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9 Times Companies Used Puppets to Sell Stuff

June 20, 2014
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DIRECTV's latest advertising campaign was designed to promote the broadcast satellite provider by spreading the message that unseemly wires were no longer required as part of the service (even though that is technically impossible). Instead, the commercials — which revolve around a seemingly normal human adult male, his insecure marionette puppet wife, and mopey, insecure marionette puppet son — have been widely mocked and criticized as creepy or sexist.

The risk of creeping people out is always involved when puppetry is used to sell products, but sometimes they're welcomed as a nice change of pace. Here are nine puppets that companies have used to shill products.

1. RICO

In 2010, a rodent puppet named Rico became the spokespuppet for Air New Zealand and peppered the airwaves with his painfully obvious sexual innuendos. Rico teamed up to collaborate with Snoop Dogg, David Hasselhoff, and Lindsay Lohan, and was ultimately "murdered" by Richard Simmons.

2. GODADDY AND PUPPETSBYGWEN

During this year's Super Bowl, GoDaddy ran an ad starring a real-life machine engineer who made puppets during her free time. After being selected out of one hundred people who wanted to commit to their own business full-time, Gwen Dean announced to the country that she was quitting her job to focus exclusively on puppetsbygwen.com, now boosted by an ad with an audience of 111.5 million people. She officially sent a letter of resignation right after the commercial aired, and her boss was cool about it, calling the commercial "great."

3. ABLA FAHITA

Earlier this year, the continuing tension in Egypt produced an odd news story when a popular puppet was accused of sending terrorist messages in a Vodafone ad. Abla Fahita is a "gossipy widow" puppet character who claimed in a 2013 commercial to have lost her late husband's SIM card in a shopping mall.

Conspiracy theorists came to the conclusion that the Fahita puppet was a British agent who was expressing veiled bomb threats and coded messages through the ads. Even though there was an official investigation — albeit one that was "widely mocked" by Egyptian citizens — Fahita "herself" appeared via Skype on an Egyptian CBC station to deny the allegations.

4. BAR NONE: THE PETS.COM DOG'S SECOND ACT

Pets.com was the quintessential bubble company. The website that sold pet supplies directly to customers had a high-profile marketing campaign during its twenty-seven-month existence starring a popular dog sock puppet. The spots were created by the advertising firm responsible for the classic Apple "1984" commercial and the Taco Bell chihuahua.

Pets.com ended up losing money and self-liquidated in November of 2000, but that did not spell the end for its most famous employee. For the price of $125,000, Bar None acquired the puppet's rights, and the car loan company also adopted a new slogan: "Everybody deserves a second chance." Advertisements featuring the dog continue to run today, to only the possible exasperation of the previous star of the Bar None commercials, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton.

5. THE SNUGGLE BEAR

The adorable Snuggle Bear, a.k.a. Snuggle the Fabric Softener Bear, first appeared in 1983 and was voiced for many years by veteran voice actor Corinne Orr (who also voiced all of the female characters in both the original anime Speed Racer and the 2008 movie).

Plenty of people found Snuggle Bear to be creepy, especially when it came to his watchful eye over an infant in this ad. This led to The State and MadTV producing parodies where the housewife in the iconic ads gets frightened and beats up Snuggles.

If that weren't enough, 150,000 Snuggle "Teeny Bean Bears" that came with the fabric softener were recalled in 2001 for possessing a choking hazard. One year later, 4 million plush Snuggle bears were voluntarily recalled because the eyes and nose were detachable and delicious-looking enough for some kids to put in their mouths. Fortunately, no casualties were reported in either case.

6. LIL' PENNY

Launched on November 4, 1995, Nike's "Lil' Penny" campaign was great advertising for Orlando Magic guard Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway and comedian Chris Rock, possibly more so than the sneakers themselves. The commercials gave the 24-year-old Hardaway a cool persona to accompany his continuing ascent into NBA stardom. Rock, on the other hand, was at a crossroads, two years removed from his unhappy stint on Saturday Night Live, and at a time when he considered himself a "has-been." But the ads and the 1996 premiere of Rock's stand-up special Bring the Pain made the comic one of the biggest stars in the country. But before Rock was famous enough himself to make his first official debut on Oprah, Lil' Penny scored a sit down with Winfrey.

The legacy of the commercials continues. The 6-foot 7-inch version of Penny would never win a championship and injuries plagued him for the remainder of his 14-year career, but Hardaway became the first NBA player not named Michael Jordan to have his Nike sneaker line continue after his retirement. In 2009, Nike successfully went back to the well with ads featuring Kobe Bryant and LeBron James puppets.

