Last week Ivy-Style.com presented Julien Dedman’s 1954 Playboy article on Brooks Brothers. In this post, Rebecca C. Tuite, whose book on Seven Sisters style is forthcoming, examines the author’s parody of life at Yale.
“Yale men everywhere join in one brotherhood at eventide to remember the golden days of yesteryear and the great gothic towers of this university whose flying buttresses and grinning gargoyles symbolize a Yale Spirit that will not die – not even if you beat it with a stick,” wrote Julien Dedman (Yale Class of 1948) in the introduction to his 1950 compendium of cartoons, “Boola Boola! A Satirical Peek at Yale, Its Foundations and Other Unmentionables.”
Perhaps it’s just as well that the Yale spirit was so unshakable, as Dedman took aim at everything from boring Whiffenpoof performances to Burberry sportcoats, dastardly Dostoevsky assignments to disappointing dates with Vassar girls in his lampoon of life at Yale in the 1950s. Blending original caricatures and reprints from Dedman’s work at the Yale Record, “Boola Boola!” is not only an amusing snapshot of Yale campus life over 60 years ago, but an homage to the work of America’s oldest college humor and cartoon publications, the Yale Record.
The Yale Record was founded in 1872, and while it might be the oldest magazine of its kind, capturing campus life in cartoons and snappy one-liners quickly caught on and the Princeton Tiger (1878) and Harvard Lampoon (1876) joined the Record in quick succession. Although they mostly featured lighthearted, hand-drawn fodder for students, it is particularly notable that these publications were hugely influential in discussing new ideas about youth culture and dating, as well as being responsible for the first in-print uses on the East Coast of words like ‘necking’ and ‘petting’ (F. Scott Fitzgerald penned “Intercollegiate Petting-Cues,” the Tiger in 1917).
Yet despite the competition from these other Ivy Leaguers, the Yale Record remained superior, as Fitzgerald himself had to admit: “I was on the Tiger staff at Princeton for three years and got out many issues,” Fitzgerald wrote. “It was never as big a thing at Princeton as was the Record at Yale.” Indeed, by the 1940s, when Dedman moved through the ranks from cartoonist to chairman of the Yale Record (a much-lauded accolade even pointed out in his engagement notice in the New York Times in 1955), the magazine was a force to be reckoned with, and Dedman’s contributions to the legacy of the Record, particularly his artistic style that owed much to The New Yorker, remain unquestioned.
Unsurprisingly, Dedman deftly captures the prevailing style trends at Yale at the time: Polo coats, double-breasted raccoon collar overcoats, oxford buttondowns, Harris Tweed and herringbone sportcoats and trousers, and rep ties prevail in almost every sketch. Two cartoons that best capture the typical buttoned-down mid-century look on campus include a sketch where one roommate is bartering with a Burberry sportcoat that he couldn’t possibly sell for $3; and another where a young Yalie is sitting expectantly in a barber’s chair asking him to “make it tweedy,” with his tweed blazer just peeking out from beneath the protective cape.
While Yale men in class or out and about on campus seem to be the favorite target for Dedman’s satirical sketching, young Yalies relaxing in their dorms were just as irresistible a subject. Such observations include a pair of students just back from summer break lamenting their return to the reality of New Haven while standing, unshaven and in their patterned underwear, in the dormitory bathroom; and the particularly zen young man who has made his peace with final exams and is enjoying a drink while reclining in his monogrammed silk robe and neckerchief.
However, it was not only Yale men that were immortalized in Dedman’s cartoons: The only women’s school mentioned in the book was Vassar, and not very kindly at that. At the hand of Dedman (although this was an long-running bit in the Yale Record also), Vassar women are portrayed as geeks, “greasy grinds,” and rather unattractive young ladies. In one cartoon, Dedman manages to capture two stereotypes in one: Both the geeky Vassar girl who had to stay home all weekend and study because she didn’t have a date, and the exhausted, overly sociable Vassar girl who returns to campus in her oversized buttondown and tatty bermudas after her over-exertions at Derby Day. Vassar women were not to take this lying down, of course, and retaliated with a review that noted, “… the satire is trite, and does not measure up to the usual Yale humor. The pictures are typical, but not particularly amusing, and somehow it seems as though we’ve read the captions before.”
Ultimately, “Boola Boola!” is clearly intended for an Old Eli to flip through and smile wryly as he “recalls vividly his own salad days while sympathizing with the strange predicaments of Julien Dedman’s blithe scholars.” But it also gives a peek into midcentury college life, campus style and Bulldog camaraderie in cartoon form. — REBECCA C. TUITE