Category Archives: Playboy Magazine

1000 Words: Kid Stuff

In 1968, Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet,” was turned into a lush, epic film by Italian director Franco Ziffirelli.

The film maestro employed teenagers to portray the star-crossed lovers. Their names were Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, unknowns at the time. The former was, at the time of filming, 15 years old; the latter, 16. Ziffirelli made a groundbreaking decision during production: he shot it in such a way as to suggest they were naked as they lay in bed.

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When the finished product hit theater screens, the bed scene included a shot of Romeo’s exposed butt. Juliet, who’d been laying chest down while conversing with her lover, momentarily lifts herself up and exposes her breasts. Before Ziffirelli’s version was released, at least nine international movies had been made of Romeo and Juliet. The 1968 picture was the first to portray the teenagers as actual carnal lovers, cavorting in the nude, no less.

I did not see Ziffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” until many years later, at the Parkway Theater, a repertory (or revival) house on Broadway near Diversey on Chicago’s north side. I don’t remember much of it, even the bedroom scene. Had I seen the movie when it first came out (and I was 12 years old), my head might have exploded.

Then again, my preferred reading material at the time was the Sears quarterly catalogue. The lingerie and women’s swimsuit sections, specifically. So, basically, anything that even hinted at female skin would have caused my head to explode.

In any case, that bedroom scene caused quite a stir in 1968. The general reaction to it was split: some people thought it was a sure sign that civilization was coming to an end; others welcomed it as yet another example of America throwing off the repressive chains of its past.

If I recall correctly, Playboy magazine included a still from the bedroom scene in its annual Sex in Cinema feature covering that year. (More on Playboy later.)

An Italian/British production made for $850,000, “Romeo and Juliet” grossed more than $38 million, worldwide. It was, to be sure, a smashing financial success.

Cut to the last week of the year 2022. The two stars, Hussey and Whiting, filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures, the studio that made Ziffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” claiming sexual harassment, negligence, fraud, emotional distress, unfair business practices, and child sexual abuse. Ziffirelli died three years ago. The suit, acc’d’g to reports, seeks up to a half billion dollars in damages.

Hussey, born April 17, 1951 in Buenos Aires, is now 71 years old. Whiting, born June 30, 1950 in London, is now 72. Hussey and Whiting were hailed as Hollywood’s next big things 54 years ago. Hussey would go on to appear in some 50 movies and TV shows, most of them eminently forgettable. She did re-emerge from Hollywood anonymity in 1977 when she portrayed the Virgin Mary in the made-for-television production, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Her last appearance on the screen was in 2015, when she was 64 years old.

For his part, Whiting had an even less remarkable Hollywood career, appearing in a total of 15 movies and TV shows. He went from 1975 through 1990 without a paid screen gig, according to his IMDb page.

Both Hussey and Whiting claim in their lawsuit that the nude scene adversely affected their careers and lives. The two claim to have suffered mental anguish and emotional distress because of it. Ziffirelli, they say, exerted a heavy hand, essentially forcing them to do the bedroom scene in the nude. He’d hired them on the promise that they wouldn’t have to play in the nude, they say, and their careers would suffer if they didn’t do it.

Ziffirelli directs Hussey and Whiting.

This is not 1968. The people who railed against the nude scene back then were viewed as prudes. Now, producers of a film that even suggests underaged sex are liable to be charged in criminal court. Heavy-handed producers have been exposed as molesters and rapists far too often.

Yet, for years neither Hussey nor Whiting expressed any misgivings about appearing in the movie and performing in the bedroom scene. In fact, during production, Hussey was interviewed and said the nude scene “improved” the movie “because it doesn’t look dirty.” In a 2018 interview on Fox News, Hussey said:

It was done very tastefully. And in Europe, it was very different. In American, it was very taboo. But in Europe, a lot of the films had nudity. Nobody really thought much of it. But it was just the fact that I was 16 that got a lot of publicity…. The large crew we worked with was whittled down to only the very basic people, a handful of people. It was done later in the day when it wasn’t busy. It was a closed set. It wasn’t that big of a deal. And Leonard wasn’t shy at all! In the middle of the shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on.

This seems to be one of those cases where it’s hard to gin up much sympathy for either the complainant or the defendant.

I mentioned Playboy magazine above. Like many kids in the ’60s, I viewed any found copy of the magazine much the same as Pizarro looking out over the Pacific Ocean. One of my brothers-in-law at the time had a towering pile of issues in his bedroom. I don’t know how I did it but every chance I could I sneaked upstairs to thumb through a copy or two. After indelibly imprinting the images of, say, November 1968 Playmate of the Month Paige Young in my memory for later recollection at a more propitious moment, I’d skim the articles. I learned much about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Lenny Bruce, politics, free speech, the war in Vietnam, and of course Corvettes and elaborate stereo systems.

