'East Side Story' (issue #78, April 1963), with art by Mort Drucker.

Frank Jacobs was a U.S. satirical writer, best known for his work for Mad Magazine. Between June 1957 and October 2014, he penned hundreds of articles. With about 55 uninterrupted years on his résumé, he was Mad's longest-running writer and one of its most productive contributors. Jacobs launched several recurring series, including 'A is For...' (1958), 'Alfred's Poor Almanac' (1962), 'Obituaries for-' (1966-1970), 'Extremely Thin Books' (1968), 'How Many Mistakes Can You Find In This Picture?' (1975), 'Mad's Aptitude Test' (1983) and '15 Minutes Of Fame' (1996). Along with Larry Siegel and Stan Hart, he wrote 'Sights and Sounds of the U.S.A.' (1964-1965), a satirical look at U.S. cities and other locations. Jacobs often scripted spoofs of popular newspaper comics. But he found the most joy in writing parodies of poems and songs for Mad. Whenever the magazine satirized a musical or presented a familiar franchise in a musical adaptation, Jacobs was usually the creative mind behind it. In 1964, he and his Mad colleagues were sued for copyright infringement, based on one of their musical parodies. By winning this case, they achieved a landmark in the protection of satire and parody by U.S. law. Outside Mad, Jacobs was a notable writer of humor articles and books.

Early life and career
Frank Jacobs was born in 1929 in Lincoln, Nebraska. He studied at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1951. Jacobs always had a passion for musical theatre, collecting soundtracks and singles by songwriters and composers like Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, George Gershwin, Noel Coward and Irving Berlin. Nevertheless, he spent his first job at a public relations company. There was so little to do, that he was bored stiff. Jacobs therefore changed work and collaborated on a musical revue for a summer stock company. Unfortunately their PR firm folded.


Mad covers for issue #278 (April 1988, art by Richard Williams) and #331 (October-November 1994, art by Mort Drucker), with "lyrics" by Frank Jacobs.

Mad Magazine
Halfway the 1950s, Jacobs picked up a copy of Mad Magazine and realized he too could write funny, satirical articles. He applied to them and instantly no less than five of his articles were accepted for publication. All of them even appeared in the same issue, issue #33 of June 1957. For five and a half decades, he remained a major presence in Mad's pages. Like his colleagues, he wrote witty articles in the magazine's trademark satirical style, with one of their artists illustrating them. As one of the "usual gang of idiots", he however came up with only three cover gags. The joke on the front page of issue #47 (June 1959), where Frank Kelly Freas drew Mad's mascot Alfred E. Neuman heading through a "Stop" sign was one of them. He also wrote the rap song on the cover of issue #278 (April 1988) and a satirical spoof of The Flintstones' theme song starring Bill Clinton and his family on the front page of issue #331 (October 1994).

Mad film and TV parodies
Most of Jacobs' film parodies involved musicals. Outside this genre he scripted the spoofs of 'Superman II' (issue #226, October 1981, art by Mort Drucker), 'Star Trek IV' (issue #271, June 1987, art by Mort Drucker), 'The Witches of Eastwick' (issue #276, January 1988, art by Mort Drucker), 'Working Girl' (issue #288, July 1989, art by Angelo Torres) and 'Silence Of The Lambs' (issue #305, September 1991, art by Sam Viviano). Together with Larry Siegel and Stan Hart, he wrote the parody of 'Lawrence of Arabia' (issue #86, April 1964), while he and Dick Debartolo scripted the spoof of 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' (issue #228, January 1982, art by Jack Davis).


'Silence Of The Lambs' spoof (issue #305, September 1991), art by Sam Viviano.

It took until the late 1980s before Jacobs devoted his satirical fire to TV shows. His first spoof, 'L.A. Law', ran in issue #274 (October 1987), drawn by Mort Drucker. On the magazine cover, Drucker drew the show's cast. The real-life actors of 'L.A. Law' liked the spoof so much that they sent Mad a letter of appreciation, accompanied by a photograph in which all actors mimicked the poses of their caricatural selves on Drucker's cover. Jacobs additionally parodied the TV series 'Head Of The Class' (issue #275, December 1987, art by Angelo Torres), 'St. Elsewhere' (issue #281, September 1988, art by Mort Drucker), 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' (issue #282, October 1988, art by Mort Drucker) and 'thirtysomething' (issue #286, April 1989, art by Mort Drucker).

