Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Frank Jacobs 1929 - 2021


Prolific Mad Magazine writer Frank Jacobs has passed away in his sleep at the age of 91.

He would contribute regularly to Mad from 1957 to 2017, creating many well known parodies. His specialty was song parodies. Here's just one for instance:

(to the tune of Hello Dolly)
Hello Deli,
this is Joe, Deli
would you please send up
a nice corned beef on rye.
A box of RITZ, Deli
and some Schlitz, Deli
Some chopped liver
and a sliver of your, apple pie.
Turkey Legs, Deli
hard boiled eggs, Deli
and a plate of those potatoes you french fry, oh
Don't be late, Deli
I just can't wait Deli,
Deli without breakfast, I'd just die.
Via CBR:

"After the late, great Dick DeBartolo, Jacobs was the most prolific Mad writer who did not also draw his own strips (like Don Martin, Sergio Aragones or Al Jaffee). Even counting writer/artists like Jaffee, Jacobs was in the top seven most prolific Mad contributors, appearing in over 300 issues of the humor magazine.

"Jacobs' first pitch to Mad, a story titled 'Why I Left the Army and Became a Civilian,' was not only purchased, but Mad even spotlighted it when it first appeared in 1957's Mad #33 (it also later appeared in the very first Mad paperback collection)."

I could go on and list many examples. Here's another ....

In its 300th issue dated January 1991, Frank wrote a piece titled "The Wizard of Odds." Roger Cohen wrote about it for the New York Times: 

"The wizard lives in the Palace of Glitz in an America where greed has become God. The wizard is the Donald.

"He tosses dollar bills into the air with stubby hands, delighting in 'a world full of schmucks' whom he loves because he needs them as he’s 'piling up the bucks.' He eyes up young Dorothy, who believes the Trump-wizard can deliver her from materialistic hell back to her down-to-earth world of Kansas in 1939. He offers instead to put her up in a penthouse.
"'In a couple of years, after you fill out, you could be my steady bimbo,' the Trump character says in the magazine.
"Even three decades ago, we knew precisely who this man was."

Not everyone was amused. Irving Berlin was sufficiently angry about Mad's parodies of his well-known songs that he sued them for $25 million. The result established a legal precedent for satire.


"Mad magazine had published a special edition in 1961 titled More Trash from Mad No. 4, which featured a songbook containing 57 parody lyrics to existing popular songs, such as Irving Berlin's "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" (Mad's version was the hypochondriac 'Louella Schwartz Describes Her Malady'[2]). In each case, readers were advised that the magazine's lyrics could be sung 'to the tune of' the original compositions' titles. Following the magazine's publication, several music corporations sued E.C. Publications, Inc. (the publisher of Mad magazine) over 25 of the 57 parodies. The suit asked for one dollar per song for each issue of More Trash from Mad No. 4 that had been published, totaling $25 million in alleged damages. The cover of the special had borne the inadvertently prescient blurb, 'For Solo or Group Participation (Followed by Arrest).'

"Berlin was the named plaintiff, but the suit was brought not just by Irving Berlin Inc., but also by the music publishers Chappell, T.B. Harms, and Leo Feist. Several of Berlin's compositions were at the heart of the dispute, but the complaint also cited songs by Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, and Oscar Hammerstein II.

"The trial court found for Mad publisher E.C., establishing a legal precedent (the so-called 'Mad magazine exception') protecting parody (but not, at that time, satire). The court ruled in E.C.'s favor on all but two of the parodies—'There's No Business Like No Business' and 'Always'—whose lyrics were considered to revolve around the key words 'business' and 'always,' and thus hewed too closely to the originals. For those two songs, the court denied summary relief to both parties. The other 23 parodies, such as 'Louella Schwartz...', 'The First Time I Saw Maris' and 'The Horse That I'm Betting,' were judged sufficiently distinct to qualify under 'fair use.'"

Weird Al Yankovic was inspired by Jacobs' song parodies, and he wrote the introduction to a collection of Frank's work. 

And , me? I was a big fan. When I was an elementary school kid, in my prime Mad-reading years, I shelled out the money to buy a paperback of The Mad World of William M. Gaines by Frank Jacobs. At least once, during the free reading period at Deerfield Elementary School in Lawrence, KS, I was called up to to the teacher's desk where I was told to hand over the book for inspection. Since there was more text than art, it was OK to be read in school and the book was returned and I was told to go back to my desk. Hmm. Lesson learned. So much for "free." 

Jacobs' impact on a couple of generations of people who make us laugh cannot be counted. He was prolific, and the good thing is that his work is still out there where it can impact the young, twisted minds of the 21st century. 

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