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

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

The Most Parodied Magazine?

Parodies of Life, The New Yorker, Playboy and Time.

College parodies from Missouri (1937), Yale (1961), Arizona (1955) and Penn State (1928)

(WARNING: The following observations are based on the author’s own haphazard — though extensive — collecting and are informed speculation, not gospel. It is even possible  his list of Most Parodied Magazines is imperfect and should include Confidential, Liberty, Mad, National Geographic, Police Gazette, Popular Mechanics, Rolling Stone or Vogue. Further research is called for, as they say in grant proposals.)

What is the most parodied magazine of all time? Playboy thinks it is, but magazine parodies were popular decades before Playboy. The ’20s saw an explosion of “Burlesque Numbers” on campus and in Life and Judge. College mags put out “annual” parody issues  — sometimes decades apart — until they fell on hard times in the ’60s everywhere but Cambridge. Newsstand parodies spiked in the early ’30s and boomed in the ’70s and ’80s in the wake of National Lampoon.

Four New Yorker parodies.

New Yorker parodies from Duke (1941), Ohio State (1947), Punch (1954) and Harvard (1976).

Titles from The Harvard Law Review to Strictly Elvis have been spoofed multiple times, but only a few can draw parodists year after year the way a flame draws moths. My own list contains an even dozen, only four of whom are contenders for the Top Spot. In order of appearance (or reappearance after major surgery), the eight runners-up are:

  • Ladies’ Home Journal (1883)
  • The Saturday Evening Post (revamped 1897)
  • Reader’s Digest (1922)
  • Esquire (1933)
  • TV Guide (1953)
  • Sports Illustrated (1954)
  • Cosmopolitan (revamped 1964)
  • People (1974)

The Journal was the first magazine with one million subscribers; the Post the first with twice that. Their oversize pages were thick with four-color ads and the best illustrations money could buy, which likely made some would-be parodists despair of getting a likeness. Similarly with Esquire, though its risqué content in the ’30s and ’40s led many collegians to plunge ahead regardless. Spoofing the Digest or TV Guide in normal-sized magazines posed an unwelcome choice: Print the parody separately (expensive), or run it sideways, two-up (awkward). SI, Cosmo and People are among the top targets of the past forty years, but they missed all or part of college-parody era.

Four Playboy parodies.

Playboy parodies from Texas (1956), U. Mass (1964), West Point (1965), and Berkeley (1966).

So who are the top targets? Chronologically, the Four Most Parodied Magazines Ever are:

  • Time (1923)
  • The New Yorker (1925)
  • Life (1936)
  • Playboy (1953)

The top twelve share three qualities that appeal to parodists:

Familiarity: It’s no fun imitating something nobody recognizes. All these magazines except The New Yorker and Esquire achieved multi-million circulations, and all except Life and People ran at least sixty years. (People will reach that milestone in 2034; Life’s logo still turns up on newsstand specials.) All are, or were, Top Dogs in their respective categories: There are ten parodies of Time for every one of Newsweek, and the ratio is similar for Playboy over Penthouse and Life over Look.

Personality: Parody thrives on distinctive voices and viewpoints: the tortured syntax and “jeering rancor” of early Timestyle, the folksy certainty and small-town conservatism of Reader’s Digest. A strong personality also keeps a magazine from vanishing up its own genre. There are many parodies of movie, scandal and pulp-fiction mags, for instance, but few target one particular title. (Science-fiction parodies, on the other hand, tend to be very specific.)

Adaptability: A “magazine” was originally a storehouse, and the most parodied can accomodate a huge variety of goods in many sizes. Ten of our twelve could plausibly run a story on any subject, though some would skew it toward a particular demographic; the other two cover television and sports, which barely restricts them. Parodists also favor magazines that run many pieces of varying lengths and styles rather than a few long ones; they’re more likely to tackle the New York Times Book Review than the New York Review of BooksThe New Yorker is a partial exception here, but its air of detached, worldly amusement was a model for four decades of college humorists, and the urge to try on Eustace Tilley’s monocle often proved irresistible. It still does, if this summer’s “Nuë Jorker” is any indication.

Despite that, The New Yorker isn’t THE most parodied magazine. Neither is the other third-place contender, Life, though the first full-length parody appeared within months of its debut (the Missouri Showme’s “Strife,” February 1937). Playboy is comfortably ahead of both, but hasn’t inspired a notable parody in the U.S. since “Playbore” and “Playboy: The Parody” fought it out on newsstands in 1983-84. Which leaves Time.

Mock Times from, top row: Annapolis (1928), Harvard's Advocate (1932) and Lampoon (1941), Dartmouth (1948), Ohio State (1948); bottom row: Alabama (1952), Davidson (1953), Punch (1960), National Lampoon (1984), Emory (1998).

Mock Times from, top row: Annapolis (1928), Harvard’s Advocate (1932) and Lampoon (1941), Dartmouth (1948) and Ohio State (1948); bottom row: Alabama (1952), Davidson (1953),
Punch (1960), National Lampoon (1984) and Emory (1998).

The Penn State Froth’s “Froth Time” of January 1928 is the earliest Time parody I’m aware of. The Navy Log and Yale Record piled on the same year, and in the late ’40s and ’50s parodies of Time popped up on one campus or another almost every month. The Harvard Lampoon issued four between 1941 and 1989. At the other extreme, in 1953 Davidson College’s Scripts ‘n Pranks slimed Time in its only full-length parody ever.

Newsstand mags that have mocked Time include Vanity Fair (in 1933), Ballyhoo, Punch, Esquire and National LampoonThe New Yorker’s 1936 “Time, Fortune, Life, Luce,” written by Wolcott Gibbs in maliciously heightened Timestyle, is thought to be the most reprinted magazine parody ever. It’s certainly the most quoted: “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind” supplied the title for a Gibbs anthology only a few years ago. Just recently, Tom Connor and Jim Downey (“re-Wired,” “Is Martha Stuart Living?”) released a 64-page one-shot with “President-Elect” Donald Trump inside the famous red border.

In February 1952, the University of Alabama Rammer Jammer celebrated the school’s centennial with its “first 100% parody issue,” called, appropriately, “Tide.” (One contributor was a junior named Gay Talese.) “We had several national magazines in mind before we struck our colors to Time,” editor Leo Willette wrote. “Though a good portion of our readers had heard of The New Yorker, only about ten percent ever read it with anything approaching regularity…. Comparable shortcoming manifested themselves with Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, True, Argosy and most of the spectrum of reading fare. In Time, we assume, the student will find a familiar friend. Then, too, Time (1) has a style not difficult to interpret and copy; [and] (2) gives outlet for a potpourri of short, easily digested chunks of gripes and gags….”

What more could a parodist want — except, maybe, a centerfold? — VCR

 

A great, new, free New Yorker parody!

Parody Of: The New YorkerTitle: “The Neu Jorker.”
Parody By: Andrew Lipstein, James Folta, et al.  Date: June 20, 2016. Pages: 80.
Contributors: Andrew Lipstein, James Folta, et al.
Availability: Online at 0s&1s Reads.

2016-Neu JorkerNo sooner do I launch this blog than a group of mostly web-based humorists go and release a full-length parody of The New Yorker called “The Neu Jorker.” You can read it here absolutely free. I just downloaded a copy, and the first few pages have me thinking it’ll be very good indeed. So does Alex McKown’s rave review at the AV Club. Snap it up before they figure out how to charge money for it. — VCR