Oh, Madam! Sergio Aragonés and Fanny Hillman

Oh, Madam! Sergio Aragonés and Fanny Hillman

Sergio Aragonés with a 2018 drawing of Fanny Hillman done exclusively for Hogan’s Alley, the first time in years Aragonés had drawn the character. Photo by David Folkman

The 1960s were filled with Jewish humor and burgeoning sexuality, and these two things collided in the formation of Fanny Hillman, a matronly woman who ran her well-regarded house of ill repute with a very Yiddish twang. Madam Hillman was the star of a series of cartoon booklets, created by a very Jewish writing staff and drawn by an artist who was left off the credit page but whose identity was clear from a glance at the work: Mad Magazine's marginal master, the (very not Jewish) Sergio Aragonés.

The first booklet, Fanny Hillman: Memoirs of a Jewish Madam, came out in 1965, a year after the release of the film A House is Not a Home, in which Jewish Shelley Winters played a madam in an adaptation of the autobiography of a real Jewish madam. Aragonés's fifty-plus-years-and-rolling run on Mad had already begun. The publisher was Kanrom, a firm founded by salty stand-up comedian Jackie Kannon and the more business-oriented Alexander Roman. The company had been around for a few years with an almost-all-humor line. They'd even broken onto the best-seller list with the JFK Coloring Book, illustrated by another Mad regular, Mort Drucker. Aragonés had started with Kanrom illustrating the Sam, the Ceiling Needs Painting booklets, with cartoons of copulating couples seen only by the soles of their feet. Aragonés was also uncredited in these books, by choice, “because I was involved with Mad Magazine,” he says. “I didn't want to associate it with anything that was off-color.”

That first 48-page book, filled with single-panel gags, does give vague and humorous credits to Kannon and Roman, as well as Kanrom regular Rochelle Davis (who, during the run of the series, would become Rochelle Larkin), Joan Slomanson, Sol Weinstein (who went on to create Israel Bond, Agent Oy-Oy 7 stories for Playboy), Francine Lehrman, and Robert Anthony. The writing staff shifted with each volume, although it was always heavily female.

For the Sam booklets, Aragonés had been offered his choice of payment strategy. “They asked me if I wanted a flat fee or a percentage, but I never thought those books could sell because they were just about feet making love,” Aragonés explained, “so I took my sure money.” He went on to see those booklets sell a ton, in the United States and abroad. When offered the Fanny Hillman deal, he wanted the royalties, but that offer was no longer on the table. The publisher now knew which path was cheaper. The Fanny Hillman royalties would have been sweet; The Book Buyer's Guide reported that the first pamphlet sold 250,000 copies in its first 10 weeks. Sales did have their limits, however, as Ireland's Censorship of Publications board listed the book in their Registry of Prohibited Publications, while South Africa's Index of Objectionable Literature also banned it from importation.

Sergio shows some Fanny. Photo by David Folkman

Sergio shows some Fanny. Photo by David Folkman

The first volume is rife with Jewish references. When Hillman tells a well-endowed member of her staff “Mister Shapiro wants you, Monique. Tonight he feels like having dairy,” it is a reference to the Jewish laws about keeping kosher, which includes separating meat and milk. “Half of the jokes I did not understand,” Aragonés confessed. “I asked all my Jewish friends 'what does this mean? What is that?', because I did not know what they were talking about.”

 Success breeds sequels, and the Jewish madam was no exception. The first volume ends with the her and her staff having to move out, but the second booklet, Fanny Hillman in Washington (also released in 1965) shows us that she has now set up shop in the nation's capital, with jokes less toward the Jewish aspect and more toward the political. The next year saw a third book, Fanny Hillman on Campus, in which our old Jew brings sex into the presumably ever-so-chaste world of college in the 1960s.

The series took a sharp turn for the fourth and final installment, 1966's Fanny Hillman Goes Ape: Memoirs of a Monkey Madam, doing away with the Aragonés art from the interiors and with most of the Judaism and all the homo sapiens. Instead, the book is page after page of black-and-white photos of monkeys, chimps and apes, with dialogue captions turning them into simian prostitutes and johns. The good news about this hard-to-find volume is that the cover has dozens of Aragonés ape and monkey drawings.

Aragonés jokes about his anonymity in this convention sketch done inside a copy of the first book in 1994.

After the success of Fanny Hillman and the Sam books, and after illustrating one further Kanrom book (1966's Up Your Lexicon), Aragonés was asked if he had any books he wanted to do. He proposed Aunt's in Your Pants: Memoirs of a Dirty Old Woman, a book that he wrote himself and came out from Kanrom's sister company Alexicon in 1967.

Kanrom, a company that Aragonés liked working with (“They were very nice; they pay you on time, and well”), was never one not to overdo things. This is, after all, a company that published three parodies of the Peanuts Happiness is a Warm Puppy gift book series (Happiness is a Rat Fink, Unhappiness is a Dirty Dog and Insecurity Is Better Than No Security at All.) In the case of semitic sex work management, less than a full month after releasing the first Fanny Hillman book, the company released another similarly sized, similarly themed book: How to Be a Jewish Madam by Richard Harrison. (The title was a parody of a book that Price Stern Sloan had released the preceding year, How to Be a Jewish Mother by Dan Greenburg.) To be fair, Kanrom was not the only company chasing this apparent market, as the same year Newark-based (but printing in Israel) Samuels Press, publishers of such targeted humor as We Wish You a Kosher Christmas and Hymie, the Jewish Embryo came out with Diary of a Jewish Madam, ostensibly by “Polly Adlerman” (a play on Polly Adler, the actual Jewish madam who authored the 1953 autobiography A House is Not a Home).

To buy a copy of  Hogan’s Alley  #22, where this article first appreared, just click the cover image.

To buy a copy of Hogan’s Alley #22, where this article first appreared, just click the cover image.

Kanrom seemed to be petering out as the 1960s ended and appeared to die with the death of its cofounder Jackie Kannon in 1974, though it resurfaced a few years later for one final book (Grandparents First Baby Book).

As for Fanny, she remains long out of print, never revived for the days of the Mayflower Madam and other occasions of interest in the world's oldest management profession.

The Sideshow Takes Center Stage: Bill Griffith Discusses “Nobody’s Fool”

The Sideshow Takes Center Stage: Bill Griffith Discusses “Nobody’s Fool”

The 2019 Reuben Awards Weekend Photo Album

The 2019 Reuben Awards Weekend Photo Album

0