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