“The Bilioustine,” 1901

Bilioustine and Philistine covers

“The Bilioustine’s” two issues and the Dec. 1901 Philistine.

Parody Of: The Philistine. Title: “The Bilioustine.” By: Bert Leston Taylor.
Dates: May and October 1901. Published By: William S. Lord of Evanston, Illinois.
Availability: Free online here; print copies findable but pricey.

“The Bilioustine” may have been this country’s first full-length magazine parody, though no one thought to make that claim when it was published back in 1901. It’s still one of the funniest, thanks to the wit of author Bert Leston Taylor and the barn-size targets provided by Elbert Hubbard and his self-published organ, The Philistine.

Elbert Hubbard photo


Elbert — not to be confused with L. Ron — Hubbard is dimly recalled today, but at the dawn of the last century he was one of the most famous writers and lecturers in America. A former soap salesman with a facile pen and an Barnum-like gift for publicity, Hubbard combined a passion for the arts-and-crafts movement of the 1890s with a keen eye for the main chance. After making his name with a collection of moralizing travel sketches called Little Journeys to the Homes of Good Men and Great, he launched The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest in June 1895 as a platform for his thoughts on culture, politics and other matters. Within a few months he was printing it himself on second-hand equipment in an old barn near East Aurora, New York; he dubbed this set-up the Roycroft Press, after a family of 17th-century English printers. Its success drew other artisans to New Aurora, and by the time of Hubbard’s death in 1915 there were more than 500 “Roycrofters” working in 14 buildings.

The Philistine was one of hundreds of self-consciously “little” magazines that sprang up in the mid-’90s, partly in reaction to the emergence of mass-market behemoths like the Ladies’ Home Journal (born 1884) and Saturday Evening Post (1821, but reborn 1897). Unlike those titles, the little magazines offered “a small or odd-shaped page, fine typography and printing, and cleverness and radicalism in criticism,” in the words of historian Frank Luther Mott. They had names like Angel’s Food, the Bauble, the Goose-Quill, Jabs and Stiletto. Most struggled to find readers and had the lifespan of mayflies.

Two pages from the May Bilioustine

Fake ads and deep thoughts in the May “Bilioustine.”

The Philistine was an exception: It ran 20 years and reached a circulation of 200,000 — ten times that of its best-known contemporary, the Chap-book. A typical issue contained 32 pages of editorial matter and at least as many of ads, all printed on brown butcher paper and bound with gold thread. Though its contributors included Stephen Crane and Oz illustrator W.W. Denslow, The Philistine‘s voice was pure Hubbard. He wrote countless signed and unsigned editorials, poems and homilies — including “A Message to Garcia” (1899), a brief sermon on duty in war and workplace that struck a chord with the millions and entered countless anthologies.

As a writer, Hubbard had two voices. The first, cosmic and gaseous, can be heard in his introduction to the Philistine’s first issue. After comparing “the true Philistine” to Don Quixote, he charged his readers to

rescue from the environment of custom and ostentation the beauty and goodness cribbed therein…, go tilting at windmills and other fortresses — often on sorry nags and with shaky lances, and yet on heroic effort bent. And to such merry joust and fielding all lovers of chivalry are bidden: to look on — perhaps to laugh, it may be to grieve, at woeful belittling of lofty enterprise. Come, such of you as have patience with such warriors…

…and so on. His other style was down-to-earth and satirical, with echoes of Ambrose Bierce: “Genius may have its limitations,” he wrote, “but stupidity is not thus handicapped.” He flayed the publishing industry, fellow writers, the professions, organized religion, imperialism, sexual prudery and the tyranny of marriage. (“Never get married in college; it’s hard to get a start if a prospective employer finds you’ve already made one mistake.”) For a while he mocked the idle rich, but scorn turned to flattery as his own fortunes waxed. “The Superior Class is a burden,” he wrote in 1903; “no nation ever survived it long.” Ten years later he was attacking trust-busters for destroying “creators of wealth” and golfing with John D. Rockefeller. Similarly, his sermons against monogamy tapered off after his first wife divorced him and he married his mistress.

Four pages from the Bilioustine

A “Little Journey” to Fra McGinnis in the October issue.

“It would be possible to place a higher value on Hubbard’s writings, essentially vulgar though they were, if one could believe in the man’s sincerity,” Mott wrote, but those writings were manna for a culture-starved audience hungry for something high-minded but not too demanding. Meanwhile, his more sober contemporaries tended to find Hubbard’s prose impossible and his affectations maddening: The flowing locks, the wide-brimmed sombrero, the soulful posturing. He styled himself “Fra Elberto” like some medieval monk and called his followers “the Society of American Immortals.” Much of this was tongue-in-cheek, but still….

B.L. Taylor photo


One of the eye-rollers was Bert Leston Taylor, whose “A-Line-o’-Type-or-Two” debuted in the Chicago Tribune in 1901 and has been called the first modern newspaper column; at its peak it appeared in hundreds of papers in North America and Europe. On April 12, 1901, Taylor introduced his readers to one “Fra McGinnis,” spiritual leader of “the Society of Boy Grafters” and purveyor of “gold bricks and other articles calculated to con the community, especially that part of it which is female and literary and adores speaking eyes and conversational long hair.”

Within a month, Taylor-as-McGinnis had written enough material to fill a small magazine, and in May he collaborated with publisher William S. Lord of Evanston, Ill., on the first issue of “The Bilioustine: A Periodical of Knock.” It wasn’t the first burlesque of the little-magazine phenomenon, but it was the first to target a specific title. Taylor was a former typesetter, and he made sure his 24-page, 6″-by-4″ pamphlet resembled The Philistine in layout, page size and paper stock. It was an immediate hit. “As a well aimed shaft of ridicule there is nothing to equal it. As a piece of humor it is a gem,” wrote the Denver Republican. The St. Louis Mirror called it “one of the best parodies issued in the last twenty years.” A second issue with new material followed in October to similar acclaim.

Cover of the Book Booster

1901 Bookman spoof.

Nothing about The Philistine escaped ridicule in “The Bilioustine,” from its sampler-like homilies set in decorative borders (“Art is long — Why not hair?”) to its advertisements for deluxe editions “carefully impressed upon What’ell hand-laundered paper, bound in burlap specially imported from Burlapia, and stenciled by the cunning hand of Saintess Genevieve.” Other ads pushed the Fra’s “Little Journeys to the Scenes of Famous Explosions” and hinted at his dalliances under the heading “Affinities Wanted, Female.” The essays sandwiched between these notices were all either by or about Fra McGinnis, the latter rather more skeptical than the former.

Taylor and Lord issued a third magazine parody in 1901, a takeoff of The Bookman called “The Book Booster” that did to the publishing industry what “The Bilioustine” did to Hubbard. It sold well, too, but Taylor appears not to have tackled the form again. Ten years would pass before the Harvard Lampoon issued its first full-length magazine parody, and twenty before “burlesque numbers” became a regular feature of Life and Judge. Although “The Bilioustine” failed to start a trend, it set a high standard, as can be seen in the pages posted here. – VCR

Posted in Newsstand Parodies, The U.S.: 1850-1910 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parodies in Mad, 1954-2017

Seven Mad parodies from 1954-2006

Wikipedia helpfully lists all of Mad’s movie and TV-show spoofs, but I believe this is the first attempt to catalog parodies of publications. Real, identifiable publications, that is: I’m not counting the fake lifestyle mags for groups like beatniks and hippies and mobsters Mad has perpetrated over the years. I’m also ignoring articles that show a bunch of different titles pulling the same gag: e.g., “Jack and Jill as Retold by Various Magazines (June 1959), “Magazines for Senior Citizens” (June 1961), etc. Everything listed here had at least one full page devoted to it.

