Punch Parodies 1: 1954-1956

Highlights: Punch versions of Reader’s Digest (1956) and The New Yorker (1954)

Punch (1841-1992) loved parody from birth, but it waited over a century to do a full-scale takeoff of another publication. The main holdup was its mid-Victorian layout, which left targets from The Yellow Book to yellow journalism looking very much like Punch. Big change only came in 1949, when art editor Kenneth Bird (a.k.a. the cartoonist “Fougasse”) became the first visual thinker to get the top job. He introduced modern design and typography but left the editorial mix mostly intact. Circulation, which had peaked around 175,000 in 1947, was 130,000 when he stepped down at the end of 1952.

3 early Punch parodies
Punch on The Yellow Book (Feb. 2, 1895), The New Age (May 4, 1910) and picture weeklies (April 13, 1910)

To replace Bird, owner/printers Bradbury & Agnew named Malcolm Muggeridge, the 49-year-old Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph. He was an unlikely choice. The typical Punch editor had been a long-time staffer who had mastered the mag’s clubby ways and shared its Tory politics. Muggeridge was a self-described “incurable journalist” who had never written for Punch and claimed not to read it. Though born into the Labour Party — his father was briefly an M.P. — he became a fervent anti-Communist and Christian apologist after covering Moscow in the 1930s, yet he never lost his innate contempt for wealth, power and conventional opinion, right or left. Mainly he liked to stir things up, first in print and later on TV talk shows. With his sardonic eyebrows and lipless grin, he even looked like Mr. Punch, although he claimed to have no sense of humor — or need one: His job, he said, was to “throw a firecracker into a mausoleum.”

MM, 1953

Muggeridge lasted only five years at Punch — the length of his starting contract, which neither side felt like renewing — but he made a century’s worth of changes. Out went whimsical anecdotes, flower-bordered poems and Richard Doyle’s 1847 cover; in came biting political cartoons, topical satire and celebrity bylines. Not everything worked, but the shake-up got Punch talked about and boosted sales, though readers eventually tired of the constant jeering. (Published numbers for Punch circulation are few and suspiciously round: Muggeridge told The New York Times in early 1956 it was “150,000 and still rising.” When he left at the end of 1957 it was “around 100,000 and decreasing at the rate of 2,000 a week,” according to industry journal Smith’s Trade News.)

Caricature of Churchill in Punch
WSC, 1954

“Of all Muggeridge’s devices for increasing interest . . . two stood out,” R.G.G. Price says in his History of Punch: “the Press parodies, with their typographical gaiety and literary quality, and his calculated exhibitions of what die-hard readers considered bad taste and potential readers considered a sign that Punch was not dead after all.” The bad taste was most potent in the political cartoons; Leslie Illingworth’s 1954 drawing of a listless, post-stroke Winston Churchill produced a flurry of cancellations. The parodies, Price says, sprang from Muggeridge’s “childlike love and wonder for the Press” and his habit of seeing parody as “a form of invective rather than of criticism” — though they seem subtle by current standards.

Junior editions from 1954
Juvenile versions of the Evening Standard and Daily Mirror (1954)

Whatever his motives, Muggeridge ran six feature-length press parodies and a handful of one-pagers. Though uncredited, most were written by J.B. Boothroyd and Richard Mallett, with art by Norman Mansbridge and Russell Brockbank. Of the longer parodies, four appeared between Spring 1954 and Spring 1955 in the oversize seasonal numbers; the later two ran in issues built around a single theme.

The Parodies:

  • April 7, 1954: The New Yorker (“The N*w Y*rk*r”), 8 pages.
  • Sept. 1, 1954: Daily Express (“Junior Express”), 1.
  • Sept. 1, 1954: Daily Mirror (“Junior Mirror”), 1.
  • Sept. 15, 1954: The Tatler & Bystander (“The T*tl*r & Byst*nd*r”), 4 no cover.
  • Sept. 29, 1954: Radio Times (“R*d*o T*m*s”), 1, no cover.
  • Oct. 13, 1954: Time (article: “Miscellany”), 0.33 [1 column], no cover.
  • Dec. 15, 1954: Genre: women’s (“Her”), 6.
  • April 6, 1955: Krokodil, 4.
  • Aug. 24, 1955:  Radio Times (“Tradio Times”), 6.
  • Nov. 7, 1956: Reader’s Digest (“Redigested Digest”), 7 on 4.
Pages of Punch New Yorker
“S.J. P-r-l-m-n” and “Edm-nd W-ls-n” in the 1954 “N*w Y*rk*r”

The biggest and most famous was the first — an eight-page takeoff of The New Yorker in the 1954 Spring Number. Printed on slick paper with full-color front and back covers, “The N*w Y*rk*r” was delayed payback for its target’s 1934 “Paunch” (previous post) and proved just as popular on newsstands: The issue disappeared so fast Punch had to buy copies back from readers for its own files (or so I was told when I stopped by the office 20 years later). Price calls Mallett’s spoof of S.J. Perelman “the high-water mark” of Punch parodies, and it’s one of the few anywhere that rivals the original for linguistic pyrotechnics. I’m partial to the brief duet between Ogden Nash and Phyllis McGinley, and Boothroyd’s takedown of Edmund Wilson at his most Anglophobic.

