"If You Don't Buy This Book, We'll Kill This Dog!": Life, Laughs, Love, and Death at the National Lampoon

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Matty Simmons, the ousted chairman and founding father-figure of National Lampoon, has the corner office in his personal history of its first two twisted decades of reinventing American humor. The National Lampoon is the closest thing the Baby Boom has to an institution for its sense of humor, having produced, under Simmons, some of the most tasteless and hilarious writing, theater revues, radio shows, and movies. Its multitalented, multimedia alumni continue to make jokes--the book's cast of characters reads like Michael Ovitz's Rolodex. Simmons's ``first professional relationship with the joke,'' however, was writing gags for Walter Winchell; his other magazine accomplishment was starting up Weight Watchers. Despite this incongruous background, in 1969 Simmons agreed to provide the publishing expertise and front money for a national humor magazine produced by two Harvard (Lampoon) graduates, Henry Beard and Doug Kenney, who were ready for national exposure with their say-anything-if-it's-funny brand of humor. In his book Simmons covers National Lampoon's turbulent editorial periods of fluctuating staff and private vendettas, its haphazard film projects (e.g. Jaws 3People 0, starring Bo Derek, directed by Joe Dante, and reportedly killed by Steven Spielberg), its recurrent controversy--from libel suits by Walt Disney and Liza Minnelli to advertising and newsstand boycotts spurred by guardians of public morality--and finally its disastrous takeover in the late '80s by a group led by one of the actors from Animal House. But Simmons's chronicle relies too often on oddly mundane showbiz anecdotes and shaggy dog stories, as if there were a generation gap in his sense of humor. Simmons does not rise to the numerous occasions for satire and sick jokes, though the Lampoon's history is as warped and blackly comic as any of its creations. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

This chatty, anecdotal account of the rise and demise of the humor magazine National Lampoon also serves as a reminder that, even in its most freewheeling, iconoclastic forms, the entertainment business is just that--a business. As the founding publisher of the Lampoon , Simmons has worked with many of the great humorists of our time, and his colorful stories about P. J. O'Rourke and John Belushi--to name only two--make amusing reading. But money remains one of the chief concerns of Simmons's memoir. While he is proud of the magazine's funniest moments, the talents it nursed and the successful projects it spawned--the hit movies Animal House and National Lampoon's Vacation , among others--he also makes it plain that success in the publishing and film industries is dependent partly on the ability to wheel and deal. Bad or unlucky financial planning brought the company repeatedly to the brink of bankruptcy, and the latter part of Simmons's book is mired in accounts of endless power struggles, takeover bids and financial concerns. But as a cautionary tale on surviving the vicissitudes of the entertainment biz, the book is instructive. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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