Recurring features
Frank Jacobs launched several recurring features in Mad's pages. In issue #69 (March 1962), he wrote a parody of Benjamin Franklin's 'Poor Richard's Almanack', full with sarcastic twists on familiar aphorisms and wise sayings. A typical example would be: "Mother's Day: give Mom the greatest gift of all today - your absence!" (issue #72, July 1962). The feature, always illustrated by John Putnam, ran irregularly until issue #172 (January 1975). Together with Larry Siegel, Jacobs launched the series 'The Sights and Sounds of the U.S.A.', drawn by Paul Coker. The first episode appeared in issue #88 (July 1964). Each installment offered a sardonic look at American locations, including New York City, Hollywood, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., Chicago, Miami Beach, Fort Worth and a general small town. It lasted until issue #95 (June 1965). Another recurring series was 'Obituaries for –', presenting obituaries for comic, TV or advertising characters, but also things "no longer in existence", such as "clean air", "reliable postal service" and "melody in popular music". Several episodes ran between issues #106 (October 1966) and #136 (July 1970).

His 'Extremely Thin Books' feature, first seen in issue #117 (March 1968), was another marvellous idea. Each episode featured a couple of books on a shelf, dealing with satirical topics that indeed wouldn't take up many pages. Typical examples are "Equality and Justice in Alabama and Mississippi", "The Modesty of Cassius Clay" and "A Guide to Happy Marriage by Zsa Zsa Gabor". Still, Jacobs only wrote the first episode. In issue #174 (April 1975), he introduced 'Additions to the Dictionary', which imagined new eponyms based on celebrities' names and how to use them in a sentence. He revisited the idea between issues #247 (June 1984) and #287 (June 1989). Another memorable series was 'How Many Mistakes Can You Find in this Picture?' (issue #177, September 1975), which offered ironic looks at locations and jobs. Again, Jacobs only wrote the first episode, after which other writers had fun with it for decades. A similar concept was 'Mad's Aptitude Test', launched in issue #243 (December 1983) and featuring so-called tests for people applying for a certain job. Naturally, all requirements satirized the profession. Most episodes were written by Jacobs and illustrated by George Woodbridge, except for the final one in issue # 373 (September 1998), on which Mike Snider and Timothey Shamey collaborated.


Parody of Chester Gould's 'Dick Tracy'. From 'When Those "Old Line" Comic Strips Follow the New Wave, Cerebral "Doonesbury" Trend'. (Mad issue #200, July 1978). Art by Jack Rickard

Comic parodies
Right from the early beginning, Mad always delighted in parodying other comic strips. Frank Jacobs took part in this tradition for decades. He imagined what comics would be like if written by famous authors (issue #46, April 1959, drawn by Wallace Wood), drawn by famous painters (issue #137, September 1970, art by Jack Rickard) or scripted by 'Doonesbury' creator Garry Trudeau (issue #200, July 1978, art by Jack Rickard). Under Jacobs' pen, comic characters were subject of psycho-analysis (issue #125, March 1969, art by Bob Clarke), anatomic studies (issue #236, January 1983, art by Jack Rickard and Sergio Aragonés) or an in memoriam (issue #106, October 1966, and issue #353, January 1997 - in the latter article with art by Steve Smallwood). Jacobs wrote amusing reflections on what would happen if real people were comic strip heroes (issue #48, July 1959) or if real-life problems entered newspaper comics (issue #249 of September 1984 with art by George Woodbridge, and issue #2326 of March 1994 with art by Angelo Torres).


'The 'ABC's of Drugs' (Mad Magazine issue #387, November 1999). Art by Rick Tulka

Song and musical parodies
Jacobs was very skilled in comedic rhymes, which came in handy when spoofing poems, nursery rhymes, aphorisms, advertising jingles, musical songs and pop hits. As early as issue #38 (March 1958), he parodied alphabetic nursery rhymes ('A is for...'). He would take a certain theme and write satirical rhymes for each letter of the alphabet. Over the years, Jacobs and other regular Mad writers like Desmond Devlin, Charlie Kadau, Tom Koch and David Shayne all came up with their own funny takes on this 'A is for...' concept. In the dawn of his career, Jacobs invented another amusing variation: '15 Minutes of Fame', which debuted in issue #351 (November 1996). The title referred to Andy Warhol's famous quote about people being famous "for only 15 minutes". Each episode focused on celebrities, fads, trends and media stories that dominated the news for a few weeks and months, but had faded away as quickly as they had come about. Drew Friedman illustrated every episode. Readers were intrigued by this feature, since they indeed had forgotten many of these people and phenomena by the time Jacobs and Friedman dug them up again.