"The Bunion," 2002.

“The Bunion,” 2002.

Unlike TV and movie spoofs, magazine parodies never became a staple of Mad’s editorial mix, and they’ve grown rarer as its target audience drifts away from boring old print. More than half the longer parodies appeared in the 1950s and ’60s, with the most recent in 2001. Many were designed by John Putnam, Mad’s art director from 1954 to 1980, whose fascination with the details of layout and typography was rivaled only by National Lampoon’s Michael Gross. Significantly, when Mad took a poke at The Onion in 2002, it targeted theonion.com, not the print edition. Since then there have been similar digs at The Huffington Post (2014) and Cracked (2016).

The list has two sections: multi-page parodies – usually consisting of a front page or cover and three or more inside pages — and cover-only parodies.  Section 1.B lists parodies done as bonuses in Mad annuals, which tended to be longer and more colorful that those in the magazine, with pages the same size and paper stock as their targets’. The biggest parody in a regular issue was a 16-page spoof of Entertainment Weekly in April 1998 that doubled as a test-run for Mad’s switch to inside color and slick paper (and the real ads that would pay for them). “Entertain-Me Weakly” generated a flurry of media coverage, but nothing as ambitious has been done since.

Pages of Mad's 1968 16 parody

“Sik-teen” in issue #121 (1968) was the only Mad parody to begin on the back cover and continue inside. Frank Frazetta’s Ringo first appeared in the “Blecch” Shampoo ad in issue #90 (1965).

Section 2 deals with cover-only parodies. Such brief spoofs usually leave me wanting more, but some of Mad’s are priceless. Basil Wolverton’s Life-like “Beautiful Girl of the Month” on the front of Mad comics #11 (May 1954) may be the most famous, but for my money the funniest is Mark Fredrickson’s version of Vanity Fair’s kiss-up to Tom Cruise and family in issue #472 (Dec. 2006). Both appeared on Mad’s front cover, but most fake covers have run on the back, where they’re subject to mutilation by Fold-In fanatics. Since the late ’90s, Mad has done most of its magazine spoofing in the annual “20 Dumbest People, Places and Things” survey.

Three pages of Mad's 1957 "TV Guise."

Making 1 + 1 (pages of Mad) = 3 (pages of parody) in issue #34 (1957).

Each listing begins with the name of the publication being parodied, in italics; followed by the fake title or article name, in parentheses; the Mad issue date and number; the length of the parody (if more than one page); and the names of the writer(s) and artist(s), in that order, separated by a slash (/). A phrase like “9 pages (on 5)” means one page of Mad contained two or more digest-size parody pages; the phrase “no cover” flags a couple of early parodies that didn’t have one; and “(p)” indicates a photographer. The writer and artist credits are from Doug Gilford’s Mad Cover Site, to whom all thanks. — VCR

1. Multi-page parodies …
A. … in Mad regular issues, 1954-2001:

  • The DailFirst page of "Field & Scream"y News (“Newspapers!”), Oct. 1954 (#16). Front cover + 7 pages. Harvey Kurtzman/Jack Davis.
  • Confidential (“Confidential Information”), Aug.-Sept. 1955 (#25). 6 pages (no cover). Kurtzman/Will Elder.
  • Field & Stream (“Field & Scream”), Jan.-Feb. 1957 (#31). 5 pages (no cover). Kurtzman/Davis.
  • TV Guide (“TV Guise”), July-Aug. 1957 (#34). 9 pages (on 5). Paul Laikin/Bob Clarke.
  • Better Homes and Gardens (“Bitter Homes and Gardens”), Mar.-Apr. 1958 (#38). 5 pages. Tom Koch/Wallace Wood.
  • The Saturday Evening Post (“… Pest”), May-June 1958 (#39). 6 pages. Koch/Clarke.
  • Pravda, July 1958 (#40). 4 pages. Frank Jacobs/Wood.
  • National Geographic (“National Osographic”), Sept.-Oct. 1958 (#41). 5 pages. Koch/Wood.
  • Look (“Gook”), Mar. 1959 (#45). 7 pages. Koch/Wood.
  • True Confessions (“Blue Confessions”), Oct. 1959 (#50). 9 pages (on 3) Laikin/Wood.
  • Modern Screen[?] (“Movie Land”), Apr. 1960 (#54). 5 pages. Larry Siegel/Joe Orlando.
  • The Wall Street Journal (“… Jungle”), Mar. 1961 (#61). 4 pages. Phil Hahn/.
  • Playboy (“Playkid”), Mar. 1961 (#61). 7 pages. Siegel/Clarke.
  • Ladies’ Home Journal (“… Journey”), Apr. 1961 (#62). 6 pages. Koch/Orlando.
  • Reader’s Digest (“Reader’s Digress”), Dec. 1961 (#67). 9 pages (on 5). Siegel/Orlando.
  • Popular Mechanics/Popular Science (“Popular Scientific Mechanics”), Sept. 1963 (#81). 7 pages. Al Jaffee/Clarke.
  • Hair Do (“Hair Goo”), June 1965 (#95). 6 pages. Jaffee/Jack Rickard.
  • Road & Track (“Load & Crash”), Sept. 1965 (#97). 6 pages. Koch/George Woodbridge.
  • National Enquirer (“National Perspirer”), Apr. 1966 (#102). 5 pages. Siegel/Jaffee.
  • 16 (“Sik-Teen”), Sept. 1968 (#121), Back & inside-back covers  + 6 pages. Siegel/Rickard, Davis.
  • Consumer Reports (“Condemner Reports”), Jan. 1970 (#132). 6 pages. Dick DeBartolo/Clarke, Irving Schild (p).
  • Popular Photography (“Popular Photomonotony”), June 1975 (#175). 6 pages. DeBartolo/Schild (p).
  • Consumer Reports (“Consumer Reports for Government Agencies”), March 1979. 4 pages. DeBartolo/.
  • TV Guide (“Mad’s ‘TV Guide’ Textbook”), June 1980 (#215). 7 pages (on 5). Lou Silverstone/Woodbridge.
  • Mad (“The Book of Mad” [Biblical Parody]), Dec. 1983 (#243). 5 pages. Silverstone/Paul Coker, Dave Berg, Don Martin, Rickard, Davis, Clarke, Woodbridge.
  • Parade (“Charade”), Sept. 1993 (#321). 4 pages. Charlie Kadau, Joe Raiola/Sam Viviano.
  • Entertainment Weekly (“Entertain Me Weakly”), Apr. 1998 (#368). 16 pages. Scott Brooks/Drew Friedman, Joe Favarotta.
  • Generic muscle magazine (“Bulging Man”), Aug. 1999 (#384). 8 pages. Scott Maiko/Scott Bricher, Schild (p), Sean Kahlil (p)
  • Generic tattoo mag (“Maimed Flesh”), Sept. 2001 (#409). 8 pages. Maiko/Hermann Mejia.
TV Guide parodies and 1776 "Madde."

