On the obituary page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today, I read of the death of Al Feldstein, publisher of Mad magazine during its finest years, a time when it may have been the best political magazine in America.
Sitting next to me is Mad About The Sixties, a collection of many of the best that Mad had to offer during that turbulent decade.
Al Feldstein was put in charge of Mad in 1956 by publisher William Gaines, and between the two of them, they collected a team of artists and writers who created material that is still imitated to this day.
Discovering Mad as a teenager - just before I became Humor Editor on our school paper - was like discovering the Holy Grail, or the Fountain of Youth.
Oh hell, humor is the fountain of youth.
Mad was one of the influences on my own writing, among a host of other things.
Mad taught me that you can skewer what passes for virtue and political figures without being ugly or vicious yourself. You could mock the KKK without being as morally foul as they were.
I haven’t always succeeded, but I try.
As much as I enjoyed their parodies of popular culture like Star Trek, the Batman TV show or 2001: A Space Odyssey, I especially enjoyed their versions of popular ads.
For a long time, Playboy would run full page ads, asking, “What sort of man reads Playboy?”
Well, gosh, sophisticated gents, we all knew that.
Mad counted that with, “What sort of Man reads Mad?”
Under a an illustration of a young man, hands on his hips appearing to look over the man working on his 1920s town car, while an adoring woman looks on, the ad proclaims:
“A young man with and open mind and a sharp sense of humor, the MAD reader has very little else to recommend him. He dresses atrociously, his tastes run to the ridiculous, and he’s usually flat broke. If he does have any money, he spends it on idiotic things like the kookie car in the picture. (Incidentally, the young man beside the car isn’t the MAD reader; the young man underneath the car is the MAD reader!) So actually, if you are an advertiser, it really wouldn’t pay you to advertise in MAD. Facts: According to an obscure magazine survey, 97% of the 1,300,000 copies of MAD sold on newsstands each issue sre purchased by clods. 87.3% of these clods have no visible means of support. And 79% wouldn’t believe your advertising pitch anyway, because they’ve been thoroughly brainwashed by MAD articles and ad satires. So if you’re looking for a magazine with a readership that seems to fall for the phony sophisticated soft sell, and has money to do something about it, try PLAYBOY!”
Other ad parodies took swipes at Dial soap, Polaroid (The 60-second disappointment - and those of us who had Polaroid cameras in the 1960s can relate that that particular parody), Contac cold medicine, and my two personal favorites from the book one a parody of cigarette ads and one for Rum.
The first mocks the tough guy image so often seen in cigarette ads. With a fellow in a flannel shirt, Winchester rifle over his shoulder, cigarette dangling from his lips. Two men in the ad are looking at him in awe. Below the photo it reads:
“Lucky Strife separates the men from the boys . . .”
Beneath that, the same man, in a state of shock, cigarette somehow still attached to his lip, is looking at us wide-eyed in horror, as the doctor shows him an X-ray of his lung. Under that photo runs:
“But not from the doctor.”
And next to the pack of “Lucky Strife’s” is this:
“Smoking is a habit we’d like to get all you kids hooked on. Hey, kids! Wanna feel grown up? Wanna feel like a man? Wanna be separated from the boys - but not from the girls? Smoke Lucky Strife - and you’ll discover one other thing: You’ll also be separated from your health!”
And lastly, for those who convince themselves that Ronald Reagan was always some sort of venerated symbol, there is an ad for RonReagan Puerto Reagan Rum:
“Ron Reagan. Isn’t he the ex-movie star who wanted to be president?
“Yep! And it’s something most folks would like to forget! That things like this are happening in America! That old-time movie stars who weren’t even that good in the first place have become senators and governors and yes - even made bids for Presidential nominations. It’s enough to drive a drinking person to drink!”
The illustration has a waving Reagan, while disbelieving men and women look on.
I sort of suspect that if a school library in 2014 had this book, some yahoo would want it yanked, just because of this one page.
Thanks for everything you gave us, Al Feldstein, and thanks for helping to influence me, in my small efforts throughout the years.
You know, I haven’t read this book in years. I’m gonna have to read it again this weekend.
Quote of the Day
We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work it’s way through Congress. - Will Rogers