A History of the UCLA Daily Bruin, 1919-1955
Campus Humor: The Safety Valve
by George Garrigues
Printed edition © 1970, 1997
Internet Edition © 2000, 2001
All rights reserved, but you are welcome to download electronic copies, send e-copies to your friends or make printouts for yourself.
Go to the Front of the Book
Preface, Contents, List of Editors, Bibliography and Index
CAMPUS HUMOR: THE SAFETY VALVE (1926-1930)
In a kind of a fumbling, bumbling way, university administrators through many decades attempted to channel the youthful energy of their students into what were supposed to be "constructive" releases.
They did this through dances, football games, rallies and bonfires. Not wanting to admit that such activities were vitally needed in the educational environment, the administrators traditionally delegated their actual carrying-out to student associations.
It worked. Students planned for their own needs and goals, according to the way they visualized them at any given period of history. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, student activism and "working in the community" provided a needed escape from academic boredom for young men and women who saw for the first time the gulf between the lofty ideals of the older generation and the way in which the world was actually run.
In the 1920s those avenues were closed to students, not because they wanted it that way, but because of the restrictive campus atmosphere in which they existed. Politics ran in carefully grooved ruts, one marked "Republican" and one marked "Democratic." In 1926, for example, Director Ernest Carroll Moore dissolved the Liberal Club and suspended one UCLA student for "communistic tendencies," commenting that "The University of California cannot allow the Third International of Moscow to establish a cell of agitation on the grounds of the University." (Arch, Box 40.)
People, especially young ones, need to laugh. And the young ones like to laugh at authority, so pompous, so arrogant, so inflated with self-importance. They did it in the Sixties and Seventies with their so-called "underground press"; they did it in the Twenties with newspapers like The Raspberry Press and The Dill Pickle at the University's Berkeley campus and Hell's Bells at UCLA. (Johnson, 1948, p. 361.)
Looking at the Hell's Bells editions of the Daily Bruin printed in the 1920s is a treat after a poring through a monotonous coverage of football, lectures, faculty appointments and club news.
Hell's Bells, for example, provides some insight into the low regard in which students held Prohibition, an attitude remarkably similar to the view they had later about controls on marijuana. The regular news pages of the Bruin in the Twenties rarely mentioned booze or sex, but Hell's Bells did
Hell's Bells editions are alive and sparkling. If often they are not funny, or grammatical, or particularly clever, at least they had something to say. And they had an effect.
Kenneth Piper, student body president in 1928-29 and later a vice president of Motorola, Inc., recalled 40 years later that Hell's Bells was "a low form sophomoric expression of so-called humor and derision which only people of college age could find interesting or appreciate." (Ackerman, p. 43.)
It was just this quality of selective interest that was to lead to its downfall
The publication razzed prominent students and quipped sheer nonsense. One would have to reach to justify its existence other than tradition or a change of pace phenomenon which only college students think they understand. Like an unpicked garden weed, it had its perennial sprouting. I am sure the faculty could not abide it and hoped that somehow it would fade away. It was harmless nonsense and buffoonery. Its beneficial contribution, if any, was its therapeutic effect on the pride of a few well-known students who got burned. (Ackerman, p. 43.)
The forerunner of Hell's Bells was the Scrub Californian, first published by the Nut Klub, a pep organization, on June 11, 1920, to help raise money for the debt-ridden Cub Californian. It bore the headline "PEANUTS" and ran stories like this one:
WE NOMINATE FOR THE HALL OF BLAME
MR. DALE STODDARD
[The student body president at the time]
For being elected councilman and pledging himself to perform his duties to the best of his ability; and then ditching council meetings more times than any other member, thus delaying the school activities.
For using bandoline on your hair, and thinking you are an actor.
For helping Lillian get the Cub Californian started at the beginning of the year, and giving it such a damn poor start.
For always talking about how many girls you have or could have.
For being such a male vamp. (CC, 6/11/20.)
Two more "Scandal Sheets," as they were called, were published in 1920-21--one called Rasberries and the other Peanuts. Southern Campus (1921) reported that "the limited number of copies issued were quickly eaten up by the scandal-loving students. Enjoyment and chagrin were expressed equally . . . "
Spurred by the success of the sheets, the Student Council asked the Press Club to sponsor the publication of a regular humor magazine, to be called the Green Ghost. Director Moore, however, vetoed the idea, commenting acidly that "all college humor magazines, except the Harvard Lampoon, are a disgrace to the colleges they represent." (CC, 12/15/22.)