Real Tatler and Punch parody
Punch ignored Tatler’s traditional all-ads front cover to spoof the opening-page portrait.

Punch reached Peak Parody in September-October 1954, beginning with contrasting kiddie versions of the staunchly conservative Daily Express, then a relatively serious broadsheet, and the pro-Labour Daily Mirror, which favored crime stories and cheesecake. “The T*tl*r & Byst*nd*r” in the 1954 Fall Number took on the leading chronicler of high society, which started as The Tatler in 1901, merged with rival Bystander in 1940 and was Tina Brown’s lauchpad to Condé Nast in the 1980s. Norman Mansbridge’s mock-photo illustrations here show a comic craftsmanship equal to anything Harvey Kurtzman’s gang was doing in Mad and Trump. It was followed by brief spoofs of esoteric BBC Radio listings and Time’s offbeat “Miscellany” column (both sitting ducks).

Her and four real women's magazines
“Her,” three 1950s targets and near-namesake She

“Her” in the 1954 Christmas issue parodied weekly magazines for housewives, as they were then called. Bearing such titles as Woman’s Weekly (launched 1911), Women & Home (1926), Women’s Own (1932) and just plain Woman (1937), they were a notch or two above supermarket tabloids and several notches below slick U.S. monthlies like McCall’s. Confusingly, three months after Punch’s parody appeared, the National Magazine Company launched a new title aimed at “young, gay, elegant” postwar women who wanted more from life than the domestic pieties satirized in “Her.” Its name: She. Coincidence or Fleet Street in-joke?

Du Maurier Punch (1888), Mansbridge in Punch’s “Krokodil” (1955)

The parody of Russian humor weekly Krokodil in the 1955 Spring Number flayed two of Muggeridge’s favorite targets: Soviet Communism and Punch itself (which he more than once called “an allegedly humorous publication”). While the written pieces play up the iron teeth behind Krokodil’s state-sanctioned grin, the cartoons transfer some of Punch’s most famous gags from the 19th Century to contemporary Russia but leave them otherwise un-updated. Trust Muggeridge to display the family heirlooms in a deliberately unflattering setting.

Punch's Krokodil and Radio Times parodies
MId-50s issues of Krokodil and Radio Times, flanked by Punch’s version (both 1955)

The coming of commercial television inspired a second takeoff of the BBC’s program guide, Radio Times (founded 1923 as Radio Times and never retitled). The page of fake radio listings the year before had been an almost affectionate sendup of the wireless division’s fondness for the obscure and undramatic. “Tradio Times” — as in, “being in trade” (sniff) — is an all-out and rather snobbish attack on the threat to public taste and intelligence posed by for-profit TV, which debuted in London the week the parody appeared. The authors try to imagine the worst in their “journal of the I.T.A.” — the Independent Television Authority — but reality has long since outrun satire: “Tradio’s” tropes include kids’ shows that are basically one long commercial, programs entirely about shopping, “film sequences of kittens at play” and, most popular of all, a reality series about a clan of shallow materialists called “The Trump Family.” I didn’t make that up.

Tradio Times listings
Premonitions and product placement in “Tradio Times” (1955)

More than a year went by before “Redigested Digest” appeared in November 1956, and there were no press parodies at all in 1957, Muggeridge’s last year. At least the series ended on high note. For my money, “Redigested Digest” is Punch’s best press parody ever, and the best anywhere at catching the contradictory soul of Reader’s Digest: its All-American universalism, its fondness for “characters” and even greater fondness for conformity, its fascination with new inventions and suspicion of new ideas. Punch’s “Digest” is as artfully crafted as “The N*w Y*rk*er” and much more incisive, though not nearly as famous. To help remedy that, I’ve posted all six (on three) pages here.

Redigested Digest, part 1
Alarm and affirmation: “Digest,” part 1

The “Digest’s” only flaw was bad timing: It was the centerpiece of a long-planned issue about the U.S. scheduled to coincide with the 1956 Presidential election, but Eisenhower’s easy win ended up being overshadowed by the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the climax of the Suez Canal crisis. The issue hit the stands just days after the U.S. forced the U.K., France and Israel to end their attack on Egypt, which demolished Britain’s remaining claims to be a Great Power and caused a brief but steep drop in Anglo-American amity. Not the best time to market 30 pages of mostly good-natured kidding about Uncle Sam’s worldwide reach.

Redigested Digest, part 2
Quiz and gee-whiz: “Digest,” part 2

None of the standard sources explain why Punch basically abandoned press parodies after the mid-50s, but the drought continued under Bernard Hollowood, editor from 1958 to 1968. It only ended in 1971, when Hollowood’s successor William Davis devoted most of an issue to parodying Playboy. Like “The N*w Y*rk*r” before it, “Punch Goes Playboy” sold out and inspired a run of similar features. But that’s a subject for another post. — VCR.

Redigested Digest, part 3
Catastrophe and condensation: “Digest,” part 3

The New Yorker’s “Paunch,” 1934

Punch and Paunch covers

The covers of Punch for August 30, 1933, and The New Yorker’s 1934 parody.

