In 1961, writer and publisher Bennet Cerf founded the mail-order Famous Writers School. Rod Serling was one of the well-known authors involved, and his video ad for the school is an early version of today’s slick infomercial. The school became the subject of scandal after investigative reporter Jessica Mitford published a damning article in the July 1970 issue of The Atlantic, and it went bankrupt in 1972 under the weight of lawsuits filed by disgruntled former students.
The other “famous writers” were: Faith Baldwin, John Caples, Bruce Catton, Mignon G. Eberhart, Paul Engle, Bergen Evans, Clifton Fadiman, Rudolf Flesch, Phyllis McGinley, J. D. Ratcliff, Max Shulman, Red Smith and Mark Wiseman. It’s clear from Mitford’s article that Cerf understood the questionable practices that underlaid the scandal. But what of the others? I want to believe that most of them simply sold their names to a concept without verifying its honesty. That’s bad enough.
Below is a magazine insert ad from the sixties.