Parodies of Life, Part 1: 1937-1945

Fake Life Begins: Early parodies from Penn State (top), Missouri (below) and Penn (right)

(Date – Parody By: “Parody Title,” Length.)

  • January 1937 – Penn State Froth: “Froth,” 1 page + front cover.
  • January 1937 – USC Wampus: “How to Reduce” (article from “Strife”), USC Wampus, 2p.
  • February 1937 – Missouri Showme: “Strife,” 24p + 4c.
  • April 23, 1937 – Pennsylvania Punch Bowl: “Punch Bowl’s Life,” 56p + 4c.
  • April 23, 1938 – The New Yorker: “The Birth of an Adult” (article), 2p.
  • January 1939 – Penn State Froth: “Life Goes to a Froth Party” (article), 1p.
  • November 1939 – Wisconsin Octopus: “Life Discloses The Happy Weekend of a Wisconsin Coed” (article), 1p.
  • December 13, 1940 – U.S. Naval Academy Log: “Log,” 64p + 4c.
  • March 5, 1941 – Ohio State Sundial: “Life Comes to Ohio State” (article), 2p.
  • May 5, 1941 – Michigan Gargoyle: “Garg,” 52p.
  • October 25, 1941 – The New Yorker: “Life Goes to the Collapse of Western Civilization” (article), 3p.
  • January 1942 – Stanford Chaparral: “…How to Tell an L.Y.B. from a Chinese” (article), 0.67p.
  • May 20, 1942 – Yale Record: “The Record Goes to Wartime Yale” (article), 5p.
  • October 1942 – Penn State Froth: “Life Goes to Penn State” (article), 2p.
  • May 1943 – Stanford Chaparral: “Like,” 32p + 4c.
  • September 30, 1943 – Merced Army Air Field Flight Lines: “MAAF,” 44p + 4c.
  • Fall 1943 — German Ministry of Propaganda, “Life/Life?” (leaflet/poster), 8p on 2.
  • February 25, 1944 – U.S. Naval Academy Log: “Log,” 56p + 4c.
  • Fall 1944 — German Ministry of Propaganda, “Life/Death” (leaflet), 2p.
  • February 23, 1945 – U.S. Naval Academy Log: “Log,” 44p + 4c.
Luce by Will Cotton,
The New Yorker, 1936

The most famous parody Life inspired wasn’t a parody of Life. The first issue of Time Inc.’s picture weekly was still on the stands in 1936 when The New Yorker published Wolcott Gibbs’s Profile of publisher Henry R. Luce. Written entirely in backward-running, multi-adjectived early Timestyle, “Time … Fortune … Life … Luce” exposed the inner workings of man and mags in intimate detail, memorably ending, “Where it all will end, knows God!” Luce suspected the story might be payback for a similar vivisection of The New Yorker in Fortune two years earlier, but he cooperated to promote Life. He was furious when New Yorker editor Harold Ross showed him an advance copy, and when Luce was furious, he stuttered.

“Goddamn it, Ross, this whole goddamned piece is ma-ma-malicious, and you know it!” he said when the two sides met at Ross’s apartment just before publication.

“You’ve put your finger on it, Luce,” Ross replied; “I believe in malice.”

Luce could have spared himself the heartburn. With or without The New Yorker’s blessing, Life was going to be a hit. The development of sharper, smaller cameras in the early ’30s had sparked a boom in candid news photos and inspired successful large-format weeklies in Europe. For Time Inc., which was already exploring photojournalism in Fortune and The March of Time, it was a natural next step.

Early on, in-house experts projected Life might sell 250,000 copies a week, total; it reached 235,000 in advance subscriptions alone. When the first issue went on sale on November 19, 1936, the Thursday before the cover date, all 200,000 newsstand copies disappeared that day. “The demand for Life is completely without precedent in publishing history,” circulation manager Pierre Prentice wrote, “There is no way we could anticipate a bigger newsstand business in the first month than magazines like Collier’s and Satevepost have built up in thirty years.” By the end of its first year, Life’s circulation was 1.5 million; six months later it passed 2 million. 

Success spawned imitators and parodists. The commercial ripoffs favored cheap paper and punchy titles like Click, Pic, Spot and Dash. Most were “edited with the viewpoint of a circus sideshow – heavy on cheesecake and the freakish,” Robert Elson wrote in Time Inc.’s official history. (Only Gardner Cowles’s Look lasted, and it was in the works before Life debuted.) Life-like photo spreads began to appear in annual reports and house organs, and picture magazines sprang up on campuses from UCLA to Dartmouth. College humor mags added photo pages; at least one, the M.I.T. Voo Doo, changed its whole personality: “It is no longer primarily a humor magazine, . . . because college humor magazines in general are a mistake,” school paper The Tech sniffed in May 1939. “The substitute . . . bears a resemblance to the magazine, Life, but it is a well done resemblance, and does the resembler credit.” Fortunately, the comic spirit proved unkillable, and Voo Doo was soon its discreditable old self.