Parody Of: Punch. Title: “Paunch.” In: The New Yorker, January 13, 1934, pp. 17-24. By: Thurber, Benchley, White, Irvin, etc. Availability: Sometimes findable on eBay, Abebooks, etc.; archived online at newyorker.com (subscription required).

January 13, 1934, New Yorker cover

TNY, 1/13/34

“By humorous [art] we do not mean comic stuff, captioned by a wisecrack, no custard-pie slapstick stuff,” Harold Ross wrote potential contributors to the brand new New Yorker in 1925. “We want our things to be humorous from a sophisticated viewpoint. . . . We want to record the situations of everyday life among intelligent and substantial people as do the English magazines, notably Punch, except that our bent is more satirical, sharper.” How much sharper can be seen in the January 13, 1934, issue, which devoted eight pages to “Paunch,” The New Yorker’s longest and most elaborate parody of another publication.

And about the only. E.B. White created a double-page spoof of Manhattan newspaper features for the November 17, 1928, issue that looks like a collage of clippings from the originals. Just weeks before Pearl Harbor, Russell Maloney and Rea Irvin linked two of Time Inc.’s favorite subjects — cheesecake and catastrophe — in a black-humored, three-page “photo” essay called “Life Goes To The Collapse of Western Civilization” (Oct. 25, 1941). Otherwise, The New Yorker’s parodies — even Wolcott Gibbs’s famous Profile of Henry Luce in Time-style (“Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce,” Nov. 28, 1936) — look like pages of The New Yorker.

Three other New Yorker parodies

First pages of The New Yorker’s spoofs of newspaper features (1928), Time (1936) and Life (1941).

“Paunch” appeared when the real Punch was at low ebb, a plight most critics blamed on Sir Owen Seaman, its editor from 1906 to 1932. Seaman’s morale-boosting during the First World War burnished Punch’s image, but he was a Victorian by temperament and no fan of the slangy, quick-witted, disrespectful and often absurd humor of the Roaring Twenties. “He did not see Punch as an organism or plan ahead, looking to see the way humor was changing, learning from successes and failures in the past,” R.G.G. Price says in A History of Punch (Collins, 1957). “He saw Punch as a National Institution and about as liable to change as the Nelson column. Its function was to act as a fixed point for a bemused public until a normal condition of stasis was resumed.” In practice, this meant freezing Punch’s cover in 1847, its layout in the 1860s and its prejudices in 1897 (the year Seaman joined the staff). Price, a longtime Punch insider, tries to accentuate the positive in his semi-official history, but his account of Seaman’s last decade is damning:

It is difficult now [1957] to realize the hysteria with which Punch was reviled in this period and beyond. . . . It was not even wholeheartedly on the side of reaction. It was tolerant, avuncular and patronizing. Criticism came from Right and Left, though every attack on class changes, Americanization of English speech, modern art or the modern girl was received with clucks of approval in hunting lodge and rectory and in the sad sitting rooms where daughters of military men gave music lessons. . . .

[Seaman’s] Punch has an air, at times, of providing jokes for those who found joking difficult. . . . The more one thinks about this policy the odder it seems. For a humorous periodical to be aimed at the unhumorous was as absurd as for a musical periodical to be aimed at the tone-deaf, but it is quite clear, by the tone of the correspondence from some of the older readers. . . that Seaman’s Punch did arouse a frenzied and deadly loyalty among bores, the naive and the prematurely old. [A History of Punch, p. 225-9]

Seaman reluctantly handed the editorship over to E.V. Lucas at the end of 1932, but “Evoi,” as he signed his Punch work, was no revolutionary. The Punch mocked in “Paunch” was essentially Seaman’s, and it showed all of its 93 years.

"Two pages from "Paunch"

“Paunch” teased Punch’s obesessions with Hollywood films and gangland Chicago in “Charivaria;” James Thurber’s “Beast” and Franklin P. Adams’s “Caterpillar” mocked its prose and verse.

The New Yorker, on the other hand, was at the top of its game in 1934. Its circulation was around 125,000 and climbing, and in the six months from January through June it ran more ad pages than the Saturday Evening Post, which had led the field for decades. Its original rivals, Judge and the pre-Time Inc. Life, were dying, and Norman Anthony’s lowbrow Ballyhoo wasn’t in the same class. The New Yorker’s masthead featured — or would have featured, if it existed — James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Franklin P. Adams and Ring Lardner in addition to White, Gibbs and Irvin. All contributed to “Paunch,” infusing it with more A-list comic talent per square inch than any other parody in history. (Citation needed.)

Belcher cartoon and parody

Cartoonist George Belcher in Punch (left) and in Rea Irvin’s parody.

The New Yorker didn’t trumpet “Paunch’s” authors at the time, but its online index says Thurber wrote “The Happier Beast,” a sendup of the cozy woolgathering that subbed for wit in too many “light” essays. Benchley downshifted his usual befuddled persona into complete ninnyhood for a featherweight dialogue called “Hyacinths for Pamela.” Gibbs, The New Yorker’s film critic, aped English insularity in “Mr. Paunch’s Cinema Review.” “The Mall,” by White, and “The Intent Caterpillar,” by Adams, nailed two of Punch’s favorite forms of bad verse: the sticky-sentimental and the mechanically clever. Uncredited newsbreaks and fake ads sent up Punch’s long-winded quips, its fixations on Chicago gangsters and Hollywood films, and — most hilariously — its tin-eared attempts at American slang. Though “Paunch” wasn’t promoted on the cover, the issue it ran in became the first in The New Yorker’s nine-year history to sell out on newsstands. (The second sellout contained Gibbs’s Time parody, which suggests a demand for such things.)