Bonus parodies in or from More Trash # 6 (1962) and Specials #8 (1972) and #19 (1976).

B. … in Mad Annuals, 1961-1976:

  • Puck: The Comic Weekly (“A Sunday Comics Section We’d Like t0 See”), in The Worst From Mad #4, 1961. 8 broadsheet pages. /Wood, Orlando, Clarke, Woodbridge.
  • TV Guide (“TV Guise”), in More Trash from Mad #6, 1963. 16 digest-size pages. Aron Mayer Larkin/Lester Kraus (p).
  • TV Guide (“TV Guise” Fall Preview Issue), in Mad Special # 8, Fall 1972. 16 digest-size pages. Koch/Schild (p).
  • Mad (“Madde”), in Mad Special #19, Fall 1976. 24 pages. All the regulars.

2. Cover-only parodies …
A. …on Mad front covers, 1954-2006:

  • Life (“Mad”), May 1954 (#11). “Beautiful Girl.” /Basil Wolverton.
  • Time (“Mad”), Sept. 1982 (#233). Pac Man: Man of the Year. /Clarke.
  • Time (“Mad”), March 1987 (#269). Alfred E. Neuman as Max Headroom. /Richard Williams.
  • People (“Mad”), Jan. 1991 (#300). Alfred as “Sexiest Schmuck Alive!” /Norman Mingo.
  • Vanity Fair (“Mad”), Dec. 2006 (#472). Alfred as Suri Cruise. /Mark Fredrickson.
Real and parody covers of SatEvePost and Vanity Fair.

Mad on the Post’s redesign (back cover #62) and VF’s Suri Cruise hoopla (front cover #472).

B. …on back covers, 1958-2000:

  • Reader’s Digest (“Reader’s Disgust”). Jan.-Feb. 1958 (#37). /Orlando.
  • Saturday Evening Post. March 1962 (#69). /Mingo.
  • Newsweek (“Newsweak”), Dec. 1963 (#83). /Kraus (p).
  • The New Yorker. March 1977 (#189). Bill Johnson Jr./Clarke.
  • WWF Magazine (“WWWF: Witless Windbag Wrestlers Federation Magazine”), July 1987 (#272). /Schild (p).
  • Sports Illustrated (“Sports Titillated”), April 1988 (#278). /Schild (p).
  • Metal Edge (“Metal Sludge”), July 1989 (#288). Kadau, Raiola/Schild (p).
  • Typical teen mag (“StupidTeen”), Sept. 1991 (#305). Kadau, Raiola/.
  • GQ (“Geek’s Quarterly”), March 1992 (#309). William T. Rachendorfer, Andrew J. Schwartzberg/.
  • Sassy (“Sasssy”), Jan. 1993 (#316). Kadau, Raiola/Jacques Chenet (p)
  • Martha Stewart Living (“…Dying”), May 1997. Meredith Anthony, Larry Light, Alison Power/Schild (p).
  • Maxim (“Maximum”), July 2000. Jeff Kruse/AP, Wide World (p).

C. …in the annual “20 Dumbest” list, 2000-2017:

  • 1999's "20 Worst" People cover.People, Jan. 2000 (#389). “JFK Jr. crash coverage.” David Shayne, Raiola/.
  • Playboy, Jan. 2001 (#401). “Darva Conger.” Dave Croatto/.
  • Time, Jan. 2002 (#413). “Anne Heche.” Greg Leitman/.
  • Martha Stewart Living (“Martha Stewart Lying”), Jan. 2003 (#425). “Martha Stewart.” /Scott Bricher.
  • Teen People (“Dumb Teen People”), Jan. 2004 (#437). “Jessica Simpson.” Frank Santopadre/Schild (p).
  • Modern Bride (“Drunken Bride”), Jan. 2005 (#449). “Britney Spears.” Raiola, Kadau/Schild (p).
  • Modern Bride (“Runaway Bride”), Jan. 2006 (#461). “Jennifer Willibanks.” Kadau, Raiola/Bricher.
  • Sports Illustrated (“Sports Inebriated”), Jan. 2007 (#473). “Bode Miller.” Kadau, Raiola/Bricher.
  • Sporting News (“Snorting News”), Jan. 2008 (#485). “Keith Richards.” Jacob Lambert/Fredrickson.
  • Parenting (“Bad Parenting”), Jan. 2009 (#497). “Celebrity parents.” /Schild (p).
  • High Times, Jan. 2010 (#502). “Michael Phelps.” Uncredited.
  • Women’s Wear Daily (“…Deli”), Jan. 2011 (#507). “Lady Gaga.” Barry Liebman/Bricher.
  • Scientific American (“Unscientific American”), Jan. 2013 (#519). “Todd Akin.” Scott Nichol/.
  • Money (“Fake Money”), Feb. 2014 (#525).”The Winklevoss twins” /Mike Lowe.
  • Better Homes and Gardens (“Better Homes unGuarded”), Feb. 2015 (#531). “White House security.” Uncredited.
  • Sports Illustrated (“Sports Segregated”), Feb. 2015 (#531). “Donald Sterling.” /Friedman.
  • People (“Deplorable People”), Feb. 2017 (#543). “Donald Trump.” Uncredited.
Posted in Newsstand Parodies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Bawl Street Journal, 1919-2009

1947 Bawl Street Journal

“The Bawl Street Journal,” June 6, 1947.

Parody Of: The Wall Street Journal. Title: “The Bawl Street Journal.”
By: The Bond Club of New York. Dates: June 1919 – June 2009.
Availability: Findable on eBay, ABEbooks, etc.; 1930s-’80s issues most common.

This was going to be a salute to “The Bawl Street Journal” on the hundredth birthday of its sponsor, the Bond Club of New York, but instead it’s a eulogy. On June 17, 2017, a message appeared on www.thebondclub.com saying the group’s centennial celebration three days earlier may have been its “Last Hurrah.” According to “Bailing Out the Bond Club,” the group was still $14,000 in debt from its previous big bash in 2015, despite several fundraising efforts. Worse, it had “no current members to help generate revenue.”

Generating revenue was once the Club’s strong suit. It was started in June 1917 by a group of young Wall Streeters who had been asked to help the Treasury Department sell Liberty Bonds in World War I. Sell they did: The four Liberty Loan drives of 1917-18 netted over $17 billion ($6.3 trillion today), or roughly two-thirds of U.S. war spending. Finding they enjoyed each other’s company, the salesmen kept the club going after the Armistice as an outlet for shop-talk and story-swapping. In 1919, a member named Robert Bould had the bright idea to preserve some of this camaraderie in a parody of The Wall Street Journal.

Bawl Street Journals from 1957 and 1997

“BSJs” from 1957 and 1997.

