The Pencil Today:

I USED TO READ IT FOR THE ARTICLES — HONEST!

We sell Playboy at The Book Corner.

We get about five of them each month. Surprisingly, we sell them all.

One Of The Most Iconic Logos In American History

The guys who buy them are older, natch. Why would a young guy buy a quaint magazine that shows young women in various stages of dishabile when, on the interwebs, he can find nude women of every conceivable physiologic and topographic stripe?

Internet porn has made an entire generation of males far more familiar with the exo-geography of female genitalia than the typical country doctor of the 1880s was.

Every once in a while the news will carry a report that Playboy — the company — is in some kind of financial or market distress. Or that the Hefners, pere et fille, are venturing into something new — streaming video, say — that will make the brand relevant again.

But it’ll never be relevant again.

One day, probably soon, Playboy magazine will be no more. Andy Rooney’s gone, so he won’t be able to lament its passing. And Bob Greene probably is so gun shy about any topic having to do with sex that he’ll keep a mile away from it.

Maybe someone like Pete Hamill will write Playboy’s eulogy. We’ll see.

No matter. It’ll be dead. And that’s too bad. Sort of.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with Playboy magazine throughout my life which, coincidentally, almost matches the lifespan of the mag thus far. Playboy magazine and I both came out in the 1950s. Playboy’s made a hell of a lot more money over its lifetime than I have.

This Could Be The Start Of Something Big

One afternoon, my little pals and I found a waterlogged old Playboy behind the factories a couple of blocks north of our neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side. It had to be around 1966. That would have made us ten.

We gathered around Danny, the toughest of us and therefore our leader, as he tore through the pages, looking for — as we so charmingly put it — the naked ladies.

August, 1966

He didn’t have to look far. The ad on the inside cover gave us that first delicious eyeful.

At that time, Winston cigarettes used the tagline, “It’s what’s up front that counts.” You could hear it all day long on TV (yup, kids, TV used to carry ads for smokes). The line ran in all Winston’s newspaper and magazine ads, too. Even in family media, the ads were an obvious double entendre.

Of course, Playboy had to lop the double off the entendre.

A chesty (what else?) gal stared out at us from the ad. She was wearing a man’s dress shirt, completely unbuttoned. Her torpedo breasts seemed to jump off the page at us.

I’m surprised one or more of us didn’t pass out.

She held in her fingers a Winston. Just beneath that shocking, riveting, blood-pressure-spurting picture of the almost-naked lady ran the tagline, “It’s what’s up front that counts.”

We literally fell to the ground laughing.

The ad was, to our pre-teen sensibilities, the single most sophisticatedly funny thing ever conceived by the human imagination. We laughed for at least five minutes over it.

Of course, we collected ourselves and got back to the serious business of searching for more naked ladies, of which we found a good deal.

We pored over that magazine like anthropologists studying the earliest hominid fossil yet found. The only difference was, anthropologists aren’t likely to gasp every few moments as they examine ancient bones.

So I won’t snow you and say I never looked at Playboy for the pictures. Good heavens, I had a three-year-long crush on Miss November, 1968, Paige Young.

Paige Young

(Note from responding paramedics: Big Mike has passed out. He should be fully recovered within minutes. He will resume typing his post at that time.)

But looking at naked ladies got old after a few minutes (oh, all right, a couple of hours). It was then I’d turn to the articles.

People today think of Hugh Hefner as the wizened old lech who gobbles Viagras like they’re Peanut M&Ms and tries to marry giddy blondes three at a time.

Man’s Best Friend

At one time, though, he was one of the most forward thinking people in America.

Okay, let’s try to get beyond the fact that he sowed the seeds of what is now this weird American predilection for cantaloupe-chested, impossibly thin-waisted, freakishly long-legged virtual-females.

I thumbed through a recent edition of the mag and, honestly, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss is about. I don’t know what’s more disturbing — the look of blissful dumbness on the naked ladies’ faces or their quasi-human bodies.