Two images from "Paunch"

Thurber’s “Laocoon;” Yanks imitating Brits imitating Yanks in a fake ad.

Irvin did most of the drawings, moving from elaborate crowquill to charcoal in the styles of Bernard Partridge, E.H. Shepard, George Belcher and others. The ringer is Thurber’s “Laocoon,” a spoof of Punch’s fondness for allegorical political cartoons based on classical myths. Nothing like Thurber’s doughy men and garden-hose snake would have appeared in the real Punch of the time, which may be the point: It’s a deliberate wrong note played outside Punch’s narrow range of “good” cartooning.

Punch's 1954 New Yorker parody

Revenge, served cold

“Perhaps because of its nearness to the original, this parody was not received with much merriment in the Punch office,” R.E. Williams understates in A Century of Punch Cartoons (Simon & Schuster, 1954), “but when the magazine wholesalers phoned in to ask if they would be sued for libel if they handled the issue, the answer was a dignified negative.” Revenge came years later in the form of another parody, also eight pages, in the April 7, 1954, issue of Punch, called “The N*w Y*rk*r.” It sold out, too. — VCR

“A Word with Punch,” 1847

Word with Punch cover

Parody Of: Punch. Title: “A Word with Punch.” Date: November 11, 1847.
Parody By: Alfred Bunn. Format: 12-page magazine. Contributors: Albert Smith, Shirley Brooks, George Augustus Sala. Availability: Nowhere online;  held by the British Library and a few other collections.

Strange as it seems, the first (known) magazine parody was conceived not by professional humorists but by one of their victims. Punch’s first star writer, Douglas Jerrold, was nicknamed “the Little Wasp” for his stinging humor and slight frame. In 1843, he began skewering a flamboyant theatrical impresario named Alfred Bunn, whom he called “the Poet Bunn” for his supposed literary pretensions. Jerrold never explained why Bunn was chosen, but for four years Punch ridiculed his productions, his management of Drury Lane and Covent Garden theaters and, especially, his 1846 breach-of-contract suit against soprano Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale.”

Bunn in Punch, 1845

“The Poet Bunn” seen by Punch, Oct. 11, 1845.

In October, a fed-up Bunn met with editor Albert Smith and writer Shirley Brooks of The Man in the Moon, a year-old humor monthly, who had their own quarrels with Punch. With another Moon man, George Augustus Sala, they created a twelve-page “squib” that turned the tables on Bunn’s chief tormentors at the magazine: Jerrold, editor Mark Lemon and writer Gilbert á Beckett. “A Word with Punch” isn’t an exact replica — there’s no political cartoon and too little art in general — but it’s close enough to make browsers look twice. It’s about the size and heft of Punch, with the same two-column format and the same price, three pence. The cover blares the word “Punch” in the real thing’s distinctive lettering below the much smaller “A Word with.” Below that, Mr. Punch stands glumly in a pillory amid discarded toys resembling his contributors while dog Toby hangs from a gallows.

Fake Warren's Blacking ad from A Word with Punch

A fake ad twists Lemon.

On the back, a parody of the famous Warren’s Blacking ad shows Lemon reflected as an ass; another ad offers old issues of Punch “in any quantity, and at any price, on the premises.” Inside are several columns of Punch-like anecdotes, puns and poems, but the heart is Bunn’s seven-page takedown of Jerrold, Lemon and á Beckett, called “Wronghead,” “Thickhead” and “Sleekhead” respectively. With relish and in detail, he exhumes their many theatrical flops, reprints their favor-begging correspondence and nit-picks their verse for faulty images, a blood sport back then. He calls Lemon “The Literary Pot-Boy” because he once ran a tavern. After quoting a bankruptcy petition from 1834 listing thirteen(!) failed magazines á Beckett had owned or edited, he tut-tuts:

Editor of thirteen periodicals and lessee of a theatre into the bargain! And all total failures! Poetry, prose, wit, humour, conceit, slander, sarcasm, and every order of ribaldry going for nothing! Where has been the public taste? – the people ought really to be ashamed of themselves for persisting in not buying so much genuine genius!

Caricatures of three Punch men

Mr. Punch’s “puppets” in Bunn’s parody.

He grudgingly acknowledges Jerrold’s “infinite ability” before calling him “one of the most ill-conditioned, spiteful, vindictive and venomous writers in existence. … [W]hatever honey was in his composition has long since turned to gall.” After all that, speaking directly to Punch, he warns:

In carrying out the purport of this little squib, I have confined myself … to matters of a literary nature…. Your puppets, who have assailed, ridiculed and caricatured me for years, without any reason whatever, will not … abandon this branch of their trade now that I have given them reason…. In that case, I am prepared to pay back any compliment I receive with the highest rate of interest allowed by law, and shall let you, and perhaps them, into a secret or two worth knowing.