Bould’s mix of political satire and inside jokes proved a hit, and “The Bawl Street Journal” became a profitable annual tradition. Brokerage houses and other pillars of finance ran ads mocking themselves and their customers. In 1921, the Club spent profits from the third issue on a day of fun and frivolity at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Tarrytown, N.Y. That caught on, too, and in 1934 the parody and party were written up in Time:

Only tip-top Manhattan bondmen enjoy the Sleepy Hollow jamboree, but the Bond Club’s annual publication – the “Bawl Street Journal” – is sold in every important financial city in the land and is even ordered from Europe, China, Brazil. Written largely by bankers, brokers and their employees and printed on the presses of its famed prototype, the Wall Street Journal, the “Bawl Street Journal” is regarded as the most expert parody in the publishing field.

Founder Robert A. Bould began having fun with the sedate Wall Street Journal and its advertisers in 1919, but after he was drowned in Long Island Sound in 1926 publication lapsed for five years. In 1931 the “Bawl Street Journal” was resurrected by John A. Straley, lean, sardonic promotion manager for Corporate Equities, Inc. A writer of fiction on the side, Editor Straley started offering prizes which brought in contributions from all over the U.S. This year more than 10,000 copies were sold at 50¢ each…. (Time, June 4, 1934)

Straley stayed with the “BSJ” through 1962, except for a four-year gap during World War II, putting in two months unpaid work on every eight- to twelve-page issue. Circulation reached 44,000 in 1957 and topped 60,000 in 1964, selling for $1 a copy when the real Journal cost only a dime. A switch to online publication in 2005 wiped out that source of income, though printed copies were still distributed at the annual field day.

Like its prototype, the “BSJ” favored old-fashioned layout and robber-baron politics. Deficit spenders and government regulators were constant targets, especially when Democrats held the White House. The 1936 edition reported that Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau planned to balance the federal budget by having the government pay 50 percent income tax on its own income. “True, … an unscrupulous government might find ways to avoid paying taxes to itself,” the Secretary was quoted as saying, “but I expect to watch myself very closely.” A similar story in 2009 had former Illinois Governor (and convicted bribe-taker) Rod Blagojevich offering to hold funds from the Obama administration’s Troubled Asset Relief Program in either “carefully selected financial institutions or in the trunk of …. [his] 1992 Chevrolet Impala.”

Cartoons from the 1997 parody

A page of cartoons from the 1997 “BSJ.”

Contributors took a kinder view of their own foibles: “Without resorting to an overactive use of ribaldry, we have attempted to humorize the Street, its characters and its conditions,” the Publications Committee wrote in the 1947 edition. Much of that humor involved groan-worthy puns on members’ names and cracks about their golf games, hairlines and other personal matters. The “BSJ” also catered to its mostly male audience with gag cartoons of the wolfish-boss-and-sexy-secretary variety, which remained a staple long after they vanished from other upscale publications. Many were commissioned by brokerage firms and run as paid ads, sometimes with the names of real Wall Streeters attached to the characters.

2009 BSJ front page

Online in ’09.

Most victims took the “Journal’s” ribbing in good humor — or pretended to — but jibes at real people and businesses led to trouble in the 21st Century. The fatal blow came when the feds stiffened so-called “compliance” rules after the 9/11 attacks and 2008 Recession. Mainly intended to stop money laundering and insider trading, the new rules also cracked down on traders who spread rumors that might affect stock and bond prices. According to “Bailing Out the Bond Club,” many firms decided to play it safe by canceling ads and warning staffers not to submit “disparaging remarks about other firms and employees” — which was the whole point of this annual roast-in-print.

Does “The Bawl Street Journal” still exist? The only edition posted on the Bond Club’s website is Vol. LXXVIII, No. 1,* from 2009, and a recent Google search turned up nothing more recent. Still, 90 years is a long time to spend parodying a single publication; the only comparable run I can think of is the Harvard Lampoon’s war on The Crimson, which began in 1901 and is still in progress. “B.S.J.,” R.I.P. – VCR
* To my knowledge, no Vol. ever had a No. 2.

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Columbia Jester Parodies, 1913-1989

Jester's Life and Reader's Digest parodies

Pages grew to 10.5″x14″ for “Liff” (1948), shrank to 5.5″x7.5″ for the “Dijest” (1949).

Jester of Columbia, to use its formal title, wasn’t the first publication at Columbia University to include humor, but it was the first to exclude everything else. It debuted on April Fool’s Day, 1901, twenty-four years after the birth of its sternest critic, the Columbia Daily Spectator (whose archive supplied much of what follows). Years later, the Spectator described Jester’s early issues as “small drab booklets of advertisements, with a sprinkling of reminiscent jokes,” but the mag quickly grew into one of the leading campus comics.

1919 Police Gazette parody

1919’s 4-page “Police Gazette.”

Early Jester staffers included Rockwell Kent (class of 1904), Bennett Cerf (’20), Corey Ford (’23) and Lynd Ward (’26), but the most famous in his day was 1916-17 editor Morrie Ryskind, then a fire-breathing socialist, later a Broadway and Hollywood writer (Of Thee I Sing, Animal Crackers), and eventually a co-founder of National Review. Ryskind was ejected from staff and school in March 1917 for his blistering attacks on the Big Names urging the U.S. to enter World War I – one of the Biggest being Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler. Later alumni include writers Herman Wouk (’34), Thomas Merton (’38) and Allen Ginsberg (’48); painter Ad Reinhardt (’36); playwright Tony Kushner (’78); and cartoonists Charles Saxon (’40) and Ed Koren (’57).

Jester flourished from the 1920s through the ’50s, though wartime paper rationing forced an awkward merger with the literary Columbia Review in 1943-45. The early-’40s Jester “reached an all-time high (or low) in the use of licentious wit,” said the Spectator, but more often the goal was New Yorker-ish sophistication. The magazine was named best in the country by the Association of College Comics in 1936-37 and ’37-38, the last years that award was given. It faltered in the 1960s, however, as off-campus ads and on-campus interest dried up. The first issue of 1966-67 didn’t appear until December. That spring, members of the school’s Afro-American Society confiscated 1,500 copies of the May issue and publicly burned 30 to protest a piece that, among other things, “satirically” called a new, all-black fraternity “a sort of haven for the noble savage” and predicted its members would soon turn the place back into a slum.

By 1969 Jester was struggling to come out once a year; by 1973 issues were little more than pamphlets. The college-humor revival sparked by National Lampoon’s Animal House provided a temporary reprieve — students named Jester their favorite campus publication in a 1979 poll — but issues were few and often unfunny: An uncredited 1986 fantasy about a male student slaughtering a “disgustingly obese girl” in one of his classes led to protests and a pledge to start running bylines. After a 1989 parody called “The Columbia Daily Defecator,” featuring a full-page photo of a toilet in a bathtub, the magazine disappeared for 12 years.

An ambitious revival in April 2001 fizzled, but another in 2006 seems to have stuck: More than 20 issues from the past decade are archived at columbiajester.com, including two from spring 2017. Like most surviving campus comics, Jester appears online and in print, carries few ads, and makes heavy use of lists, fake news items and other fast-acting humor formats. Unlike most, it has competition: The Federalist, which started as a conservative alternative to the Spectator in 1986 and by 2003 had evolved into an Onion-like monthly.

The earliest Jester parody to catch the Spectator’s eye appeared in April 1913, though the paper seemed unsure what it was looking at; the anonymous reviewer called the issue “a sort of Ladies’ Home Journal Number” containing “a much larger number of articles apropos of the title” that usual. Unfortunately, he saw little humor in “all the features written in Ladies’-Home-Journal-esque style…. The really entertaining articles are those having no connection” with the main theme.

