On this date in 1963, Jim Scully, owner of the Ivory Tower Bookstore at 113 Main Street in Seal Beach ran an ad for a book in the Long Beach Independent and enjoyed a semi-private joke at the expense of his fellow advertisers on the same page. This is the ad.
I’ve seen this ad a few times while doing research on Seal Beach businesses, and it’s always been a bit of a puzzler. As an ex-bookstore clerk, I knew Philip Wylie’s name and a few of the titles of his novels and was vaguely aware that “Generation of Vipers” was a book of essays, but it seemed an odd choice to advertise, especially since this seems to be the only the Ivory Tower Bookstore ever placed an ad. For a little more context, here’s the page that the ad appeared on.
It’s a page of small ads for Mother’s Day fifty-two years ago, and the Ivory Tower Bookstore ad is the second one up from the far left corner.
So why advertise “Generation of Vipers” on Mother’s Day? Some quickie research on the book revealed that the book was originally published in 1942 and was a relentlessly vitriolic polemic on the mediocrity, hypocrisy, and corruption of American society.
The book, of course, became a sensation. It outsold all of Wylie’s previous works and made him a bestselling author, a fact that perhaps supports evidence of the mediocrity, hypocrisy, and corruption of American society. Wylie attacks all facets of America living , but his most famous essay in “Generation of Vipers” is titled “Common Women,” in which he coined the term, “momism.” Here’s a sample of his dull humorless and plodding rant on motherhood:
Meanwhile, Megaloid momworship has got completely out of hand. Our land, subjectively mapped, would have more silver cords and apron strings crisscrossing it than railroads and telephone wires. Mom is everywhere and everything and damned near everybody, and from her depends all the rest of the U. S. Disguised as good old mom, dear old mom, sweet old mom, your loving mom, and so on, she is the bride at every funeral and the corpse at every wedding. Men live for her and die for her, dote upon her and whisper her name as they pass away, and I believe she has now achieved, in the hierarchy of miscellaneous articles, a spot next to the Bible and the Flag, being reckoned part of both in a way.
On it goes on and on and on, just like that, for pages. Bleh.
So Jim Scully had his tongue impishly placed in cheek when he advertised “Generation of Vipers” twenty-one years later on Mother’s Day. Columnists from the Long Beach Independent seemed to like visiting the bookstore in the early sixties, so my theory is that Scully came up with the gag, and one of his columnist pals dared him to place the ad.
– Michael Dobkins