Weekend Word Wrap: Mad Libs

David K. Israel

Recently I've been thinking it would be cool to create a TV show version of Mad Libs, which I adored so much as a kid I think if I added up the cumulative hours spent playing, it might be like an entire year of my adolescence. In doing some research, I discovered there's already been a rather successful children's show, but never a grown-up version.

And while I'm still not entirely sure what the show would be like, I'm getting closer. So if you have words of wisdom - suggestions and such - drop me a comment. In the meantime, after the jump, check out Mad Libs co-inventor Leonard Stern's eloquent musings on the creation of the original. First word-geek to spot the misspelling gets braggin rights! (And yes, the typo comes from Penguin's own website! I didn't add it. -- Oh, and no spell checks, please.)

It was a typical post-Thanksgiving New York day in 1953. I was sitting at my typewriter (we used them in those days), desperately trying to find a new character for the "Honeymooners" show. Roger Price was in the kitchen carving a banana. As I recall, I'd run out of turkey earlier that day. I was stuck on a descriptive passage and called out to Roger for help with an adjective. Before I could define my need, he called back, "clumsy!" I now had a character with a round face, blue eyes, and a clumsy nose. At that moment, or maybe ten seconds of laughter later, Mad Libs® was born.

Roger and I spent the rest of the day creating full-length Mad Libs® which we played at a party that night. Hilarity reigned. Every player was convinced it had to be published. Roger and I didn't think a game without a name was all that marketable. It wasn't until five years later in 1958 that Mad Libs® came to us out of the blue, at Sardi's Restaurant. Abandoning our Eggs Benedict, we were off and running to a publisher. These good souls didn't think it was a book, but honestly believed it might appeal to a game manufacturer. The game manufacturer in turn thought it was a book and sent us to another book publisher, who didn't think it was a book!

After we ran out of publishers and game manufacturers within a fifty mile radius of the city, we unwittingly decided to publish Mad Libs® ourselves. What could it take? You design the book, find a printer, and place the order. So we did that. It never occured to us -- until the printer called, asking us where he should deliver the books -- that printers didn't double as warehouses; however, Roger's Central Park West penthouse apartment could and did. Fourteen thousand copies of Mad Libs® were delivered directly to his dining room, denying my good friend a decent sit-down meal for the next three months and seventeen days!

Once the books were in the stores, I went to Steve Allen, whose show I was writing at the time, and suggested that we try Mad Libs® as a way of introducing our guests. He agreed, and by Wednesday of the following week, the stores were sold out! We needed another printing immediately. Roger held it up until we could find a delivery destination other than his dining room. We made a deal with a publisher -- finally! This relationship lasted until we formed our own company and decided to become our own distributors. Unnerved by the prospect of history repeating itself, Roger moved into a new apartment which did not have a dining room. We had to use his living room!