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Home Comics Comic News Longtime Mad Writer Frank Jacobs Passes Away At 92
Longtime Mad Writer Frank Jacobs Passes Away At 92
Frank Jacobs, one of the most prolific writers in the history of Mad Magazine, passed away at the age of 92.
BY BRIAN CRONIN
PUBLISHED 8 HOURS AGO
Frank Jacobs, one of the most prolific writers in the history of Mad Magazine, passed away on Monday at the age of 92.
After the late, great Dick DeBartolo, Jacobs was the most prolific Mad writer who did not also draw his own strips (like Don Martin, Sergio Aragones or Al Jaffee). Even counting writer/artists like Jaffee, Jacobs was in the top seven most prolific Mad contributors, appearing in over 300 issues of the humor magazine.
Jacobs' first pitch to Mad, a story titled "Why I Left the Army and Became a Civilian," was not only purchased, but Mad even spotlighted it when it first appeared in 1957's Mad #33 (it also later appeared in the very first Mad paperback collection).
Jacobs had four other bylines in that very issue and that kickstarted his long and acclaimed association with the magazine. Over the years, Jacobs came up with a number of recurring bits and features (on top of the regular Mad parodies that we know and love. He did a really great "What if the Peanuts gang aged in real time?" strip that I always get a kick out of). One of them was to come up with obituaries for fictional characters, coming up with outlandish ways that they died...
A sharp recurring feature was the "Do-It-Yourself" news story, where he satirized the monotony of modern news stories, and how you could predict stories before they were ever written...
However, what Jacobs was best known for was his song parodies. Parody music has obviously existed for as long as there have been music to parody, but the 1950s and 1960s saw a huge surge in popularity for music parodies, from Stan Freberg to Tom Lehrer to Allan Sherman.
Mad Magazine was along for the ride, as well, and Jacobs was perhaps their most accomplished parody songwriter. He was a wizard with a verse. Weird Al Yankovic has cited Jacobs' song parodies as a major influence for his work, noting at the release of a Frank Jacobs tribute book a few years back (with a foreward by Yankovkic), "Frank Jacobs wrote most of the song parodies for MAD - one of my all-time heroes." In Mad #66, he and Wallace Wood did an iconic comic opera with actual comic strip characters that is beloved today by humor comic lovers...
Amusingly, Jacobs was also on the wrong side of a lawsuit when Irving Berlin and a group of other legendary songwriters (including Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers) sued Mad for its song parodies, arguing that they infringed on their copyrights. Mad won the case (here's an old Comic Book Legends Revealed on the lawsuit).
Jacobs was one of the recipients of the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing in 2009.
Comic Book Legends Revealed #232
BY BRIAN CRONIN
PUBLISHED NOV 05, 2009
Welcome to the two-hundred and thirty-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and thirty-first.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is now part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I'd especially recommend you check out this installment of Movie Legends Revealed, where we learn the secret motive behind Jamie Foxx's name!
Speaking of Jamie Foxx (at least the singing part of his repertoire), this week is a special theme week! All comic legends involving MUSIC!!
COMIC LEGEND: Irving Berlin sued Mad Magazine for copyright infringement.
Today, the idea that one would be disallowed to do a parody of a famous song is almost absurd. And yet, at one point in time there was no clear law on the subject of parodies when it comes to songs.
Such was the state in 1961 when Mad Magazine released The Worst of Mad #4, the latest in their collection of pieces from the popular satire magazine.
They had a series of song parodies.
For simplicities sake, let's pick one song, a parody of Irving Berlin's "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," done by Mad as "Louella Schwartz Describes Her Malady."
Well, the songwriters of the world were fed up, so a group of famous songwriters got together, led by one of the most famous songwriters of all-time, Irving Berlin.
He was joined by two other legendary songwriters, Cole Porter ... and Richard Rodgers...
The case, Irving Berlin et al. v. E.C. Publications, Inc., went to District Court in New York.
Judge Irving Kaufman ruled that parody songs, especially those that only contained verbal parodies of the original song (as opposed to musical parodies, which would be a much dicier situation for years after this decision, all the way until the 1990s, really), were protected, provided that they were a limited borrowing of the original song (just enough to get the idea, really).
