A short history of its rise, fall, and rise again

“Undergraduate memory is, on average, no more than two years long. With the exception of the occasional research student, or the senior member whose recollections of his/her undergraduate days are usually listened to politely and then ignored, consciousness of a history that goes back further than those gigantic figures who dominated one’s first year…is little more than folk-memory and mythology.” So wrote historian Robert Hewisohn about the Cambridge Footlights, England’s preeminent incubator of student humor. The amnesia is even stronger this side of the Atlantic, where a hamburger joint in the same spot for 25 years is a marvel. When I arrived at Yale, The Yale Record was only a rumor, our intermittent, stunted version of the mighty Harvard Lampoon. After restarting the magazine in 1989, I began investigating The Record’s history, partly to find out what I’d gotten myself into. I soon discovered that for all its recent difficulties The Record’s history was impressive, and reading the issues quickly changed my picture of the Yale I thought I knew. What follows is based on a Senior Essay I wrote in 1991, which attempted to answer why, after a century full of financial success and famous alumni, did The Record collapse in the early 1970s? Though I’ve given it a good postgrad polish, the prose may still bear traces of its academic origin—so I ask your indulgence for any clumsiness in style, as well as the occasional awkward lunge towards Greater Significance. For all its flaws, I hope this will act as a skeleton upon which to hang a proper history, fattened up with reprints from the magazine, as well as many more facts, opinions, and memories. You may feel that your years have been given short shrift, or misrepresented. If this is so, I apologize—but more than that, I encourage you to submit any information that you think will enhance this portrait of the magazine. Technology will allow us to produce revisions almost immediately, and I hope to do so regularly. This is the history of The Yale Record. It’s something worth preserving—and it is not what you thought it was. —Michael Gerber ’91 michaelagerber@gmail.com


The Yale Record first appeared on September 11, 1872, not as a humor magazine, but as a weekly student newspaper. This came about in the usual way: several editors at a preexisting weekly (called the Yale Courant) became dissatisfied, and decided to create a new publication to put the Courant out of business. They failed—the Courant survived until 1918—but Record alums are certainly glad they made the attempt. The ranks of Yale journalism were much thinner in 1872 than they are today; in addition to The Record and the Courant, there was only the Banner (founded in 1841), and the Yale Literary Magazine (1832). The Yale Daily News first rolled off the presses six years after The Record, in 1878—a fact which always seems to come up when Record staffers and Newsies mingle for too long. One of the reasons that collegiate publications are so fractious is that grudges give both parties something juicy to write about. “It is certainly the privilege of anyone to start a new paper if he wants to,” the Courant sniffed, “but we do complain of the manner in which [The Record] was started.”1 The Record and the Courant castigated each other constantly, apparently to the delight of their readers. There was a brief struggle for hearts and minds, but The Record became a campus fixture almost immediately. This could be because The Record, unlike its rival, was wholly owned and run by Yale students.2 The editorial mix of The Record mimicked that of its progenitor, several sheets of newsprint containing exam times, election results, sports scores, and the occasional piece of good-natured gossip. But even then The Record showed its funny bone, dropping in items like CHARLIE: It’s funny, isn’t it? We never hear of labor unions south of the Equator. JOHNNIE: Well, you know, you’re not allowed to strike below the belt.
1Yale Courant, Volume 3, Number 2, September 12, 1872. 2 Perhaps the first successful college newspaper, The Yale Courant was a branch of a larger paper, the College Courant, which had been distributed to several colleges in the area after 1865. I do not know whether the College Courant is related to The Hartford Courant, but that paper’s proximity, prestige, and experimentation with weekly editions during this time suggests that perhaps it was.


A typical page from the magazine, circa 1875. Ball scores, notices, et cetera.

Humorous verse also made a regular appearance: Blest be the tie that binds The collar to my shirt. With gorgeous silken front it hides At least a week of dirt. This early Record is much closer in spirit to today’s residential college newsletters than a contemporary newspaper. With peculiarly post-prep intimacy, The Record revealed who had a broken arm, who was consistently late for class, and who had decamped for Europe or Princeton. This insularity helped sustain organizations like The Record. For those students who had been big wheels at their prep school, climbing the ladder within a Yale student organization was the next logical step. But groups like The Record also provided opportunities for students who had not been notable prior to Yale. For them, The Record, the Daily News, and the rest provided a valuable way to prove their mettle. This was Yale’s secular religion. Between the Civil War and the Great Depression, much was made of the “democracy” of Yale student groups—how they rewarded effort and built character, how they were a level field upon which students could test themselves and persevere. While “heeling” The Record was always less grueling than going out for the News, the process was open to all and attractive in a Yale fairly stratified by where you had prepped, the circles you ran in (that is, how much money you came from), and even your class year. At The Record, you could transcend all that—to a degree. Talk of meritocracy within a group as homogeneous as the Yale of 1872 may strike us as strange. But that how it looked to Yalies back then. They genuinely believed in the meritocracy of institutions like The Record. They believed them to be sound, revealing tests of ability and character. It was this faith in the system that allowed Yale student publications—and indeed many other Yale student organizations—to achieve positions of genuine prominence in the world outside of Yale. It made perfect sense that Henry Luce, the son of missionaries, devoted himself to the Daily News with missionary zeal; such institutions were the Yale student religion. The only choice was denomination: News or Record, singing group or Dwight Hall—then finally, for some, Bones or Keys, Wolf ’s Head or Book and Snake. It was a virtuous cycle: as long as Yale students believed in the importance of institutions like The Record—as long as they felt success inside them meant something—the institutions were good enough to be genuinely important. When that faith dwindled after the 1960s, when Yalies began to see campus organizations as irrelevant, impotent, or worst of all reactionary, many once-powerful groups faded, including The

Record. Thankfully, that attitude has softened, and while many Yale students are still deeply cynical about campus groups, enough believe in their value to make them strong once again.

With the Daily hoovering up all the campus news, the Courant and The Record were forced to find new roles to fill. The Courant (perhaps not as sensitive to campus trends) decided to keep its informational flavor. This was not successful; the Courant dropped from the top rank of Yale publications. The Record took a different approach, steadily increasing the entertainment and comment portion of its mix. Its columns filled with poems, vignettes, and pithy remarks on the passing scene. From there to humor magazine is not such a far leap. In retrospect it feels almost inevitable. But it was not, and the students at The Record should be given credit for creating, decision by decision, a new type of collegiate publication. It is difficult not to credit the emergence of the Harvard Lampoon in 1876 as model and encouragement for The Record’s transformation into a completely comic paper along the lines of Punch and Puck. However—somewhat gratifyingly—there is no direct evidence for this, and given the fierce rivalry between the publications, it is doubtful that there was any meaningful interplay between them. The Record did by stages what the Lampoon did all at once. The Record’s hybrid nature allowed it to remain financially stable throughout its manyyear metamorphosis, avoiding the near-death experiences that Lampy suffered until the enrollment of its ultimate sugar daddy, William Randolph Hearst. By 1882, The Record had begun to run humor under the header “Owlisms”—the first appearance of The Record’s mascot, Old Owl. Half-newsweekly, half-humor magazine, there isn’t really a word for what The Record was in the 1880s and 90s. Some of the strangeness of the news/humor mix can probably be chalked up to our distance from the era; a lot of what Yalies found funny back then is incomprensible today. It’s very hard to tell if something is a joke, if it’s not typeset as a setup followed by a punchline. Looking back from the vantage of its 75th anniversary, The Record described this era’s material thusly: “…a garden variety of humor with heavy overtones of Victorian sentiment and plush coyness.” Here’s a sample: To a Water-Nymph Dark is my loved one’s witching face, She cometh from far Spain, Her skin is olive like the race On which the Moor has left his trace; Her beauty makes her vain.


My lady’s form is plump and fine; She knows it, ah! too well; She hides her ‘mid the leavy fine— The vine yields water and not wine— Its leaves her convent cell.

themselves very seriously; a The Record was expert at take counterbalance was necessary. It is necessity that has made The Record adapting popular styles this so resilient over the years; and it was only when The Record was perceived of comedy to fit their as a supporter of stuffiness, not its enemy, that it collapsed. Students at student audience. a school like Yale see their fellows

Dark maid, thy heart is known to me— The red heart of a felon, The cholera morbus there I see— Its seeds are blackly sown in thee. Thou art a water melon. —J.R. Jay Quite a long way to go for such a slim joke. Yet for all we know, The Record was a laugh-riot to Yalies of that era. Newsy humor magazine or humorous newspaper, it was clearly doing something right. The metamorphosis can be tracked by the appearance of more and more art in The Record. Bonneted heads and shapely shoulders of the “Gibson Girl” variety began leavening the hitherto print-crammed pages. Even more notable was the introduction of single-panel gag cartoons in 1886. Issue after issue, more jokes, more poems, more art. By the turn of the century, The Record bore little resemblance to its newsy ancestor of three decades before. It had created its own niche, and did it gradually enough that it built readership in the process. As successful as it turned out to be, this wasn’t the fruit of some master plan; it happened organically. The Record would take some aspect of professional humor—a feature from a magazine, the style of a popular cartoonist—and introduce it into the mix. If the students liked it, it stayed; if not, it was chucked. This is how The Record works at its best: it presents Yale-ized versions of professional humor, then listens for student laughter to tell it what to do next. The Record staked out a middle-ground. On the one side, there was the campus kingmaking and pontification that has ever been the YDN’s stock-in-trade. On the other, the Lit. delivered earnest, high-toned fare. The Record’s worldview was never so serious as the YDN’s, nor as neurasthenic and selfaggrandizing as the Lit’s. It skewered Yale’s pomposity, and in doing so became the natural voice of Yale’s eternal majority, the students who weren’t setting the campus on fire. The Record’s fundamental skepticism towards the campus rat-race, and its good humor in the face of Yalies’ stifling self-regard, has been a constant. Viewed this way, the rise of The Record was an inevitability. Everything at Yale encourages Yalies to

attempting to be adults, and failing miserably. It’s only natural to laugh.3 The Record’s role as guardian of good times was demonstrated by its greatest prank. In the fall of 1902, the matronly teetotaler Carry Nation was crisscrossing the country, busting up saloons with her famous hatchet and haranguing all and sundry on the evils of Demon Rum, when a group of Yale students invited her to speak at the school. Yale’s reputation in those days was dodgy; one minister’s wife famously said, “I’d rather send my son to Hell than to Yale.” Even so—or perhaps because of this—Nation accepted the students’ invitation. Hearing that Carry Nation was giving an impromptu lecture on the evils of “smoke and drink…short skirts and foreign foods,” The Record sprang into action. After a stormy speech on the steps of Osborn Hall (where Bingham Hall is today), The Record men approached Nation and professed a profound hatred for vice in all its forms. Calling her an inspiration, they asked if she might pose for a picture with them. Won over, the poor old lady accepted. In her suite at a local hotel, the staffers positioned themselves around the dumpling-shaped reformer. As the lights went out (a requirement of night photography in 1902), the boys grabbed various objects: bottles of beer, cigarettes, tobacco pipes, even a noose which they draped over Nation’s head. The flash fired, the image was captured…and Nation was none the wiser. Amazed, the Record staffers squeezed out a second, hurried photo. In this one, the photographer has retouched it so Nation looks like she’s admiring some smoke rings she’s blown. The Record published this second photo on October 1, 1902, with the caption, “‘I have always taken mine straight,’ she said, laughing.” The first photo hangs, appropriately, in the bar of the Yale Club of New York City. Though she left New Haven unawares, Nation eventually discovered the prank, and proved that she could hold a grudge as fiercely as any drunk: a chapter in her 1908 autobiography
3 While necessary equipment for a humor magazine, this commitment to irreverence has sometimes hindered The Record. At various times in the magazine’s history, the staff has neglected aspects of the venture for fear of “taking this all too seriously.” This is undergraduate sophistry at its most annoying; anybody who’s ever paid their own bills knows that money is a reality that must be minded. Irreverent individuals can afford such purity; institutional irreverence requires more diligence in these areas, not less.

