The Harvard Lampoon Centennial Celebration 1876.1973 Edited by Martin Kaplan Atlantic-Little, Brown. $29.95
IT WOULD BE just like a Crimson editor to begin review of the Lampoon Centennial book by remarking that the best prank it describes was pulled by Crimson editors: The presentation of the Lampoon's Ibis to the Soviet Union's U.N. delegation during the Cold War.
But that would be a bit self-serving, don't you think? Even if it permitted a brief discussion of why the Ibis (that mangy, stuffed acromegalic pigeon) is such a perfect symbol for the boys and girls of the Castle. Even if it justified itself with a sociological explanation of why the Lampoon-Crimson feud has petered out.
So let us begin instead by considering why you should spend $29.95 (plus tax, unless you can convince the Harvard Bookstore you're using it for a course) on this overgrown puppy of a book. Why shouldn't you invest your hard-earned money in, say, a five-month subscription to the Fruit-of-the-Month Club?
Few would deny that this book is less appealing than one Riviera pear, let alone a full crate of them. But there are things to be said for it. It does not require refrigeration. It contains such handy and relatively inaccessible information as a complete list of all past Lampoon editors. It boasts two pictures of a clothed man who purports to be Martin Kaplan and one picture of a naked one who resembles Henry Kissinger. And it is consistently attractive and occasionally funny, which is more than you can say for most of us.
When friends come in and see it lying on the stereo speaker (which moonlights as a coffee table), they think I am a man of wealth and taste (or at least one out of the two). If conversation flags, we can browse through it and, depending on our mood, laugh at something we concede is witty, or shake our heads and mutter, "Puerile." Both pastimes are enjoyable. The Lampoon book also makes a nice tray to carry drinks or hot dishes to the table. I suspect it would do an admirable job pressing autumn leaves, but we'll have to wait till autumn rolls around to put it to the test.
THIS BOOK, as you see, is undeniably handy, but no doubt most prospective buyers will insist that it live up to its advertising and provide a few yucks. When I picked up my copy on Friday afternoon, I planned to spend a few hours with it, enough to find a few funny bits to string together into a review. I spent the whole weekend with it. This could mean one of two things...
As you might have guessed, it meant the second, but I was finally able to find a few amusing items. Consider this rewrite of Cole Porter's "All of You":
The length and breadth and height of you total up to quite a view, but to taste the true delight of you, I'd like to take A BITE OF YOU.
A 1942 parody of the liberal New York newspaper, PM, was also on target:
In Boston there is a man. This man's name is Norman R. Batcher. Last Tuesday Norman Batcher applied for a job at the R. Boswell Coal Co. He did not get a job. Why? Why didn't this American youth get his job? A job is the right of every American. And yet Norman R. Batcher did not get a job. Why? PM tells you why. Norman Batcher is a moron.
And I confess I laughed at the 1968 Time parody which reported a rocky romance between Tricia Nixon and Barry Goldwater III: "Tricia recently began avoiding 'that boring creep' and letting it be known around Washington that she'd 'rather have skin cancer than one of his disgusting hickeys.'"
There is more. Indeed, there is a lot more. There are recountings of Lampoon history, pictures and stories of the Lampoon Castle, nutshell biographies of Lampoon greats like John Reed, Robert Benchley, and Fred Gwynne. But most of all there are chunks of Lampoon writing, including generous helpings from the parodies. The only glaring omission is the lack of material from the legendary 1965 Time parody. Otherwise, The Harvard Lampoon Centennial Celebration 1976-1973 contains a lifetime supply of Harvard humor and a fine testament to the Lampoon's unabashedly trivial last 97 years.
Oh, yes. Those clever Crimson reporters and similar types who wonder why 97 years doth a centennial make should address their inquiries not to the Castle, but to God, on Whose shoulders the responsibility rests. It was God and not the boys at Zero Freedom Square who, manifesting that recurrent and annoying disregard of detail, sent Wunderkind Marty Kaplan to us three years too soon. This obviously did not stop Marty, suggesting that the book might be viewed primarily as a monument to Free Will. In fact, my guess is that one hundred years from now, this book will not be remembered because it was especially funny, or because it cast a unique light on our age, or because it was the first anthology published by a collegiate publication, or even because it contained hitherto unpublished papers of John Reed and George Peppard. My guess is that one hundred years from now, this book will not be remembered.