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November 4, 2009

Home Grown Smut

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Pat Coleman @ 2:09 pm

Capt. Billy's Whiz Bang, 1921Capt. Billy's Whiz Bang, 1932

Wilford (Billy) H. Fawcett returned to Minnesota from World War I with a footlocker full of dirty jokes. On a slow night in 1920 while he was working at the Minneapolis Tribune he sorted through the jokes and put them into a pamphlet he titled “Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang” [whiz-bang being the sound shells made during the war]. So our next best Minnesota book is:

Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang

The content was loosely organized around Whiz-Bang farm in Robbinsdale, the original Lake Woebegone. Characters included Gus, the hired man; Deacon Callahan, whose daughter, Lizzie’s virtue was always being designed upon; and Pedro the bull who rejected unworthy author submissions. The masthead read “explosion of pedigreed bull.” The jokes were juvenile, sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, and haven’t aged well.

The Girl: “You mustn’t come into my dressing room.”

The Man: “Why not? Am I not good enough?”

The Girl: “You might be worse.”

Or “Harold” said the pretty young teacher, “in the sentence ‘I saw the girl climb the fence’ how many i’s would you use?”

“Bofe of ‘em teacher” replied Harold with a grin.

Fawcett found a printer and enlisted his sons to distribute the press run from their wagons to Minneapolis at baseball games, drugstores and local hotels where the consigned blue humor was held under the counter. Word of mouth fueled sales. The magazine went from an initial press run of 5,000 to half a million once Fawcett created a distribution network that revolutionized the industry. Soon the “Whiz-bang” was in newsstands, hotels, and trains, all over the country.

By the end of the decade Fawcett had twelve magazines. “True Confessions” was the first followed by titles like “Screen Play,” and “Modern Mechanics” [which was sued by "Popular Mechanics" beginning a seemingly never ending series of lawsuits]. Roscoe Fawcett, Billy’s brother, was brought into the business and much of the work during summers was done on Pelican Lake at Fawcett’s Breezy Point Lodge.

When Billy divorced his wife Annette, who he referred to in his publications as the “henna-headed heckler,” she used his money to purchase a competitor of the “Whiz-bang” called the “Eye-Opener” and moved it to Minnesota. For a period of time Minnesota was the capital of indelicate literature.

The company eventually moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and played perhaps an even more important role in dictating literary taste. Fawcett Publication began Whiz Comics, staring Captain Marvel, and a line of original paperback books under the Gold Medal imprint.

The Company kept the same “Whiz-bang” sensibilities. The Gold Medal Books editor in 1964 stated that they were trying to blend the “shoot ‘em up sex novel” with a helping of good literature. When Gold Medal Books editor -in-chief, William Lengel received a scathing review of a manuscript his inclination was to publish it rather than pass on it. One such title was Mandingo a title that sold two million copies in its first five years.

It is hard to understate the impact, for better or worse, Fawcett had on American culture. By the mid 1960’s the Fawcett brothers presided over an empire with $75 million and 200,000 million units in annual sales.  CBS bought the company for $50 million in cash in 1977 [$ 160 mil in today's dollars].

The Minnesota Historical Society library has a nearly complete run of “Captain Billy’s Whiz-bang” and has microfilmed it for posterity.

Whiz comics

June 4, 2008

The 150 Best Minnesota Books List…So Far

Filed under: Our Favorite Things — Pat Coleman @ 9:47 am

A. T. Andreas. An Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Minnesota. Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1874.

Margaret Culkin Banning. Mesabi. Harper and Row Publishers: New York, 1969.

Edward H. Bennett. Plan of Minneapolis: Prepared Under the Direction of the Civic Commission… Edited and Written by Andrew Wright Crawford. Minneapolis: Civic Commission, 1917.

B. W. “Bernie” Bierman Winning Football: Strategy, Psychology and Technique. New York: Whittlesey House, 1937.

Theodore C. Blegen. Minnesota: A History of the State. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963.

Carol Bly. Letters From the Country. NY: Harper and Row, 1981.

Robert Bly. Silence in the Snowy Fields. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1962.

Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865: Prepared and Published Under the Supervision of the Board of Commissioners Appointed by the Act of the Legislature of Minnesota of April16, 1889. St. Paul, Minnesota: Printed for the State by the Pioneer Press Company, 1890 -1893.

Edmund Boisgilbert, MD (Ignatius Donnelly) Caesar’s Column: a Story of the Twentieth Century. Chicago: Schulte and Company, 1890.

Francis Bosworth, et al. Broken Mirrors. Minneapolis: Avon Press, 1928.

Thomas Boyd. Through the Wheat. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1923.

Lloyd L. Brown. Iron City. New York: Masses & Mainstream, 1951.

Jonathan Carver. Travels Through the Interior Parts of North-America, in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768. London: C. Dilly; H. Payne; and F. Phillips, 1781.

Ray P. Chase. Are They Communists or Catspaws: A Red Baiting Article. Anoka: N. p., 1938.

Bob Dylan. Tarantula. Hibbing, Minnesota: Wimp Press, [1970].