7. THE LITTLE CAESARS

The Little Caesars were a four-piece band that performed and sang in the name of Little Caesars and of the joys of pizza in general. Above is a 1992 music video for a song that changes the lyrics of "Wooly Bully" to "Pizza! Pizza!" In a second commercial, the group performs their own unique version of Shirley Ellis' "The Name Game," which promoted both pizza and spaghetti (added to the Little Caesars menu in the summer of 1993), which by August was available in various bucket sizes including "Big!Big!"

8. FARFEL THE DOG

Named after the pellet shaped noodle, Farfel the Dog got his start on television in the 1950s, regularly joining dummy Danny O'Day and his creator, ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson, on The Toast of the Town (later known as The Ed Sullivan Show) and on the Milton Berle-hosted Texaco Star Theater. Farfel and O'Day began to sell Nestle's Quik in 1955, initially as live ads on The Jackie Gleason Show. Farfel would always bring the ads home, answering his companion's "N-E-S-T-L-E-S/Nestlé's makes the very best" with a drawn out "Chawwwc'-lit."

Farfel became a breakout puppet celebrity, and in 1959, he came close to music stardom when Everly Brothers producer Archie Bleyer wanted Farfel to say the spoken word lines on "Bird Dog." Bleyer, though, was overruled.

The Nestle ads concluded in 1965, but Farfel was not forgotten. In the 1991 Seinfeld episode "The Dog," Jerry was forced to take care of an unruly canine named Farfel. Just in case some viewers didn't get the joke, Elaine made herself a glass of chocolate milk during a scene where Jerry is struggling with the barking mutt.

One year later, Farfel made a comeback promoting Nestle candy for the holiday season. In the commercial he sings the classic Nestle theme, joined by five dog puppets that one can only presume to be members of his then never-before-seen family, who all shop at the same store for their seasonal sweaters.

9. THE MUPPETS

Companies and ad agencies have learned that you can rarely go wrong with a muppet. The first commercials with muppets ran in 1957 and were 10 seconds long, promoting Wilkins Coffee during station identification breaks. A muppet named Wilkins (who sounded a lot like Kermit) would ask a muppet named Wontkins if he wanted a Wilkins coffee. Wontkins always lived up to his name and would not, and, as punishment for his wrong decision was punched in the face, shot in the face, electrocuted, stomped on, and more. Wontkins continued to work with Wilkins in commercials for other regional companies, including the then-Michigan-exclusive Faygo soft drinks in 1958 and 1959. No matter the product, they would tend to end with Wontkins down for the count.

A fair share of companies through 1970 asked for Jim Henson-created characters to grace their ads, including IBM, Hawaiian Punch, and RCA. Once the premiere of Sesame Street and later The Muppet Show gave The Muppets regular exposure, the ads tapered off. Within the last ten years, though, we have seen the likes of Miss Piggy appearing in a Dove ad and shilling for Pizza Hut with Jessica Simpson, and Kermit promoting the Ford Hybrid during the 2006 Super Bowl.

In 2014, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem drove Terry Crews crazy in a Toyota, Miss Piggy ate a bunch of pistachios, The Swedish Chef got a job as a sandwich artist at Subway, and the gang enjoyed Go-Gurts with their faces on them.

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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
April 30, 2017
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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Portable Chargers RAVPower 16750mAh External Battery Pack 4.5A Dual USB Output External Phone Charger Battery Bank Power Bank (iSmart 2.0 Technology) for Nintendo Switch, iPhone 7, Galaxy S8 - Black for $27.99 (list price $99.99)

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Portable Chargers Intocircuit 11200mAh Power Banks 4.8A Dual USB Output Battery Pack External Battery Bank for Smartphones Tablets - iPhone 7 Plus / 7 / 6s / iPad, Bluetooh Speakers and more, Gray for $15.99 (list price $22.99)

iClever BoostCube 4.8A 24W Dual USB Travel Wall Charger with SmartID Technology, Foldable Plug, White for $10.99 (list price $29.99)

SoundBot SB510 HD Water Proof Bluetooth 3.0 Speaker, Mini Water Resistant Wireless Shower Speaker, Handsfree Portable Speakerphone with Built-in Mic for $14.95 (list price $20.16)