“How to Reduce,” from “Strife,” USC Wampus, 1937

The Southern Cal Wampus and Penn State Froth pounced on Life at once, getting brief spoofs into parody issues already scheduled for January 1937. Froth was first to run a fake Life cover, but the first issue-length takeoffs were the Missouri Showme’s “Strife” in February and “Punch Bowl’s Life” at Penn in April. Their haphazard layouts and tiny photos look crude now — they looked crude then — but they’re only slightly worse than some of the real thing’s early pages.

Suggestive cover hides solid reporting in the Michigan Gargoyle’s “Garg,” 1941.

Like Punch Bowl’s, most college “Lifes” were less parodies than small-scale emulations, set in a world that ended at the campus gates. Some had so much fun pretending to be Life they neglected to make fun of it: “Strife’s” headline calling nearby Stephens College for women “A Shining Pearl in U.S. Educational Diadem” isn’t sarcasm but the intro to a five-page puff-piece. The Michigan  Gargoyle’s “Garg” raised eyebrows in 1941 with its open-throated cover girl, but the lead story on a campus antiwar rally is straight reporting, as is most of what follows. Other emulations mixed factual local features with spoofs of the outside world. A few dispensed with jokes entirely — an understandable decision for the Naval Academy Log in 1944 and ’45, if not for a civilian comic in peacetime.

Three Life-like Navy Logs
The Annapolis Log as Life in 1940, ’44 and ’45

Students who had seen the story-making machinery up close were less respectful. After visits from Life crews in 1939-42, the humor mags at Wisconsin, Ohio State and Yale all mocked them for missing the dullness and/or debauchery behind the ivy-covered facades. The Yale Record was confident enough to send its five-page spoof to press weeks before “Yale at War” appeared in Life’s June 6, 1942, issue: The creators badly overestimated the number of swimsuits the real story would display. But such cynics were exceptions: Life wanted be liked, and in the ’30s and ’40s it was often copied but seldom mocked.

The Yale Record’s preview of Life’s view of Yale; right: Life’s “Yale at War”

Except at The New Yorker. Relations had started badly in 1925, when two-year-old Time panned The New Yorker’s first issue. They grew worse after Ross’s right-hand man Ralph Ingersoll defected to Luce and aired Eustice Tilley’s underthings in Fortune. (The story ran without a byline, but all concerned knew.) History aside, the understated, unflappable New Yorker and bubbly cheerleader Life were never going to be besties. In 1938, when Life made headlines and risked bans with four pages of stills from an educational film on childbirth, The New Yorker’s E.B. White and Carl Rose responded with “The Birth of an Adult.” One key to maturity, they insisted, was giving up pablum like Life. An early-’40s Garrett Price cartoon was more succinct: “Is it okay, Joe,” one ad copywriter asks another under a wall of Life covers, “to refer to our subscribers as readers?”

From “The Birth of a Adult,” The New Yorker, 1938

The harshest blow was “Life Goes to the Collapse of Western Civilization,” by Russell Maloney and Rea Irwin. Published shortly before Pearl Harbor, the three-page pictorial leeringly followed two attractive models around Manhattan as New York fell to Axis invaders. “Harold Ross, always glad to tweak what he considered the pomposity of Luce and his magazines, took note of Life’s simultaneous fascination with ‘pretty women’ and its doomsday fantasies as it attempted to prepare its readers for war,” Alan Brinkley wrote in his biography of Luce. “Luce had reacted to The New Yorker’s satirical 1936 profile of him with almost violent fury. But by 1941 he was so deeply immersed in the cause of the Allies that he gave The New Yorker, and his other critics, virtually no notice at all.” 

“Life” during wartime: The New Yorker, 1941

Life’s first issue after the U.S. entered World War II contained one its most embarrassing editorial missteps: a two-page primer on (literal) racial discrimination called “How to Tell Japs From the Chinese” (Dec. 22, 1941). The Stanford Chaparral responded in January 1942, pushing Life’s loaded adjectives and wispy distinctions to absurdity in “How To Tell an L.Y.B. From a Chinese.” Its casual use of racist language to express anti-racist sentiments wouldn’t fly today, but it’s a time capsule of Stanford’s mood in the months between Pearl Harbor and the internment orders, when a thirst for vengeance against Japan mixed with concern for the feelings and safety of Japanese-American fellow students (of whom there were around 30 at Stanford in 1941-42). Significantly, though the issue is called the “L.Y.B. Number,” the phrase “little yellow bastards” never appears, and the writing steers away from the kind of vituperation mocked in “How To Tell… .” (The cartoons are a different story, as usual.)

Life’s 1941 how-to and the Chaparral’s rejoinder; 1943’s “Japanazi”

Chappie’s “Like” in May 1943 also wobbled between crudity and restraint. The face on the cover is the standard buck-toothed, four-eyed stereotype (though in a German helmet), but the story inside says nothing about the physical appearance or innate viciousness of the enemy “Japanazis.” The battle to oust them from a bridge in nearby Vallejo is a bloodless romp that only ensures “a quarter million free Luckies . . . reached our Boys overseas.” Other stories put comic spins on favorite Life subjects — the brilliant thinker who sounds like an idiot, the apple-cheeked teenager dating a drag racer — all of them located in and around Palo Alto.

