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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > EASTSIDER WILLIAM GAINES
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Publisher and founder of Mad magazine


Mad magazine, an institution in American humor ever since it first appeared in 1955, is one of the few publications on the newsstand that carries no advertising. In the past few years, rising costs and changing tastes have driven Mad's circulation slightly below two million, but publisher William Gaines has no plans of giving in to commercialism.

"I was brought up on a newspaper called PM," recalls Gaines, an instantly likable native New Yorker who looks like a cross between Santa Claus and a middle-aged hippie. "It sold for a nickel while everything else was two cents. Its policy was to take no ads, and I was kind of brought up on the idea that it's dirty to take advertising." His face breaks out in merriment, and he laughs the first of many deep, rich, belly laughs that I am to hear that afternoon.

"I don't think your publication's going to want to print that, so you'd better leave it out. Um, so I, I. … I mean, it's not —" he sputters, before quickly recovering and driving the point home with his customary journalistic finesse. "As a matter of fact, if you're going to take ads, I think the way your people do it is the way to do it. If you're going to take ads, give the publication away. But if somebody's putting out money, it's not right. It's like going to the movies and seeing a commercial. Television, fine: you're getting it free."

We're sitting in his somewhat disorderly Madison Avenue office, which is decorated with paintings of monsters, huge models of King Kong, and a collection of toy zeppelins suspended from the ceiling. When Gaines is asked about lawsuits, his eyes sparkle with glee.

"We have been sued many times. We've never been beaten. We had two cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The first was on Alfred E. Newman (the gap-toothed, moronic-looking character who appears on the magazine cover). Two different people claimed it was theirs — a woman by the name of Stuff and a man by the name of Schmeck. Neither one knew about the other one, and we didn't tell them. It was pretty fun when they all got to court and found that both of them were claiming to own Alfred. Through a series of decisions, the Supreme Court decided that neither one of them owned Alfred, and we were free to use him.

"The other case was when Irving Berlin and a number of other songwriters sued Mad, because we used to publish a lot of articles of song parodies which we'd say were sung to the tune of so-and-so. And they took umbrage to that. They said that when people would read the words, they were singing their m............
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