Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Gregory d'Alessio in College Humor, October 1937

In the 1930s, did women read the magazine College Humor in any significant numbers? Surely some women must have, of course, but was the broad, male-oriented humor generally acceptable to women? In the October 1937 issue of College Humor, cartoonist Gregory d'Alessio illustrates a curious subscription advertisement for the magazine—by the way, nine issues for a dollar.

Ivy League suitors from Yale, Harvard, Cornell, and Princeton—where else would the target demographic be?—call a single young woman named Betty in her New York City apartment for a date. Her black servant (drawn as a racial caricature) is screening the calls and won't let them speak with "Mis' Betty." As she explains to them, "Mis' Betty ain' makin' no dates tonight, and neither am I—I'se next on that College Humor!" Really now.

There's a lot to take in here. Is this supposed appeal of the magazine just wishful thinking on College Humor's part? Is it all or in part tongue-in-cheek? Was racial caricature and dialect so widespread in the 1930s that it went essentially unnoticed? College Humor regularly ran insensitive cartoons that were sexist and racist—this ad qualifies on both scores—so how serious could they have been about the appeal of the magazine to women, let alone working-class black women? Well, I suspect these are two very different questions. The magazine's editors must have known they had few if any black readers and maybe that's what's supposed to make the ad's caption funny. As for the magazine's appeal to the class of educated white young women, I suspect it was less popular than with educated white young men, but I'm not at all sure to what degree.

"Mis' Betty ain' makin' no dates tonight, and neither am I—I'se next on that College Humor!"
Gregory d'Alessio
College Humor, Vol. 6, No. 2, October 1937
Subscription advertisement, inside back cover

Note:  I certainly don't have reliable demographics on the readership of American humor magazines during the 1930s and I don't know if anyone does, but by all means readers should let me know what they know. Even if there are no reliable data, I'd be happy to hear opinions on the appeal of the magazine's humorous content to the various components of its readership circa the 1930s.

This copy of the October 1937 issue of College Humor has its home in the Steven Boss humor magazine collection at Columbia University, one of some 5,600 humor magazines housed in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. For more information on accessing the collection,  contact Curator for Comics and Cartoons Karen Green. Tell her you want to fact-check me.

So now I'm fresh out of new content by Gregory d'Alessio from College Humor magazine. That's where you come in, Gentle Reader. Attempted Bloggery is eager to publish scans or photographs of original cartoon art by Gregory d'Alessio and, for that matter, other New Yorker artists. Clippings of rare, published cartoons and illustrations from College Humor and other like publications are always eagerly received here. Remember, nothing is too obscure for this blog.

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