Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang was a magazine full of humorous stories, jokes, limericks, cartoons, and even poems. Wilford Fawcett, fresh from army duty during World War I, returned to his home in the Minneapolis suburb of Robbinsdale, Minnesota. The start of Prohibition shut down his first venture as a bar owner.
Fortunately, Fawcett had had a history of learning publishing skills during the war. He worked on Stars and Stripes Newspaper. Even then, Fawcett suggested humorous content for men. He believed that a humor magazine aimed at men might be successful. (Similarly, around that same timeframe, Grit enjoyed a parallel success with boys.) Wilford had been a captain during the service, and many of his comrades called him Captain Billy. Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang was born in 1919 and ran all the way until 1936.
Fawcett printed his early issues of Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang on a hand press at his Robbinsdale home. They sold like hotcakes. In fact, Fawcett Publications remained in Robbinsdale for the life of the magazine. At its peak, Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang was selling over 450,000 copies per month.
Here is a sample of some of its jokes:
“A woman’s mind is cleaner than a man’s: she changes it more often.”
“If a girl says she will love you forever, she means until something better comes along.”
“I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals. I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants.”
“I’ve had a wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx (quoting from a Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang joke)
“Honesty is the best policy, but insanity is a better defense.”
“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen (quoting from a Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang joke)
“I have a photographic memory, but I always forget to put film in the camera.”
“I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not sure.”
They also published limericks:
There was a young lady of Lynn
Who was so uncommonly thin
That when she essayed
To drink lemonade
She slipped through the straw and fell in.
There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang stopped publishing in 1936 due to declining circulation and financial difficulties. The magazine had faced competition from other humor magazines that had emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, such as The New Yorker and Esquire. Additionally, the rise of radio and cinema as forms of entertainment had decreased the demand for print magazines. The Great Depression also had an impact on the magazine’s finances, as advertising revenue declined and many readers were unable to afford subscriptions.
Wilford Fawcett died in 1940, but his sons kept the business going. Despite the challenges, Fawcett Publications continued to publish magazines and comics throughout the mid-20th century. Here are a few examples:
True Confessions: A popular magazine that featured true stories of love, romance, and scandal. It was published from 1922 to 2011.
Mechanix Illustrated: A magazine that focused on cars, motorcycles, and other vehicles. It was published from 1928 to 2001.
Motion Picture: A magazine that covered the movie industry, including reviews, interviews, and behind-the-scenes features. It was published from 1914 to 1977.
Gold Medal Books: A line of paperback books that included popular works of fiction, non-fiction, and true crime. It was published from 1949 to 1961.
Captain Marvel: A popular comic book superhero that was introduced in 1939 and was one of the most popular characters of the Golden Age of Comics.
In fact, Fawcett Publications was a major publisher of comic books during the Golden Age of Comics, which lasted from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. During this time, Fawcett published a number of popular titles, including Captain Marvel, a superhero who became one of the most popular characters of the era.
In the 1960s, Marvel Comics introduced a character called Captain Marvel, who was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Gene Colan. However, this character was not related to the Fawcett character of the same name. Marvel’s Captain Marvel was originally named Mar-Vell and was an alien warrior who came to Earth and became a superhero.
In the 1970s, Marvel Comics acquired the rights to the Fawcett character Captain Marvel and began publishing comics featuring the character. However, due to a legal dispute with DC Comics, who also had a character named Captain Marvel, Marvel was forced to rename their version of the character to “Shazam!”, after the magic word that transformed the Fawcett character into a superhero.
So while Marvel Comics and Fawcett Publications did not have a direct connection in terms of ownership or collaboration, they were both major publishers of comic books during the Golden Age of Comics and both featured characters named Captain Marvel.
Keeping the Legend Alive
This writer has a connection with Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. Lead character, Harold Hill, draws upon the risqué reputation of Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang in a number called “Ya Got Trouble”. He cautioned the 1912 River City people to keep their boys from quoting jokes from the magazine. The only problem is, the publication did not debut until seven years later.
- Year Started: 1919
- Year Ended: 1936
- Origin Of Name: Founder Name
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Wilford Fawcett
- Owner While In Use: Fawcett Publications
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: GQ
- Naics Code: 513120
- Location Headquarters: Robbinsdale, Minnesota, USA