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

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

College Parodies (Ballentine Books, 1961)

Ad for College Parodies

A full-page ad from 1961.

Book: College Parodies (New York: Ballantine Originals, 1961).
By: Will and Martin Lieberson (editors). Pages: 254.
Parodies Of: See below. Availability: Easy to find online.

I know of only three anthologies of magazine and newspaper parodies, and two of them have the word “lampoon” in their titles.* The third is Will and Martin Lieberson’s College Parodies, a mass-market paperback released by Ballantine Books in 1961 at the then-outrageous price of 75 cents. It’s long out of print, but abebooks.com has dozens from under $4 to over $30. If you’re at all interested in the subject, you should own it.

Stanford's Pest and College Parodies' reprint

Stanford’s “Pest” re(pro)duced in College Parodies.

True to its name, College Parodies contains extracts from over two dozen of the things, all published between 1939 and 1959. (There are also comic-strip parodies, many from the Stanford Chaparral’s annual “Crash Comics.”) The book’s only serious flaw is its pulp-paper, pocket-size, black-and-white format, which can’t do justice to works like the Chaparral’s “Saturday Evening Pest.” Other selections range from the Yale Record’s famous “Daily News” of 1946 — which received high praise and two pages of free publicity in Life — to local efforts by the Ohio Green Goat and Lafayette Marquis. The Liebersons don’t say why they chose these particular examples, nor do they say much else: There’s no preface or introduction, and only minimal copyright info. To remedy this, here’s …

College Parodies coverWho Did Whom in College Parodies:

Cover covers (top row, from left): Yale Record, 1959; Illinois Chaff, 1958; Denison Campus, 1954; Columbia Jester, 1956; Harvard Lampoon, 1956; (second row) Yale Record, 1955; Columbia Jester, 1948; Stanford Chaparral, 1955; Stanford Chaparral, 1957; (third row) Pennsylvania Highball, c. 1955; Columbia Jester, 1952; Stanford Chaparral, 1959; Yale Record, 1951. (All but Highball’s “Pest” are excerpted inside.)

  • Ladies Home Journal: Columbia Jester, May 1952  (pages 17-32).
  • Look: Stanford Chaparral, Mar. 9, 1955 (33-43, 46-49), Cornell Widow (44-45).
  • Saturday Review: Columbia Jester, May 1956 (51-62)
  • Sports Illustrated: Yale Record, Feb. 1959 (63-65, 70-73); Lafayette Marquis (66-69); Illinois Chaff (70).
  • Holiday: Stanford Chaparral, April 1957 (75-87).
  • New York Daily News: Yale Record, Dec. 1946 (88-98).
  • The New Yorker: Yale Record, Feb. 1956 (99); Michigan Gargoyle, March 1955; Harvard Lampoon, May 15, 1948.
  • True: Stanford Chaparral, April 1959 (115-116, 124-126); Yale Record, [?]  (117-123 [?]); Purdue Rivet (127); Michigan Gargoyle (128-129).
  • Confidential: Syracuse Syracusan, Feb. 1957 (131-142).
  • Life: Columbia Jester, May 14, 1948, reprinted Aug. 15, 1948 (143-153, 156-58).
  • Playboy: Illinois Chaff, March 1958 (167-68, 174-79, “Careless” on 181); Cornell Widow, Dec. 1957 (169-73, “Sticky” on 181); Ohio Green Goat, Jan. 1956 [sic; really Jan. 1957] (182).
  • Time: Ohio State Sundial, May 24, 1958 (183, “Letter” on 185); Cornell Widow, April 1958 (184-187); Florida Orange Peel, undated [1958] (188).
  • Saturday Evening Post: Stanford Chaparral, March 10, 1954 (189-199, 202); California Pelican, Nov. 1958 (203-204).
  • Reader’s Digest: Columbia Jester, 1949 (205-16).
  • Esquire: Yale Record, Feb. 1955 (217-19, 222-30).
  • Newsweek: Harvard Lampoon, March 22, 1956 (231-38).
  • “Smut” (generic men’s mag): Yale Record, Feb. 1951 (239-51).

— VCR
__________________________
* 100 Years of Harvard Lampoon Parodies (Harvard Lampoon, 1976), and National Lampoon Magazine Rack (National Lampoon Press, 2008).

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