Billy’s Whiz Bangby
field shacks, military barracks, college rooming houses, hotels catering to traveling
salesmen, smoke-filled railroad cars or the outhouse – anywhere in Texas young
men could be found, so could a copy of Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang. |
unknown today, in the 1920s and early ‘30s, the Reader’s Digest-sized magazine
was one of the most widely read publications in the United States. But the comparison
to Reader’s Digest ends with a similarity in dimensions.
would become a proper mainstream publication but Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang pushed
the proverbial plain brown envelop – if it had come in one. No matter its masthead’s
assertion that it was “America’s Magazine of Wit, Humor and Filosophy,” it was
more like a men’s magazine sans cheesecake.
the times, of course, the Whiz Bang contained no harsh words or lurid prose. Still,
with just the right arrangement of perfectly acceptable words, an article or anecdote
could become one extended wink and nudge. |
Each cover explained the publication’s
title by including the words, always in lower case, “explosion of pedigreed bunk.”
The Doughboys who survived the War to End All Wars, the first of the 20th century’s
devastating Roman numeral wars, knew a Whiz Bang was a type of artillery shell.
It whizzed through the air and went bang when it hit.
| Captain Billy,
aka Wilford H. Fawcett, had served in the military both in the Spanish-American
War and World War I, which is
how he came up with the title. |
Fawcett grew up in Robbinsdale, Minn. and
so did his magazine. He started it in 1919 and by the early Roaring Twenties,
it had spread just about “Everywhere!” as its back page always declared.
“Whiz Bang is on sale at all leading hotels, news stands…on trains…or may be ordered
direct from the publisher,” the house ad explained. A single copy cost a quarter,
30 cents on a train.
each issue rolling across the country as fast as a steaming locomotive, plenty
of copies ended up in Texas. Clearly, Fawcett realized
In July 1921, the Whiz Bang published a drilling lingo-filled poem
called “Shoo Fly, Oil Man!” that demonstrates Fawcett knew he had readers in the
oil patch, which back then lay largely in West
|A horse-fly lit on
the old cow’s skin,|
Hung his tools and spudded in.
Bowed his back and jiggered
And all the time he was making a hole.
The cow browsed on,
in her usual way,
Till the horse-fly’s bit struck regular “pay.”
she swung her tail with a vicious dig
And deftly skidded the horse-fly’s rig.
Another issue has
a joke whose principal character is someone named Panhandle Pete. While the boy-girl
content of the Whiz Bang would be considered tame by today’s standards, the concept
of political correctness did not exist when Captain Billy barraged the Lone Star
state with his monthly publication. Surviving issues are filled with material
that would be career-enders for anyone printing or uttering them today.
then, however, few readers worried about racism, anti-Semitism, sexism or any
other -ism with the exception of communism. On the other hand, the Whiz Bang’s
innuendo-filled jokes about flappers (young women with short hair and shorter
skirts) and assorted male-female scenarios ranging from stolen kisses to stolen
spouses came across as quit risqué in the day.
A typical issue included
“Drippings From the Fawcett,” assorted observations from the publisher, Hollywood
gossip, jokes, a corny advice column called “Dear Capt. Billy,” poems, puns (“What
is the difference between a sewing machine and a kiss? One sews seams nice and
the other seems sew nice”), and limericks. The Whiz Bang also had a strong editorial
voice, one of its chief targets being prohibition.
One reader was a young
Joe Austell Small, who grew up in Burleson County. He furtively devoured every
copy of the Whiz Bang he could get his hands on, laughing at the jokes and ogling
the cover drawings that usually showed some young lady’s exposed knees.
now, with due homage to Paul Harvey, here’s “the rest of the story”:
went on to start other publications, eventually relocating to New York City. What
started with Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang exploded into Fawcett Publications, which
grew into a publishing empire that lasted until its corporate absorption in 1977.
At its height, Fawcett published dozens of national magazines, including
Women’s Day and Mechanix Illustrated. The company also pioneered mass market paperbacks.
Part Two of the rest of the story is what one of Captain Billy’s faithful
readers went on to do. Inspired by Fawcett, “Hosstail” Small ventured into the
writing-publishing world as well.
First he produced Southern Sportsman,
a hunting and fishing magazine. He dropped that during World
War II. After the war, Small returned to magazine publishing, getting out
another outdoor magazine called Western Sportsman.
In 1953 he had the idea
that made his fortune, launching True West Magazine, a hugely successful nationally
circulated publication featuring true tales of the Old West.
after the Fawcett brand disappeared from newsstands, Small sold his Austin-based
publishing operation. Though it has had several owners since then, True West is
still in business, a venture with a pedigree tracing to a Whiz Bang.
"Texas Tales" December
11, 2008 column
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