1956 "Sanitary Review" cover

Jester’s 1956 “SR,” as shown in College Parodies (1961).

Seven years passed before the paper reviewed another Jester parody, this time approvingly: “[T]he editors of Jester have more than succeeded in producing a campus edition of Ben Franklin’s popular sheet, the Satevepost,” wrote “N.McK.” and “S.W.R.” on January 16, 1920. “From the Leyendeckerian cover … to the inevitable Arrow Collar (adv.) boy on the back, George Joker Macy and gang have produced a really clever burlesque of George Horace Lorimer’s great American failing, that, in our opinion, goes the Harvard Lampoon’s recent Cosmopolitan venture two or three better.” The parody proved so popular it was reprinted twice, though the covers of the third printing were lost on a freight train “somewhere between Troy and New York.”

1963 Playbile cover

“Playbile” (1963).

The 1922 “Columbia Alumni Dues” was unusual for being commissioned by the Alumni News to fill its October issue, rather like the Harvard Lampoon’s later parodies of (and in) Mademoiselle. Jester cut a similar deal with the Columbia Review in 1941, replacing all the November issue’s usual contents except two main feature articles. One contributor, a shadowy figure called “Jefferson Berryman,” may have been poet John Berryman, a former Review editor. Other notable stunts included the launch in 1934 of a fake rival to Jester called “The Columbia Calliope,” which lasted one issue, and a 1963 parody of Playbill, the Broadway magazine. Like its model, “Playbile” doubled as a theater program and was only sold at performances of the 69th annual Columbia Varsity Show, a musical travesty of Hamlet called Elsinore! The Spectator said “Playbile” mocked “every aspect of the magazine — the advertisements, the columns, the features, and ‘Who’s He in the Cast.’ … [I]t’s worth going to the Varsity Show just to pick up a copy.

Two pages from Liff and Laddies' Home Journal

Pages from “Liff” (1948) and “Laddies’ Home Journal” (1952).

Jester hit its parodic peak in the decade or so after World War II. The winning streak began with a 1945 takedown of Fortune featuring a seven-color cover, a “Fortune Survey” of Caramba (i.e., Columbia) College and a “behind-the-scenes look at the new Klopfinger Dam on the Dugong River in North Twang.” It ended in 1956 with a “trim and merciless” evisceration of Saturday Review, then as ever a bastion of well-meaning middlebrow liberalism. “Sanitary Review’s” targets included former Jester editor Cerf — a.k.a. “Scurf” — and SR editor Norman Cousins, whose editorials were skewered for their “pious partisanship and righteous naivete.”

Eight pages from "Reader's Dijest"

Page 1-5 of “Reader’s Dijest,” plus a few others.

The most successful parodies — and two of the best ever produced by any college mag — were the back-to-back takeoffs of Life and Reader’s Digest in 1948 and ’49. Both owed much to 1948-49 editor Bernard Shir-Cliff, who later packaged the first Mad paperbacks at Ballantine Books and contributed to the Sports Illustrated parody in Harvey Kurtzman’s Trump. Jester’s 48-page, oversize “Liff” sold out in May 1948 and was reprinted in August, eventually selling 20,000 copies nationwide. Pocket-size “Reader’s Dijest” did even better, with 30,000 copies distributed on 120 campuses. Both featured art by Burton Silverman, whose later works included covers for Time.

Real and fake Journal covers from 1951 and '52

The Journal lent Jester some used engraving plates, including the Oct. 1951 cover.

Almost as good was “Laddies’ Home Journal,” originally scheduled for December 1951 but delayed twice, the second time when the Federal Trade Commission ruled the cigarette ad on the already printed back cover was deceptive. (The ad claimed Camels had never caused a single case of throat irritation, which even then was a bit much.) Camel agreed to pay for a replacement cover, and the parody finally appeared in May 1952. The delay plus a 50-cent cover price apparently cut into sales: Jester ran ads for the next decade urging readers to buy leftover copies.

Real and parody versions of Columbia College Today

The real Columbia College Today (dated Spring 1968, but issued that fall) and Jester’s version.

Later parodies earned mixed reviews, including the last really ambitious effort: a point-by-point rejoinder to Columbia College Today’s 96-page report on the student occupation of the university in the spring of 1968. “Six Weeks that Shook Morningside” occupied an entire issue of CCT in fall 1968 and earned its author, CCT editor George Keller, the Atlantic Monthly’s Education Writer of the Year award. In May 1969, Jester responded with its only issue of the school year: “Columbia College Toady: 96 Pages that Distorted Six Weeks that Shook Morningside.” Spectator reviewer David Rosen praised Jester editor Tom Kramer and his staff for perfectly capturing “the pompous, overblown style” of the original, but found much of the humor “tired and hackneyed.” Still, he noted, the writers “managed to avoid taking sides. In this version of the Great Disruption, everybody, from [President Grayson] Kirk to [student radical Mark] Rudd, comes out looking like an idiot.” Years later, Kramer admitted that was intentional; the parody “was more a reaction to the reaction to [Keller’s] issue that to the issue itself,” he told CCT in 2008. “None of us was terribly political.”

Few old Jesters are posted online or listed on eBay; this list represents the best I could do without going to Morningside Heights and poring through the archives. (Any volunteers?) The Spectator wasn’t above ignoring Jester’s jokes at its expense, so some parodies of the paper may be missing; also missing are any parodies done by The Fed or by the Spectator itself. The word “in” before a date means the parody didn’t fill the entire issue but was one feature among many, like the four-page “Jester’s Own Police Gazette” of December 1919. One issue from spring 1937 may have started out as a parody of Judge but ended up a grab-bag of miscellaneous items, including a brief jab at The New Yorker, so it’s flagged COVER ONLY. As always, additions and corrections would be welcome.

A real 1937 Judge cover and Jester's copy

Though it aped Judge’s April 1937 cover, this Jester didn’t follow through inside.

Columbia Jester Parodies, 1913-1989:

Ladies’ Home Journal, in April 1913
Columbia Daily Spectator, 1919
Police Gazette (“Jester’s Own Police Gazette”), in Dec. 1919
Saturday Evening Post (“Saturday Evening Jester”), Jan. 1920
Columbia Alumni News (“Columbia Alumni Dues”), Oct. 1922 [published in the News]
La Vie Parisienne, in Feb. 1924
Typical tabloid newspaper (“Tabloid Number”), spring 1927
Columbia Daily Spectator (“…Daily Jester”), in Jan. 1933
“The Columbia Calliope: Jester’s Own Rival Publication,” Apr. 1934
Columbia Review, April 1935
Judge (“Fudge”), May(?) 1937 — COVER ONLY [but inside is a 3-page New Yorker spoof]
Police Gazette (“Police Gazette Jester”), in Nov. 1939
Columbia Daily Spectator, Nov. 1940
Columbia Review, Nov. 1941 [published in the Review]
Fortune, May 1945
Life (“Liff”), May 14, 1948; reprinted Aug. 15, 1948
Columbia Daily Spectator, Feb. 17, 1949
Reader’s Digest (“Reader’s Dijest”), [May] 1949
Ladies’ Home Journal (“Laddies’ Home Journal”), [May] 1952
Saturday Review (“Sanitary Review”), May 1956
Ivy, March 1958
Playbill (“Playbile”), May 1963
Columbia College Today (“Columbia College Toady”), April 1964
Fact, in November 1964 [“a short satire” of Ralph Ginzberg’s mag]
Columbia College Today: “Six Weeks that Shook Morningside” (“Columbia College Toady: 96 Pages that Distorted Six Weeks that Shook Morningside”), May 1969
Columbia Daily Spectator (“…Defecator”), February 22, 1989                   —VCR

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The Chaparral Mocks L&M, 1960

Chaparral's real and fake L&M ads

Less Tar, More Tasteless: Back covers from January and February 1960.