Foiled in this attempt, campus humorists once again turned to the student newspaper, and on Jan. 17, 1923, the first Hell's Bells edition was printed--in red ink. It was succeeded by another sheet called Dirt on May 15 that year, but the next school year Hell's Bells was published on a regular, continuing basis, complete with a $125 budget that provided a surplus of $28.75 "to be used to defray the expense of a party for The Cub Californian staff." (SEC, 1/14/24 ) Succeeding issues were printed on Jan. 15 and May 11, 1925, and Jan. 11, 1926.
It was the latter issue that resulted in the first expulsion by the Administration of a student editor. John F. Cohee was the victim, since Director Moore insisted on Cohee's bearing sole responsibility for the contents of the newspaper.
Director Moore suspended Cohee indefinitely on Jan. 22 after waiting "ten days for the students to take action concerning certain highly reprehensible items in the college paper of January 11." The charge was "publishing certain indecent statements which affront the good name of the women of the University." (Arch, Box 40.) He did not explain what these statements were, but a worn copy of the Daily Grizzly found in Dr. Moore's files in 1970 has this story underlined in blue pencil in the text as shown by the italics below:
THETAS STAY IN
WON'T COME OUT
Lily Ladies Refuse to
Barter in Bathing
It is better to keep a fair reputation than to loose [sic] a bad one, or at least so think quite a number of the Thetas who indulged in a little midnight bathing party at Manhattan Beach last summer.
Even Thetas can't always remember these lilies and these petalumas [sic] cast discretion and bathing suits to one side and romped away for a dip in the briny deep while the silvery moon scintillated from above. They were having an excellent time . . . but enter the villains.
Some bold, big, bad men in automobiles came suddenly upon the splashing maidens and these masculines realized the strategy of turning some very exposing headlights upon the whole situation. Needless to say, the men held every card in the deck and there was no deal.
Some of the more adventurous Thetas were for making a run for it, attempting barter, but a few held back, and so as the time dragged by the wayward frails were forced to stay in the chill cold brine. Finally the men discovered that their prey was only Thetas, anyway, and the captors made their disgusted way off. The Thetas escaped with the bluest blood they ever had. (Arch, Box 40.)
Cohee was astounded by the suspension. He complained in a letter to Director Moore on Jan. 25 that there had been no hearing and he asked for an interview to clear his name, since the action had been given wide publicity in the downtown press. The same day, Katharine Carr, Cohee's former English teacher at Los Angeles High School, sent an unsolicited letter to Dr. Moore, supporting the lad as one of the finest students she had ever had. Dr. Moore replied to Carr on Jan. 28:
He needs friends just now and I took the liberty of reading your letter to him . . . It moved him deeply. I fear he has gotten into slack ways of late. His college work has been almost entirely neglected this term1 ["Standard operating procedure" for Bruin editors], and, while his editorial work on the Daily Grizzly has been good throughout, the offending paper which he and his fellows edited was a disgrace to the school . . . I am right sorry to see him leave the University in this fashion, but I have promised him that if he will get out and get some kind of work and make good until next September, I will review his claim to be readmitted at that time. (Arch, Box 40.)
The Student Council was also shocked by Director Moore's move. It wasted no time in formulating rules to protect future editors from their own follies. It provided that a three-member committee, selected by the student body president, would be formed to strike out from Hell's Bells "any statement or words which are in their judgment objectionable." (SEC, 4/14/26.) Hell's Bells, nonetheless, continued to publish--and to underline its irreverent attitude toward the whole business of authority, from that time on it numbered each issue in sequence: "Number (x) After Cohee."
Censorship continued to be the rule. On Jan. 16, 1928, for example, gaps in the paper were filled with the words "Censored by William Clarence Ackerman." Only these mysterious headlines remained to one story that had been removed in its entirety:
Cancelled Check Brings to
PAYS ROOM RENTAL
Censored and Kislingbury
To Be Investigated
By Dean Helen (CDB, 1/16/28.)
Controversy continued to rage about the publication, and by 1928 the student Publications Board had recommended dropping Hell's Bells as an ASUC activity. The Student Council reacted by drawing up a new list of regulations which effectively sidestepped any responsibility of its own. Hell's Bells, it ruled, would be published semiannually by Pi Delta Epsilon, the campus journalism fraternity, with proceeds from sales to go to establishment of a "journalistic library." (Adm, 10/19/28.)