Robert Esbjornson. A Christian in Politics; Luther W. Youngdahl: A Story of a Christian’s Faith at Work in a Modern World. Minneapolis: T. S. Denison, 1955.

Wilford (Billy) H. Fawcett. Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang.Fawcett Publishing, 1921 – 1936

Federal Writers’ Project. Minnesota: A State Guide. Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration… New York: Viking Press, 1938.

Bob Firth (photography) and Bill Holm (essay). Landscape of Ghosts. Stillwater, Minnesota: Voyageur Press, 1993.

William Watts Folwell. History of Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1921 – 1930.

Thomas Gifford. The Wind Chill Factor. New York: Putnam, 1975.

Willard Glazier. Down the Great River: Embracing an Account of the Discovery of the True Source of the Mississippi… Philadelphia: 1887.

Jon Hassler. Staggerford. New York: Atheneum, 1977.

Thomas Heggen. Mister Roberts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946.

Father Louis Hennepin. Description de la Louisiane, Nouvellement decouverte au Sud’ Ouest de la Nouvelle FranceParis: Chez la Veuve Sebastien Hure, 1683.

C. L. Herrick. Mammals of Minnesota: A Scientific and Popular Account… Minneapolis: Harrison and Smith, State Printers, 1892.

William Hoffman. Those Were The Days. Minneapolis: T. S. Denison and Company,1957.

Florence Page Jaques. Canoe Country. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1938.

Vernon E. Johnson. I’ll Quit Tomorrow. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973.

Garrison Keillor. Lake Wobegon Days. New York: 1985.

Agnes Larson. History of the White Pine Industry in Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1949.

Henrietta M. Larson. The Wheat Market and the Farmer in Minnesota, 1858 –1900. New York: Columbia University, 1926.

Sinclair Lewis. Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott. New York: 1920.

Sinclair Lewis. Babbitt. New York: 1922.

Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr. Why is Your Country at War and What Happens to You After the War and Related Subjects. Washington, D. C.: National Capital Press, 1917.

Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. The Spirit of St. Louis. New York: Scribner’s, 1953.

Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy-Tacy. New York: Crowell, 1940.

Maud Hart Lovelace. Emily of Deep Valley. New York: Crowell, 1950.

Conway MacMillan. Minnesota Plant Life. Saint Paul: Geological and Natural History Survey, 1899.

Thomas McGrath. Letter to an Imaginary Friend. Denver: Alan Swallow, 1962.

Edward D. Neill. The History of Minnesota; From the Earliest French Explorations to the Present Time. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1858.

J[oseph] N. Nicollet. Report Intended to Illustrate a Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River, Made by I.[sic]N. Nicollet, While in the Employ Under the Bureau of the Corps of Topographical Engineers. Washington: …. 1843.

Grace Lee Nute. The Voyageur. New York: Appleton, 1931.

Tim O’Brien. Going After Cacciato: A Novel. New York: Delacorte Press. 1978.

Sigurd F. Olson. Listening Point. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958.

Zebulon M. Pike. An Account of a Voyage Up the Mississippi River from St. Louis to its Source. Washington, D. C., 1807.

Robert Pirsig. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: Morrow, 1974.

J. F. Powers. Morte D’Urban. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1962.

Richard S. Prosser.  Rails to the North Star. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1966.

Richard Realf. A Fragment of the Poem Symbolism. Minneapolis: Chemith Press, 1906.

Thomas S. Roberts. The Birds of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1932.

O[le] E[dvart] Rolvaag. Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1927.

Arthur C. Rogers and Maud A. Merrill. Dwellers in the Vale of Siddem: A True Story of the Social Aspect of Feeble-Mindedness. Boston: R. G. Badger, c.1919. 80p.

Carl T. Rowan. South of Freedom. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952.

Calvin Rutstrum. Way of the Wilderness: A Complete Camping Manual… Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company, 1952.

Henry R. Schoolcraft. Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake, the Actual Source of this River; Embracing an Exploratory Trip Through the St. Croix and Burntwood (or Broule) Rivers. New York: Harper, 1834.

Charles Schulz. Happiness is a Warm Puppy. Determined Productions: San Francisco, 1962.

Mabel Seeley. The Chuckling Fingers. Garden City N.Y.: Published for the Crime Club by Doubleday, Doran, 1941.

Arnold Sevareid. Canoeing with the Cree. New York: Macmillan, 1935.

Max Shulman. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Doubleday: New York, 1951.

Clifford D. Simak. The City. New York: Gnome Press, 1952.

E. V. Smalley. A History of the Republican Party from Its Organization to the Present Time; To Which is Added a Political History of Minnesota from a Republican Point of View… St. Paul: E. V. Smalley Publisher, 1896.

John Szarkowski. The Face of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958.

Arthur Upson. Octaves in an Oxford Garden. Minneapolis: E. D. Brooks, 1902.

Thorstein Veblen. Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study in the Evolution of Institutions. New York: Macmillan Company, 1899.

Newton Horace Winchell. The Aborigines of Minnesota: A Report on the Collections of Jacob V. Brower, and on the Field Surveys and Notes of Alfred J. Hill and Theodore H. Lewis / Collated, Augmented and Described by N. H. Winchell. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1911.



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