College students will parody almost anything, but you can flip though hundreds of old campus humor magazines without finding a fake cigarette ad. You’ll find hundreds of real ones, though: From the 1920s until 1963, tobacco companies were the biggest national advertisers in U.S. college media. According to scholar Elizabeth Crisp Crawford, in the early ’60s “nearly 2,000 college publications, mainly newspapers, received nearly 50 percent of their advertising revenue from the tobacco industry.”*

The proportion was likely higher for humor magazines: Even the shoddiest campus chuckle-sheet typically had a four-color, full-page cigarette ad on its back cover, and a fat book like the Yale Record might run several more inside. The revenue from one such ad often covered an issue’s entire production cost. In return, prudent editors stifled the urge to crack jokes about cancer sticks. This quid pro quo normally went unspoken, but on the rare occasions it was violated Big Tobacco’s minions on Mad Ave. weren’t shy about reminding the kids who signed the checks. The only unusual feature of this 1960 dust-up involving L&M and the Stanford Chaparral is that the latter made it public.

L&M debuted in 1953 as Liggett & Myers’ entry in the fast-growing filter-cigarette category. The Surgeon General’s report was still a decade away, but already there was growing evidence linking smoking to lung cancer. The industry’s response was a flurry of filtered and mentholated brands pitched as “milder,” “cleaner” and “cooler” than traditional smokes; if customers assumed they were also safer, so much the better. By the late ’50s, the Big Three advertisers of previous decades — Chesterfield, Camel and Lucky Strike — had given way to L&M, Winston (born 1954), Salem (b. 1956) and a rebranded Marlboro (b. 1924 as a “woman’s cigarette,” butched-up in 1955).

Real and fake Marlboro ads.

Marlboro ads from 1935 and 1955; spoofs from Nov. 1957 Cal Pelican and April 1956 Mad.

L&M’s first Chaparral ad ran on the February 1959 back cover, a spot it held on six of the next eight issues. College Magazines, Incorporated, the New York agency that placed national ads in most campuses, normally supplied a fresh pitch every month, whether the product changed or not, but the January 1960 Chaparral reprinted the L&M ad from December. The “L&N” parody appeared in February, and in March editor Ray Funkhouser received a very unhappy letter from a College Mags account manager named Philip Knowles.

College Magazines' letter

May 1960, page 3.

Knowles’ letter was published in the May 1960 issue. It packs so much sarcasm, condescension, realpolitik and bare-knuckle intimidation into a few hundred words that it deserves to be read in toto, but the highlight is surely the righteous disapproval of tasteless louts who “think remarks about cancer are funny.” In reply, the editors brazenly pled guilty as charged, then insinuated College Mags’ indignation had more to do with money than morality.

The kids had the last word in the argument, but Big Tobacco got the last laugh, just as Knowles predicted. The January 1960 Chaparral was the last to carry a real cigarette ad; for the rest of the school year, the usual back-cover client was local merchant Gleim Jewelers. In 1963, Big Tobacco “voluntarily” stopped advertising in campus publications as part of a last-ditch effort to head off federal legislation; the move failed to assuage the Feds but put the hurt on college newspapers and killed most of the humor titles. The Chaparral managed to survive, barely, but was never again as fat and profitable as it was in the ’50s. L&M, meanwhile, fell from 15 percent of the U.S. market in 1960 to less than 1 percent today, but in 2012 was the fourth biggest brand worldwide; it now spends almost all its advertising dollars overseas. — VCR

* Elizabeth Crisp Crawford, Tobacco Goes to College: Cigarette Advertising in Student Media, 1920-1980, (McFarland & Co., 2014), p. 34. Most of the book is a detailed study of one newspaper, The Orange and White at the University of Tennessee. Crawford barely mentions college humor mags, but their rise and fall correlates perfectly with the ebb and flow of cigarette ads in the O&W: Both took off in the ’20s, held on through the Depression, dipped during World War II, came back strong in the late ’40s and flourished in the ’50s.

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Parodies In Playboy, 1970-2000

Four Playboy self-parodies

Playboys for the USSR, China, Moral Majority and Dark Ages.

That’s “in,” not “of,” though some of the following are both. The Bunny Book is such an inviting target that not even Playboy could resist cooking up fake editions of itself every now and then. Self-parodies make up nearly half this list — and the most elaborate one isn’t even on it.

Pregnant Vargas girl

Vargas self-parody.

After seeing the Harvard Lampoon’s “Pl*yb*y” in 1966, a “delighted” Hugh Hefner telegraphed the ‘Poonies that “If a better parody of Playboy is every created, we reserve the right to do it ourselves.” True to his word, he commissioned an issue-length spoof, supervised by Harvey Kurtzman, that would have featured most of the magazine’s regulars mocking their own work. The story goes that it was nearly complete when Hef cooled on the idea and cancelled it. Fragments have since turned up at auction houses and bookstores, including a very pregnant and indignant Vargas girl, the art for a mock James Bond story, and a Ray Bradbury pastiche by William F. Nolan called “The Dandelion Chronicles.” Kurtzman and Will Elder produced a still-unpublished episode of “Little Annie Fanny” in which she tours the Playboy Mansion; cartoonist Skip Williamson told Kurtzman’s biographer Bill Schelly that it ended with Hefner ripping off his clothes to be revealed as Super-Bunny.

Playboy never explained why — or when — the project petered out (pun). The appearance of “Playbore” and “Playboy: The Parody” just two months apart in fall 1983 might have been the final nail, but work had already stalled; most of the material mentioned here was done in the ’60s and early ’70s. Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee, who worked on it, said the idea was doomed from the get-go because Hefner fundamentally didn’t see anything ridiculous about Playboy or its mission — or about sex, really. Like many visionary magazine makers, he was his own ideal reader.

Playboy's National Pornographic

The cover and first page of National Pornographic (1975).

The four self-parodies that did make it into print are staff-written and, not surprisingly, rather toothless. All ridicule uncool losers (commies, prudes, 10th-century peasants) who just aren’t cut out for the sophisticated, high-end Playboy lifestyle; the lifestyle itself goes unquestioned. “National Pornographic,” by contrast, gleefully mocks National Geographic’s classic trope of tropical maidens on bare-breasted islands, or whatever. The full-color feature on insects humping (thoughtfully posted above) is such a juvenile idea you can’t help but laugh. In “How Other Magazines Would Photograph a Playmate,” the mag’s editors and lensmen have fun with the styles of ten magazines from True Detective to Vogue; the results are visually and verbally impeccable.

