When Playboy made it big.

Author:Skenazy, Lenore

PLAYBOY MAGAZINE USED to be the contraband men of all ages hid in their sock drawers. Now it might as well be another pair of socks.

It's hard to get excited by a nudie magazine anymore--especially one without any nudes. Since March 2016, Playboy no longer features naked ladies, which is kind of like Hershey's still selling almonds without the chocolate.

But props where props are due: It's unlikely we would be as blase as we are today about sex, porn, and even women's lib if it weren't for Hugh Hefner and his crazy 1953 creation.

Hef was a frustrated cartoonist at the time, working in the Esquire subscription department because that was the closest he could get to the world of publishing. When his request for a $5 a week raise got turned down, he decided to strike out on his own. Somehow he pulled together $10,000 and prepared to launch a racy new magazine: Stag.

Fortunately for him, the name was already taken. So instead he called it Playboy. The first edition featured a centerfold (a word we wouldn't even have without him!) dubbed "Sweetheart of the Month." In the very next issue, the sweetheart was rechristened a "Playmate." As the author Julie Keller has mused, "There is a vast ideological gap between the words."

There sure is. The former harkened back to Mary Pickford, courtship, a-settin' on the velveteen settee. The latter is someone you play with. It's fun, but it's not forever.

Thus began the smashing of taboos.

The genius of Playboy was not that it published naked young ladies. There were other ways to get your grubby paws on those pictures even then. As Time noted in a cover story on Hefner at the height of his career--1972, when his magazine was selling 7 million copies a month--"He took the old-fashioned, shame-thumbed girlie magazine, stripped off the plain wrapper, added gloss, class and culture."

As its subscriber base grew, so did Playboy's reputation as a purveyor of taste. It showcased some of the best writers around: Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates. Its interviews were so candid and surprising that they often made news, as when Jimmy Carter admitted that he had "lusted in his heart" or Martin Luther King Jr. told interviewer Alex Haley about the first time he experienced racism.

So, yes, you really could read Playboy just for the articles. Then again, you could read The New York Review of Books for the same thing. Did you?

The writing not only provided gentlemen with an excuse to subscribe, it helped change the entire...

To continue reading