A 75-Year-Old Joke

WHAT GOES on inside the funny little Castle that has stood in its spot now for three-fourths of a century? Everyone has heard something about the Harvard Lampoon, about wild parties with people swinging from chandeliers and tossing plates against the walls, about initiation rites and "phools week," and of course, about the infamous pranks.

While the club's tradition of antics have survived throughout the years, the magazine which or casionally emanates from the building has undergone major changes. Lampoons during the 1920's and 1930's were filled with slapstick cartoons and pieces that have been called racist and elitist. In the 50's under the leadership of John Up dike '54 and George Plimpton '48, the magazine aspired in Updike's words to be a serious literary magazine".

While for most of its history, the group barely had enough money to get the publication out, in the 70's, after the formation of its offshoot the National Lampoon, the club earned millionaire status.

Castle residents used to look for inspiration to humorists like E.B. While and James Thurber and seek slots at the New York or Vanity Fair after graduation. Today's crowd is more apt to look for its heros on Second City Television or the David Letterman Show and join the ranks of television and movie script writers in Hollywood or New York.

"I ampoon humor has become more visual. People here grew up on Saturday Night Live so that's what we're likely to think of as experimental new comedy, and as a result a lot of the pieces are TV situation comedy oriented," says recently retired two term Lampoon President Conan C. O'Brien '85.

"Since my day the Lampoon has shifted away from concentration on the written word," says Updike.

All in all, the magazine has undergone some major transformation over the past decades.

UPDIKE AND Plimptor., who worked on the Lampoon in the 50's with other soon-to-be magazine writers and novelists like Michael J. Arlene '52, described the magazine of their era a more serious.

"We tried to get out fairly serious literary magazines that were respectable and funny by emulating distinguished writers of the 30's and forties," says.

"The quality of the magazine in those days was pretty hard to match. We had older people coming in after the war who gave us a real depth," says actor Frederick H. Gwynne '50, a former Lampy President and cartoonist perhaps best known for his portrayal of television's Herman Munster.

Plimpton, who wrote for the Lampoon during the mid-forties, says that his career as a writer started in the Castle. "Some of my pieces strike me with woe," he says of his early work, but he highly praises the quality of the magazine, and its role as a training ground for aspiring writers.

Lampoon editors from the early 60's speak of a definite shift in tone of the magazine.

"In the late 50's it was becoming somewhat of a snobby society type of magazine, of the Vanity Fair, New Yorker "Talk of the Town' variety, "says Christopher B.Cerf'63.

"Our board got into pop culture-rock 'n' roll, movies, cartoons. There was a turn toward absurd comedy, real silliness. We'd grown up seeing Mad Magazine and saw no difference between writing a poem and a rock 'n' roll parody. So we did both," Cerf adds.

The early 60's also saw the magazine branching into parody issues. After securing a contract to put out a national parody of Mademoiselle in 1961, the 'Poon in 1963 went on to mimic the Saturday Review, and then Lan Fleming in a nationally distributed parody,Alligator

"It was a huge turning point in Lampoon history. Suddenly we had hundreds of thousands of readers rather than several thousand." Cerl says, adding that the club received national media exposure for the parodies.

"It was a major change, the organization went from being a small, inward looking club concerned with social commentary in the late 50's to being a mass media publication."

Parodies continued to be a main focus of Lampy attention in the late 60's with the publication of Time, Life, and Playboy issues.

It was work done on the Lampoon during this era that inspired Henry Beard '67 and Doug Kenney '67 to start the National Lampoon in 1970.

"The success of the Lampoon parodies made it seem possible that something like this could be done more regularly," says Beard.

The formation of the Nations Lampoon started the parent Harvard organization on the road to millionaire status.

Before the national humor magazine started, the magazine had "been in fairly serious danger of no, bring around, living a land o mouth existence," Card says.

"For a number of years the licensing fees from the National Lampoon were like the fingers in the dike, saving the Harvard Lampoon adds.

Current Lampoon treasure Robert M. Neer '86 says ties magazine's ties to its national offspring "became especially lucrative during the run of the National Lampoon's Annual House, giving us an endowment of considerably more than, million dollars".

Neer says the Lampoon's recent publication of people and News week perodies also contributed to the magazine's high financial standing.

