MAD MAGAZINE PRESENTS (then plays $30G to disown) UP THE ACADEMY

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Remember a movie called Up the Academy? Need a moment to think about it? Go ahead, I’ll wait.

So….do you remember that movie? You do? REALLY?!

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Anyhoo, in 1980 Warner Bros. released a rancid excuse for slob comedy called Up the Academy. Actually the full title is Mad Magazine Presents Up the Academy. That’s the name that went on the marketing materials (see below) and was on the movie when it dive-bombed at the box office during the same moviegoing summer that brought us The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Caddyshack, Battle Beyond the Stars, The Blues Brothers, Airplane!, both the original Prom Night and Friday the 13th, and freakin’ Used Cars.

It was such an embarrassing failure that the cast’s highest-paid and most respected member decided to forgo his star billing prior to Up‘s release and the classic humor magazine that had its name forever branded at the masthead of this sinking ship actually paid to disassociate themselves from the movie when it left theaters for home video and cable immortality.

Hoping to piggyback on the blockbuster box office success of National Lampoon’s Animal House two years earlier, Warners commissioned a script written by noted television comedy scribes Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses (who together had worked on The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show and later wrote two Muppets feature films) and assigned Robert Downey Sr. to direct. Downey, besides being the father of the future Tony Stark, was best-known as a cinematic satirist of the highest order with indie comedy classics like Putney Swope and Greaser’s Palace to his credit. He has also given some swell little performances in the films To Live & Die in L.A. for William Friedkin and both Boogie Nights and Magnolia for Paul Thomas Anderson.

The cast of Up was comprised mainly of unknown and little-known actors (such as a young Ralph Macchio and Halloween III: Season of the Witch‘s Stacey Nelkin) but were backed by solid industry professionals the likes of Tom Poston, Antonio Fargas (a holdover from Putney Swope), former Bond girl Barbara Bach, and acclaimed stage and screen actor Ron Leibman.

Can you guess which of those people asked to have their name removed from the credits? Yep, it was Leibman. Turns out he wasn’t alone. Once he saw the final product and saw the coming shitstorm in the distance, Mad publisher William Gaines had to shell out $30,000 to deprive Up the Academy of his magazine’s sterling endorsement.

In a May 1983 interview with Comics Journal Gaines discussed how he and Mad became involved with Up, and then how he tried to bring that involvement to a dead standstill:

What happened is that we had a contract with Warner Brothers to put out a Mad movie. It’s like four years old now. They came up with a script that we didn’t like, and then they came up with a script using our scriptwriters that they didn’t like, but meanwhile they threw this script onto our desk… Although there were many things in it that I thought were offensive and should be removed, generally I liked the script. And I thought, ‘Well, in addition to a Mad movie, there’s nothing wrong with having something like Lampoon did with Animal House. Animal House was “Lampoon Presents” and really had nothing to do with the magazine, it was just using their name, and it was a good movie, and it was very successful, and it made Lampoon a lot of money. I guess. So we were going to do the same thing. “Mad Magazine Completely Disassociates Itself from Up the Academy”. But that was too long for them, they can’t think in that many words. They put the damn thing out without all the deletions they had promised to make, which means they’re liars. I’m talking about one of my sister companies [laughter]… And there we were connected with it, and there wasn’t much we could do about it. I paid Warner Brothers 30 grand to take Mad’s name off for television. So for $30,000 we got out of being associated with it on Home Box Office. It won’t say “Mad Magazine Presents” and Alfred E. Neuman won’t be in it. And it was well worth $30,000.

Gaines also went to the trouble of issuing personally handwritten apologies to everyone who wrote into the magazine complaining about the lousiness of the movie. While the movie bombed at the box office it built up a small cult following through video rentals and late night movie channel airings. It wasn’t until Gaines’ death in 1992 and the purchase of Mad by Time Warner that the magazine’s credit was restored to all future television airings and home video releases of Up the Academy. I remember first seeing it on USA Up All Night sometime in the early 90’s and wondering at the time why there were so many weird edits. That wasn’t just to remove the not-safe-for-TV material from the movie, but to completely destroy any lingering trace of Mad’s involvement with this 20-megaton stink bomb.

The magazine’s grinning, jug-eared mascot Alfred E. Neuman made several appearances in Up, including a strange cameo in the final scene through an actor wearing a Neuman designed by Rick Baker. A year or so after I first saw the movie USA reran it late one Friday evening in its original form with the Neuman appearances back in their rightful places. They didn’t make Up any more or less amusing, but the movie is so forgettable that I can’t imagine Gaines is spinning in his grave.

Mad celebrated the brief theatrical release of Up the Academy by reviewing it in their own inimitable style, complete with the ever-amusing fake staff mutiny….

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The movie’s original release poster….

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Finally, we have the theatrical trailer….

If you still insist on watching the movie regardless of everything I just wrote, you can order Up the Academy (with the Mad Magazine Presents tag restored) on Region 1 DVD HERE.

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