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Bluetooth Headphones, Hussar Magicbuds Best Wireless Sports Earphones with Mic, IPX7 Waterproof, HD Sound for $26.99 (list price $169.99)

iMuto 20000mAh Portable Charger Compact External Battery Power Pack Power Bank with Smart LED Digital Display and Smart Charge (Black) for $23.99 (list price $29.99)

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SENSO Bluetooth Headphones Wireless Sports Earphones - w/ Mic, IPX7 Waterproof, HD Stereo Sweatproof Earbuds, for Gym Running Workout, 8 Hour Battery, Noise Cancelling Headsets for $37.97 (list price $169.99)

Anker PowerCore 10400 Portable Charger with PowerIQ for iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy and More (Black) for $29.99 (list price $49.99)

Oliasports Fidget Cube Relieves Stress & Anxiety, Black for $2.50 (list price $29.00)

LEGO Classic Creative Supplement 10693 for $13.99 (list price $19.99)

CardNinja Ultra-slim Self Adhesive Credit Card Wallet for Smartphones, Black for $7.44 (list price $12.99)

KITCHEN

Sandwich Cutter Taidea Best Adorable Animals Pocket Bread Cutter, Hand Tools Sandwich Kit for $9.99 (list price $39.99)

Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill for $34.99 (list price $44.99)

Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W for $99.99 

Plater Fast Defrosting Tray - Defrost Meat or Frozen Food Quickly Without Electricity, Microwave, Hot Water or Any Other Tools for $18.90 (list price $32.90)

Lodge L9OG3 Cast Iron Round Griddle, Pre-Seasoned, 10.5-inch for $14.29 (list price $24.00)

Lifewit Height Adjustable Pan Pot Organizer Rack, 5-Tier Kitchenware Cookware Holder for $24.99 (list price $49.99)

Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid Food Storage Container, BPA-Free Plastic, 6-Piece Set for $6.18

BlenderBottle Classic Loop Top Shaker Bottle, Clear/Green, 28-Ounce Loop Top for $6.99 (list price $7.99)

Modern Innovations 16 Inch Stainless Steel Magnetic Knife Bar for $16.95 (list price $29.99)

Yummy Sam Lid and Spoon Rest, Utensils Lid Holder in Silver for $8.99 (list price $10.19)

6 Reusable K-Cups - Refillable Stainless Mesh Coffee Filter Pod for Keurig 2.0 and 1.0 Machines by STYDDI for $9.99 (list price $16.99)

Meat Tenderizer By Checkered Chef. Best Hammer/Mallet Tool/Pounder For Tenderizing Steak,Beef And Poultry. Solid Metal Construction With Rubber Comfort Grip Handle. 100% Dishwasher Safe. for $10.87 (list price $19.95)

Fat Ninja Extra Large Roll Up Dish Drying Rack (19.8 x 14in) Over the Sink Stainless Steel Tier Drainer including Set of 2 Microfiber Kitchen Towels for $16.77 (list price $28.99)

Rubbermaid 17.3 Cup FreshWorks Produce Saver Food Storage Container, Large, Green for $11.24 (list price $16.99)

ISSIKI JAPAN Professional 8 Inch Chef's Knife, High Carbon Stainless Steel, Sharp Cutlery, Ergonomic Handlefor $29.99 (list price $125.00)

OXO Good Grips Nylon Potato Masher for Non-Stick Cookware for $6.99 (list price $9.59)

Norpro Honey/Syrup Dispenser for $15.99 (list price $34.35)

Corelle Livingware 12-1/4-Inch Serving Platter, Winter Frost White for $7.97 (list price $13.01)

Bellemain Stainless Steel Measuring Cup Set, 6 Piece for $18.95 (list price $24.95)

Cuisinart CIL22-30HR CastLite Non-Stick Cast Iron Fry Pan with Helper, 12-Inch, Red for $49.95 (list price $62.29)

Culina Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainers, Silver, Set of 3 for $7.99 (list price $12.99)

Top Rated Bellemain Cooling Rack - Baking Rack , Chef Quality 12 inch x 17 inch - Tight-Grid Design, Oven Safe, Fits Half Sheet Cookie Pan for $11.95 (list price $18.95)

Baker's Secret 1061483 10-by-16-Inch Nonstick Cooling Rack, Set of 2 for $6.00 (list price $19.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Berry Keeper for $7.99 (list price $9.49)

Prepworks by Progressive Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Keeper - 1.9 Quart for $9.96 (list price $11.99)

