Friday, October 18, 2019

Number 2402: Humbug and Mad: variations on a theme

I was 10 years old in 1957, and aware of the buzz on the movie, Baby Doll, from a play by Tennessee Williams. I thought the images of actress Carroll Baker sucking her thumb were odd, but not only was I only 10, I was completely naïve about sex and sexual symbolism. Baby Doll was controversial because of its sexual theme. But all of it went over my head.

That summer I bought Humbug #1 at a local pharmacy. Later in the summer I bought Mad #35. Both of them took off on the image of Carroll Baker. Humbug did a more traditional satire, probably written by editor Harvey Kurtzman, and Mad did a 4-page mash-up of Williams’s plays, Baby Doll, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Rose Tattoo, drawn by Wallace Wood. Despite my innocence, I “got” the Humbug satire, but was puzzled by Mad. That was because at the time I knew more about Tennessee Ernie Ford* than Tennessee Williams.

When looking at Humbug and its bad printing, it did not match Mad, but I recognized the names Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis from the Mad Reader paperback. (And Humbug cost 10¢ less than Mad; important for a kid with a small allowance.) I knew more about Mad than I did sex. Not impossible, because I knew nothing about sex except I liked looking at pictures of actresses like Carroll Baker, Marilyn Monroe, and especially the incredible Brigitte Bardot . . . sigh. Oops, I’m going off into a reverie. Sorry about that.

The Humbug scans come from my copy of Humbug #1, and the Mad scans come from the CD set, Totally Mad.

*From YouTube, Tennessee Ernie’s biggest hit, “16 Tons”.


Daniel [] said...

I had a girlfriend who was a great admirer of the works of Tennessee Williams. For my part, I regard most of his plays as very odd without their managing to be particularly surreal.

I'm amongst those who think that Feldstein's Mad Magazine suffers greatly by comparison to Kurtzman's Mad Comics. But I'm not enthusiastic about Kurtzman's later efforts, and here I think that Mad Magazine produced something significantly better.

“Doll-Baby” doesn't succeed as a lampoon of the movie or of the play. Most of the jokes have no peculiar association with either; they could have be applied to many other things, and the reader cannot otherwise infer the much of the plot, characterizations, or worldview.

I acknowledge that “Sin-Doll Ella” pursues an objective of a different sort; it doesn't aim to lampoon a specific work, but Williams' but rather the general flavor of his works, at least as they were presented in film adaptations of that era. But I think that it's more successful in that pursuit. (By the way, the mash-up draws upon Cat on an Hot Tin Roof as well as to the other works that you name. But, as its film was not released until late in the summer of 1958, I guess that Mad must have looked to the stage play.)

Kirk said...

I used to have a paperback reprint with Sin-Doll Ella in it, and I still crack up at the two pigs talking.

Brian Barnes said...

The Humbug version is better, IMHO, but the cartoon hallway gag just does not translate to comics, I think that was a miss.

Wood did great work on the Mad version, for sure. All the staples of Wood are there, the pretty girls, the muscled men, I'm surprised there's no wires and gadgets around!

Pappy said...

Brian, which reminds me...I wonder how many times I have seen that hallway and opening doors gag in movies or television? Done right it can be funny, but I'll bet it was used on stage years before there were movies; it is a really old joke.

Pappy said...

Daniel, I am not a particular fan of Tennessee Williams' work, but his plays were popular. The movies I have seen based on those plays sometimes seem stagy to me. Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire is an example in my opinion.