Ever the showman, Bunn had 10,000 handbills printed to promote the parody and arranged for national distribution. It appeared on November 11 and may have sold as many as 6,000 copies.

Real Punch covers from the 1840s

Richard Doyle’s 1846 and 1847 Punch covers; the latter was used until 1956.

The response from Punch was … silence, at least in print, though there were reports of staff being dispatched to buy up all the copies of “A Word with Punch” they could locate. The attacks on Bunn ceased immediately and were never renewed, and the “secret or two” he claimed to know stayed secret; one Punch biographer called it “the only defeat of its kind in the magazine’s history.” As a bonus, two months later the courts ruled for Bunn against Jenny Lind, who had to pay him £2,000 damages. — VCR

Online: Punch’s “Time,” 1960

Punch Time, cover.

Parody Of: Time. Title: “Time.” In: Punch, December 14, 1960.
Length: 10 pages, 2 in color. Contributors: Norman Mansbridge, William Hewison (art); no writer credits. Availability: Online right here; print copies scarce but findable.

Punch cover, December 13, 1960

Punch, 12/14/60

Here’s a last-minute Christmas present — all 10 pages of Punch magazine’s 1960 parody of Time. Though it was founded in 1841, Punch didn’t really go in for parodying other publications until Malcolm Muggeridge was editor in 1953-1957. The first and most famous spoof during his tenure was “The N*w Y*rk*r” (April 7, 1954), an eight-page payback for a mauling Harold Ross and Co. had administered two decades before (see “Paunch,” in the Jan. 13, 1934, New Yorker). Other 1950s targets included Radio Times, Reader’s Digest and Soviet humor magazine Krokodil.

Punch Time, pages 2 and 3

“Time” was the only feature-length magazine parody to appear under Muggeridge’s successor, Bernard Hollowood (editor 1958-1968). The next editor, William Davis (1969-1977), on the other hand, presided over a string of spoofs including Playboy (1971), Cosmopolitan (1972) and the Sunday Express newspaper (1973). Later editors seem to have lost interest in the concept, though I confess I haven’t looked at every issue.

Punch Time, pages 4 and 5.

Punch’s parody appeared just before the sea-change called The Sixties began to erode the self-confidence of Time Inc. and other pillars of the Establishment. It’s now a kind of time capsule itself, mocking the casual superiority, breezy omnipotence and unashamed biases of a major journalistic institution at the height of its power and influence. —VCR

Punch Time, pages 6 and 7

 

Punch Time, pages 8, 9 and 10

 

Playboy Parodies 2: U.S. Newsstands, 1957-2018

Seven Playboy parody covers

Two competing Playboy parodies; three inside other mags; two from foreign parts.

(This is the second of a now three-part series on Playboy parodies. The first dealt with college parodies; the next will cover parodies circulated outside the U.S.)

Unlike their college brethren, commercial publishers in the 1950s and ’60s showed little interest in parodying Playboy. Theft was another matter: As long as Playboy’s sales kept climbing, rivals tried to duplicate its appeal. The last and most blatant imitation was Ronald Fenton and F. Lee Bailey’s Gallery, which debuted in November 1972, the same month Playboy sold a record 7.2 million copies. Gallery aped Playboy down to the length of the title (precisely seven letters) but succumbed to sleazery within a year or so.

Cover and pages of Plowboy

Cover, ad and bachelor pad from “Plowboy.”.

The outlier was “Plowboy,” issued in 1957 by an obscure outfit in Manhattan called Bannister Publishing. “Plowboy” was the only non-college Playboy parody of the ’50s and the only one before the Harvard Lampoon’s 1966 “Pl*yb*y” with wide distribution. It acknowledges the real thing’s chief Selling Points in a dozen pages of photo-agency cheesecake, though there’s no full nudity and the “Plowmate” is a pencil drawing. The standout piece is a four-page tour of “Plowboy’s Platinum Hayloft” worthy of a funnier and subtler magazine.

Pages from Mad's Playkid

A peek at “Playkid,” Mad #61 (March 1961).

Treating the Playboy fetish for brand names and status as literally childish, Larry Siegel and Bob Clarke put more satiric bite in the seven pages of Mad’s “Playkid” than there are in all of “Plowboy.” There’s nothing smutty or suggestive, Mad being famously prudish in that regard, but the very premise of “Playkid” is radioactive today and may have prompted second thoughts even in 1961: As far as I know it’s never been reprinted.

Pages from parodies in Sick and Cracked

Pallid parodies from Sick (June 1965) and a Cracked special (1968).

Mad wannabes Cracked and Sick also tackled Playboy in the ’60s. “Boysplay,” a 16-page, comic book-size bonus in Biggest Greatest Cracked #4, is touted as a “Lampoon Edition of Playboy” on the cover but looks more like a fast-food giveaway and can’t articulate its own premise, if it has one. Sick’s “Playbore” is the skeleton of a comic idea fleshed out with two-line jokes and slapdash art. Both make excellent arguments for ignoring Cracked and Sick.

Pages from Punch's U.S. Playboy

Hefner, Punch editor William Davis and Trog’s foldout; William Hewison aping Arnold Roth.