IN ADDITION to becoming a millionaire, publication in the last decade, the Lampoon has changed from an all-male institutions to one which has recently had two female presidents.

Pointing out that the Lampoon staff is now 25 percent female, current President Lauren M.MacMullen '86 says the increased number of women on the Lampoon in recent years has toned down traditional Lampoon sexism.

"Iet's hope we've had a subtle influence," she says.

"Before the comp was reminiscent of boot camp and the Castle certainly had a boy's club feeling of machismo," says former President Brien Mc Cormack '77.

But he rejects the stereotype of the Lampoon as an elite social institution, an image promoted in a recent feature in Vanity Fair, "Clearly," he says in recent to the article "the cover price of success is two dollars."

He and others maintain that everyone on the magazine is no rich and that the Lampoon does give to charities through Phillips Broads House and concern more to order Harvard undergraduate publication, including the Advocate.

He says, however, that some of the donations were motivated by a desire to deflect accusations that Lampoon humor capitalized on the popularity of racial slurs.

In the early 70's the magazine experienced a style revolution from, purely literary to conceptual and even "bizarre, slapstick humor," says MeCormack.

"In the years up to the early 70's for more attention was paid to the text-in reworking things, editing and even proof reading-and the emphasis was on word play and puns," he adds, "In other words the work moved from verbal to visual."

The first attempt at this new approach to humor came together in "Your Issue" in 1976. I he idea, McCormack says, was "this is your magazine with your jokes and your ideas, and if it sucks, it's your fault."

Your Issue" was followed by "Up All Night," which mimicked the "experience of someone who...you guessed it, "he adds.

ALTHOUGH THE Lampoon has always prided itself is its high quality humor, the real world did not always provide opportunities for this type of expression.

The explosion of humor-oriented all forms of media in all forms of media in recent years has given Lampoon graduates new career options, allowing them to bring their Harvard humor to a broader public.

"When I was on the Lampoon there were people becoming lawyers with good sense of humor, doctors with good senses of humor, etc. Now I see people giving seniors thought to writing comedy, which before the 60's was going against the grain," says Beard, co-founder of the National Lampoon.

Many recent Lampoon graduates who have gone on to work in the television and movie industries say the kind of writing they did in the Castle comes in handy in their chosen professions.

"I'm doing the same thing now that I did in College except I get paid for it and I don't have homework." says former Lampoon President Jeffrey Martin '82, a writer for the David letterman Show in New York.

Some say that this trend toward graduate in-volvement in the entertainment industry has changed the atmosphere inside the Castle.

Lampoon members have become more savvy about the Hollywood scene as they think about their lives after Harvard, former President Mc. Cormack says.

As a result, Lampoon graduates who have succeeded in storming the entertainment industry become larger than life figures around the Castle.

"Any grad who sell big on a show gains power in the old grad network-probably to a greater extent than is healthy," he adds.

"The Lampoon tends to make repeated oblations to the humor deities of past generations," says Theodore P. Friend '85.

Former President O'Brien also doesn't see the trend among graduates to be an entirely positive one.

"Because writing comedy is now a viable career, and there's need for people to write funny stuff there's a danger of the Lampoon becoming a prevent processional kind of place."

But William L. Cakley '38, a Lampy newcomer, argues that me magazine does not seem paraprofessional adding that the worship of Hollywood reflects the success of a few graduates more than the true ambitions of most undergraduates.

O'Brien says that the trend among graduates away from straight prose writing and toward work in visual communications reflects a necessity as much as a choice.

"There aren't as many places people can go to support themselves as prose writers, magazines aren't doing so well," says O' Brien. "The National Lampoon used to be an alternative, but now it's an obscene farce. The demand now is for people who can write a funny script or fill a half an hour of TV."

O'Brien adds, "Many of us, recent grads too, would love to continue writing prose comedy, but there's no market for it. The Lampoon is giving us the opportunity to do something we might not be able to do later."

No one knows exactly where the magazine is going next. Writers and artists seem dissatisfied with the old forms of expression though they have yet to develop new ones, MeCormack says.

"Undergraduates here convince themselves that everything they do is new while graduates believe that everything has been done before," he adds.

"I think they're unsure of where to go and are groping like primates for a new tomorrow," he says.

Camille M. Caesar contributed to the reporting of this article.