Three parodies by freelancers

Spoofs by freelancers Sussman, Slansky and Wieder.

The other parodies were done by outsiders. Gerald Sussman contributed “The Hole Earth Catalog” the year before he joined the editorial board of National Lampoon. (This was around the time in the ’70s when NatLamp was Playboy’s biggest rival for the eyeballs of male collegians.) Paul Slansky, formerly with Spy and now a Slate columnist, wrote “USSR Today” when both glasnost and the Gannett daily were new. And Robert S. Wieder, who for years did Playboy’s annual “Celebrity Christmas Carols,” ridiculed Men’s Health for its heretical notion that women might prefer guys with six-pack abs and bulging biceps to those with single-malt scotches and sports cars. —VCR

Parodies in Playboy, 1970-2000:

Playmates seen by other magazinesTrue Detective, Fortune, Family Circle, True, Life, Consumer Reports, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Popular Photography, Vogue (“How Other Magazines Would Photograph a Playmate”), Feb. 1970, 10 pp.
The Whole Earth Catalog (“The Hole…”), Feb. 1972, 3 pp.
National Geographic (“National Pornographic”), Dec. 1975, 7 pp.
Playboy (“Playboy” in Cyrillic), Jan. 1977, 7 pp. [“New Soviet Edition”]
Playboy, Sept. 1979, 7 pp. [“New Chinese Edition”]
Playboy (“Prayboy”), Dec. 1984, 8 pp. [Moral Majority edition]
USA Today (“USSR Today”), Oct. 1986, 6 pp.
Men’s Health (“Men’s Help!”), Aug. 1997, 5 pp.
Playboy, Jan. 2000, 4 pp. [dated January 1000 A.D.]

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Corey Ford’s “Mis-Fortune,” 1934

Corey Ford's Misfortune

Parody Of: Fortune. Title: “Mis-Fortune.” In: Vanity Fair, March 1934, pp. 22-23, 62.
By: “John Riddell” (Corey Ford).  Availability: Findable; usually pricey.

March 1934 Vanity Fair cover

Dwight Macdonald dismissed Corey Ford’s parodies as “mild” and didn’t include him in his magisterial Parodies: An Anthology from Chaucer to Beerbohm – And After (Random House, 1960). I’m hesitant to disagree with Macdonald — his book is merely the best thing ever done on the topic of literary parody — but he was strict grader, and Ford was something of a class clown: Like Mad a generation later, he had no qualms about putting authors in their own universes or breaking the fourth wall for the sake of a joke.

Ford went directly from Columbia University, where he edited the Jester and (therefore?) didn’t graduate, to the pages of Life, Judge and, especially, the old Vanity Fair. From the late ’20s until VF’s demise in 1936, he was in nearly every issue with a feature, profile or “Impossible Interview,” the last illustrated by the great Miguel Covarrubias. Meanwhile, his alter ego “John Riddell” wrote a monthly parody — usually of a recent bestseller, but every now and then of a magazine. Before tackling Fortune, he spoofed Time as “Time-and-a-Half” in March 1933 and George Jean Nathan’s American Spectator (no kin to the current title) as “The American Spectre” two months later. There may be others; I haven’t seen every issue. But I doubt any top “mis-Fortune.”

Last page of "mis-Fortune"

“Mis-Fortune,” continued.

Henry Luce planned Fortune to be a big, beautiful celebration of American capitalism, but it had the ill luck to debut in February 1930, just as the Depression was settling in. It was still big, beautiful and resolutely pro-Free Enterprise (and expensive, going for $1.00 a copy when Time was 15 cents and the SatEvePost a nickel), but in the ’30s it spent as much time diagnosing Big Business’s problems as cheering its success. The early Fortune’s specialty was exhaustively researched, multi-part dissections of publicity-shy corporations and complex business arrangements. Many of them were written by bright, young Ivy Leaguers (all male, of course) with a leftish outlook, including Archibald MacLeish, James Agee and future anthologist Macdonald. “There are men who can write poetry, and there are men who can read balance sheets,” Luce once said. “We made the discovery that it was easier to turn poets into business journalists than to turn bookkeepers into writers.”

Page from the real Fortune in 1934

The real Fortune, August 1934

Depression-era readers were hungry for facts, and Fortune supplied them, sometimes in a breathless gush out of scale with the info’s importance. “Mis-Fortune’s” opening riff on “an ordinary paper-clip, magnified to one thousand times its natural size,” is absurd but not unjustified. For comparison, here’s a snippet from the real Fortune for August 1934: “The average Greyhound [bus] is a body job thirty-three feet long, and reaches the average legal width of ninety-six inches (the average Buick is seventy-two inches wide). When loaded to its capacity of thirty-three passengers, it weighs – nickelwork, insignia, pretty curtains, and all – eleven tons. If you as a private citizen should be so rash as to offer to buy it, it would cost you $13,500….” And so on for several hundred more words.

Ford is particularly good on Fortune’s bombastic/omniscient house style: For maximum impact, imagine “mis-Fortune” being read by a 1930s newsreel narrator. Like all Ford’s VF parodies, “mis-Fortune” is brief — too brief to duplicate the lushness of Fortune’s art and photo spreads — but it makes the most of its two facing, almost Fortune-size pages. Its three photos of regimented pencil sharpeners, typewriter keys, and workmen not only mock Fortune’s taste for heroic industrial photography, they make a sharper point about the Big-Business Mentality than anything in the text. As a parodist, Ford was too fond of his subject’s foibles to savage them, but he was delighted to point them out. Class clowns usually are. —VCR

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MIT Voo Doo Parodies, 1923-1991.

Covers of five Voo Doo parodies

Clockwise from left: Voo Doo parodies from 1966, 1965, 1961, 1958 and 1931.

If you’ve got a few free hours, head over to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website and dive into the VooDoo Archive. The second most famous funnybook in Cambridge, Voo Doo (as it was usually spelled) was never as profitable or as polished as the Harvard Lampoon, but it was a better mirror of trends in campus humor. The Archive has major gaps in the mid-1920s through early ’40s, but it gives a good overview of Voo Doo history up through 2004; most later issue are posted on the magazine’s own website. (If you’d like to contribute money or missing issues, write voodoo [at] mit.edu.)

Mascot Phosphorus the cat, 1919

Mascot Phosphorus

Voo Doo debuted in March 1919 as successor to the even-more-oddly named Woop Garoo, which published three issues in 1918. The second issue introduced Phosphorus, a real black-and-white alley cat who morphed into the mag’s mascot. According to the Archive, early Voo Doos consisted largely of “jokes, drawings, and satirical essays about such matters as exams, professors, dating, and drinking.” These remained the magazine’s obsessions for 40 years and occasionally got it into trouble: After an “especially offensive” issue in 1928-29, school authorities censured Voo Doo and forced several board members to resign.

Jock World coverVoo Doo was famous in college humor circles for its tireless efforts to slip off-color material past faculty censors — a campaign that became more and more successful as the ’60s loosened up. “Socialite Beats Off Six Stranglers” was the front-page headline of 1965’s Boston Record-American parody. The sports and scandal mashup “Jock World, incorporating Athletic Supporter” (April 1966) featured a high-hurdler named “Dick Hertz,” repeated use of the number 69, and countless puns on the word “balls.”