“Punch Goes Playboy,” with Norwegian actress-model Julie Ege on the cover, took up most of the English weekly’s November 10, 1971, issue and was reprinted in the U.S. the next fall with different ads and a 75-cent cover price. Trog’s four-page caricature of a nude Hugh Hefner is the visual highlight of both editions, which otherwise suffer from murky printing and lack of color. The writing, by contrast, is dead-on, nailing Playboy’s weakness for deep-sounding thumbsuckers (“Pollution and the Post-Vietnam Ghetto Interface,” by “Dr. Morton Krimhoretz, Ph.D., Jr.”) and workaholic Hefner’s pose as a carefree hedonist: “After a hectic day’s counting,” says one caption, “our November Playmate relaxes among his matchless collection of early American balance sheets.”

Pages from Playdead, 1973

Pages from NatLamp’s “Playdead,” Jan. 1973.

Harvard’s 1966 “Pl*yb*y” was a giant step on the road to National Lampoon, which tried to duplicate the earlier book’s success by running a centerfold parody in its very first issue. (Alas, the result was an unsexy, out-of-focus mess.) NatLamp tackled Playboy twelve times between 1970 and 1988 — more than any other publication — but the pièce de résistance was “Playdead” in the January 1973 “Death” number. Visually, “Playdead” is impeccable, from the Possum logo in the cufflinks ad to Warren Sattler’s full-color fakes of cartoonists Dedini, ffolkes, Buck Brown and John Dempsey. What’s almost shocking, and all the funnier for it, is how natural Playboy’s vision of airbrushed perfection looks in a mortuary. Unafraid of either bad taste (the Interviewee was newly dead Bonanza actor Dan Blocker, silent throughout) or puns like “Playmort of the Month,” “Playdead” is one of NatLamp’s greatest parodies. The mag turned to Playboy more and more as its creative juices dried up, spoofing single features and grinding out formulaic editions for gun lovers and computers.

Covers of semi- and non-parodies.

Semi-sorta spoofs from Howard the Duck and Wings flank covers that promise but don’t deliver from Laffboy and Bleep; below: “Laffboy” pages, Crazy and Girls & Corpses.

The only other publication to run multiple Playboy parodies was Playboy itself, with samples of four unlikely new editions I’ve written about here. Marvel’s Howard the Duck magazine (1981) promised a parody on its covers but followed through with eight vaguely Playboy-looking pages wedged between its usual black-and-white comics. Crazy (1974) and ultra-niche quarterly Girls & Corpses (2011) were even lazier, promising parodic goodies on their covers they failed to deliver inside. Ditto the two issues of Laffboy (1965) and one-shot Bleep (1974), oversized pulps with tired gags and bubble-captioned photo trying to pass as sophisticated satire. They’re mentioned here mainly as a warning. New-Age satire sheet Wings tried harder, devoting about a third of its March-April 1979 issue to “Playwings,” but most of the parody was typical Wings content poured into a barely modified layout; like “Playduck,” it failed to sweat the details.

Annie Fanny spoof from 73 magazine

Wayne Pierce’s ham-flavored tribute to Annie Fanny in “73” (1966).

73 Magazine was a technical monthly for ham radio buffs that ran from 1960 to 2003. Founder Wayne Green had soft spot for parody, and in April 1966 he ran a Playboy-like cover by reader Wayne Pierce, a high-school art teacher in Kansas City. Pierce also did four of the parody’s five inside pages, including a takeoff of “Little Annie Fanny” set in the world of ham radio obsessives. Pierce was no threat to Will Elder in the art department, but he’d obviously studied Harvey Kurtzman’s page layouts and storytelling rhythm; the fact that his hobby-specific jokes will sound like gibberish to most current readers is a surrealistic bonus.

Ironically, National Lampoon’s decline overlapped with the Great Parody Boom of the ’80s, whose harbingers were NL’s own “Dacron Republican-Democrat” in February 1978 and former NL editor Tony Hendra’s “Not The New York Times” that October. They were followed by scores of parodies of newspapers and magazines, including two of Playboy, one edited by Hendra, the other by his former collaborator Robert Vare.

Hendra and Vare had worked together on “NTNYT” and jointly edited the first “Off The Wall Street Journal,” which sold 350,000 copies in 1982 but showed only a tiny profit. After the two parted ways, Vare founded American Parody & Travesty Co. to produce a series of one-shot spoofs starting with “Playbore,” while Hendra became creative director on “Playboy: The Parody” for TSM Publishing, an offshoot of a marketing firm cofounded by former NatLamp publisher Gerald Taylor. Hendra recruited old associates David Kaestle, Danny Abelson and Rick Meyerowitz for “PTP,” which had led some sources to mislabel it an official National Lampoon publication. In fact, at least as many NL vets worked on “Playbore,” including Chris Miller, Jeff Greenfield and Ellis Weiner. (Bruce McCall somehow got into both.) George Plimpton, Roy Blount Jr., and soon-to-be Spy founders Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter also had a hand in “Playbore,” while “PTP’s” stable included writer David Owen and Items From Our Catalog creator Alfred Gingold.