The active members of the organization may be equally disciplined in case disciplinary action by the Student Affairs Committee or the administration becomes necessary. A complete record of all contributions written for Hell's Bells, with the signature of all the members of Pi Delta Epsilon, must be retained for two weeks following publication of each issue. (SEC, 5/2/28.)
When Director Moore suspended Cohee in 1926, he wrote to Student Body President Fred Houser (later the Lieutenant Governor of California) that "it is not likely that such a peculiar situation will arise again in a hundred years . . ." (Arch, Box 40.) He was wrong. It occurred again three years later, almost to the day.
When students arrived on campus on Jan. 23, 1929, a Wednesday, they were faced with salesmen selling for ten cents a copy the semiannual edition of Hell's Bells, whose pink, scandal-ridden pages had become a campus commonplace by that time. Beneath the flag ran the traditional quotation from Chaucer, "He Gan to Blasen Out a Soun, as Loud as Bells in Hell," and the phrase "Number Five After Cohee." The "ears" on Page 1, however, gave some indication as to the fact that, perhaps, the decency barrier of 1929 had been broken.
Sing a song of six and eights
A pocket full of rock
Four and twenty lousy Betas
Who want a horse radish.
His necking was a technique he'd mastered
God how he'd pet when he was plastered
One day he made merry,
But Mary was Harry
And said, 'Well, don't you like it, you boob."
WHY IN HELL DOESN'T CUNNINGHAM QUIT?
Cunningham Uses Cash of A.S.U.C. for Golfing
Squanders Funds; Fibs to Council About
A.S.U.C. Cards; Brags About 1929
Schedule; Raises General Hell
[Steve Cunningham was general manager of the Associated Students]
"Have you had foreign relations?"
"She gave birth to a tradition."
"Let go of my ears."
God, What a Purpose
Hell's Bells has a purpose but what a slimey one. If all the dirt, scandal, filth, and muck were told, the editors would have to leave town . . . The administration, fair or foul, . . . can go hang as far as the Bells is concerned . . . This is an institution for students and not for the faculty. If they get away with murder as they sometimes do, it is our fault and we can stand it or let them know that we won't. Who the Hell has the guts to kick? (CDB, 1/23/29).
Director Moore was furious. Early Friday afternoon he called his administrative staff together, and in the space of 29 minutes secured their agreement to "disciplinary measures" against the culprits. (Adm, 1/25/29.) He suspended the 14 members of Pi Delta Epsilon whose names were listed in the masthead "for flagrant violation of the rules of the University" by publishing "the filthiest and most indecent piece of printed material that any of us has ever seen." He wrote University President W. W. Campbell in Berkeley that "We are suppressing the fraternity and the 'Rasberry' at the same time. There is never to be another issue of Hell's Bells." (Arch, Box 52.) To which President Campbell replied, not yet having seen the issue in question:
I gladly approve . . . If entirely convenient, kindly have a copy of the publication, with the offending articles marked, mailed to me. (Arch, Box 52.)
Eight days after the paper's publication, sentence was pronounced on the Fourteen:
Dismissed--H. Monte Harrington, George S. Badger, Joe J. George, Clarence C. Sansom, Selmar Westby, Roger Maxson; six-month suspension--Laurence Michelmore, Clasen Eugene Burgess, Harry P. Miller, Richard C. Short; reinstated--J. Brewer Avery, Sam Balter Jr., Robert A. Morris and Walter T. Bogart. (Adm, 1/31/29.)
Meanwhile, the Student Council held a special Saturday meeting to protest the suspension by Dr. Moore without his first having turned the matter over to the students for settlement by a student review board (SEC, 1/26/29), and the parents of the suspended students met with Dr. Moore. They threatened to go to the Board of Regents on appeal, and Moore telegraphed Campbell on Feb. 14: "We are confirmed in our findings by the practically unanimous approval of the student body, the faculty and the community. The offense was so reprehensible that we want the University's repudiation of it to be complete and unqualified." (Arch, Box 52.)
One who doubted that unanimity then, and doubted it still in 1969, was Student Body President Kenneth Piper. He wrote:
The sheet was probably forgotten by the student body in a day or two as there is nothing so cold as yesterday's news, even on campus. Students recognized it for the flapdoodle prank it was and after a brief diversionary interlude were back to their normal pursuits. The ivy covered buildings as aphid infested as ever still stood and the flagpole did not even bend momentarily. "Hell's Bells" had not created a ripple in the academic serenity.
The story could very well have ended here and should have . . . Dr. Moore . . . had seized upon this issue to dry-gulch the sheet and its publishers--hurting young students in a way which still bears the scars . . .