Surprisingly, “Jock World” appeared just three months after one of Voo Doo’s smartest parodies, “The Noo Yawk Times Magazine” (January 1966). From the cover photo of a vital South Vietnamese mayonnaise factory to the cheerfully optimistic report from troubled but pro-western “South Bhramanesia,” the issue ridicules the press’ lap-dog attitude toward an administration and foreign policy establishment hell-bent on waging an unpopular war. (The fact that Harvard was the epicenter of that establishment must have been icing on the cake.) In general, Voo Doo’s national parodies, like the regular issues, tended to be strong on jokes and weak on presentation. The best, including 1965’s “Popular Everything” and the two Scientific American spoofs, usually targeted hard-science publications.

New York Times parody pages

Youth on Asia in the 1966 “Noo Yawk Times Magazine.”

Voo Doo’s decline in the late 1960s was steep and sudden: from nine issue in 1967-68 to only four in ’68-69, the last a 32-page, bare-bones “Golden Anniversary Issue” dated March 1969, exactly 50 years after the first. After that, the mag disappeared for six years. When a “Resurrection issue” finally appeared in 1975, it blamed the old Voo Doo’s demise on “the editors refusal to compromise their artistic integrity over … a debt roughly the size of the gross national product of the Dominican Republic.”

The revived Voo Doo produced a handful of zine-like, mostly ad-free issues before being incorporated into a short-lived proto-Onion called Thursday VooDoo (1978-79). Its successor, Tool & Die, debuted in Fall 1983 with 16 pages, no advertising and a $1 price tag. T&D struggled to publish more than once a year and never established an identity. In 1987 it became VooDoo’s Tool & Die and by 1990 was again just VooDoo (one word this time). The new VooDoo claims to come out twice a year, but its current status is unknown: The most recent issue online is dated Spring 2015.

Three Voo Doo Tech parodies

Voo Doo “Techs” from 1937, 1964 and 1985

Under whatever name, M.I.T.’s post-1975 humor publications haven’t had the resources or ambition to put out large-scale magazine parodies, though both the old and new Voo Doos delighted in mocking the school newspaper, The Tech. Bad blood between the two dates back to 1926, when Tech staffers obtained advance proofs of a Voo Doo parody of their paper and published it several days early, with a rebuttal. Voo Doo has also targeted the specialized Tech Engineering News, the staff newsletter Tech Talk (spoofed as “Tick Tock” in 1966) and the monthly MIT Reports on Research (founded 1958, parodied 1975). Voo Doo even published a parody of itself, produced by the Tech Engineering News, in the same issue that contained its second T.E.N. spoof — a rare instance of a humor mag giving the opposition equal time.

Cover-only parodies from 1930, 1947 and 1968

Bait and Switch: Cover-only parodies from 1930, 1947 and 1968.

The following list is as complete as possible given the gaps in the VooDoo Archive, which is missing at least three early parodies: the 1923 “Newspaper Number,” 1931’s “Vanity Fair” and the 1939 spoof of Time. The files of The Tech mention very few Voo Doo parodies from the magazine’s first three decades, which I take as a sign they were relatively rare. Every now and then, Voo Doo would imitate another publication’s cover without following through inside; I’ve tagged those parodies COVER ONLY as a warning to readers expecting more. As always, additions and corrections would be appreciated.

Voo Doo Parodies, 1923-1991:

[Updated Oct. 11, 2017]

Generic newspapers (“Newspaper Number”), December 1923
The Tech,  1926
Tech Engineering News, November 1930
Vanity Fair, February 1931
Generic tabloid (“Voo Doo”), February 1932 [COVER ONLY]
The Tech, November 9, 1934 [mentioned in Tech self-parody pub. 11/13/34]
The Tech, September 24, 1937
Tech Engineering News, November 1937
Voo Doo [by Tech Engineering News, published in Voo Doo], November 1937
Time, November 1939
Harper’s Bazaar (“Harper’s Brazeer”), May 1945
Time (“Voo Doo”), February 1947 [COVER ONLY]
The Tech (“The Wreck”), November 1951
Scientific American (“Pseudo Scientific American”), December 1958
The New Yorker (“The New Yakker”), January 5, 1960
Good Housekeeping (“Good Housecreeping”), May 1961
Tech Engineering News (“Tech Engineering Nonsense”), March 1962
Scientific American (“Pseudo Scientific American”), February 1963
Generic mens mag (“Raw Guts”), January 1964
The Tech (“The Rech”), May 1, 1964
Playboy (“Gayboy”), February 1965
Boston Record American (“Wretched American”), May 1965 (though dated April 23)
The New York Times Magazine (“Noo Yawk Times Magazine”). January 8, 1966
Generic sports mag (“Jock World”), April 1966
Tech Talk (“Tick Tock”), April 27, 1966
The Harvard Lampoon (“The Harvard Tampoon”), in May 1966
Popular Science (“Popular Everything”), May 1967
The Tech entertainment section (“Tech In Twilight”), January 11, 1968
Time (“Voodoo”), April 1, 1968 [COVER ONLY]
TV Guide (“VD Guide”), May 1968
MIT Reports on Research, May 1975 [parody dated “March 1974”]
Undergraduate Residence Guide (“Voo Doo Supplement to…”), November 1975
The Whole Earth Catalog (“The Whole Gnurd Catalog”), April 1976
The Tech (“A Tech”), October 30, 1981
Consumer Reports (“Consumers Report”), in Tool & Die, Fall 1983
The Tech (“The Tecque”), by Tool & Die, May 2, 1985
Parade, Winter 1991


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“Paul Ryan: The Magazine” Needs You

Prototype covers for Paul Ryan parody

Prototype covers for “Paul Ryan: The Unofficial Magazine.”

The brains behind last summer’s masterful online-only parody of The New Yorker (a.k.a. “The Neu Jorker”) are now seeking funds for their follow-up project: an “unofficial parody magazine” devoted to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. In addition to mocking the Wisconsin Republican, the one-shot publication will also be “a satire on the entire magazine industry,” organizers Andrew Lipstein and James Folta promise in their four-minute Kickstarter video: “Each page will take on a different genre, like muscle magazines … sports magazines … in-flight magazines….” Their as-yet-unnamed co-conspirators include veterans of the Onion, McSweeney’s, Mad, the Paris Review and other mags and TV shows. Ryan himself hasn’t endorsed the project, for some reason, but the guys have found a plausible stand-in by the name of Branson Reese.

Branson Reese, Andrew Lipstein and James Folta

Too tall for Paul?: Lipstein (center) and Folta inspect Ryan wannabe Reese.

Lipstein and Folta hope to raise $10,000 in their Kickstarter campaign, which ends February 10. Right now they’re about $8,400 short of that, so parody fans who want to be part of the “Paul Ryan” phenomenon should head over here and open their wallets, just as I did. (Per Kickstarter policy, pledges will be collected only if the funding goal is met.) The creators hope to have the mag out in October, by which time the real Paul Ryan could be anything from Leader of the Free World to a small pile of irradiated ashes, depending on how the Trump era plays out. Stay tuned. — VCR

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