Oster TSSTTRJBG1 Jelly Bean 2-Slice Toaster, Grey for $29.99 (list price $34.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Lettuce Keeper - 4.7 Quart for $11.99 (list price $12.99)

Norpro Stainless Steel Commercial Potato Ricer for $27.84 (list price $43.99)

Stainless Steel Kitchen Funnel with Removable Strainer/Filter for Essential/Cooking Oils, Flask Funnel for Transferring of Liquid, Fluid, Dry Ingredients & Powder, 5- Inch,Silver - HOXHA for $9.98 (list price $23.68)

POPCO Silicone Microwave Popcorn Popper with Handles for $9.99 (list price $34.99)

VonShef 7- Egg Electric Cooker Stainless Steel with Poacher & Steamer Attachment for $19.94 (list price $34.99)

ChefLand 3-Compartment Microwave Safe Food Container with Lid/Divided Plate/Bento Box/Lunch Tray with Cover, Black, 10-Pack for $6.78 (list price $19.95)

DRAGONN Zester Grater Sharp Stainless Steel Blade with Black Handle, Safety Cover and Rubber Footings for $9.95 (list price $19.95)

Accuweight Digital Multifunction Food Meat Scale with LCD Display Perfect for Baking Kitchen Cooking, 11lb Capacity by 0.1oz, Tempered Glass surface, Black for $9.49 (list price $49.99)

Best Ice Cube Trays - 2 Large Silicone Pack - 16 Giant 2 Inch Ice Cubes Molds for $12.99 (list price $29.99)

Banana Hook - Ripen Bananas Naturally with Under Cabinet Banana Hanger / Banana Holder. Self-stick and Adheres Under Cabinets. for $6.00 (list price $11.99)

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The Original Hayden Autosoap - Premium Automatic Touchless Soap Dispenser - Fingerprint Resistant Brushed Stainless Steel - Hand Sanitiser compatible - (NEW Waterproof Base!) for $29.00 (list price $69.95)

Organize It All 2-Tier Shelf with Towel Bars (1753W-1) for $14.25 (list price $30.02)

Pregnancy Pillow, Full Body Maternity Pillow w/ Contoured U-Shape by Lavish Home, Back Support for $33.49 (list price $99.99)

AmazonBasics Wood Suit Hangers - 30 Pack, Natural for $20.82 (list price $23.99)

InnoGear IG-100ml-OD Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser for $29.28 (list price $35.43)

VonShef 8 Piece Set 4 x Placemats, 4 x Coasters, Natural Slate for $17.95 (list price $49.99)

Adjustable Heavy Duty Bed Sheet Grippers Holders Cover Suspenders (Set of 4) for $8.99 (list price $11.99)

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AmazonBasics Microfiber Sheet Set - Queen, Dark Grey for $16.98 (list price $19.99)

GORILLA GRIP Rectangle (35-Inch-by-16-Inch) Non-Slip Machine Washable Bath Mat, Blue for $12.99 (list price $29.99)

AcuRite 02081M Weather Station with Jumbo Display & Atomic Clock for $40.01 (list price $49.99)

Ziraki Memory Foam Lumbar Cushion - Premium Lumbar Lower Back Pain Lumbar Pillow, Protect and Soothe Your Back - Improve Your Posture - Soft & Firm Balanced Lumbar Support Pillow for $15.95 (list price $29.99)

Equinox International Queen/Standard Size 17 X 25-Inches Shredded Memory Foam Pillow with Removable Bamboo Soft Pillow Case for $15.95 (list price $39.99)

Royal Classic Kitchen Towels, 15-Pack, 100% Natural Cotton, 14 x 25 inches (15 Pack) for $13.97 (list price $29.99)

HOPDAY Wash Bags, Delicates Mesh laundry Bags, Super Premium Quality Bra lingerie Protection Washing Drying Bag with Rust Proof Flow Zipper, Set of 6 (3 Medium & 3 Large)-Black & White for $9.89 (list price $19.99)

LiBa Mildew Resistant Anti-Bacterial PEVA 8G Shower Curtain Liner, 72x72 Clear - Non Toxic, Eco-Friendly, No Chemical Odor, Rust Proof Grommets for $10.99 (list price $29.99)

Habor Digital Hygrometer Thermometer Indoor Humidity Monitor with Temperature Gauge Humidity Meter for $10.99 (list price $17.99)

Whitmor 6779-3044 Double Rod Freestanding Closet with Steel and Resin Frame, 45.2 by 68-Inch, Silver for $40.16 (list price $47.99)