The second semester of my term on the Student Council was one of aggrievement by student leaders for wrong done to an associate, and of giving the "bull in the china closet" a wide swath. The student leaders wanted to graduate. We tolerated what we had to tolerate to do so . . . Our Student Council (the first Depression group) by today's student standards did not do itself proud. (Ackerman, 1969, pp. 43-44.)
Even William C. Ackerman, the longtime ASUCLA graduate manager, called the suspensions "injustice enforced from above," but Piper and Ackerman did not know the full story.
Moore mellowed. Though he quickly squelched a plan to publish Hell's Bells off campus (Adm, 5/13/29), he certainly harbored no grudge toward the students he had suspended. He told them their time off would be a "period of digestion," then corresponded with them on their activities and goals for the future.
He reinstated Westby on Dec. 20, 1929, with the comment that "I am glad you have succeeded so well in doing the difficult thing which I asked you to do." (Arch, Box 37.) And he reinstated Harrington after a correspondence that verged on the parental-filial. Harrington worked for a year as a house-organ editor in New Jersey, and during this time wrote to Dr. Moore:
That I regret my part in the Hell's Bell's matter is to put it mildly. But I have learned a lesson, several lessons in fact, since the catastrophe and believe myself now capable of showing better qualities, of being able to pick the right rather than the wrong thing to do.
I have profited by the lesson you taught, being in sympathy with your attitude almost from the first. I harbor no callow resentment, not being given to revenge . . . it is my sincere hope to convey to you my desire of justifying the opinion of campus people like yourself, who once thought me capable of something more than a Hell's Bells exit. (Arch, Box 37.)
Moore responded on March 27, 1930:
A good letter has just come to me from Mr. Bonwell [Harrington's employer]. It warrants me in restoring you to standing in the University. I gladly do that. More than that, I welcome you back.
We are dedicating the University [the new campus in Westwood] today and tomorrow. It never was so big and splendid as it is now. I want everyone who has ever been in it to bear pride in it and to work together with me to make it what the people of this great region want it to be. (Arch, Box 37.)
Harrington was restored to the University on condition that he take no part in student activities. But he was not forgotten by the Bruin, nor did he forget it. He acted as toastmaster at the Bruin's semesterly "30" Banquet in January 1931, two years after he was suspended.
Suspension of Hell's Bells did not end the problem of "student humor" on the UCLA campus. The suspension was like trying to hold back the sea with a wall of sand.
A magazine called Claw was begun off campus by a student in September 1928. (Adm, 9/25/28.) True to what was becoming form, Dr. Moore suspended the editor, Rehbach Lewis, in October of that year (Adm, 10/29/28), then reinstated him in November 1929, even going to the extent of approving Claw for sale in the student bookstore. (Adm, 11/11/29.) Claw survived until the early 1950s, still printed off campus, until it was put out of business by the new humor publication of the Associated Students, Scop.
The Daily Bruin continued to feel the itch of campus humor, and in 1936, it made plans for an April Fools' Gazette, which would have a policy of "let the truth be known," with "nothing within the bounds of good taste [to] . . . be tabooed from [its] . . . pages." It commented editorially
There is a sort of quiet chapter in the history of the Daily Bruin. Even when it is recalled, staff members do not hold it up as something of which to be especially proud . . .
Not that the last Hells Bells wasn't funny. But it was funny in a sort of unfortunate way. Its humor smacked strongly of the Main Street variety. [At that time, Main Street in downtown Los Angeles housed a variety of burlesque theaters and bars.] If it was frank, it was frank about things that one is not frank about in polite society.
But there is no better way to learn than by experience, and now that the Daily Bruin has had that experience, it is not likely to make the same mistake again. The humor edition . . . now being prepared will be on a very high plane . . . (CDB, 2/25/36.)
Possibly, but the record shows it was never issued -- not through any known administrative pressure, perhaps, but because the staff was busy with one of its periodic crises with the Student Executive Council.
The Bruin did, however, get back into the humor business with its monthly "Men's Pages," which began in the late Thirties and continued for about a decade thereafter. Few of them were as funny--or as scurrilous--as the Hell's Bells editions of the 1920s, one of the weirdest and wildest periods in the history of the Daily Bruin.
But then, the 1930s had its own kind of wild and curious appeal--it had pacifists, Reds, the National Student Union--and commercialized football.
Go to the Next Chapter
The Decade of the Thirties (1930-1940)