Of the 25 songs that were being contested (with the songwriters seeking about $1 million for each song - $1 per song per issue sold, for a total of $25 million), Kaufman ruled that 23 of them were fine, but he did hold that two of the song parodies ("Always," a parody of Berlin's "Always" and "There's No Business Like No Business," a parody of Berlin's "There's No Business Like Show Business") WERE too close to the original/contained too much of the original material.
The case was appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court in New York where Judge Charles Metzner ruled that ALL of the songs were protected.
The songwriters then appealed to the Supreme Court, who denied hearing the case, thus ending the case with a victory for Mad Magazine and parody writers everywhere!!!
Thanks to the UCLA Law and Columbia Law copyright infringment web site for the above scan and thanks to reader SanctumSanctorumComix for recommending that I feature this one (way back in January of this year).
Frank Jacobs, 1929-2021
April 6th, 2021 | Posted in MAD Magazine
I was saddened to hear of the passing of MAD‘s “Poet Laureate”, longtime writer Frank Jacobs yesterday. He was 91.
Frank is best known for his song parodies in MAD AKA “Sing to the Tune of…”, which became not just a trademark element of MAD’s repertoire of recurring features, but the focus of its most famous legal battle. Berlin v. E.C. Publications, Inc., 329 F.2d 541 (2d Cir. 1964), became a landmark case of copyright law. Irving Berlin (and a bunch of music publishers) sued MAD over the song parodies that were part of a paperback book entitled More Trash from Mad No. 4, claiming copyright infringement of the original songs. The case made it all the way to the US, Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, which found in favor of MAD. In the decision, U.S. Circuit Court judge Irving Kaufman wrote (in part) : ” We doubt that even so eminent a composer as plaintiff Irving Berlin should be permitted to claim a property interest in iambic pentameter.”
Frank did a lot more than writing just spoofs of song lyrics. His work first appeared in MAD #33 in 1957, and he contributed to over 300 issues over a 57 year span, and his contributions ran the gamut from song parodies to spoofs of famous poems and prose, to political satire, to TV and film parodies, and just about everything else. Frank wrote one of my all time favorite MAD pieces “The Mad Comic Opera” from MAD #56, illustrated by Wally Wood.
I only got to work on something Frank wrote once, and that was just one of many spot illustrations done by different artists for his feature “The Bailout Hymn of the Republic” from MAD #500, the art of which is at the top of this post.
I did get to meet Frank once. Early on in my time with MAD, they had a December holiday party at the Society of Illustrators. One year they gave Frank a “MAD Book”, which is a book full of drawings and writings from The Usual Gang of Idiots in honor of another member of the Usual Gang. These books were started as gifts for MAD publisher Bill Gaines as a commemoration and thank you for each of the famous “MAD Trips”, he would take freelancers on. All those who went on the trip would do something for Bill in a book, and it would be given to him. Often these were a type of “roast” and the contributions were insulting and/or ribald. Eventually these books became a kind of honor given to longtime MAD folks. Anyway I got to do a drawing for Frank’s book, and got to meet him that night when he was presented with it.
There have been a lot of wonderful tributes written by folks who knew Frank far better than I… too many to link to here. He inspired and influenced many, and entertained generations of MAD readers with his smart and funny pen.
Rest in Peace, Frank, and thanks for the laughs!
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Frank Jacobs (March 30, 1929 – April 5, 2021) was an American author of satires, known primarily for his work in Mad, to which he contributed from 1957 to 2014. Jacobs wrote a wide variety of lampoons and spoof, but was best known as a versifier who contributed parodies of famous song lyrics and poems. In 2009, Jacobs described himself as "the least-known writer of hysterical light verse in the United States."
Jacobs appeared in the sixth chapter of PBS' comedy documentary, Make 'em Laugh: The Funny Business of America singing "Blue Cross", his own 1961 parody of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies". That lyric was one of 25 that were the subject of Berlin v. E.C. Publications, Inc., a precedent-setting case that was appealed to the Supreme Court and helped to define the boundaries of parody in American law.