This spread is from 1889. The rather clumsy cartooning style was popular at this time, and is an example of The Record paying attention to the professional world. From 1880 to 1910, the magazine was constantly tinkering, adding their versions of features and styles that professionals were creating.


is titled, “The Vice of College, Especially Yale.”

The teens were a profitable time for The Record in many senses of that word, an era of building and solidifying. Like so much of the magazine’s history, this was part of a larger pattern sweeping Yale. University historian George Pierson wrote, “[W]here before 1880 it had been the secret societies which dominated, and from 1880 to 1910 the great athletes had been worshipped,” by the Teens, literary pursuits had pulled even in prestige. Now, Pierson wrote, “it was primarily through publication or the arts of publicity that the ears of the many could be captured.” The Record expressed it differently: When you’re on the way to greatness, Form a club! Cultivate that tete-a-teteness, Form a club! Never mnd the common friendships that no politician has! Seek the really righteous rounders and athletes of the class! And you’ll get your heart’s desire and the rest will get the raz! Form a club!” —Stephen St. Vincent Benet (1917) Even through the scrim of a century, The Record’s steady improvement during this period is clear. Clumsy, cloddish art grew rare. At the same time, the writing became more direct, shaking off the Jamesian rhythms. In shaking off Victoriana The Record’s student editors were, as ever, aping the professional world. As writers like Ring Lardner and Don Marquis were creating a new, more direct and more vernacular American humor, it was only natural that college editors would move their magazines in this direction as well. A copy of The Record from 1910 finally has the general form of a classic college humor magazine; the stance of each piece is one that we recognize as humorous, even if the particulars of the jokes remain elusive. They talk of women, money, and studying; a scarcity of the first two and a surfeit of the last were The Record’s stock-in-trade from about 1910 to 1970. It’s important to note that from a purely technological standpoint, The Record at this time could do anything a professional humor magazine could do. The Record of 19101930 was not as good as a professional humor magazine, but he gulf between them was only one of polish. The Record prospered because it looked like a national magazine, and while the writing and art was certainly less expert, it had an advantage: it was tailored to the collegiate market, which was exploding. Student humor magazines had been chugging along at other schools for several decades. By the teens, Princeton had


its Tiger, made famous by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Harvard’s well-heeled Lampoon was already relaxing in its Castle (thanks to Mr. Hearst, among others). Out west, they had the Stanford Chaparral and the California Pelican. Then there was the Columbia Jester, the Dartmouth Jack O’Lantern, the Brown Jug, the Williams Purple Cow…The list grew by the year, partly because students have always loved tweaking authority, and partly because there was a good dollar to be made publishing a humor magazine. The first thing that strikes the modern reader when looking at a copy of The Record from this era is how incredibly jammed it is with ads—local, national, you name it. And it was a fortnightly during the school year, so this furious stream of paid space gushed out sixteen times a year.4 Bound volumes from this era are three inches thick and boast page counts of 800 or 900. This is three times the annual output of staffs during the prosperous Fifties, and five times the pages produced currently. Whatever else The Yale Record was, after 1910 it became an excellent way to make money. With this kind of commercial imperative behind it, the student humor magazine had become a fixture, first at the most prestigious colleges, then at other schools who took the Ivies as their model. Though this explosion is never mentioned in histories of American literature, it was the college humor magazine that incubated the great humorists of the century, whether it was Robert Benchley (Lampoon), James Thurber (OSU Sundial), S.J. Perelman (Brown Jug). Even The New Yorker, that colossus of high culture, owes some debt to this raft of student wisecrackery; in its early, impoverished years, The New Yorker looks like nothing so much as a college humor magazine! The magazines themselves clearly knew they were part of something substantial: rivalries permitting, The Record even printed jokes from its competitors on a regular basis.5 Amazingly, college humor magazines were considered to be more than a little racy; they were seen as harbingers of a new, looser morality, and parents didn’t approve. First, they were samizdat for Hemingway’s “The Lost Generation.” Then, they became catnip for those kids who’d missed the War but were looking for the after-party. One can’t talk about the Twenties Record—or indeed any other college humor magazine of this time—without
4 Every issue was given a theme, which sometimes flavored its contents, and other times simply positioned it in the school year. Here’s the lineup produced in192829: Freshman Number, Dartmouth Game Number, Princeton Game Number, The Yale Record’s New Yorker (magazine parody), Christmas Number, Classical Number, Prom Number, Time (another parody), Travel Number, Swan Song Number (the Board changes), Revenge Number, Celebrities Number, Spring Number, Crew Number, Princeton Game Number (baseball this time), and finally Reunion Number. Whew! 5This was done in a special section titled “From Our Contemporaries.” This mutual acknowledgment was short-lived. By the early ‘40’s, Chairman Jim Nelson ’43 related that The Record “did not communicate or correspond” with its counterparts at other colleges—this despite several organizations that handled advertising and distribution for all collegiate humor magazines.

This spread (from 1913) shows The Record fully transformed into a humor magazine. See the profusion of cartoons and other items of visual interest, organizing the prose and making the magazine more fun to read. The Record would look like this until the early 1930s, whereupon it would began to be influenced by The New Yorker.


discussing the magazine parody. College and pro magazines had similar formats; this fact, plus the natural insouciance of students, was bound to combust.6 The audience for a college humor magazine is naturally limited; that of a magazine parody is much bigger, so slick, widely distributed parodies made student magazines lots of money. For those who’ve never seen one, a magazine parody is a fake edition of a publication put out by a rival or a mischievous party. Its goal is to poke fun at the original by printing absurd or satirically pointed material in a format and tone identical to the original. When well executed—so well that devoted readers mistake the parody for the real thing—parodies can be devastatingly funny. With the rivalry that naturally existed between the humor magazine and the campus newspaper, spoof issues (combined with theft of the original) were common. The best college humor magazines soon moved on to bigger game. The first magazine parody was created by Robert Benchley in 1911, spoofing the old comic Life (itself founded by Lampoon alumni). But magazine parodies did not remain a Lampoon preserve for long; Benchley’s contemporaries in New Haven soon took up this art and made it their own. Magazine parodies could generate a lot more money than a normal issue. But they were also important editorially; there is no better way to learn certain aspects of the humorist’s art than by painstakingly copying an original, enclosing a halfhidden barb. Though they shared a format, and all did the occasional parody to generate some dough, these college humor magazines were not monolithic; the quirks and culture of each campus imbued every one with a slightly different tang. The Record’s trademark (besides an emphasis on art) was a certain kind of worldliness—and no blue material, ever. Whatever jokes the staffs made among themselves, only clean wit (with perhaps an arched eyebrow) made it into the magazine.7 This restraint worked well from 1910 to 1930, as the mere
6 This similarity in format only lasted until WWII; after that, professional magazines began dropping illustrations for photos. The gap continued to grow for the rest of the century; by the 1960s, only the Harvard Lampoon could muster the money necessary for sufficiently accurate magazine parodies. By the 1980s, the visual gap between collegiate and professional magazines was simply unbridgeable. Part of the reason why The Record—and every other top-rank college humor magazine—began to look like The New Yorker was that The New Yorker’s format was the one professional model a student magazine could reach without a raft of staff photographers and equipment. Today, digital production has allowed the pendulum to swing back a bit. 8 Former Record Chairman David Mannis ’69 remarked to me that even during the liberated Sixties, “no mention of sex or women in their sexual capacity” was acceptable in The Record. How much of this came from tradition and how much came from fear of the Dean impounding the print run is hard to divide.

Lesson from the 1920s: The Record thrives most when it is read outside of Yale.

fact of a college humor magazine was racy enough for The Record to stake out a position at the top end of the spectrum without appearing fuddy-duddy. But trafficking in sophistication has its down side. A magazine devoted exclusively to any single flavor of wit—like one selling a particular vision of art or fashion—is extremely vulnerable if tastes change. Blue material, on the other hand, never goes out of style. It is because The Record’s tradition is sophistication, not ribaldry, that it was so difficult to resurrect after 1972, and why—even now—so many of its older alumni do not recognize the current student magazine as a successor. Of course, The Record hasn’t changed; its audience has. On college campuses, what constitutes sophistication has changed. Since 1965, it is not elegance but knowingness, not urbanity but unshockability, that students recognize as savoir-faire—but I’m getting ahead of my story. As the Twenties jangled along, the future looked extremely bright for The Record. Every issue bulged with full-page national ads from the likes of Kelly-Springfield Tires, Otis Elevators, and Murad Cigarettes. Yalies were valuable consumers, prized as collegiate trendsetters. Around graduation time, even more companies would advertise, hoping to snag a Yalie or two for their junior-executive track. Talent follows money, and so The Record attracted its pick of artists and writers. Each of them heeled as freshmen, then practiced for the rest of that year. As sophomores, they finally saw print. Staffers who toiled for Owl at this time included Peter Arno (then Curtis Arneaux Peters ’23), critic Dwight McDonald, artist Reginald Marsh, writer Lucius Beebe, illustrator Robert Osborn, and future Yale President A. Whitney Griswold. On March 8, 1922, The Record’s Fiftieth Anniversary Number hit the campus. The issue, which boasted a circulation of 6,000 (at a quarter each), had contributions from some of the most notable cartoonists of the day: Charles Dana Gibson, John Held, Jr., Peter Newell, Ralph Barton, and even Reginald Marsh ’20. Their contemporaries in prose are absent; there is no Benchley, no F.P.A., not even Yale man Donald Ogden Stewart. It’s interesting to note that even in celebrity contributors, the magazine retained its marked preference for cartoonists over writers. Not for nothing does The Record call staff writing “drool.” (But maybe I’m just a bitter ex-writer.) The vast amount of material that the staffs cranked out in the Twenties suggested that running The Record was every bit the test of ability and character Yalies believed it to be. They