Lysol Disinfecting Wipes Value Pack, Lemon & Lime Blossom, 240 Wipes (3 Packs of 80 Wipes) for $8.97 (list price $13.99)

NMR 9087 Pink Floyd Dark Side Decorative Poster for $5.37 (list price $8.95)

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Doctor's Best High Absorption Magnesium Dietary Supplement, 200 mg per 2 tablets, 240 Tablets for $15.37 (list price $29.99)

Bvlgari By Bvlgari For Men Eau-de-toilette Spray, 3.4 Ounce for $38.77 (list price $88.00)

Colgate Wisp Portable Mini-Brush Max Fresh, Peppermint, 24 Count for $3.41 (list price $7.99)

NIVEA Smooth Daily Moisture Body Lotion 16.9 Fluid Ounce for $4.99 (list price $7.99)

Gardinesca Beard Oil for $12.99 (list price $31.99)

Foot Soak with Tea Tree Oil and Epsom Salt - 20 oz - Tea Tree Essential Oils Foot Bath for $14.95 (list price $21.95)

"Touch Me" Dry Skin Body Brush - Natural Bristle for $6.99 (list price $14.99)

ArtNaturals Aromatherapy Top 8 Essential Oils, 100% Pure of The Highest Quality, Therapeutic Grade for $16.95 (list price $20.00)

Daily Power Scrub Facial Cleanser For Men - 8 OZ - Face Wash + Energizing Toner + Exfoliating Scrub All-In-One - Natural & Certified Organic Ingredients for $24.95 (list price $39.00)

Arabica Coffee Scrub 15 oz, Anjou Body Scrub with Honey, Sea Salt, VB, VE for $8.99 (list price $35.99)

Gillette Fusion5 ProGlide Men’s Razor Blades 8 Refills - Packaging May Vary, Mens Razors / Blades for $29.97 (list price $35.71)

Active Wow Teeth Whitening Charcoal Powder Natural for $24.99 (list price $29.99)

Bed Head Deep Waver for $19.90 (list price $27.99)

Maybelline Baby Lips Moisturizing Lip Balm, Cherry Me, 0.15 Ounce for $2.79 (list price $4.49)

Gillette Series 3X Action Shave Gel, Sensitive, 7 Ounce (Pack of 6) for $12.48 (list price $23.94)

Crest 3D White Luxe Whitestrip Teeth Whitening Kit, Glamorous White, 14 Treatments - Packaging May Vary for $34.40 (list price $44.99)

Philips Norelco Bodygroom Series 7100, BG2040 for $59.95 (list price $69.99)

Tweezerman LTD Stainless Steel Mini Slant Tweezer (Colors May Vary) for $9.19 (list price $14.00)

Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Exfoliating Daily Scrub, 5 Oz for $4.78 (list price $7.69)

Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge (2 sponges in each pack) for $8.24 (list price $10.99)

GNC Mega Men Energy & Metabolism Tablets, 90 Count for $9.99 (list price $22.99)

Dial Antibacterial Deodorant Bar Soap, White, 4 Ounce Bars, 10 Count (Pack of 3) for $14.64 (list price $18.93)

Nexcare Absolute Waterproof First Aid Tape, 1-Inch x 5-Yard Roll (Pack of 6) for $20.28 (list price $28.54)

BESTOPE Blackhead Remover Pimple Comedone Extractor Tool Best Acne Removal Kit for $9.99 (list price $19.99)

OFFICE, SCHOOL, AND CRAFTS

Honey-Can-Do TBL-03539 Portable Laptop Lap Desk with Handle, Blue, 23 L x 16 W x 2.5 H for $16.24 (list price $26.99)

MagniViz Magnifying Glass with Light and Stand - Handheld or Hands Free LED Lighted Magnifier (3x) - Bonus Cloth for $8.99 (list price $19.99)

Kate Spade New York "Let's Do Lunch" Business Card Holder for $19.00 (list price $20.00)

SUDEE STILE Colored Pencils 120 Unique Colors (No Duplicates) Art Drawing Colored Pencils Set with Case with Sharpener for $23.99 (list price $95.96)

ALEX Toys Little Hands Ready Set Paste for $6.49 (list price $12.00)

Officemate Designer Paper Clip Dispenser with Heavy Duty Magnet, Clear (93695) for $9.45 (list price $12.18)

ALEX Toys DIY Wear So Many Headbands, 10 headbands for $13.54 (list price $29.50)

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When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
April 29, 2017
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Warner Bros., IStock

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.

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