Jacobs parodied many iconic poems, with a particular knack for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 'The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere', Rudyard Kipling's 'The Ballad of East & West' and Mother Goose's nursery rhymes. He often changed the lyrics to fit a particular satirical topic. Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven', for instance, was spoofed as 'The Rating' (issue #111, June 1967, art by Bruce Stark), 'The Jogger' (issue #214, April 1980, art by Jack Davis) and 'The Reagan' (issue #265, September 1986, art by Gerry Gersten). Ernest Lawrence Thayer's 'Casey at the Bat' was satirized into 'Casey at the Dice' (issue #124, January 1969, art by Jack Davis), 'Howard at the Mike' (issue #155, December 1972, art by Jack Davis) and 'Casey at the Byte' (issue #258, October 1985, art by Don Martin). From issue #265 (September 1986) on, most of these poetic parodies were illustrated by Gerry Gersten.


'The ABC's of 15 Minutes of Fame. Volume II'. (Mad issue #375, November 1998). Art by Drew Friedman

Although Jacobs never made it as a Broadway lyricist, at Mad he could fully compensate for it. His earliest articles in this vein were 'The Mad "Comic" Opera (issue #56, July 1960, art by Wallace Wood) and 'South Chicago' (issue #71, June 1962, art by Mort Drucker). A classic is 'East Side Story' (issue #78, April 1963), which parodied 'West Side Story' by mixing it with a Cold War metaphor. Famous politicians from the West (John F. Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle, Harold MacMillan,...) face off against communist heads of state (Nikita Khrushchev, Fidel Castro, Mao,...). Mort Drucker had fun depicting them in ridiculous dance poses. The plot of Leonard Bernstein's original musical fitted remarkably well as a political satire. Jacobs spoofed other Hollywood musicals too: 'Fiddler On The Roof' (issue #156, January 1973), 'My Fair Lady' (issue #167, June 1974), 'That's Entertainment!' (issue #175, June 1975) and - in an ambitious move - three Barbra Streisand musicals at once: 'On A Clear Day You Can See Forever', 'Funny Girl' and 'Hello Dolly' (issue #143, June 1971). Mort Drucker was the regular artist, except for Jacobs' parodies of 'Annie Get Your Gun' (issue #85, March 1964, art by Jack Rickard) and 'The Wizard Of Oz' (issue #300, January 1991, art by Sam Viviano). Long before it became a trend to adapt pre-existing franchises into theatrical musicals, Jacobs already proved he could turn any story into one. Among his fondly remembered 'Mad musicals' are the James Bond franchise (issue #94, April 1965, art by Mort Drucker), literary classics (issue #100, January 1966, art by Jack Rickard), 'Star Trek' (issue #186, October 1976, art by Mort Drucker), 'Star Wars' (issue #203, December 1978, art by Mort Drucker) and 'Lord Of The Rings' (issue #210, October 1979, art by Mort Drucker).

By the 1980s, musicals lost much of their popularity and familiarity, so Jacobs reinvented himself by spoofing the hit parade instead. He wrote parodies of songs by Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Glenn Frey, Lionel Richie and Poison. Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the U.S.A.' was transformed into a reflection of the porn industry: 'Porn in the U.S.A.' (issue #256, July 1985, art by Paul Coker). Michael Jackson's facelifts were lampooned in the 'Bad' spoof 'Sad' (issue #277, March 1988, art by Jack Davis). And Bill Medley's 'I've Had The Time Of My Life', made famous by the film 'Dirty Dancing', poked fun at aging rockstars under the title: 'Past the Prime Of Their Life' (issue #293, March 1990, art by Mort Drucker). In the case of Billy Joel and The Beatles, the laughing lyricist even devoted entire articles to spoofing songs from their catalogue. Joel liked this parody of his work and was photographed with the very issue, which appeared in Mad's letter department. For the Mad Disco special (1980), he wrote a disco version of Mother Goose, illustrated by Paul Coker. Showing off his trendiness, Jacobs thought up rap versions of Shakespeare plays (issue #300, January 1991, art by George Woodbridge), the Bible (issue #310, April 1992, art by Woodbridge) and country music (issue #317, March 1993, art by Rick Tulka).