Brooklyn Decker Does Not Exist In Real Life, Guys

So yes, Hugh Hefner has to answer for screwing up this holy land’s female physical ideal.

But one day, long ago, he and his mag introduced me to — or broadened my burgeoning awareness of — the concepts of civil rights, feminism, birth control, the anti-war movement, free speech, consumer protection, apartheid, the environment, and a host of other issues that define liberalism.

I could read in-depth interviews with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Marshall McLuhan, Bob Dylan, Jesse Jackson, Hunter S. Thompson, and Ayn Rand (yes, it’s important to hear the bleatings of the deranged, too).

Malcolm X

Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend Hugh Hefner was a great man of the ages. His Playboy philosophy elevated the acquisition of consumer goods and sexual partners to something akin to religious status. A man was not a man in Playboy nation if he didn’t drive a Corvette, drink Dewar’s, and bed at least two heretofore unknown women a week.

But, to borrow a phrase from that great philosopher Bill Veeck, I prefer tarnished genius to simon-pure mediocrity any day.

As loathsome as much of Hugh Hefner’s worldview was, just as much of it was liberating and enlightening.

“Hefner was fighting that part of the Puritan ethic that condemned pleasure,” writes David Halberstam of Hefner in the book. “The Fifties.”

True enough. If nothing else, Hefner helped America shed its prudish attitude toward sex. Sadly, we’ve now developed a giggly, dopey, 10-year-old boy’s attitude toward it. I don’t know which is better.

I do know Hugh Hefner’s mag awakened the socially conscious thinker in me. Nearly five decades later, I’ve gone way beyond Playboy when it comes to contemplating the issues of the day. Now I’d hope we’d all go way beyond its plasticized, airbrushed/photoshopped, vacuous image of female beauty.

Too bad. It hasn’t happened yet.

4 thoughts on “The Pencil Today:

  1. Candy says:

    Uh-huh. Sure.

  2. ex-b-i-l-i-l says:

    Boat a youse is straight outta Galewood!
    Whoda thunk it.
    The parallels are eerie.
    From questioning authority to being an authority… heady stuff,

  3. Helen says:

    I have to disagree that much of Hugh Hefner’s world view was/is loathsome. He and his publication contributed to and/or paved the way for the sexual revolution by making sex a public topic for discussion. Growing up in the 40’s and 50’s it was such a relief to have sex, sexuality, VD or STD’s as they are called now — openly talked about. This trend led indirectly to improved health classes in schools, birth control, safe abortions for those who choose — because taboo subjects were becoming less so. He also laid some foundation for the women’s movement of the 60’s and 70’s — not by the imagery so much but by providing careers for women. Most of his models fared well monetarily and many moved on to successful movie, business and or modeling careers. Women could choose work besides secretary, factory worker, gopher for the predominantly male controlled work environments. Selling sex to men, which was overall pretty easy to do, benefited women and whether that was his intent or not it has worked well. Air brushing aside there are women (and men ala playgirl mag) who fit the ideal stereotype and I wonder if trying to live up to that physical image is any more destructive then selling barbie dolls to little girls. Some become anorexic perhaps — but as a former ballet dancer of some 20+ years I can tell you that there was no playboy imagery at work in my battle with anorexia but rather the militaristic discipline of ballet perfectionism. But I wander here — i spent many wonderful evenings at playboy clubs in Chi town, NY, KCMO — they were sophisticated places to dine, enjoy wonderful blues and jazz and of course the eye candy wasn’t bad either!! I was sad to seem them go. And I would love to live at the playboy mansion — at least for awhile. Is it a hedonists delight or rather a freedom from the conservative constraints of our culture? I think the latter…………..but I’m sure others will object. hh

    • glabwrites says:

      Thanks, Helen. I agree completely with you. My whole point is that Hefner’s Playboy world brought us good things and some lousy things. His idealized vision of female beauty is no more destructive than the Barbie doll or the ballet teachers who call their students “fat.” And thanks, too, for mentioning how Hefner, through his mag and his TV shows, introduced mainstream America to fabulous musicians, comedians, and social commentators.

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