“Hey Jack, let’s have another look at that map.’’ Peter Arno (1923)

even published the occasional book, usually after a Record illustrator came up with a cartoon character that caught on. With the money flowing, and an unassailable place in the zeitgeist, The Record had every reason to be proud. What had started as a college weekly with rather dim prospects had become, if not the single prototype, then certainly one of the prime examples of a unique, and uniquely American, form of journalism. There were no student humor magazines at Oxford or Cambridge; England gave us Punch, and we gave them back The Yale Record. Still, this rampant prosperity—or at least the well-oiled publishing machine that it had created—had one small, but inevitable, flaw. “Perhaps because [The Record’s] pages were limited,” George Pierson wrote, “or its frivolity had become too institutionalized, some of the choicer or more purposeful spirits sought independent publication…Almost every year there sprouted from the steps of Yale Station some new or provocative leaflet, mocking or sensational, only to wither with the first blast of summer.” Any institution built on irreverence has a problem to solve: how can it retain its bite when money, prestige, and permanency are all pushing it towards conventionality? Most never solve this, which is why comic groups have such brief flowerings. Those that do remain creative and vital over the long haul usually install some mechanism to incorporate new ideas and fresh talent, into the mix. The Harvard Lampoon’s system of handing over entire issues to teams of editors probably came about in this fashion. The Record ignored this problem, trusting in prosperity to keep it a moot point. For several decades, it did. Anyway, it’s doubtful that The Record paid much attention; what they were doing was working so well—why change it? Though the Chairmanship of The Record had only a fraction of the stature possessed by his equivalent on the Daily News, the magazine had achieved a comfortable, unassailable prominence. Success at The Record guaranteed selection by one of the top-tier societies. In addition to being a fixture at prep schools all over the East, The Record was sold wherever Yalies were likely to tread: New Haven, New York, Northampton, Poughkeepsie and Holyoke, on the trains between these destinations, even deep in the heart of enemy Cambridge. If one may believe the advertising copy, The Yale Record was “the most-read collegiate publication in America” at this time. This emphasizes the lesson of this era: the magazine thrives when it expands into a larger audience outside of Yale. Though it is unlikely that Ivy League humor magazines will ever reclaim as big a chunk of the zeitgeist as they did between 1919-29, today the Internet allows The Record to reach almost anyone in the world with ease. The Record could be as prosperous as it was in the Twenties if it aggressively developed products—magazines, books, t-shirts, games, etc—aimed at a

wider, extra-Yale audience. It is a tantalizing thought. CHAPTER 4 As proof of their rampant success—and doubtless sick of hearing about Lampy’s glorious Castle—The Record decided to build Old Owl a proper nest. Prior to this point, The Record (along with the YDN and the Lit.) had offices in the Berkeley Oval, where Berkeley College now sits. Those digs were adequate, but hardly in keeping with “the most-read” etc etc. In 1923, a building fund was incorporated. On its board sat George Parmly Day, the Treasurer of Yale (and the father of a Record staffer). Along with Day were representatives from other, earlier Record editorial boards. For the first—and last—time in its history, The Record had decided to flex its alumni muscle.9 Six years later, on May 1, 1929, The Yale Record building opened at 254 York Street. But—much to The Record’s eventual regret—the story was not that simple. Alumni contributions eventually reached $31,000, a sizeable sum, but only enough to purchase the land. In order to build the structure, the Building Fund had to take out a $35,000 loan from Yale University. Certainly Day’s presence on the board helped make this happen. But he eventually retired from Yale, leaving The Record dancing with an 800-pound gorilla with uncertain intentions. The Record had indebted itself to Yale, and so the building’s fate was irrevocably tied to Yale’s whim, not the fortunes of the magazine. Loan or no, it was hard to be gloomy about it at the time. Built in splendid collegiate gothic style, the two-story building had offices for the Chairman and Publisher downstairs, a meeting/banquet room up above. The basement was used for storage and, briefly, as a speakeasy.10 From December 1929 to February 1930, an illegal bar called “The Oyster Club” operated out of 254 York. This was the brainchild of Yale Dean Clair Mendell. Mendell believed that an on-campus speakeasy would keep Yale students from mixing with New Haven’s criminal element. The thought was, give Yalies a secret bar to keep them away from organized crime and prostitution. Needless to say, The Oyster Club was a roaring success, one of the few places on campus where Yalies could mix regardless of class year. The Yale Daily News pronounced the beer there “the best in New Haven.” Unfortunately the YDN’s praise attracted the attention of the New York papers, and
9 Day’s presence as a prime mover in the project may explain the University’s willingness to allow such a fund to exist unmolested, even though it meant the encroachment of an outside corporation—albeit one of Yale undergrads and alumni—upon Yale’s campus. Of course, it’s just as likely that patrician Yale was simply a lot more laissez-faire in those days when it came to money and real estate. 10 Abigail Spieler ’01 related the whole story in The Record’s short-lived “Weird Olde Yale” department, November 1997, p. 34.

soon there was enough of an outcry that Dean Mendell had to close The Oyster Club down. The Record’s building was not an architectural fantasia crammed with oddities like the Lampoon’s Castle— instead, it’s the headquarters of a business. That being said, it had many elegant, whimsical touches evident to the attentive observer. I haven’t inspected the building since it was renovated and absorbed into Davenport in 2005, but there used to be plenty of nice touches. There were statues on every corner of the roof, one for each department, “Art,” “Drool,” and “Business” (this last being a Shylockian figure). Monogrammed gutters, an owl boot-pull, a carved, glass-eyed owl…The upstairs room—the heart of the building—had not only a prominent “YR” on the plaster, but also a one-ofa-kind fireplace. It’s stone mantel showed the mascots of the other leading humor magazines of the day carved in positions of deference to Old Owl. With these kind of touches still extant in 2005, one can only wonder what details have been lost or destroyed in the seventy years prior to that. Yale is vast, increasingly interested in the bottom-line, and students are hard on a building. Apart from being a tangible expression of The Record’s stability and success—built several years before the YDN had a building of its own—the fact of a clubhouse was immensely important protection for the magazine. In the seventeen years (192845) that the property on 254 York belonged to the magazine The Record stayed afloat, despite the Great Depression. The building even had a positive effect on the magazine’s editorial content; while thinner and less frequent, the material in the Thirties has a confidence that can only be chalked up to its new environment. Like the YDN after it, The Record’s building was a physical manifestation of the space the magazine had carved out for itself within student culture. The Record was a fact

The 1930s showed that with money in the bank, The Record can survive almost anything.

of Yale life. Brash competitors like the Harkness Hoot were chaff on the wind. The only threat to The Record was running afoul of the University, and that was unlikely. For good and ill, at that time Yale did not attempt to manipulate student culture like it would later. Though both the Twenties and the Fifties could lay claim to being The Record’s golden age from an editorial standpoint, the period of 1928-45 has to be considered some sort of high-water mark. But even this was cursed with bad timing; most of the period when The Record could’ve used its building to spur alumni giving were years of profound economic decline. Then came the all-encompassing reality of WW II, which shoved such trifles aside for the duration. After the initial burst of giving that created the building, there was no time for The Record to raise money. The Yale Record building and the magazine’s financial history are inextricably linked. If the building been built earlier, contemporaneously with the Lampoon’s Castle and prior to the passage of the Income Tax, no loan from Yale would’ve been necessary. Or if fundraising had taken place in the Twenties, but that initial amount had been invested pending the raising of further money, The Record could’ve built in the dirt-cheap early Thirties, when the YDN built its building and Yale built Sterling Library, HGS and its Residential Colleges. Or if it that initial $31,000 had simply been allowed to compound under alumni supervision, there is no doubt that not only would The Record have survived the Seventies intact, it’s very likely that the magazine would’ve built a building after the war, and the prosperity of the late Forties and Fifties would not have evaporated. The endowment that has saved the Harvard Lampoon from disaster several times (and allows them to publish at a preposterous annual deficit) has as its basis the Castle. When The Record lost its building, it lost much more than bricks and mortar; it lost perhaps millions in donations, too.


At Yale, as on every campus, real estate is what separates temporary prosperity with organizational permanency. Organizations with real estate have thriving alumni groups, regular reunions, and strong connections between old grads and current members. One need look no further than the senior societies: The abovegrounds—those with real estate—by and large survived the tumultuous Sixties, feckless Seventies, and impoverished Eighties. The undergrounds, with no tangible presence, nothing visible to fight for, no proof of existence but a shared and dwindling idea, all disappeared. Many of these underground societies have been resurrected, and for each the first order of business has been a building. They have learned the lesson; perhaps finally The Record will, too. What can we learn from how 254 York happened? The power of alumni coming together, obviously—but also that how essential it is that The Record have friends in the administration. Yale is even more powerful today; if Yale doesn’t want something to happen, it won’t. Yale’s good graces—or at least benign neglect—are absolutely essential for The Record to thrive.

The loss of 254 York signaled a change in Yale’s attitude toward The Record.

As of 1940, Yalies had a lot of things to be worried about, but the future of The Record wasn’t one of them. National ads still flowed. Yalies were still considered a preferred market with plenty of disposable income; New Haven was also thriving, so local ads were plentiful. The Record still appeared on college-town newsstands throughout the Northeast. The Thirties do not seem to have been an especially difficult time for The Record. As long as a base level of revenue remains safe—be it from ads (as in the Thirties) or an endowment (as it must be today)—the insularity of Yale student culture can insulate The Record. In times like these, The Record’s main goal is maintaining a strong sense of what it is, and what it is for. They did this well in the 1930s, and The Record was able to smile while the world outside went to hell. The magazine continued to take special pride in its appearance. One of the hallmarks of The Record—and this continued well into the 1960s—was the consistently high quality of its design. Some of this had to do with the fact that it was professionally typeset and printed in an expensive manner, but the students were clearly committed to having their magazine look its absolute best. At a collegiate publication, “this is the way we’ve always done it” can move mountains, and the way it had always been done at The Record was top-notch art and great design.


From a writing standpoint, there was little concrete change from The Record of the 20’s—trips to Smith, complaints about the Student Laundry Service, spoofs of term papers—but while there wasn’t much inspiration in it, there was always ability. The best word for the pre-war Record is “goodnatured.” The world of The Record was a bubble. As in The New Yorker, humor didn’t engage the hard realities of the time. It was a palliative, or a soporific—pure entertainment. In our post-“Daily Show,” satire-drenched world, it’s easy to forget that Charlie Chaplin—the most popular comedian in the history of cinema—had a hard time making The Great Dictator. Still, The Record could pull off satire when it tried. An issue of 1938 setting up a silly regime based on the Nazis showed invention and skill. But this article was an exception. The contents never varied much from the tried-and-true formula of drinking, girls, and homework. They did this well enough, but these topics looked even more clichéd when compared to the efforts that were more ambitious or inventive. Though the staffers were too close to perceive it, one can see a certain editorial sclerosis setting in. Collegiate publications can be strangely hide-bound places; traditions spring up, then are continued for their own sake. If the people in charge aren’t vigilant, seeking out and rewarding the best talent (no matter how jarring), staffs can become inbred very quickly. The election of new members can become about who best perpetuates the group’s self-image, rather than a way to bring in new blood. Whenever that happens, The Record changes from a magazine to a club. As long as the publishing side continued to produce, it was easy to overlook editorial complacency, especially when it was called tradition. But this editorial stiffness—really, a species of group-think—would dog The Record for decades. At a humor magazine, a balance must always be struck between honoring the traditions that hold the group together, and providing members the freedom to strike out wherever their fancy takes them. There must be spaces for constructive rebellions, or else a destructive rebellion always comes. Even The Yale Record could not hold off the outside world forever. In 1943, the magazine ceased publication for the duration. For the first time since 1872, The Record did not appear on a regular basis; unlike most collegiate magazines, it had chosen to publish throughout WWI, making it, by some people’s estimation, the second-oldest magazine in America (after the Saturday Evening Post). But between paper shortages, accelerated graduation, and grim task ahead, it was felt that The Record should go on hiatus.

