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.

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