In Which Mad Men Created The Mad World Of Mad Magazine

Subterranean Homesick Jews

by Molly Lambert

To see these gorgeous parody ads from the late fifties/early sixties back covers and inside front pages of Mad Magazine in their full spendor, and be able to read the hilarious fine print, visit this excellent flickr set.

Hey Gang! Let’s Play 43 Man Squamish!

New terminology is introduced with no explanation; much of the humor derives from the reader’s half-successful attempts at gleaning a meaning from context. Exactly what everyone on the team is supposed to do, exactly what penalties apply and exactly when or why the yellow danger flag is to be flown remains far from clear, even after repeated readings.

From Wiki’s entry on Mad Magazine:

Though there are antecedents to Mad’s style of humor in print, radio and film, the overall package was a unique one that stood out in a staid era. Throughout the 1950s, Mad featured groundbreaking parodies combining a sentimental fondness for the familiar staples of American culture, such as Archie and Superman, with a keen joy in exposing the fakery behind the image.

This Cadillac one reminds me of Joan Holloway

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding on the radio, Ernie Kovacs on television, Stan Freberg on records, Harvey Kurtzman in the early issues of Mad: all of those pioneering humorists and many others realized that the real world mattered less to people than the sea of sounds and images that the ever more powerful mass media were pumping into American lives. – Dave Kehr

Tony Hiss and Jeff Lewis wrote about the then-25-year-old publication’s initial impact:

It was magical, objective proof to kids that they weren’t alone, that in New York City on Lafayette Street, if nowhere else, there were people who knew that there was something wrong, phony and funny about a world of bomb shelters, brinkmanship and toothpaste smiles.

Mad’s consciousness of itself, as trash, as comic book, as enemy of parents and teachers, even as money-making enterprise, thrilled kids. In 1955, such consciousness was possibly nowhere else to be found.

Mad is often credited with filling a vital gap in political satire in the 1950s to 1970s, when Cold War paranoia and a general culture of censorship prevailed in the United States, especially in literature for teens. The rise of factors such as cable television and the Internet have diminished the influence and impact of Mad, although it remains a widely distributed magazine.

In a way, Mad‘s power has been undone by its own success; what was subversive in the 1950s and 1960s is now commonplace. However, its impact on three generations of humorists is incalculable, as can be seen in the frequent references to Mad on The Simpsons.

There’s more time for fun when this one line of copy takes 10 seconds to write for the Polaroid Land Camera ad campaign!

Mad was long noted for its absence of advertising, enabling it to skewer the excesses of a materialist culture without fear of advertiser reprisal. For decades, it was by far the most successful American magazine to publish ad-free, beginning with issue #33 (April 1957).

Pulitzer Prize-winning art comics maven Art Spiegelman said, “The message Mad had in general is, ‘The media is lying to you, and we are part of the media.’ It was basically ‘Think for yourselves, kids.'”


Patti Smith said, “After Mad, drugs were nothing.”

William Gaines offered his own view: when asked to cite Mad‘s philosophy, his boisterous answer was, “We must never stop reminding the reader what little value they get for their money!”

Spy Vs. Spy was invented (in 1961) by a Cuban National

HELP! Magazine

Trump Magazine

Humbug Magazine

We will refrain from commenting on MAD TV.

The great Daniel Pinkwater wrote an essay, collected in Fish Whistle about his first experience with Mad Magazine.

Arnie Kogen wrote for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. His son Jay Kogen wrote some of the best early Simpsons episodes, including the original Treehouse of Horror with partner Wallace Wolodarsky, who was the inspiration for Otto The Bus Driver.

The original Simpsons lunchlady; Doris Grau, was a gravel-voiced character actress in the spirit of Selma Diamond.

The Usual Gang Of Idiots:

Bill Gaines

Tom Koch

Will Elder

Al Feldstein

Don Martin

Will Eisner

Wally Wood

Basil Wolverton

George Woodbridge

Al Jaffee

Harvey Kurtzman

Bernard Krigstein pioneered the artistic use of comic book panels as a temporal dimension.

Russ Heath

Jerry DeFuchio

Mort Drucker

Jack Davis

Jack Rickard

Bob Clarke is Cutty Sark

Norman Mingo is Alfred E. Neuman

Joe Orlando is Sea Monkeys

Songs In A Jugular Vein:

Crazy – Lil’ Wayne: (mp3)

Crazy Rhythms (live) – The Feelies: (mp3)

Crazy You – Prince: (mp3)

Crazy ‘Bout You – Christine (McVie) Perfect: (mp3)

Crazy Blues – Angel’In Heavy Syrup: (mp3)

Baby Drives Me Crazy – Thin Lizzy: (mp3)

Beat Crazy – Joe Jackson: (mp3)

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording


Will Hubbard Is TR’s Pin-Up Boy For Poetry

Will’s Fancy Foreign Netflix Queue

The Cat’s Just Fine He Never Left

Missed Connections And Faceblindness


9 thoughts on “In Which Mad Men Created The Mad World Of Mad Magazine

  1. My Latin teacher in high school, George Woodbridge, was the son of another George Woodbridge, the one who illustrated the 43-Man Squamish article. NEAT-O!

  2. I love all the old parodies still! I am looking for one that copies Admiral TV for 1959, originally read “Nobody touches her new Admiral!” (it’s wireless remote controlled). It became something like “Nobody puts their cotton pickers on her new Admiral” etc. The woman holding the control was Alfred E. Newman in drag, the picture on the set was Donald Duck, playing a saxophone.

  3. “So hot”?? MAD had a remarkably talented staff of contributors that (in the ’50s and ’60s) included many Mad Ave. ad writers and graphic designers. Great stuff here!! As far as Mad Men, the fraudulent attempt at a ‘period’ series…they need to give a nod to MAD Magazine on that show, but their (MM, the TV show) writers are a bit dull-witted, evidently. I caught an episode with current-day slang in the dialogue, really blatant, an embarrassing moment for an era-specific TV series, and quite a major editorial error. I pointed this out in an email, and only received a neutral response, which seemed pretty hokey to me. Apparently they hire little kids to write the show. Anyone who’s at least thirty years of age or so (or possessing a reasonable IQ and capacity as a writer) would have realized the error before it even reached shooting script stage.

  4. I haven’t attempted to watch “Mad Men”, for fear of encountering slipups like Jim noted. They do all that research, and manage to let current idioms and other mistakes litter the plots.

    I’m still looking for a copy of the Admiral TV parody, now I’m going to start looking for the Mad CD rom set.

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