September 22, 2020

“I bought it for its articles”: a literary story of ‘Playboy’ | Babelia


Playboy close your legs. I mean, doors. In the middle of last March, its current CEO, Ben Kohn, put his face on leprechaun postcoital before the cameras to affirm that, because of the covid-19, the illustrious magazine of “entertainment for men” finalized the paper edition and became digital. I don’t know if anyone was saddened by this fact. Playboy It is one of those things from the remote past that, even considering that at some point they had a use, like the singer-songwriters of the Transition, one cannot imagine with current followers.

Even if no one mourned his loss, it goes without saying that Playboy It is no longer what it was. When its founder Hugh Hefner launched it in 1953 (front cover: Marilyn Monroe in –snif– one-piece swimsuit), she yearned to be a classy and content magazine who, at the same time, was rogue enough to rival Esquire. Hefner, who grew up in a Chicago Methodist family, was a neat and cultured liberal with universal enlightenment plans. In one of his first declarations of principle (Hefner lost his weltanschauung editorial), the future icon stated that “we like to mix cocktails and a couple of appetizers, put some background music on the phonograph and invite an acquaintance for a quiet discussion about Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” Yes, reader, laugh out loud with pleasure. The word sex He sticks his unsuspecting head behind the rock of Nietzsche, as if the previous mention of a grim artist was enough to strip it of all salaciousness. The phrase suggests those old ads for dildos in which the user was seen applying the dildo to any corner of its anatomy (armpits, cervicals, a nostril) that was not one of the significant ones.

The cover of March 1965 announces an unpublished text by Vladimir Nabokov.


The cover of March 1965 announces an unpublished text by Vladimir Nabokov.

Playboy would end up representing, over the years, the epitome of affluence, sophistication and elegance cool of the time, but the eternal question remains unsolved: were the elevated texts an excuse to show the largest possible number of tits and asses? Or, on the contrary, those women in not-so-shameless pose (the first appearance of pubic hair was in 1972, and only because Penthouse, his new competitor, was being lined with intrauterine close-ups) were they Hefner’s way of disseminating quality literature among the common people? ¿Mens sana in corpore libidinoso?

The cynics among you will say that the first, but this articulated journalist is not so clear. Although “feminism” was, for the old Hef, a difficult word to spell (he claimed that breaking free from the chains of sexual modesty was “good for women”) and certainly its publication was, in the eyes of today’s reader (and I suspect that also to then), sexist, the founder of Playboy it was not Bertín Osborne. The 1970s transformed Hefner into a lumpy, lubricious, almost conservative float (something that horrified him), but in the mid-1950s he was still the personification of hipster great reserve, connected and progressive. He loved the modern jazz and he was a great reader, two aspects that the magazine, at least in its imperial phase, did not fail to reflect. He was also a fervent defender of racial equality, as evidenced by numerous interviews with black leaders and personalities: Martin Luther King, Cassius Clay, Miles Davis or Malcolm X, among others, went through his pages in verbose and empathetic interviews.

What, at the time, differentiated Playboy of the other monthly uncovering was the number of A-list novelists who rubbed shoulders with their centerfolds. It is impossible to read a literary biography of the second half of the twentieth without encountering the moment of joyous toast that accompanied the letter of acceptance of the magazine. Playboy it showed the best rates in the sector (except, of course, when it comes to bunnies), but the true cache was immaterial: publishing there was doing it where the best, a sign of prestige in itself.

Writer Arthur C. Clarke, at an international literature convention organized by 'Playboy' in 1971.


Writer Arthur C. Clarke, at an international literature convention organized by ‘Playboy’ in 1971.

The “I buy it for the articles” thing became over time an inevitable joke, the ironic wink of Those Who Were Going to Shake it off, but, being fair, you couldn’t use the same excuse when they caught you with the Lib under the sweater (I know what I’m saying). Grace worked because it was plausible. When opening the Playboy for any non-drop-down page one came across the best signatures of the moment. Ian Fleming, whose prose was so ideal for Playboy It looked like a robot created by Hefner, it was one of its flagships, but Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, Doris Lessing, Norman Mailer, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and David Foster Wallace also published there. Not exactly feather weights. AND Ray Bradbury, of course: Hefner himself decided to publish Fahrenheit 451 by installments, sealing their success. Sci-fi authors were always welcome, and both Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov made themselves comfortable in their pages (which undoubtedly explains why my father was hiding Playboys in the drawer of the underpants).

We can take Hef’s most LOL statements with a pinch of salt (at a press conference in 1969 he unperturbed that “the essence of Judeo-Christianity resembles philosophy Playboy”) But it is indisputable that the man was not in this only for the wiggles. To paint him like an old green with avocado dermis that ran, like a priapic faun, after the bunnies in his attic would be logical, considering his hobbies and his character, but he would ignore his cerebral side. In 1978, at the party celebrating the magazine’s 25th anniversary, Hefner took the microphone and, addressing the bunnies present, said: “Ladies, it has been a wonderful 25 years, and I owe it all to you. Without you I would have only had a literary magazine. ” Perhaps the answer to the eternal question lies in your sentence.

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