Though the magazine itself came back even stronger after the war, the University chose to foreclose upon The Record building in 1945 during the staff ’s absence. The details of this are murky, perhaps purposely so. Staffers from the 30s and 40s always emphasize to me that any bills given to The Record by the University were paid in full. Nevertheless, the first post-war Board was presented with a bill for over sixty thousand dollars; this amount claimed to represent heating and upkeep, plus interest on the remainder of the original loan. Though The Record had a nascent alumni group headed by Francis Bronson ’22, it was not powerful (or dedicated?) enough to stand in Yale’s way.11 Since they could not pay the loan—what student organization could?—Bronson and the students handed over the property at 254 York Street. But that may not be the whole story, or even the major part of it. Here’s another story, cobbled together from the memories of various alumni: During the War, the head of Yale’s Office of Public Information was Richard Lee, the man who would later become Mayor of New Haven. Sometime during The Record’s hiatus, Lee became covetous of the building; it’s not surprising, given its central location. Did The Record really owe Yale $60,000? Or was that simply the mechanism by which a powerful Yale administrator got his bricks and mortar? The real answer can never be known, but one thing was abundantly clear: the days of The Record occupying protected status at Yale were definitely over. Most of the previous seven decades, Yale had shown The Record benign neglect; occasionally, as with the Building Fund, it actively help-ed the magazine. And once in a Yaleblue moon, The Record and the administration were in bed to a degree unimaginable today. Surely Yale’s benignity had a lot to do with The Record never developing an alumni group; even now, it is typical for Yale graduates to assume that Yale feels as tenderly towards them as they do towards it…In fact, Yale is managed by a group of people, some with Yale ties,
11 Bronson was editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine, a post he held until 1966. As that was a separate corporation, he could hardly afford to antagonize anyone in the Administration on behalf of The Record. 13

some without. The story of Yale since 1946 is its ever-greater embrace of the corporate ideal. This has had some very positive effects, but alumni would be wise to remember that traditions survive at Yale only when backed by money. In any event, by 1946 the days of Yale helping (and being helped by) The Record were plainly over. Whether through the machinations of Dick Lee, legitimate maintenance expenses, or some combination of both, it was good-bye 254 York St., hello Hendrie Hall. What can we learn from the loss of the building? That The Yale Record is not Yale University—they are two separate groups, with separate interests—and that Yale’s favor cannot be taken for granted. Good relations must be maintained, and this becomes more important whenever The Record builds infrastructure. CHAPTER 6 The loss of the building did not doom The Record. It didn’t even slow it down. Hendrie Hall was adequate; more importantly, ads were still plentiful. New Haven provided a solid base, while ad syndicates and a network of Manhattan hangouts like “21” still felt it useful to demonstrate their WASPy bona fides with ads in The Record. The magazine had changed from fortnightly to monthly during the 1930s, and the staffs managed that with ease. In fact, thanks to an influx of older, more experienced students attending Yale on the GI Bill, the magazine quickly showed newfound vigor. Almost from the first issue, the postwar Record had a more adult feel; less Andy Hardy, more Jack and Charlie’s. This naturally attracted a more serious, more ambitious type of Yalie; as always, when The Record has able leaders with big plans, the ranks beneath fill with talent. In the eternal battle between The Record and the YDN for the best writers and illustrators, The Record felt it was winning—and with staffers like James Stevenson, Bill Cudahy, amd C.D.B. Bryan, it’s hard to argue.

A cover featuring four of The Record’s most successful cartoonist alumni: Arno, Guidi, Osborn, Fabry.

This new ambition was evident when The Record asked designers from The New Yorker to help them update the look of the magazine. As at The New Yorker, this quiet, restrained layout functioned primarily as a cartoon-delivery system. With minor changes, it would remain constant for twenty years. Alums from this era frequently point to the design of the magazine with pride, considering it proof that The Record was truly a collegiate New Yorker. And it is impressive, particularly in this day of higgledy-piggledy student design. But at the risk of being overcritical, there were some fairly significant problems with using this layout for a college humor magazine. Unlike The New Yorker, the pages of The Record were never tied together and enlivened by a signature display type. I find it impossible to believe that no one among The Record’s stable of artistic wunderkinder ever chose to rectify this; why it was never done is unclear. The Record also produced a much narrower range of material than The New Yorker; each piece of prose in The Record was more similar than it was different—in length, in tone, in topic. The layout should’ve tried to counterbalance this, not make it worse. Finally, The Record could not count on 50% of its pages being filled with the most arresting, visually surprising images the advertising industry could muster. In The Record, editorial had to do it all. Taken together, these factors tended to bring forward the blandness of the layout, rather than its quiet appeal. When it was offset by large cartoons from one of The Record’s splendid student cartoonists, the design worked. But when graphic talent was at a low ebb, the magazine looked, well, boring. This got worse the longer they stuck to it; in 1948, The Record’s layout was state-of-the-art. But by 1960, it was old-fashioned, and by 1965, sticking to it seemed more an expression of willfulness or fatigue than aesthetics. Yet for around a decade, this New Yorker-worship worked. Of course The Record should emulate The New Yorker—what else could it emulate? Going its own way was clearly not on the table; the shortness of undergraduate memory meant that only an alumni group could’ve shown the students what “going its own way” might’ve meant. And while alumni occasionally stopped by—Don Watson ’59 mentions a visit by famed illustrator Robert Osborn ‘28—the connection was not strong or persistent enough to do much good. Without a strong institutional sense of what The Record’s unique role in the world could or should be, the students emulated the top professional magazine of the day. That it was an adult magazine gave The Record a pleasant buzz of precocity; that it was, under William Shawn, becoming less and less humorous was not considered a problem. But the real reason The Record’s New Yorker period worked as well as it did was even simpler: The Record enjoyed an

unparalleled run of cartooning talent, from Julien Dedman (1945-48) to William Hamilton (1959-62). Though The Record had long produced star cartoonists, this period was its pinnacle. The command of style, the attention to detail, the precision and deftness of composition, the level of whimsy— it’s remarkable. The writing could not compete with this brilliance. By and large, it did not try—I believe purposely so. There is an element of anonymity to The New Yorker house style; this probably held The Record’s writers back. Particularly when young, the humorous writer must be allowed to show his/her personality, if his/her voice is to develop. It’s important to remember that the restrictions on the postwar Record weren’t all internal—the mores of the time, and certainly the wishes of the University, kept many humorous areas of life firmly off the table. Anything disgusting, disturbing, sexual, or controversial was verboten. This hurt the writing more than the art, because words need all the help they can get grabbing and holding the attention of a reader. Student editorial ability was sufficient to keep the tone uniform, but given the stakes, did not possess the confidence to know when to let ‘er rip. Cedric Reverand ’63 remembered the editing at The Record to be “pointed and thoroughly critical.” This naturally leads to “simple and predictable stories,” as Wim Ilmanen ’51 recalled fondly. Yet the writing did improve in the Fifties. Some of this is clearly the atmosphere of a sympathetic era—for while The Record was imitating The New Yorker, American comedy was beginning to leave that Twenties-era stuff in the dust. From MAD Magazine to Mort Sahl to The Second City, the period was an explosion of brainy satire, full of new models for students to copy. In times of quality in the professional game, the imitative aspects of a college humor magazine allow it to borrow a level of verve that it otherwise lacks. We’ve seen this again more recently, when the emergence of The Onion has had a definite impact on the quality of the writing in The Yale Record. Everyone learns these skills by imitation, and good models can make all the difference. But imitation can’t explain everything that was going on at The Record. This was a golden time, one of prosperity and frivolity, annual trips to Bermuda, croquet against the Lampoon, and of course an unblemished string of victories in Bladderball. New traditions were forged: though I believe the golden owl charms given to staffers in the Twenties and Thirties were a thing of the past, in the Fifties every outgoing Chairman received an engraved cigarette box. Heeling in the Fifties was serious and thorough. Don Watson ’59 remembers an eight-week period where cartoonists’ work was submitted, scrutinized, handed back, then scrutinized again. “Then,” Don wrote, “they elected the survivors.” The

business side employed a similar set of winnowing standards. Only a healthy organization can put Yalies through their paces, and The Record did—after which raucous and jubilant initiations were held, complete with Record ties and Mory’s Green cups. One of the nicest traditions created during this period—and certainly one worth riviving—was The Record’s Humorist of the Year award. Every year throughout the Fifties, a leading light in humor or cartooning was invited to New Haven. Dick Lemon ’52 still talks about how he cajoled Walt Kelly to sketch a quick Pogo for his bride-to-be one boozy evening. Watson ’59 said that his Board gave the award to “an aspiring Charles Schultz,” then just beginning the rocket-ride that was Peanuts. Even without the building, this was a period when the staff ’s shared dream was particularly strong and the campus was particularly amenable to what The Record offered. If the strengths of the Fifties Record (a reliable format, a comfortable house style) became flaws in the Sixties and after, this was not the students’ fault. The job that was done between 1948 and 1962, while not perfect, was consistently solid and occasionally splendid. It is doubtless the reason The Record exists today. It was even featured at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels! Money is great encouragement, and the solid prosperity of the magazine during this time had a lot to do with its success on all fronts. The era of the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit meant that yesterday’s Record editor was tomorrow’s account executive at a large Manhattan ad agency. More than one alum from that time has described ad sales as “going down on the train and getting a $10,000 contract from Joe who used to be in D-port.” Yet there were two worms in the apple. Even though the staffs were making really significant amounts of money—thousands of dollars in profit every year—those thousands were simply split amongst the Editorial Board

Lesson from 1948-62: Be flexible; falling in love with one style is dangerous.

at year’s-end. There seems to have been no thought of putting any of it aside. To someone on The Record in the decades since, this seems beyond belief. Not only that students could make that kind of money, year in and year out, was amazing enough. But that nobody thought to take a pennies on the dollar and create an endowment? The mind boggles. Students at The Record in the Fifties—like students everywhere all the time—did not think beyond their own college careers. If the money was flowing now, it would flow forever, wouldn’t it? Yalies would always be a desireable demographic, wouldn’t they? And the Yale name would always open doors at ad agencies, wouldn’t it? The second flaw was equally serious. Skill at The Record had become conforming to a very specific template. With every page, The Record told its readership: “Our school of humor is the New Yorker school; no other brand need apply.” In other words, it stopped doing what had made it successful in the past: absorbing new trends in professional comedy and repackaging them for a collegiate audience. Instead, it cast its lot with a single variety, and not a youth-oriented one, either. By the late 1950s, James Thurber was proclaiming the death of humor, a favorite pastime of the burnedout former funnyman. For a humorist, there is no surer sign of the Reaper’s approach than bouts of bilious gripery about how nothing’s funny anymore. What had happened, of course, was that Thurber’s crowd, dominant since 1929, was finally being replaced. Humor dead? Sure, except for MAD, Second City, Tom Lehrer, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Nichols and May, Max Shulman… The art in the magazine showed a high level of craft, variety, flexibility, and—irreplaceable in truly creative stuff—a strong personal touch. Amazingly, the writing did not. It was


LEFT: Grossman’s exquisite spoof cover for another New Yorker parody. ABOVE: Hamilton welcomes the freshman class, 1961.