Three pages from Playbore

“Playbore” features, including a jab at Hef’s rivals Larry Flynt and Bob Guccione (center).

“Playbore” hit the stands in late September, two months before its rival, but in most respects “Playboy: The Parody” came out slightly ahead. It cost a dollar more, carried 29 pages of real ads to “Playbore’s” six, and better captured the look and tone of Playboy circa 1983, likely because it gained Hefner’s approval and used several of his photographers and models. Not surprisingly, it treated Hef and his empire relatively gently, while “Playbore” made running jokes of “Hugh M. Hepner’s” galloping senility, shrinking assets and eyebrow-raising decision to turn the business over to his daughter — a step the real Hefner had taken the year before. Its foldout showed “Crispie Hepner” lounging in a soapy bath as a certain pipe-smoking editor-publisher massaged her shoulders. “Playboy: The Parody” countered with a full-frontal fake of Princess Diana, which prompted a boycott by distributors in the U.K.

Four pages from Playboy the Parody

DIY pinups, Bruce McCall’s cars, JFK in ’63 and Annie as Grannie in “Playboy: The Parody.”

Sales of both parodies were good but not spectacular. Early on, Vare predicted “Playbore” might sell over a million copies; results were closer to 750,000. Taylor initially hoped “Playboy: The Parody” would do better than the Harvard Lampoon’s “Cosmopolitan,” which had sold a record 1.2 million copies in 1972, but TSM never announced final numbers; press runs for its later spoofs, including “Cosmoparody” (1984) and “Parody People” (1986), were around 750,000 copies each.

U.S. parodists mostly abandoned Playboy after ’83, as did many readers — circulation fell by a third during the 1980s — but Canada’s Thomas Hagey struck gold in 1984 with “The Best of Playboar,” a porcine entry in the then-hot subgenre of parodies starring animals. Hagey (pronounced “haig-y,” not “hoggy,” unfortunately) grew up on a pig farm in Kitchener, Ontario, and quit school after 10th grade. In 1977 he founded Playboar as a semi-serious annual for swine breeders, “about two-thirds information, like how to pick a good pig or what to do about nipple problems, and about one-third humor,” he told the Chicago Tribune. A switch to quarterly publication in 1980 didn’t work out, so he closed the mag and moved to Toronto. There he and editor Chris Lowry rendered Playboar’s six issues into a 56-page greatest-hits collection, which was issued simultaneously or thereabouts in Canada and the U.S. in 1984.

Three pages from "Playboar"

“Playboar’s” contents page and Littermate Taffy Lovely.

Disappointingly, “The Best of Playboar” bears little resemblance to Hefner’s vision — and not just because its cover girl/Littermate’s measurements are 24-26-22. In fact, the pictorial on fetching Taffy Lovely is one of the few features that follows Playboy’s format closely. Most other pages would look just at home in Self or Us or any other ’80s title with colorful text blocks and off-kilter photos. In contrast, Hagey and Lowry’s full-page ads for “Benson & Hedgehogs,” “Mudweiser” and other accoutrements of fine swine living are accurate to the last detail. Maybe, not having sought the Big Bunny’s approval, they decided to steer wide of trespassing on any trademarks.

And maybe more readers are into pigs than parody: When first published, “The Best of Playboar” sold some 300,000 copies. Reprints pushed total sales over a million, making “BoP” the best-selling Playboy parody ever. This past June, Hagey published an enlarged edition in Canada, “The Very Best of Playboar,” bringing swinish behavior into the Age of Weinstein and Trump.

The following census is divided into two categories: issue-length newsstand specials (all at least 40 pages long), and shorter features in other publications. Cover-only and single-article parodies are so marked; as are the dates on parodies of back issues. Each listing contains the work’s title (in quotes), publisher or publication, date and page count (in parentheses). Stand-alone parodies that don’t count covers as pages are marked “+ 4.”

Playboy Parodies II: On U.S. Newsstands, 1957-2018

A. Stand-alone Parodies:

“Plowboy.” Bannister Publications, Spring 1957 (48 + 4)
“Punch Goes Playboy.” [reprint of 1971 U.K. parody with new ads]. Punch, 1972 (44 + 4)
“Playbore.” American Travesty and Parody, Fall 1983 (98)
“Playboy: The Parody.” Taylor-Shain Media, Winter 1984 (102 + 4)
—–. partly reprinted in What a Pair, Taylor-Shain Media, 1985 (40 + 38 pages of TSM’s “Cosmoparody”)
“The Best of Playboar,” by Thomas Hagey. Day Dream Publishing, Santa Barbara, Cal., 1984 (56 + 4)
—–. Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., 1996 (56 + 4)
“The Very Best of Playboar: Special Hardcover Edition,” by Thomas Hagey. Playboar Publishing, 2018 (84) [available in the U.S. on Kindle]

Four parodies from Esquire and National Lampoon

Single-feature spoofs from Esquire (1965, 1969) and National Lampoon (both 1982)

