Harvey Schmidt has died at the age of 88 in Tomball. No, that should not mean anything to you, although I’m sure it meant a lot to Harvey Schmidt. He was co-author of “The Fantasticks,” the Off-Broadway romance that became the world’s longest-running musical. It opened in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village and ran for 17,162 performances. A revival that began in 2006 ran 4,390 more times. It was “very lucrative.” You may recall a song from that show, “Try to Remember.” In a 50-year partnership with Tom Jones, they wrote the Broadway musicals “110 in the Shade” and “I Do! I Do!” each earning them Tony Award nominations. And to think it all began at The University of Texas with bad jokes.
Coroner: “What were your husband’s last words?”
New widow: “I don’t see how they can make a profit on this at a dollar and a half a fifth.”
That was from the Texas Ranger, not to be confused with the law enforcement agency or a baseball team. It was the school’s humor magazine, which began publication back in the 1890s and was one of many universities’ similar publications. There was the Harvard Lampoon, the Yale Record and the Stanford Chaparral to name a few. The Ranger was published by UT nine times a year (no summer issues) and contained funny articles, cartoons, dumb jokes and the GOM. That was the Girl of the Month, the rather mild – by today’s standards – photos of a good looking co-ed.
“Will your wife hit the ceiling when you come in this late?”
“Probably. She’s a lousy shot.”
I first became attracted to this genre when my older sister would return at Christmas and the summer from Stanford University with a collection of the Stanford Chaparrals. It turns out she was dating, and later married, the editor. The magazines were hilarious, although a lot of it was inside humor that only Stanford students would get. Later, when I attended UT, I learned of the Ranger, and dutifully joined the staff. Well, actually, as a lowly freshman I just sold copies. Each month we would get a bundle or two of the magazines and spread throughout the 40 Acres. Over the years the popularity of the mag grew to the point where we were selling one copy for every two students.
We made money this way: We would, in effect, buy a copy from the Texas Student Publications, which was the UT branch that ran the Daily Texan, the Ranger and the yearbook, the Cactus. We bought each copy for 20 cents and sold it for a quarter. We were selling thousands monthly. That way we got funds. The university had a rule that no booze was allowed at school parties, so we, as independent entrepreneurs, took our collective earnings and bought booze and had a party – really wild parties. All perfectly legal. For some unknown reason, in a campus College Bowl contest, the Rangeroos finished first. Their best category: religion.
One issue in the late 1920s or 30s dealt with the UT student body president, Allan Shivers, who was never heard of again. The Ranger ran this: “Allan Shivers gives honest politicians the shivers.” He didn’t like that observation, and had it cut out of all the copies before they hit the stands. I had heard that story, and once looked up the bound archives to see if that really happened, and, sure enough, there was a hole in a page in that issue. The Rangeroos, as the staffers were called, were made up of the wildest, most talented students at UT. Our leader was Hairy Ranger, a cartoon of a fat, drunken cowboy with a bottle of booze in one hand and the other arm around a floozy.
Many college humor magazines produced talents we know of today. Conan O’Brien was editor of the Harvard Lampoon, which at its peak spawned a national humor magazine, the National Lampoon, then became a multimedia humor brand with films like “Animal House” and all the Chevy Chase Lampoon movies. The Yale Record, the nation’s oldest college humor magazine (founded in 1872), had a cartoonist and editor-in-chief, Garry Trudeau, who writes and draws Doonesbury.
Theta 1: “Does your boyfriend have ambitions?”
Theta 2: “Yes, ever since he’s been knee high.”
After graduation, as a former editor-in-chief, I received a lifetime subscription to the Ranger, which proved to be a short life. As students, we used to poke fun at the UT faculty, administration, the board of regents was always a great target, but mostly at ourselves and our fellow students. However, by the 1960s I could tell there was trouble in Austin. That’s about when other college humor magazines hit their apex. The Ranger was running stories about the true meaning of life by some 19-year-old. The humor gave way to in-depth thoughts and lousy fiction. The Texas Ranger, which always made a profit for UT and, we kept saying, underwrote the Daily Texan, died, or rather committed suicide at the age of almost 100.
“(UT) President Logan Wilson sure has did a good job here.” His son was a Rangeroo.
Today there has been a resurgence of college humor publications, more in tune to the Daily Show, Stephen Colbert and The Onion, which started out as a college humor magazine. There are mags at SMU, A&M, the UTs at Arlington and Dallas, and the Travesty at UT-Austin. “The country’s largest student-produced satirical newspaper.” It began in 1997 and today its website is very funny. Like many others, the Travesty is online, and its staff includes video director and video staff. Times have changed. Oh, as for Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, they met when they both wrote for the Texas Ranger.
Fiji: “Say, that’s a bad gash on your forehead. What happened?”
Beta: “I bit myself.”
Fiji: “Oh, come on. How did you bite yourself on your forehead?”
Beta: “I stood on a chair.”
Ashby jokes at email@example.com