The longest passage in “Like” that sounds even half sincere is an editorial regretting the “brilliant” idea of creating it in the first place: “This required changing our usual page sizes and make-up and produced general chaos and upheaval . . . . Not the least of our worries was the taking of the numerous pictures . . . [which] requires more time than filling a space of equal size with type.” The Chaparral wasn’t alone in finding Life hard to copy: Only the most meticulous editors had the time or skill to match its trademark squared-off text blocks and photo captions, which always ended with a full line of type.

Future pilots in the Merced Army Air Field Flight Lines’s “MAAF,” 1943

Life’s war coverage pushed its circulation past 5 million and made it a worldwide symbol of U.S. power and influence. The staff of Flight Lines magazine at the Merced Army Air Field in California borrowed some of that glamor for its September 1943 cadet class book, using Life’s format to show that pilot trainees “do occasionally leave their work . . . to eat, to talk . . . to keep up on the events of the world and the war . . . or just to relax.” Opposite a fake ad inviting graduates to “See Scenic Germany — While It’s Still There,” the editors ran a letter from the real Life giving permission for the parody, as long as it didn’t have “a very close imitation of Life’s cover … [or] the word Life in a box as we use it … so there is no possibility of confusion.”

1943 Life (to scale) with Axis poster (folded and unfolded) and two “Life/Death” cards

The memo didn’t reach German propagandists who dropped an eight-page leaflet/poster on U.S. air bases in East Anglia that same fall. “The front page was an actual reproduction of [the cover of] the true Life issue for July 26, 1943, with pictures of 8th Air Force crews,” R.G. Auckland and Kenneth B. Moore wrote in Messages from the Sky over Britain (London: Psywar Society, 1998), “but the remaining seven pages showed gruesome and horrifying pictures of aircrews who had been killed over Germany, together with many speeches, reports and quotations on the subject of the air bombing of the Third Reich. . . . No mention of the incident appeared in the contemporary national press.” (The whole gory thing can be seen at imgur.com/a/Y2w6u.) A few months after D-Day, postcard-size “Life” covers dated October and November 1944 cropped up in Italy: One one side, a nude woman posed under the familiar logo; on the other, a skull in an army helmet hovered between the red-boxed word “Death” and the date “Doomsday 1944.” At least six different photos were used on the nude side, while the skull alternated between British and American headgear.

“Though we did not plan Life as a war magazine, it turned out that way,” Luce once said. But while the World War II years were Life’s greatest era, the late ’40s and ’50s were its grandest. It was then that parodists outside The New Yorker turned their sights on Life itself, mocking not just the things it covered but the way it covered them. They’ll be the subjects of my next post. — VCR

Wisconsin Octopus Parodies, 1920-1959

Six Octopus parodies.

The Magazine

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

Covers of Playboy and parody

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

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

First Octopus cover

Vol. 1, no. 1

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

1939's one-page Life spoof

Spoofing Life, 1939

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

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

1951 DailyCardinal parody

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

II: The Parodies

Octy's 1920 "Vie Parisienne" cover.

May 1920

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

Covers of Chicago Tribune and Time parodies

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

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

Pages from Octy's Life parody

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

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

Real 1950 Flair cover

Flair, Feb. 1950

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

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

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

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

Other Octopus Parodies, 1920-1959:

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

Sources:

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

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

— VCR

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

Collier's cover and Shaft's parody

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts from Collier's and Shaft

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

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

Shaft, Jan. 1952

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

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

Covers of Shaft's other parodies.

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

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

Cartoon and Illustration from Collier's

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

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

Collier's and Shaft inside art.

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

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

Playboy Parodies 1: College, 1955-1989

Twelve collegiate Playboy parodies.

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

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

Illinois Chaff, 1958.

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

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

Cover of 1955 Arizona Playgirl

Arizona Kitty Kat, 1955.

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

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

Cover and pages from Yale's 1958 Ployboy

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

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

Cover and three pages from Texas Ranger's 1963 Playbull

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

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

Covers and foldouts from three yearbooks.

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

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

Addis apes Wilson in “Peelboy.”

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

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

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

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

Covers of 6 Playboy parodies

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

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

Playboy Parodies I: College, 1955-1989

A. By Magazines

Princeton's 1955 Placebo.

Princeton Tiger, 1955.

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

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

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

B. In Yearbooks

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

— VCR (updated 11/13/19)

 

Jester’s “Columbia College Toady,” 1969

Covers of real CCT and Today

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

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

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

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

Excerpts from both introductions

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

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

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

Art from CCT and Toady

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

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

First words of CCT and Toady

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

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

Three poems from Toady

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

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

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

Back covers of CCT and Toady

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

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

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

Parthanon falls in the Lampoon's Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.—VCR

Duke + Look = “Dook,” 1949

Covers of real Look and fake Dook

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

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

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

Three pages from Look's story.

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

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

The Big Game story in Dook

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

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

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

Bushy Cook and Ramses in Dook.

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

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

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

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
Weekly World News (“Voo Doo’s News”), Winter 1990 (added 1/19/2020)
Parade, Winter 1991

— VCR