B. Parodies in Magazines:

“Playkid,” Mad #61, March 1961 (7)
“Laffboy,” KMR Publications, Feb. 1965 (COVER ONLY)
“Laffboy,”KMR Publications, Apr. 1965 (COVER ONLY)
“Playbore,” Sick, June 1965 (12)
“I, Playboy, take thee, Reader’s Digest…,” Esquire, Aug. 1965 (1)
73 magazine cover“73,” 73 Magazine, April 1966 (5 + 1)
“Boysplay,” Biggest, Greatest Cracked #4, 1968 (16)
“Liberated Front,” National Lampoon [article], April 1970 (8)
“Esquire Interview: Hugh M. Hefner” [article], Esquire, Dec. 1970 (3+)
“Gamma Hutch: The Playboy Fallout Shelter” (Dec. 1958) [article], National Lampoon, April 1972 (4)
“Playdead,” National Lampoon, Jan. 1973 (14)
“Bleep,” Bleep Publications, 1974 (COVER ONLY)
“Playboy” [obscured], Crazy #10, April 1975 (COVER ONLY)
“Playboy [in Cyrillic]: New Soviet Edition,” Playboy, Jan. 1977 (7)
“Playwings,” Wings, March/April 1979 (20? + 1)
“Playboy: New Chinese Edition,” Playboy, Sept. 1979 (7)
“Playduck,” Howard the Duck magazine #4, March 1980 (8 + 1)
“Parents of the Girls of the Eastwest Conference” [article], National Lampoon, Feb. 1982 (2)
“The Playboy Advisor” [article], National Lampoon, Feb. 1982 (1)
“Dear Playmates” [article], National Lampoon, June 1983 (1)
“Playboy” (November 1963), in “Playboy: The Parody,” Winter 1984 (15 + 1-page intro)
“Prayboy: Entertainment for Far-Righteous Men,” Playboy, Dec. 1984 (8)
“Slayboy,” National Lampoon, Dec. 1985 (8)
“Playbyte,” National Lampoon, Feb. 1988 (10)
“Feminist Party Jokes” [article], National Lampoon, March 1986 (1)
“Interview: Steven Spielberg” [article], National Lampoon, Aug. 1986 (3+)
“Playboy” (Jan. 1000 A.D.), Playboy, Jan. 2000 (4)
“Girls & Corpses,” issue # 5, Spring 2011 (COVER ONLY)

— VCR (updated 12/11/18)

Punch’s first “Pl*yb*y,” 1966

Hugh Hefner on Punch's 1966 Playboy cover

Punch’s view of Playboy in 2078, by Norman Mansbridge.

Parody Of: PlayboyTitle: “Pl*yb*y.”
Parody By: Punch.  Date: July 13, 1966. Pages: 4.
Contributors: Alexander Frater, Norman Mansbridge, William Hewison.
Availability: Occasionally sighted on eBay.

July 13, 1966

Punch at 125.

Two months before the Harvard Lampoon used the same asterisk-specked title, the 125th birthday number of Punch contained a brief parody of Playboy called “Pl*yb*y.” British magazines Queen and Country Life were targeted in the same issue, and in each case Punch tried to imagine what “its contemporary” would look like when it too had survived for a century and a quarter. Although Playboy wouldn’t reach that milestone until 2078, “Pl*yb*y” showed both magazine and editor-publisher Hugh Hefner looking much as they did in 1966 — with a few twists. In Punch’s 2078, Hef stays young with rabbit glands, the King of England is a novelist with a whipping fetish, and the 11,651st chapter of the “Playboy Philosophy” is a roundtable discussion of society’s outdated taboo against premarital nail-biting (which future-Hef boasts has always had a “positive, attractive, romantic image” in his magazine).

“Pl*yb*y” makes no attempt to duplicate Playboy’s uncluttered layout, allowing it to cram a full-size cover, the “Philosophy,” the King’s short story, some “Advisor” queries, a cartoon and a house ad into four pages. Writer Alexander Frater gets off a few mild jokes but doesn’t build on them, and he seldom captures Playboy‘s distinctive blend of over-alliteration, ankle-deep sophistication and lust for shiny objects. The fact that “Pl*yb*y” supposedly dates from the far-distant future is sometimes noted and sometimes ignored; in any case, it’s irrelevant to the intended critique of Playboy‘s squeaky-clean, All-American hedonism. (The Queen and Country Life parodies, set it 1986 and 2022 respectively, are sharper and funnier.)

Page 2 of Punch's 1966 Playboy parody

The “Hewsokolini” signature is cartoonist William Hewison’s nod to Erich Sokol and Eldon Dedini.

The most effective bits in “Pl*yb*y” are Norman Mansbridge’s cover caricature of Hefner and William Hewison’s mashup of fellow cartoonists Dedini and Sokol. Hewison, who was then Punch‘s art editor, also included an anniversary-related inside joke for cartoon buffs: As his two lovelies survey the pinup-strewn bachelor pad of their would-be bedmates, one says, “We won’t get much action here — these boys prefer the shadow to the substance.” “Substance and Shadow” was the caption of a famous cartoon by John Leech that Punch had run in July 1843 under the heading, “Cartoon, No. 1” — the first use of that word to describe a piece of satirical art.

Punch took on Playboy again in 1971 with a full-length parody that sold out in the U.K. and was reprinted in the U.S. the following year. I hope to get around to it sometime soon — or at least before 2078. — VCR