'Great Poems Rewritten To Reflect The Freaky, Greedy, Rotten World Of Today': 'The Raven' (Mad issue #181, March 1976). Art by  Paul Coker.

Musical records
All these spoofs were a tiny step away from writing actual song lyrics. Mad's Super Special nr. 26 (1978) came with a free musical single, 'Makin' Out', written by Jacobs and sung by Alfreida Norwood and Jane Gennaro. Two years later, another 33 1/3 RPM single was added to the Mad Special issue #31 (Summer 1980): 'It's A Super-Spectacular Day' (1979), performed by Bobby Alto and Buddy Mantia under the name The Mad Mystery Sound. The song describes a person expecting a "super-spectacular day", only to be proven wrong when he becomes victim of all kinds of ridiculous problems and accidents. The record had eight parallel grooves. Depending on which groove was hit by the record needle, a different take of the same song could be heard. They all start off the same way, but have a different ending. As a result, confused listeners wondered why they couldn't remember hearing these lyrics before. 'It's A Super-Spectacular Day' was a clever idea, fitting of Mad's general style, but it wasn't entirely new. As early as 1951, the Fontane Sisters' 'The Fortune Teller Song' (1951) already hid four different takes in the record's grooves. The Monty Python album 'Matching Tie and Handkerchief' (1973) seemingly looked like a two-side album, but in reality hid another side in its grooves. The experimental band The Residents once considered bringing out an album with hidden grooves too, but dropped their plan once they heard Monty Python had already pioneered it.

Court case
In the fourth 'More Trash from Mad' special (1961), Larry Siegel and Frank Jacobs added 20 pages worth of song parodies under the title 'Sing Along with Mad'. The lyrics spoofed famous Broadway and film songs by adding a satirical undertone. On 10 January 1964, EC Comics was sued for copyright infringement by the estates of Irving Berlin Inc., Chappell & Co, T.B. Harms and Leo Feist, particularly regarding their entries 'Songs of Show Business', 'Songs of Publishing' and 'Songs of National and World Politics'. On 23 March, the judge concluded that 'Sing Along with Mad' was obvious parody, which is protected by law. This landmark case ensured that Mad could continue creating other lyrical parodies for decades to come.


'Famous Quotes And How People Back Then Reacted To Them'. (Mad, issue #244, January 1984). Art by Harry North

Paperbacks
Jacobs also wrote and edited several of Mad's paperbacks. Some contained merely reprints, others offered exclusive new material. He penned down the lyric compilations 'Mad For Better Or Verse' (Signet, 1968, reprinted by Warner Books in 1975) and 'Sing Along With Mad' (Signet, 1970, reprinted by Warner Books in 1977). He was additionally the man behind the sport-themed paperbacks 'Mad About Sports' (Warner Paperback Library, 1972) and 'More Mad About Sports' (Warner Books, 1977). In the book 'Mad's Talking Stamps' (Warner Paperback Library, 1974) real-life stamps were shown, combined with funny speech balloons. Jacobs worked with Bob Clarke on 'The Man Turned-On Zoo' (Warner Paperback Library, 1974) and 'Mad Goes Wild' (Warner Books, 1981), while Max Brandel helped out with 'The Mad Jumble Book' (Warner Paperback Library, 1975). Jacobs' other titles were 'Mad Around The World' (Warner Books, 1979), 'Get Stuffed With Mad' (Warner Books, 1981), 'The Mad Jock Book' (Warner Books, 1983), 'Mad Goes To Pieces' (Warner Books, 1984) and 'Mad Believe It Or Nuts' (Warner Books, 1986). He was additionally a contributing scriptwriter to Don Martin's paperback books, which often contained longer stories of the superhero parody 'Captain Klutz'.

Jacobs also wrote the tongue in cheek biography 'The Mad World Of William M. Gaines' (Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1972), about Mad's iconic publisher William M. Gaines. The book gives a serious overview of his boss' life up to that point, though still with enough room for funny anecdotes. Jacobs always wanted to write a second part, especially after his beloved boss and mentor passed away in 1992. Unfortunately, it never came to fruition. The same applied to his plans to adapt his biography into a TV film. He envisioned actor Oliver Platt to play the role of Gaines. In 2000, Jacobs negotiated with HBO, but when Fox/Searchlight Pictures took over the company, the deal fell through. Jacobs' final Mad-related publication was 'Mad Cover to Cover. 48 Years, 6 Months & 3 Days of Mad Magazine' (2000). The work collects all of Mad's magazine covers, combined with memories and anecdotes on how they came about.