The postwar Record at its classy, quiet best, 1960. This spread shows how much the layout depended on confident, flavorful art, something the magazine had from 1948-62.

in love with a certain kind of drollery that in the right hands can be hilarious. Unfortunately, those hands are rare, and what you get in most cases is very weak tea, jokes so arch and quiet that they evaporate almost before you finish reading them. Bearing in mind our prejudice towards things closer to our own experience, the craftsmanship of the prose seems higher in 1955 than it was in 1925. And it is smarter, more nuanced, more honest. But The Record fell in love with itself as a purveyor of genteel wit, when it is the bellylaugh that college students prize. The Record was teenagers writing what they imagined adults found funny. I only came to realize this recently, after having a peculiar thought: never, in all my years of talking to Record alumni, have any of them mentioned a particular article they still thought was a scream. Younger alums tell stories of when a certain piece hit the dining halls, or the first time they read something at production. Not so for the older alums. Obviously some of this is the passage of time; a piece has to be pretty damn funny to fend off fifty years! Yet for all its polish, there is an second-hand quality to the written humor in The Record—one of kids trying to make jokes like adults—that I’m afraid kept the writers from really discovering their voices, and kept their readers from really being shocked, surprised, or delighted by any of the prose. I’m not entirely convinced by this idea, but it does explain certain important aspects of the history of the magazine. If The Record purposely did not embrace humor in all its flavors and forms, but was about mimicking a narrow band of Anglophile Establishment drollery, it suddenly makes sense why the magazine couldn’t survive the cultural shift in between 1963 and 1973. If you buy that, the question becomes more interesting still: Why did a bunch of college kids, at a hitherto rambunctious magazine, ally themselves with the old guard, instead of embracing the new? It’s difficult to say; from five decades later it smells like something having to do with Yale student culture at that time, a haste to become adults, or at least be taken seriously. In the Sixties and Seventies, that impulse made Yalies pursue politics; in the Forties and Fifties, it made them emulate the status quo. In any event it’s clear that, beginning in the postwar period, The Record’s goal changed: after seventy five years as the campus cut-up, it wanted respect. This made it become something less flexible, and more vulnerable, than it had been before. Lest you think I’m being too hard on the postwar Record, keep in mind that it was this iteration of the magazine that I fell in love with. The stability and style of the 1948-62 Record, combined with the freedom and fearlessness of early Seventies National Lampoon is, I think, the perfect college humor magazine. The strength with which I am underlining the flaws of the postwar Record has to do with what happened

next: the magazine ground to a halt. In light of this, our pre1970 alumni tend to hold their version up as a unimproveable model, perhaps to distance themselves from what happened next. But it is abundantly clear that the virtues as well as the flaws of the 1948-’62 Record were directly responsible for its struggles thereafter. CHAPTER 7 The sense that things will always stay the same is particularly strong at Yale, which sells posterity like Marlboro sells manliness. Yale is eternal, and The Record is part of Yale, hence…Sadly, the events of the Sixties would show how fragile The Record really was. In 1960, Yale’s President was a Record alum; by 1970, that chair would be occupied by someone who felt Yale would probably be better off without The Record. In 1960, The Record could write and draw like it always had; by 1970, the audience was harder-to-please, and liable to stage a sit-in if you made the wrong quip. In 1960, The Record could count on syndicated ads, ads from alumni down in New York, and local ads from a stable New Haven; by 1970, the first two were gone, and the third all but dead. Still, all of this could’ve been rendered moot by a strong alumni network funneling money into an endowment. With money in the bank, who cares if anybody likes it? The Record still charged students the same price it did in 1923; that wasn’t where the money came from. A hostile Administration would be difficult, but not impossible to weather. And as far as ads were concerned, The Record had made it through the Great Depression—how low could New Haven possibly sink? But by the time that The Record needed its alumni—after 1965, when the this triple whammy meant that donations became its only hope for uninterrupted survival—no such tradition was in place. Francis Bronson ’22 was dead. The next candidate, Julien Dedman ’48, was so vehemently and publicly against the changes afoot in New Haven New York that he was obviously not the man to unite The Record’s past and present. Fundraising took place on an ad hoc basis (meaning: whenever the students could get around to it). No adult stepped to fill the void, and for this The Record failed. The story that has come down is one of a loss of heart, an ebbing away of enthusiasm. This is not true. The Record Boards of the late Sixties showed real talent and skill, and approached the impossible task of raising money with inventiveness and determination. The failure of The Record is a failure of our alumni—not of radicalized students who didn’t care enough, but of adults who should’ve known better. This was where the loss of the building really stung. Without a piece of real estate to tend, The Record was never forced to create an entity responsible for its upkeep. Any such

group would’ve been comprised mainly of alumni, and these alumni would’ve been forced by necessity to keep in regular contact with the alumni base as a whole. A building leads to an organization, which leads to fundraising, which leads to reunions, and written histories, and connections that lead to jobs, and all the things that make institutions stronger than the individuals that are running them at any given moment. This is never more important than in a collegiate group, where turnover is as regular as the tides. Even when the magazine was at its strongest, when people were going to Bermuda on the magazine’s nickel, The Record existed nowhere but inside the heads of its staff. The Record was only as big as the four years worth of students passing through New Haven, en route to busy lives. Each Board was The Record, but it belonged to nothing bigger than itself. Even today, the only Record reunions are held by individual Boards coming together as friends. Friendships are the lifeblood of The Record, but blood without a body in which it can circulate is useless. At the beginning of the 1960’s, Record staffs were cranking out solid issues, and ad space was being sold. The Record had pipelines to America’s best magazines, The New Yorker and Esquire, and was generally considered the cream of the college humor crop. (Much better than, say, Harvard’s lowly Lampoon, which for all its Gilded Age glitz, had a tiny circulation and was considered largely passé in Cambridge.) But by the end of the decade, the Lampoon would be making money on a scale unknown in the history of college humor, well on its way to reinventing American comedy. The Record, unfortunately, would be teetering on the edge of oblivion. For the first few years of the Sixties the magazine coasted on the leftover verve of the Cudahy/Grossman/Hamilton years. There was a little less panache, a little less ambition, and maybe the sense that spending four years writing jokes about road trips, football weekends, and Fence Club parties wasn’t quite appropriate in the era of Freedom Rides and the Free Speech Movement. It was the era of the comedy LP, and other media were beginning to outshine print—The Record briefly had a radio show on WYBC (this came to an end after a sketch where Ed Murrow interviewed God offended some local fundamentalists). The Record had remained aloof—if not uninterested, then certainly nonpartisan—when it came to politics. At the Yale of the Sixties, this became impossible. Suddenly, one had to talk about long hair, the Pill, Mao, civil rights, Vietnam. But how did you make jokes about them? The past was no guide. The safe choice would be to mock anything new, and The Record did that once in a while—but this alienated a vocal part of the readership, so it wasn’t a safe choice at all! College humor magazines all across the country were having a crisis of confidence, and they were right to have it. If college humor

was to survive, it would have to be reinvented. Or abandoned completely. In November, 1964, The Record ran a masthead editorial announcing an entirely new, nonhumorous format. Chairman John Schenck got right to the point: “[T]he old Record…was no longer an appropriate magazine for the Yale of 1964.” He called college humor an anachronism “that died sometime during or just after World War II,” then griped about having to write something humorous month after month. This editorial should be etched in bronze and buried in a time-capsule, to show future generations just what Baby Boomers were like. It’s all here: the effortless assumption of singularity; the denigration of tradition while massively benefiting from it; the weariness with anything not specifically tailored to their desires. One cannot understand the difference between pre-1965 Yale student culture and what it has been ever since without looking at the Boomers. Both the promise of the New Yale, and its flaws, are writ large in them: their passion; their belief in reform; their certainty and sanctimony; their tendency, when frustrated, to default to an extreme position. For centuries cloistered teenagers auditioning for a spot in the adult world, Yalies now felt they could—and should—remake that world in their own image. Since 1965, college students aren’t apprentices, they’re boy-kings and girl-queens. To be sure, every group of college students has these characteristics—but the Boomers displayed them all in breathtaking amounts. It’s not their fault; the rest of us would be like this if the world had flattered us since birth so it could lighten our wallets. And yet…If the old Record’s sense of humor had been outflanked by the Pill—and it undoubtedly had—it takes a special kind of entitlement to ball up a century and simply quit trying. What could possibly appeal to “the new sophistication of the contemporary undergraduate”? Surely not a junior-varsity version of The New Yorker. No, Schenck and his crew had a better idea: they would recreate The Record as a junior-varsity version of Harold Hayes’ Esquire. It was a worthy model, a New Journalism-fueled phenomenon that defined the Sixties more than anything else on the newsstand—certainly more than The New Yorker, which was increasingly seen as an irrelevant paean to life in Cos Cob and Winnetka. But Cos Cob and Winnetka were where the pre-1970 Record’s heart was, even if—or perhaps especially if—fewer and fewer of the editors weren’t from there themselves. After reading the “new” Record, a lot of students wrote in to say they missed the jokes. And there was another problem with going serious: if the callowness and general lack of experience is evident in the humor magazines college students create, these flaws become even bigger—positively wince-worthy—when

Several things leapt out at me when I read this letter: the late Sixties Record was popular as hell, but the publishng side needed an advisor. A sell-out should make you a ton of profit; either the issues were priced too low, or the printing method was too expensive. Two, they still had somebody to type their thank-you notes—nice! And three, how many times has poor Joe Carris been hit up for money?

students attempt to be serious. Relevance, especially for those of us living in the golden bubble of the Ivy League, is a tender trap, and much of the silliness that went down in New Haven during that tumultuous time can be chalked up to students’ natural tendency to feel they’ve arrived when they’ve only just begun the journey. So the experiment didn’t take, and after two issues, The Record was back to its old humor magazine format. But the staff had at last discovered the appropriate goal: creating a new comedy for a new kind of student, and a new kind of Yale. Chairman Bill Nelson ’66 summed up the experiment thusly: “…while unable to provide a substantial substitute for those oldiesbut-baddies [hackneyed jokes], at least the issues succeeded in…treating a wider range of topics than the studly WASP who is forever being bettered by his wimpy roommate, etc., etc…We know a humor magazine must be humorous, and we also know it can be funny without being slapstick.” The Record would have to reinvent college humor. Amazingly, that’s just what it did. CHAPTER 8 For a century, there had been a belief that Yale—and Yale student organizations in particular—was legitimate training for post-grad success. After 1963 or so, that basic assumption was challenged, and the campus split into two groups: the Yalies that believed in the school as a training-ground, and the Yalies who wanted to make their mark now. The former continued to funnel themselves through old Yale institutions like the Daily News and The Record. The latter actively despised these groups as false, repressive, and morally questionable. The latter group grew relentlessly for one simple reason: Yale is not the real world, but it is extremely flattering for students to think so. In this milieu, every student activity suddenly had to affect the outside world—it had to be “relevant.” Unlike the Daily, The Record had no utility; worse still, all its associations, from the Roaring Twenties to the Grey Flannel Fifties, seemed at best useless and at worst reactionary, like knowledge of wines in the era of LSD. The world was collapsing and recombining before everyone’s eyes—and you were pretending to be James Thurber? How privileged and narcissistic can you get? Of course Record staffs knew that the new Yale was just as privileged and narcissistic as ever, only in a different fashion. A Yalie’s job was no longer to get good grades, and have a little fun along the way. The Yale student’s goal became—as it remains today—to try to impact the world in some way,

