When is this folly to stop? Just how long do you think you can fool people with this garbage you laughingly call satire? When will you cease to pollute the minds of the innocent? How can you sleep at night when you think of all the people you've duped? If you were to cease printing tomorrow, the damage you already wrought would still be irreparable. You should be investigated as subversive.
Enclosed please find $7 to renew subscription.
Such is the stuff that comes hurtling over the transom at Mad magazine, the monthly purveyor of wacko humor appropriately located at 485 MADison Ave. (the masthead says it) in New york.
Once thought of as an adolescent, sophomoric, downright idiotic (the masthead almost says that) publication, Mad, as its very name might imply, has become something of an American institution. Twenty-five-years old now, Mad has a monthly circulation of over two million and almost 100 Mad paperback books are steady sellers. All this is done with a staff of 10 including no secretaries.
"We don't know what we're going to write next," says associate editor Jerry De Fuccio, "so who could use a secretary?"
The magazine be an as Mad Comics, an offshoot of E.C. Comics, once perpetrators of bizarre titles like "Tales From the Crypt" that a congressional committee headed by Estes Kefauver found to contribute to juvenile delinquency. Soon after that, E.C. Comics went the way of much mid-'50s flesh, and Mad became a monthly magazine. In issue No. 30, 1956, Mad unveiled its patron saint, Alfred E. Neuman, that familiar freckle-faced cretin with red hair, and a missing tooth. Although he's now a registered trademark, Neuman actually comes from a 1907 newspaper ad for a Kansas City dentist named Painless Romine. There was a bandage tied around his head, as if his intamous missing tooth had just been yanked, and those immortal words were spelled out for all to see: "What, me worry?" Below that was another line now thoughtfully excised: "It didn't hurt a bit."
"There is something magic about that face," says Mad writer Lou Silverstone, one of the "usual gang of idiots" not listed on the masthead who are all free-lance contributors to the magazine. "I remember when I was 10 buying a postcard of it at an arcade, long before Mad ever started up."
If Mad is unorthodox in its operation - no staff writers or artists, no advertising, a solitary notice to warn of lapsing subscriptions, so too is the way publisher Bill Gaines deals with his contributors and subscribers. Writers and artists are treated to an annual 17-day overseas jaunt, and Gaines sometimes personally helps out in the ritual with hammer and screwdriver, of non-renewing subscribers' destruction, address-stencils so they won't fall into the hands of the crew trekked off to Haiti for its annual trip. Gaines had in tow the name of the solitary Haitian subscriber and the enrourate showed up in a caravan of nine jeeps - the lead car flying an Alfred E. Newman pernant - to deliver his renewal form personally.
Even as publisher of the original E.C. Comics group, Gaines had displayed a voracious hunger for absolute detail - as well as food (a portly fellow, he has been known on a whim to fly to Paris for dinner). When De Fuccio first went to work for E.C.'s Two Fisted Tales and Front Line Combat 27 years ago, he suggested a combat strip on submarines. Gaines said, "The guys in the Navy will know if it's not real," so he sent the young writer off to New London for a week below on the U.S.S. Gauardfisher. After surfacing, De Fuccio fired off a telegram:
Many brave hearts are asleep in the deep. Glub, glub."
Mad also has had its pollies in court before the same judge, no less, who heard the Rosenberg case. Irving Berlin sued the magazine when a "Sing Along With Mad" article had Dr. Neuman in a Mitch Miller pose, leading readers through songs "sung to the tune of" a number of Berlin-penned items. Judge Irving R. Kaufman noted that the songwriter did not have "prior rights to iambic pentameter," and further observed that "If I sing "Blue Skies' in the shower, I do not have to send you a 2-cent royalty when I get out." Time called editor De Fuccio after the victory, and asked him how he felt. His response was straightforward: "God bless America."
The three editors of Mad meet constantly with contributors, who submit brief synopses of story ideas along with a few examples of how the idea will be developed.
"A lot of times there's some wonderful dirty stuff," says De Fuccio, a Jesuit-trained 52-year-old bachelor with 12 godchildren, whose pediatrician father was knighted by King Victor Emanuel III of Italy."But we can't do it. We always say we're saving that stuff for the last issue." He hits his head and says, "Oh, I derailed my train of thought."
The 46-page, 60-cent ("cheap") Mad still revolves largely around its monthly film satire, one of the few regular features assigned to a writer and artist. Several studios are so anxious to have their products spoofed that they arrange special advance screenings for Mad contributors. Upcoming issues will bring "Saturday Night Feeble" and Clod Encounters of the Absurd Kind."
And then there are the other Mad regulars: the crazy "Spy vs. Spy" capers by Antonio Prohias, a cartoonist forced to flee Cuba when his political tableaus infuriated Castro; the Don Martin comic strips that so often have oddly shaped people meeting untimely deaths and the topical humor. In this month's "Collection Drives" article Mad discusses Dullness's Ten Early Warning Signs - "When you talk to your plants, do they wilt?"
"People really want to be entertained," says De Fuccio. "Sometimes it's really hard wonk. You know, the grass is always greener.
When I was growing up in Jersey City, we used to say, 'Oh, the girls in Teaneck.' And then you meet some guy from Teaneck and he says, 'Oh, the girls in Jersey City. Ultimately, though, I want to get into the produce business. I told Gaines that an egg-plant doesn't have to be funny."