Jacobs' first submission to the magazine, "Why I Left the Army and Became a Civilian," resulted in an immediate sale and a request for more material. It was one of five Jacobs pieces to appear in issue #33 (June 1957), marking a prodigious debut for the Mad contributor. His byline subsequently appeared in more than 300 issues of the magazine, second only to Dick DeBartolo among Mad writers who did not also illustrate their own work. Jacobs had more than 575 credits for the magazine, more than any other writer and second only to writer/artist Al Jaffee. At his peak, Jacobs was writing a fifth of the magazine's content. "My top year, I sold 60 pages... so you get an idea of the roll I was on," Jacobs told an interviewer.165 separate issues of Mad include multiple articles written by Jacobs.
Jacobs established numerous recurring features in Mad, including fabricated obituaries for fictional characters from various genres and the "Do-It-Yourself Newspaper Stories" which offer a series of fill-in-the-blank options.
Books and writings
Jacobs wrote 13 paperback books under the Mad imprint, including Mad for Better or Verse, a collection of poetry parodies, as well as the biography The Mad World of William M. Gaines.
One of Jacobs' non-Mad-related projects was the 1965 Alvin Steadfast on Vernacular Island, a gentle spoof of post-Victorian boys' books. The titular hero is a ten-year-old boy, who joins an adult explorer on Vernacular Island, a place populated by bizarre and wonderful creatures such as the Standing Ovation, the Ill Omen, the Glowing Report and the Ugly Rumor. The two humans go in search of the Doubt, and as their adventure takes them into the jungle, even more fabulous creatures are encountered. The original Dial Press edition was illustrated by Edward Gorey, in a non-characteristic whimsical style unlike his usual gleefully dark drawings. Jacobs' writing is only lightly cynical, with more of an emphasis on wordplay, puns and gentle humor.
Jacobs contributed to other magazines, including Oui, Playboy, Town and Country, New York, Sports Illustrated, Saturday Review, Punch and Signature.
At the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, Jacobs was a co-recipient of the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing.
Jacobs' work appears in most of the Mad reprint compilations. Two Mad compendiums containing only reprinted work by Jacobs have been published: "MAD Zaps the Human Race" in 1984, and "Mad's Greatest Writers: Frank Jacobs - Five Decades of His Greatest Works" in 2015.
He wrote 13 paperback books of new material under the Mad brand name:
Mad For Better Or Verse (Signet 1968 / Warner Books, 1975)
Sing Along with Mad (Signet 1970 / Warner Books, 1977 )
Mad About Sports (Warner Paperback Library, 1972)
Mad's Talking Stamps (Warner Paperback Library, 1974)
The Mad Turned-On Zoo (Warner Paperback Library, 1974), with co-writer Bob Clarke
The Mad Jumble Book (Warner Paperback Library, 1975), with co-writer Max Brandel
More Mad About Sports (Warner Books, 1977)
Mad Around The World (Warner Books, 1979)
Mad Goes Wild (Warner Books, 1981), with co-writer Bob Clarke
Get Stuffed With Mad (Warner Books, 1981)
The Mad Jock Book (Warner Books, 1983)
Mad Goes To Pieces (Warner Books, 1984)
Mad's Believe It Or Nuts! (Warner Books, 1986)
Jacobs also contributed scripts to Don Martin's original paperbacks. In 2000, he provided the commentary for "'Mad' Cover to Cover," a book of the magazine's cover images.
Canvas Confidential – A Backward Glance at the World of Art (The Dial Press, 1963), co-written with Sy Reit
30 Ways to Stop Smoking (Pocket Books, 1964), illustrated by Alfred Gescheidt
The Highly Unlikely Celebrity Cookbook (New American Library, 1964)
It Came From Madison Avenue (Kanrom Inc., New York, 1964), co-written with Nick Meglin
Alvin Steadfast on Vernacular Island (The Dial Press, 1965)
The Mad World of William M. Gaines (Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1972; paperback edition, Bantam Books, 1973)
Pitiless Parodies (Dover Books on Literature & Drama, 1994)
Casey at the Bat Baseball Cards: The Mudville Nine (Dover Publications, 1995)
Batty Baseball Cards (Dover Publications, 1995)
Fun With Hand Shadows (Dover Games & Puzzle Activity Books, 1996), co-written with Henry Bursill
Looney Limericks (Dover Games & Puzzle Activity Books, 1999)