There’s an art to writing magazine cover lines—those enticing blurbs of text that, when all goes well, tell readers what stories or features to watch for inside. Editors agonize and argue not only over what articles make the cover, but how to best highlight the articles that make the cut. The cover story itself, of course, gets an awful lot of attention, but quite often there are two or three (and sometimes more) features that merit prominent mention.
Finding a way to somehow, simultaneously, create a hierarchy among the various cover lines—this one is very important; this one is perhaps less so; this one, meanwhile, is just kind of cool—while also making sure that all of the stories get noticed is among the trickiest balancing acts in all of publishing. When it works, it’s beautiful. When it doesn’t . . . well, things can get confusing, and unintentionally comical, right quick.
Here, LIFE.com takes a friendly look at a number of LIFE magazine covers through the years that featured some jarring—and frequently humorous—disconnects between cover photos and cover lines for other stories in the very same issue. Marilyn Monroe and UFOs? A slow, cute, enormous-eyed primate and Winston Churchill? Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and germ warfare? Here, in all their oddball wonder, are early examples of media mash-ups that, decades later, still have us scratching our heads—and smiling.
As an added bonus, for no other reason that that we like it so very much—and because it’s so very strange—we’ve also chosen to include the cover of the April 26, 1937, issue of LIFE: the only cover among literally thousands published by the venerable weekly not to feature the distinctive red and white LIFE logo in the upper left-hand corner. The reason for the logo’s exclusion? According to a note from the editors that appeared on the issue’s table of contents page, the LIFE logo “was not boldly superimposed on this week’s cover because that would have spoiled the composition” of photographer Torkel Korling’s striking portrait.
All these years later, we find it impossible to argue with that logic. The White Leghorn Rooster—proud, defiant, inscrutable, unblinking—stands alone.
Well played, LIFE. Well played, indeed.
Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com