Non-Mad writings
Outside Mad's realm, Jacobs wrote humor articles and columns for magazines like New York, Oui, Hugh Hefner's Playboy, Punch, Saturday Review, Signature, Sports Illustrated and Town and Country. He additionally published several comedy books. '30 Ways to Stop Smoking' (Pocket Books, 1964) came out in the same year scientists found a correlation between smoking and cancer. 'Alvin Steadfast on Vernacular Island' (The Dial Press, 1965) was his only attempt at a novel. The book stars a ten-year-old boy who, together with an adult explorer, travels to an island where everything and everyone is a visualization of a figure-of-speech or other kinds of wordplay. The original edition was illustrated by Edward Gorey. 'Pitless Parodies and Other Outrageous Verse' (Dover Books on Literature & Drama, 1994) brings parodies of famous poems, some reprints from Mad. Jacobs' 'Looney Limericks' (Dover Games & Puzzle Activity Books, 1999) is a collection of famous limericks by other authors, with illustrations by Larry Daste. 'Casey at the Bat Baseball Cards: The Mudville Nine' (Dover Publications, 1995) and 'Batty Baseball Cards' (Dover Publications, 1995) both featured baseball cards of fictional players, all illustrated by Tony D'Adamo. 'Fun With Hand Shadows' (Dover Games & Puzzle Activity Books, 1996, co-written by Henry Bursill) is a guide on making funny hand shadows. The illustrations are lifted from 19th-century picture books about the same topic, with Jacobs writing funny verses to go along with them.

Jacobs' books are often confused with official Mad Magazine publications, because his collaborators often were other Mad contributors. Together with Sy Reit, he wrote 'Canvas Confidential - A Backward Glance at the World of Art' (The Dial Press, 1963), mocking iconic paintings and sculptures. The illustrations are by Frank Kelly Freas. 'The Highly Unlikely Celebrity Cook Book' (New American Library, 1964) features funny recipes supposedly written by famous politicians, actors, TV hosts and sports figures. Their caricatures were provided by Mort Drucker. Together with fellow writer Nick Meglin, Jacobs brought out 'It Came From MADison Avenue' (Kanrom, 1964). The book features a series of stock photographs, mostly from horror movies, with funny descriptions and added dialogue.


'Alfred's Poor Almanac' (Mad #69, March 1962), art by John Putnam.

Recognition
In 2009 Frank Jacobs received the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing. In Peyton Reed's romantic comedy 'Down with Love' (2003), starring Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger, McGregor can be seen reading an issue of Mad, with the back cover of issue #80 (July 1963) clearly in frame. Mad's art director Sam Viviano deliberately picked out this back cover, because it featured a fake advertisement starring Nick Meglin and Frank Jacobs. As a result, both men could boast they "once appeared in a Hollywood movie".

Final years, death and legacy
Working from the late 1950s up until the early 2010s, Frank Jacobs was one of Mad's longest-serving contributors. When counting artists too, Al Jaffee enjoyed a longer span in the magazine's pages, but in the field of writing, Jacobs was the unsurpassed record holder. During his heydays, Jacobs often had one of more articles in each bi-monthly Mad issue. This is remarkable considering he wrote so few of Mad's regular film and TV parodies, which were the backbone of each issue. By the 1990s his production slowed down. In an interview with Scott Gosar, released on 11 December 2006, the veteran explained that from the 1990s on, he felt more and more out of touch with pop culture. In 2014, Jacobs retired, with his final new contribution appearing in issue #529 (October 2014). Frank Jacobs passed away in 2021 at age 91.

Books about Frank Jacobs
For those interested in Jacobs' Mad work, the books 'Mad Zaps the Human Race' (1984) and 'Mad's Greatest Writers: Frank Jacobs - Five Decades of His Greatest Works' (2015) are highly recommended. The latter has a foreword by comedy musician "Weird Al" Yankovic, who ranked Jacobs' comical songs among his greatest inspirations.


Advertising spoof with Frank Jacobs as the woman and Nick Meglin as the man. Mad Magazine issue #80 (July 1963). 

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