The Record had always needed alumni advisors and an endowment. After ’65, this was critical.

to enlighten it with an eighteenyear-old’s special wisdom, and get famous in the process. Benno Schmidt, Class of 1963, told me this in 1990 regarding the changes in Yale students since his undergraduate days: “Students today are much more serious and view the University as a place to air their political beliefs…students [in the early sixties] were much less inclined to think of the Administration as a sounding board, or at the very least, adversaries.”13 The politicization of the American college campus (from the left in the Sixties, then from the right in the Eighties and Nineties) has been so complete that we forget how big a change it was. In 1958, a protest on Beneicke Plaza would’ve been unthinkable. For what? And why? By 1968, it was a regular feature of life at Yale. But a politicized campus didn’t necessarily spell the end of The Record. The collapse of the local ad market was another story. After 1960, middle-class families were fleeing New Haven for the suburbs. Around the same time, a large underclass took root in the city, making Yale an island of prosperity in an otherwise blighted landscape. Urban redevelopment presided over by Mayor Richard Lee (yes, the same Dick Lee who swiped 254 York) made things even worse, slicing the oncevibrant downtown into two, and creating housing projects in a city much too small to handle such concentrations of poverty. Problem followed problem; the Elm City even got hit with Dutch Elm disease! From 1965 to at least 1990, New Haven couldn’t support itself, much less a student humor magazine. The Record’s local ad base quickly shrank to only those businesses affiliated with Yale, or directly serving the student community. And with the student body being constituted differently than before—better test scores, more diversity, but less affluence—the student community threw off less money than it used to. In the postwar period, each issue of The Record was professionally typeset, then printed using an expensive sheetfed press. While this gave the magazine immaculate type, crisp illustrations, and real heft (even at small page counts), it also meant that it had to generate a great deal of money per issue just to keep going. The Record did not help matters by charging the same price it had in 1923. The Record was stuck running a glossy monthly for a pickier, less prosperous audience in a town that was dying on the vine. And right when the local ads started drying up, the national ones left, too—the shift in campus tastes that killed so many college humor magazines naturally killed their ad


syndicates, too. For ninety years, The Record had been a blast, but it was also a decent way to make a buck. After 1965, this has no longer been the case. From that point on, love of the magazine has been the only reason to produce it. The final indignity was being delivered by The Record’s competitor to the north, the Harvard Lampoon. Led by a brilliant editor from a Yale family whose idea of rebellion was going to Harvard (Henry Beard), and an equally brilliant writer who epitomized the drugged-out, politically confused self-mythologizing meritocracy of the Sixties Ivy League (Doug Kenney), the Lampoon had begun to make real money with its magazine parodies. Like, hundreds of thousands of dollars. The biggest money-maker of every college humor magazine’s year was its magazine parody; The Record’s sent it to Nassau over Spring Break. Through a combination of persistence, connections, and a tradition of alumni assistance (on both the editorial and publishing sides), the Lampoon simply did this on a bigger scale, distributing spoofs of Esquire, Playboy, and Life (among others), nationally via newsstand. Lo and behold, in the era of the youthquake, college humor could make a mint. Could The Record get in on this? No. There were two reasons why. The first was one of tradition. Almost from the beginning, one of The Lampoon’s hallmarks had been a knack for projecting campus success into the larger world. It was natural for Lampoon grads to create the comic paper Life— which then-President Robert Benchley ’12 then parodied in 1911, launching his own career. Lampoon grads tended to stick together, and boost each other. No such tradition existed at The Record. And even when Record alums did continue on in the publishing business, it was usually in cartooning or ad sales, not as editors-in-chief, publishers or personalities. The Record just didn’t seem to have that same kind of vision or ambition. But it could’ve gotten some quickly, had it not been for the second factor: For all its polish, The Record of the Forties and Fifties had left no infrastructure, so the magazine couldn’t have gotten any bigger than it was. Even if The Record had possessed the tradition of alumni involvement that made the Lampoon’s parodies of the Sixties much more consistent and professional than an all-collegian version would’ve been, the amounts of capital necessary to back the national distribution of a project simply could not exist without an endowment. So while their own campus heaped them with scorn for being so old and traditional, The Record had to watch its equally old and traditional rival leverage that history into contemporary success. In 1958, The Record clearly outclassed the Lampoon in every category; but in ten years things were totally different. Not because the Lampoon had that much

more talent, but because it had planned for the future. The Lampoon has always been arrogant, but that very self-regard had given it a sense of history. In good times and bad, in eras of stagnation and ones of brilliance, the Lampoon has maintained an unshakeable sense of what it is, and what it is for, both at Harvard and in the world beyond. The Record would be wise to follow its example. CHAPTER 9 Yet for all this, the staffs at The Record between 1967 and 1970—led by Robert Miller ’67, Mike Alkus ’68, David Mannis ’69, and Garry Trudeau and Tim Bannon, both ’70— nearly pulled it off. The issues they did, under tremendously difficult circumstances, have to be counted as some of The Record’s finest hours. They attempted to solve the editorial problem by becoming more timely, more political, and more personal. “The Yale Record Editors Go to ROTC Summer Camp,” a sniping 1968 article by Trudeau and Bannon, would’ve been as out of place in the Fifties Record as an Army recruiting ad would’ve been in Shawn’s New Yorker. Yet it worked, as did an issue celebrating Phillip Roth’s scandalous mix of masturbation and gefilte fish, “Portnoy’s Complaint.” The design, too, began to shake off that museum-piece quality, and incorporate the high-impact and color that had swept the professional ranks thanks to people like Milton Glaser and George Lois. The general-interest magazine was dying, if not already dead; but in Esquire, New York, underground comix, Pushpin Studios, and Rolling Stone, The Record had professional models other than The New Yorker, and it finally embraced them. A 1968 concert by the Jefferson Airplane gave The Record campus cachet and some much-needed cash. Reviews in the Daily—yes, Yale student culture was once that formal— became fulsome; the February 1969 issue was pronounced “the funniest product, cover to cover, that the venerable humor magazine has produced in years.” I’ve never heard any circulation figures from this time, but Trudeau’s letter to Joe Carris says that September 1969’s Freshman Issue was a sell-out. This was a good thing, because the downturn in ad sales was making per-issue sales more and more important. As long as The Record remained popular, it could just squeak by. The Record was finding its new voice, listening to its audience, throwing off the “Canoe”-and-cocktails sophistication wellsuited to the Fifties but out-of-step a decade later. Trudeau and Bannon’s crowning achievement was an issue spoofing and celebrating that very decade. Complete with songbook and lyrics, the issue was called “The Glory That Was Grease.” In Bannon/Trudeau’s issue, one can clearly see, if not a National Record, then a college magazine easily the equal

of its Cambridge competition. “The Glory That Was Grease” is the older brother of National Lampoon’s legendary 1964 High School Yearbook. Still, for all its editorial verve, the magazine’s finances were still dire. The Record found itself on the horns of a dilemma: either please their student audience and live issue-to-issue, or try to reach out to The Record’s alumni. This was a long-shot, to say the least; many alums were appalled at the changes taking place at their alma mater. In the superheated Sixties, it was unlikely they’d distinguish between the actions of Yale, and that of The Yale Record, unless the magazine was frankly reactionary—which it could not be and continue to survive. A magazine that sold well to the student body would be guaranteed to offend the alumni—and since The Record had always been every Board for itself, the students could not appeal to any larger tradition, any common bond. An endowment had never been created in the best of times, so it certainly wouldn’t happen in 1969. The Record couldn’t win. In New Haven, it was perceived as a throw-back, an anachronism, a relic beloved only by crusty alumni. But the alumni felt it was exactly the opposite: yet another foul-mouthed, libertine perversion of the traditions they loved. The changes wrought by Brewster, Dean of Admissions R. Inslee Clark, and others at Yale were vast, sudden, and too complex to go into here. Suffice to say that the composition of the student body was purposefully changed. There was a conscious effort underway to diversify Yale; to admit more minorities, more people from middle- and working-class backgrounds, and as of 1969, women. The Record had to change because its audience had. The long-term soundness of this move has been proven by the spectacular health of the University. That having been said, the short-term effect of it—especially on Yale student culture—was wrenching. For the ten years between 1965 and 1975, an extremely emotional, extremely rancorous battle raged for the soul of Yale. With every move that Brewster made—whether it was the new admission standards starting with the Class of 1970, or the admission of women, or the May Day crisis of 1970—this conflict became more and more fraught. Everything on campus was touched by this, and students began to sort everything into one of two categories: Old Yale (anachronistic, self-contained, white, rich, privileged) and New (meritocratic, more diverse, still privileged but uncomfortable about it). It was this very discomfort that made—and continues to make—Yalies so eager to prove their disdain for Old Yale. Attacking something like The Record became an easy way to prove you were on the right side. To some degree, it remains so today. To be sure, The Record was a part of Old Yale; one of the

leading alumni voices against Brewster was Julien Dedman ’48.13 But it was never Old Yale enough to benefit from it; if a Bush or a Buckley came through New Haven, they’d join a sports team or the Daily. Paul Mellon’s largesse went to the Lit. The Record is one of Yale’s few repositories for oddballs; that’s what gives in enduring importance, but that also meant it had no friends among either set of ideologues. One of the beauties of a well-functioning humor magazine is how connected it becomes to its audience—how versatile it can be, and how it changes to reflect its times. When a campus group (even, amazingly, the YDN) would beat The Record with the Old Yale stick, there was no defense, because it wasn’t about The Record magazine, it was about it as a concept. Editorially, The Record of 1967-70 reflected its times as much or more than any Yale student publication. But it had the taint of Old Yale. Yale was the first Ivy to embrace the changes of the Sixties, and while this is in retrospect something to be proud of, it paid a price for doing so—and not just in depressed rates of alumni giving. Student culture at Yale has never been the same, in part because of the Brewster Administration’s callous manipulation of it (rewarding some groups, destroying others), and also due to the disaffection—or outright defection—of so many alumni. Yalies after 1970 have had to start from scratch, and they’ve had to do so in an environment more tuned in to the rhythms of pop culture than any lasting sense of tradition. The fragmentation of the student body, its tendency towards polarized political histrionics, its awareness that building a shanty or standing bounded and gagged on Cross-Campus is nearly a guarantee of appearing in The New York Times—all these elements of Yale culture first appeared in the epochal struggle between 1965 and 1970. And none of it helped The Record. The student staff of The Record did the only thing it could do: keep publishing the magazine and hope for a deus ex machina to solve their financial woes. The 1968 concert with Jefferson Airplane had been a success, so in 1969, The Record scraped together its last few pennies and hired the 50s camp group Sha-Na-Na to perform. Held in Woolsey Hall the night of the Game—Harvard had “beaten” Yale 29-29. Nobody was sure if the concert would be a hit, but The Record’s financial future was riding on it. What happened next summed up The Record’s 1960s. To everybody’s delight, the place was mobbed. The Daily reported, “Somewhere, out of some improbable woodwork, crawled almost 2000 undergraduates, Harvard people, and townies…Greased or not, they waved their arms, screamed
13 Dedman wrote a scathing series of articles in The New York Times in 1969 called “The Rape of Yale” in which he castigated the Brewster administration for being short-sighted and too radical for both the silent majority of the student body and for vast numbers of the alumni.

