, and “The Nü Yorker” revels in it. — VCR

Harvard Lampoon Parodies Since 1911

Covers of six Harvard Lampoon parodies

Clockwise from left: Lampoon parodies from 1920, May 1919, 2005, 2008, 1938 and October 1919.

I’ll bet the Harvard Lampoon has snagged more publicity for its parody issues over the years than all other humor magazines combined, but neither The Harvard Lampoon Centennial Celebration (1973) nor 100 Years of Harvard Lampoon Parodies (1976) bothers to list them all. Here’s what I’ve pieced together from these and other sources.

This list is of full-length national magazine and newspaper parodies only. It doesn’t include (a) short parodies inside regular issues, such as the five-page New Yorker spoof in the Jan. 17, 1935 Lampoon; or (b) parodies of on-campus publications such as H-Bomb, the Advocate and especially the Harvard Crimson (takedowns of which are “occasionally supplied to the student body in deference to overwhelming demand,” if 100 Years… is to be believed).

Life, March 3, 1911 (the old humor mag, not the Time Inc. version)
The Saturday Evening Post (and others?), __ 1912
Vanity Fair, April 6, 1917
The Boston Evening Transcript, May 9, 1919
Cosmopolitan, October 24, 1919
Popular Mechanics, October 29, 1920
Ladies’ Home Journal, __ 1921
Town & Country, January 31, 1923
St. Nicholas, March 27, 1924
Literary Digest, April 15, 1925 (two printings, the second censored)
Photoplay, April 1926
The Wonder Book, April 13, 1927
The New Yorker of Boston, April 19, 1928
The Sportsman, April 18, 1929
The Illustrated London News, April 17, 1930 (misdated 1920 on cover)
Liberty: April 16, 1931
Harvard AA News, November 19, 1931 (AA = Athletic Association)
Harvard Alumni Bulletin, April 15, 1932
Babies, Just Babies, January 19, 1933 (called “Tutors, Just Tutors”)
Fortune, May 1933
The Boston Daily Record, May 8, 1934
Esquire, April 1935
The Saturday Evening Post, April 23, 1936
Cosmopolitan, April 1937
Vogue, May 4, 1938
The New Yorker, May 6, 1939 (Celebration calls this the first parody to “imitate an entire format including advertising layout”)
Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1940
Time, April 8, 1941
P.M., April 30, 1942
Washington Pie, April 30, 1943 (a parody without a subject; 100 Years… says this was “so realistic it fooled most people into thinking there actually was such a magazine”)
Newsweek, April 14, 1947
The New Yorker, May 15, 1948
Pontoon, fall 1950 (parody of a typical college humor mag)
Punch, December 17, 1950
Newsweek, March 22, 1956
Saturday Review, January 23, 1961
Mademoiselle, July 1961 (in Mademoiselle)
Mademoiselle, July 1962 (in Mademoiselle)
Esquire, July 1963 (in Mademoiselle)
Time, May 31, 1965
Playboy, Fall 1966
The New York Times, March 7, 1968 (fake front page wrapped around a year-old real Times; local distribution only)
Life, Fall 1968
Time, Fall 1969
Cosmopolitan, Fall 1972
Sports Illustrated, Fall 1974
People, Fall 1981
Newsweek, Fall 1982
USA Today, Spring 1986
Time, Spring 1989
Forbes, Fall 1989
Dartmouth Review, April 1992 (local distribution, plus Dartmouth)
Entertainment Weekly, Fall/Winter 1994
Premiere, Fall 2005
National Geographic, April 2008

— VCR