out song requests, and chanted ‘I Like Ike.’” By all accounts, it was the party of the year—and a financial disaster for The Record. Why? The staffer responsible for manning a side-door to make sure people didn’t sneak in without paying—a name thankfully lost to history—had sneaked off to enjoy the evening. A fire door was propped open, and as a result, most of the revelers got in free. Like the football team earlier that afternoon, The Record had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Unlike the football team, it was running out of “next year.” What Yale did next made sure of that. Did the University help with a loan, or some not-strictly-necessary advertising? Did it send The Record’s publisher down to New York to brainstorm solutions with Yale alumni in the magazine business? Did it use its clout with The Record’s printer, getting them to print the magazine at cost? Did they say, “Every other college subsidizes its student publications via a student activities fee—here’s your chunk”? No, Yale kicked The Record out of Hendrie Hall for nonpayment of rent. This was truly the coup de grace. In the words of Tim Bannon, “Once you lost [the office], then you had no organized physical structure. And without that, you really couldn’t do much…The importance of the activity is related to the ease with which you can engage in it. If you can’t even find it, well…” The magazine soldiered on for several more years, suffering various indignities— including inviting Johnny Weissmuller to a Tarzan film festival that was very quickly, and unceremoniously, shut down by activists from the Black Students at Yale, then printing one final spoof of the YDN (“Brewster Declares End to Co-Education; Women Must Leave Within 48 Hours”). An issue came out, and was panned by the Daily, which killed its sales. The Record may have put out one more issue—on newsprint—then finally petered out sometime during its cenetary year, 1972-3. In the late Sixties, The Yale Record successfully reinvented college humor. It wasn’t the only college humor magazine to do this—the Harvard Lampoon and the Stanford Chaparral did as well—but it was the only one to go out of business in spite of doing so. The commercial decline of New Haven, the lack of an endowment or any other alumni support, and the frankly hostile actions of Yale at that time made it impossible for The Record to continue. So what, forty years later, can we learn from this? First, The Record must be published in as businesslike and cunning a manner as possible. New Haven is small and

The hiatus of The Record was a failure of alumni, not of students.

economically uncertain, which means that every possible ad must be sold. Production costs must be kept low, and additional sources of revenue must be sought constantly. 1955 is not coming back; that doesn’t mean that The Record cannot make lots of money—it can, especially using the Internet—but it can never again devolve into the casual and selfindulgent habits of a club. There simply isn’t the slack. Second, Yale’s attitude is changeable. Starting with the seizure of 254 York in 1946, and intensifying throughout the Brewster Administration,Yale made it clear that it was not a friend to The Yale Record. Brewster—a Newsie—attempted to remake Yale student culture, clearing away the old, clubby, WASPy institutions he felt perpetuated the “wrong” kind of Yale. In their place, Yale actively cultivated student groups that emphasized its new vision. This attempt has only been partially successful, and Yale student culture has suffered for it. The space once occupied by stable, independent, authentic institutions like The Record has been taken over by a mix of reactionary groups looking to satisfy Yalies’ natural wish for connection to the institution’s past by cartoonishly embodying their vision of stereotypical Old Yale, or ad hoc organizations embodying the coarsest elements of the eternally heaving zeitgeist. The Record is an authentic, meritocratic, outwarddirected Old Yale institution, and the University seems to be willing to leave it alone. For now. Third, for all its troubles, The Record didn’t go under until it lost its offices. A central gathering place is essential for the continuation of the organization. And finally, an alumni group is The Record’s best hope for securing its future. Whether it’s cushioning the ups and downs of the advertising market, insulating the magazine from political grandstanding, reminding Yale that The Record is not a temporary collection of students but a permanent fixture of student culture, or providing the money to protect The Record from any reasonable eventuality, we need a strong, well-organized alumni group. We should’ve had one for decades; that we don’t is the mistake of people long dead. From the 1930s—and certainly after the Second World War—The Record was more a social club than a magazine. In my copious conversations with alumni, the actual production of the magazine is seldom mentioned. It is the social function of The Record that everyone remembers. Viewing The Record as a fraternity that produced a magazine not only explains the organization’s particular strengths and weaknesses, but also puts its pattern of growth and retrenchment into a logical pattern. I do not think it is a


coincidence that Yale’s fraternities and sororities have come back since the late 1980s, just like The Record. The demands of putting out a daily newspaper, as well as the objective art of journalism, helped the YDN remain more a publication than a fraternity. For a time the vast amount churned out by The Record similarly kept its doors open to any and all who had the talent and gumption. But once the magazine’s frequency began to decline, The Record became less and less a pre-professional publication, and more and more a group of like-minded friends. This explains why the building was given up so easily; why there was no organized fundraising after 1928; why Boards tended to bond internally and not to the larger idea of The Record; why Boards in the 40s and 50s never thought to put aside any funds; why the magazine’s content narrowed to a single style; and finally, why the idea of The Record was not strong enough to last unbroken. In 1969, the staff and the alumni of The Record should’ve come together in friendship— but what they had in common—the production of the magazine—was outweighed by the lack of a fraternal bond. In the vituperative Yale of the 60s, few students could recognize themselves in the alums, and even fewer alums saw themselves in the students. Each side interacted briefly and unsatisfactorily, then retreated to their own group, to gripe about the other and the world that had produced each. Bonds between old and young are fragile during the best of times. They require tending. Perfect understanding is difficult; Time creates a gap. Yet this can be bridged. The Sixties are over; it’s time to let go of “Old Yale” and “New Yale.” This must happen, and when it does, The Record will lead the way, because The Record—the pride of Old Yale—is alive and well. In fact, it might’ve never even died.

before. Thank goodness, it turned out not to be true. It turned out that Yalies still wanted to laugh, still wanted to publish magazines, and still wanted to feel a connection to the students who had come before them. So, in 1976, three years after its last Board, a new group of Yale students attempted to restart The Record. I have never been able to confirm this, but I have heard that Garry Trudeau wangled a $25,000 loan from the Kingsley Trust Association—the parent organization of Scroll and Key, of which Garry is presumably a member—for the magazine’s use. Unfortunately, New Haven’s economic situation had only gotten worse in the intervening years, and the restart did not take. A restart in 1979 juttered along intermittently until petering out in 1981. One in 1983 was also unsuccessful. The economics did not work; to print something that looked like the old Record was incredibly expensive. This meant that issues could never come out frequently enough for either the staff or the audience to establish a necessary rhythm. As always, funniness was not the problem—Editor-in-Chief Eric Metaxas ’84 has gone on to great success as a humorist and biographer—but the mechanism of the magazine could not function. Unlike the Daily, which almost went under in the early Seventies, The Record had no building to barter with, nor a friendly President. Unlike the Lit., which was resurrected thanks to ex-staffer Paul Mellon ’29, it had no sugar daddy. The dream was still there—but that was all there was left. By 1979, no Yale student had ever read an issue of The Yale Record, nor were there stories of its former greatness circulating around campus. What good did it do anyone to try to resurrect a magazine so obviously played-out, so ignored by students and unloved by its own alumni? Creating humor is difficult enough without shackling yourself to a 100-year-old CHAPTER 10 corpse. Plus, it must be said, “The Record” is about the least Slowly the rhetoric and “relevance” of Yale in the Sixties funny name possible for a humorous magazine. And yet, time became seen for what it was: not the dawning of a new age, after time, groups of Yalies came together and attempted to but just another chapter in a long, still-continuing story. The resurrect The Record. This shows that the desire to do a Recordvalues of Brewster, Clark, Coffin and the rest were laudable, like magazine at Yale is a constant. Though technology may but in retrospect it seems that their methods—their need to change its form, and student culture change the topics and be right, their need to confront, their need to be first—often texture of the humor, Yale students will always want to create sabotaged their results. Of course much of the blame has humorous magazines. to go to the Yale alums who proved just how shallow their The difficulty was simply financial—not so simple in affection for the school really was, treating Yale more like a the crack-ravaged, job-free precincts of 80s New Haven. possession than a blessing or opportunity. Through superhuman efforts, a group of students might The Sixties operated from a belief that they were unique, scrape together the $3,000 or so necessary to produce an special, a new age that wiped away everything that had come issue. But no one could keep that cashflow up for long,

The 70s and 80s proved that students will simply NOT let The Record die.

and after the glossy, sheet-fed product failed to bring in any Who was The Record to judge? Maybe after it had been back alumni money, the name would go back into the deep-freeze, in business for five years, but some new magazine calling where it would occasionally come up in bitter conversations itself The Yale Record with pictures of owls in it did not have why Harvard had the Lampoon and a pipeline to Hollywood, the standing of an unbroken magazine. This was a problem, and Yale had nothing. because the kind of people interested in restarting The Record In 1985, The Record finally got a break: the first desktop were precisely the ones most attracted to its becoming a baby publishing software was released, Aldus PageMaker. This, YDN. Though a worthy effort, the magazine felt very Old along with the Apple Macintosh personal computer, suddenly Yale at just the moment when it was abundantly clear that lowered the cost of typesetting and production to zero; rather Old Yale was never, ever coming back. than giving a sheaf of material to the printer and paying him/ This could’ve gone on for years, with staffs coming her gobs to typeset it, the students could create the magazine together and attempting to force some updating of the old themselves. This resulted in a much more graphically ragged Record aesthetic onto a plainly antagonistic student body. An product, but it allowed The Record to reemerge. entirely new approach was necessary. To survive, The Yale Record A November 1987 restart showed the potential that was would have to be accepted as a humor magazine, regardless possible; with a cover showing embattled President Benno (or spite of) its history. For this to happen, it would have to Schmidt next to a variation of Esquire’s famous line, “Why be frequent—no more “one-and-done” restarts—and funny. is this man smiling?” this new Record seemed to have every Not droll, not laconic, not acid or witty, but funny. shot at success. (It even had talent; one of the contributors, And this is where your dear author comes in. I had written Rob Long ’87, went on to run the sitcom “Cheers.”) But it a humor column for the Yale Herald as a freshman and didn’t survive, and the reason why showed just how sneaky-hard sophomore, and that fledgling weekly’s need to fill space had resurrecting The Record would be. allowed me to publish an extraordinary amount, much more The material, while ably written and illustrated, set than strictly called for by merit. Still, I had a reputation on about skewering the various campus tribes—every article, campus for being funny—specifically in the Dave Barry/ it seemed, was about the National Lampoon mold popular still-sore division of Old among students at the time. Yale and New. By 1987, When a palace coup at the this was sure to please no Herald left me without a place one. It was hard to tell which there, I turned to a faltering group would hate it more, campus humor magazine those who felt unwelcome called The Retraction. in this preppy bastion, or The Retraction was the antithose who felt resentful that Record. A year old—two at their family’s University was the most—and proudly being changed—diluted—by occasional, it was printed outsiders. The ’87 Record tried on newsprint, and laid out to occupy the magazine’s like a dog’s breakfast. But traditional position: a social it was funny, and it had a arbiter, from the middlefollowing. After the original ground. If that territory still editors had been carried away existed—and it probably by graduation, I took it over. didn’t—nobody was willing Instead of trying to resurrect to cede a new magazine that The Yale Record the usual way, kind of authority, even (or we’d do it backwards: build especially) if it was called The up a humor magazine at Yale, Record. then dub it The Record. The usual events played My first job was to get out: after an initial burst of it appearing as regularly as cash and interest, the staff possible. Luckily I knew quickly lost heart in the face Jonathan Schwarz ’91, who of savage audience reaction. was regularly submitting The 1987 restart. A noble effort, but fatally flawed.

casuals to The New Yorker. Using Jon’s rejected pieces as that era, and I am proud to have been a part of it. anchors, I would then write most of the issue at great speed, in between calls to illustrator friends begging them to fill CHAPTER 11 blank column inches. To understand The Yale Record today, it helps to know The results of this were predictable, and nothing I’d like the landscape of student publications at Yale. The very anybody to read today. But thanks to Jon’s pieces, and the technology that allowed The Record to reappear has become occasional decent one by myself, the October and December even easier to use; now, any Yalie with a smidgeon of ambition 1989 issues proved popular. The way seemed clear—if Yale and something to say (or just the ambition) can be Editorwould let me do it. An earlier controversy regarding the Lit. in-Chief of his/her own magazine. The campus is crawling made the University wary of allowing any “new” publication with student publications; at any one time there are at least to use the Yale name in its title. But in December, 1989, I thirty operational student magazines, plus the Daily, plus the received word from the Dean’s Office that I would be allowed weekly Herald. There is no direct competitor to The Record, but to use the Yale name. From that moment, The Yale Record was Yale’s sex-drenched student tabloid, Rumpus (founded by some back, and it has published continuously for the past 17 refugees from The Record) is broadly humorous. years. As a result of all this student publishing, the advertising In retrospect, I think this was the only possible way that The market is saturated. A one- or two-issue vanity project still Record could’ve been reintroduced to the campus. The Old/ sucks up ads. Also, when you spread the finite amount of New Yale divide was simply too wide, and too rancorous. student talent across 30 publications, each one suffers. Reading The 1987 attempt showed that a humor magazine could Yale student publications—even when you love young writers not simply appear, call itself The Yale Record, and be accorded and artists as much as I do—can be disheartening. But The the mixture of goodwill and authority necessary from Yale’s Record has established itself in the top rank of Yale magazines, tough and touchy audience. and starting with the tenures of Rob Schlaff ’99 and Ian While I am proud to have resurrected the magazine, I Dallas ’00, the magazine has been improving in nearly every suspect that it would’ve aspect. been done this way sooner Today, The Record seems or later; one does not go as if it had never gone out to Yale without possessing of business. The magazine a certain attraction to appears four or five times a tradition. Though my ability year in standard magazine to produce vast amounts of format, and also publishes “drool” at a moment’s notice side projects such as the was absolutely necessary, this Coarse Critique. Thanks to a would’ve been useless had the new printing technology, the financial circumstances not production value of The Record been fundamentally changed is higher than it has been in by the advent of desktop forty years—if not quite publishing. Nor would I have the sumptuous sheet-fed been successful without the products of the Fifties, one help of the aforementioned as sharp and substantial as Schwarz, my designer Ann any college humor magazine Sullivan, and editors Robert being published. In fact, when Skidmore, Todd Lynch and you put The Record up against Hank Michael, among many its contemporaries—the others. It was a unique time, best and fairest measure of when some college students the magazine’s quality—it is still dreamed in print, and consistently near or at the top. technology gave them the Proof of this came in 2006, chance to realize those dreams. when David Chernicoff ’06 The world of Yale student was able to negotiate a deal publications was remade by An issue from 1990. Even on newsprint, the potential was clear. whereby The Record would have

the use of an office in the YDN building. It’s clear that, in the writing comedy, none of us were connected in any way. This minds of current Yale students, The Record is as permanent as isolation—which, believe it or not, cost us job after job— any college humor magazine not named the Lampoon can be. demonstrated just how important a seeming trifle like The Yale Now is an excellent time for staff and alumni to be thinking Record can turn out to be. about the history of the magazine, because the future of The By 1991, it had become clear that there was a huge Record is being decided today. My guess is that it will continue economic opportunity for comedy writers in the field of to be a quarterly, but be increasingly supplemented by projects television and movies, with six-figure starting salaries. Yet on the web. There is a world-wide audience available, and it Yale’s lack of a strong humor magazine—not only to nurture doesn’t cost a penny to reach them. The students love doing comic talent, but also to give Record alumni like Brandon the print magazine, but how central it will be to The Record’s Tartikoff ’70 a place to turn to for young writers—made it mission will largely be a question of money. unable to compete in a field where by rights it should’ve be Though the popularity of The Onion (which several Record extremely successful. From roughly 1975 to 2000, was as if staffers have contributed to) has improved this a bit in the Yale didn’t offer degrees in, say, electrical engineering—and if past decade, print is no longer the currency of comedy. There you wanted to do that, you’d have to transfer to Harvard. is no professional analogue to The Record, and even The New Things are different now. Thanks to the students, The Record Yorker prints fewer casuals than ever before. Yale is full of is once again assumed in New Haven. And, since 2000, improv troupes and even a few sketch comedy groups, and the formal fundraising by a tax-exempt alumni group means that appeal of becoming the next Will Ferrell is greater than that The Record has a small, but growing, endowment. Up until of becoming the next Dave Barry. now, The Record’s story has been one of alumni neglecting their And yet, the appeal of Old Owl remains. The Record’s responsibility to help younger generations. Not any more; staffbox is preposterously full. The staff is also more diverse alumni like Richard Lemon, Frank Wilton, Barry Bryan—all than ever. Jews, once subtly snubbed at The Record, regularly from the Class of 1952—are finally changing that. They have occupy the top spot. It is quite heartening to see the staffs at been joined by younger folks like Rob Schlaff ’00, Henry work; they take their jobs seriously. They really strive to be Michael ’93, Pat Castillo ’92, and myself. Whatever happens fair, honest, and good at what to the students in the future, they do; there are occasional they’re no longer isolated and dust-ups, but these are always alone. They have help—the temporary, a byproduct of the help we all deserved to have. rough democracy of talent. In one sense, the story has The writing is quite strong, come full circle: The Record has as strong anything The Record returned to Yale, publishing has ever published. The in an unbroken stream for illustration—car tooning almost 20 years. But an being a dying art—is a few essential question remains to steps behind, but improving. be answered: will The Record The design of the magazine prosper, or will it merely lacks polish, because unlike survive? in the past, it’s being done by With thirty student students. publications, even a The Record has become an rejuvenated New Haven impressive credential when cannot produce enough applying for positions in ad revenues. New York the comedy business. This advertisers are no longer is particularly gratifying interested in Yale student for Jon and myself, as we publications. And the spent the 1990s as the sole syndicates that fed national representatives of The Record ads to The Record have been within a Lampoon-dominated dead for forty years. Clearly, comedy business. Though we need an endowment. there were other Yalies The Record survives through As of 1998. The Record was ready to take the next step.

the incredible persistence of its publishing staff, selling space at whatever depressed rates the swamped market will bear. In recent years, the staff has established a profitable sideline setting up informal talks with luminaries from the entertainment and comedy fields. The list of Record honorees is long and impressive, and for its troubles, The Record receives a full-page ad from the co-sponsoring Residential College. But these Master’s Teas are not permanent, and can disappear at any time. The emergence of Master’s Teas proves one thing beyond any doubt: if there is money to be had at Yale and New Haven, The Record will move heaven and earth to get at it. Earlier staffs built buildings and vacationed in Bermuda on their efforts; through no fault of its own, the current staff must be content to publish the magazine. And they are content. More than that, they are proud—proud of their magazine, which is popular and well-respected, and proud of the tradition that they, not we alums, carry on.

We should invest in the staff, and emphasize what makes The Record special.

So where is The Yale Record today? About where it was in 1969—well-thought of on campus, definitely in the top three of college humor magazines being published— and yet in a very delicate situation. Any fundamental shift would knock us for a loop; a bad Board or two, a serious campus scandal, even the loss of the new office. That’s the bad news; the good news is, all that is necessary to change this is money—and not a tremendous amount, either. There are 750 Record alumni; if everybody simply does what he/she can, we should be more than fine. In 1969, The Record’s alumni did not help the magazine— their magazine—preferring instead to punish the student staff for simply reflecting

The latest issue, March 2007

their times. Even today, there is still a persistent undercurrent of disapproval towards the student magazine. It’s time for this to stop; it’s neither fair, nor productive, and certainly not what Yale or The Record should be about. I am confident our current alumni are more generous— and less self-indulgent—than the men who acted so selfishly forty years ago. The Record is only what we—the students and alumni— choose to make it. As long as we have to worry about funding the next issue, or even the next year of issues, we will never be able to turn our attention to the much more interesting questions of what The Record can be; and what it should be. There is a role for The Record to play at Yale—and perhaps even outside of Yale—but we need a sound financial footing to consider playing it. In five years, The Record could be the preeminent training ground for America’s comedy folk. Every year, Yale brings incredible talent to us, and through a well-designed program of investment in our students, we could be producing powerhouses in writing, cartooning, even standup and improv. Instead of one Garry Trudeau or Peter Arno every four decades, we might be able to produce one every four years. Think of how that might benefit American culture as a whole. Furthermore, The Record could—and should—be spreading the college humor magazine form around the country, helping start magazines at other schools. We could create a template, and supply it to high schools, for them to create their own humor magazines. We could even work with Chinese students attending Yale-inChina to create a Yale Record there. There is really no end to what The Record can accomplish, if it has a little bit of money, and the proper attitude. All these things may seem

outlandish goals for a magazine barely in the black, but I have faith in The Record, and every year a new group of students justifies that faith. I know that those students who show so much talent, determination, and affection for Old Owl do not disappear after graduation. They become alumni. And now it is time for Record alumni to show what we can do. The best way—indeed, the only way—to ensure that The Record retains a strong connection to what it was, is for alumni to get involved. Trust me: the students would love to hear from you. Drop them an email. Take the Chairman out for a burger at The Doodle the next time you’re in New Haven. If you’re feeling generous, frame one of your back issues and give it to them; they’ll hang it in the office with pride. Believe it or not, you are what the students love the most about The Record. The best way for them to preserve what you love most about The Record is by meeting you. Right now we have a chance—perhaps the last chance—to fix the mistakes of the past. We can give The Record the financial stability and adult guidance it has always deserved. We can keep it improving as a magazine, and keep it from devolving into a club. We can use it to sharpen young people’s skill, and build their character. All this comes from alumni donating, attending reunions, contributing memories and memorabilia—getting involved. George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat.” Then again, he was on the Harvard Lampoon. I hope you have enjoyed reading this essay, and I hope that at least some of you will be inspired to contribute to the next version of it. We have a lot to be proud of in The Record, but there’s still some work to do. Will you pitch in?






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