Playboy founder and publisher Hugh Hefner liked to think of himself as a sophisticated intellectual. He appeared in 1969 on the Dick Cavett show. Cavett brought on two women’s liberation representatives and an exchange ensued. It was fascinating theater. Here it is:

The Pencil Today:


“Beauty is not caused. It is.” Emily Dickinson


Loyal readers of this space may remember my thoughts about one Hugh M. Hefner. To refresh, I lauded him for being the leader of the 50s and 60s avant garde knocking down the weird, crushing, Victorianesque walls surrounding sex.

On the other hand, I charged Hefner with creating an equally weird, crushing model of female beauty that was responsible as much as anything for maladies like anorexia, bulimia, and boob jobs.

Hef had a female doppelganger.

Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown did as much as Hefner to make sex okay some five decades ago.

Sex wasn’t invented in the 1960s, but it was transformed from a virtual criminal, borderline psychotic act.

Gurley Brown and Hef were the Mom and Dad of the rebirth of humanity’s second-most natural act.

Helen Gurley Brown died yesterday at the age of 90.

She called herself a “mouseburger” and she held high the banner for tens of millions of other mouseburgers, young women who were neither classically ravishing nor exotically gorgeous. They, too, Gurley Brown said, could be attractive, chic, and smart.

Smart, that is, in the fashion sense.

Like Hefner’s, Gurley Brown’s celebration of then-modern young women went only so far. A Playboy playmate, for instance, might have read “Catcher in the Rye” — maybe — but she had no idea what Marie Curie had accomplished.

More likely, Hef’s playmates, if anything at all, read “Valley of the Dolls.” Gurley Brown’s young women might have, too. No mouseburger, though, ever read “Catcher in the Rye.” In fact, a mouseburger’s most challenging choice in literature probably was, well, Gurley Brown’s own “Sex and the Single Girl.”

Valley Girls: Barbara Parkins, Sharon Tate, Patty Duke

Cosmo cover girls were as other-worldly perfect as Hefner’s centerfolds. Both Playboy and Cosmopolitan leaned heavily on the ministrations of air-brushers to make women spectacular.

Neither a Cosmo cover girl nor a Playboy playmate was a beautiful human being — she was a spectacle.

And tens of millions of young American women have stood on their heads for the last fifty or so years to become, themselves, spectacles.


What they never realized was that despite all the meals they’d ever thrown up, all the makeup they bought and tight jeans they squeezed themselves into, despite all the lips they had plumped up with botox and all the liquid-filled plastic bags they had surgically inserted over their own mammary glands, the bodies and the faces they possessed could never be air-brushed in real life.

Gurley Brown and Hef gave men and women permission to love other people’s bodies. But both made women hate their own.


The Loved One turned me on to Sarah Harmer.

Terrific singer-songwriter and, unlike Cosmo girls and playmates, her beauty — as Emily Dickinson put it — just is.

Here’s how I waste my time. How about you? Share your fave sites with us via the comments section. Just type in the name of the site, not the url; we’ll find them. If we like them, we’ll include them — if not, we’ll ignore them.

I Love ChartsLife as seen through charts.

XKCD — “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”

SkepchickWomen scientists look at the world and the universe.

IndexedAll the answers in graph form, on index cards.

I Fucking Love ScienceA Facebook community of science geeks.

Present & CorrectFun, compelling, gorgeous and/or scary graphic designs and visual creations throughout the years and from all over the world.

Flip Flop Fly BallBaseball as seen through infographics, haikus, song lyrics, and other odd communications devices.

Mental FlossFacts.

The UniverseA Facebook community of astrophysics and astronomy geeks.

SodaplayCreate your own models or play with other people’s models.

Eat Sleep DrawAn endless stream of artwork submitted by an endless stream of people.

Big ThinkTapping the brains of notable intellectuals for their opinions, predictions, and diagnoses.

The Daily PuppySo shoot me.

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, games, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.


◗ IU Art MuseumNew exhibit: “The Twenty-Four Paragons of Filial Piety,” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi; August 14th through December 23rd; 10am-5pm

People’s ParkLunch Concert Series: Don’t Call Me Betty; 11:30am

◗ Corner of Sixth and Madison streets — Tuesday Farmers Market; 4-7pm

The Venue Fine Art & GiftsMohammed Mahdi & Anthony Duncan demonstrate soap making; 5:30-7:30pm

Unitarian Universalist ChurchAudition for the Bloomington Chamber Singers; 5:30pm

◗ IU Bill Armstrong StadiumHoosier men’s soccer; 7pm

Monroe County Public LibraryBloomington Mac Users Group meeting: Apple’s New Operating System; 7-8:30pm

Monroe County Public LibraryIt’s Your Money series: You’re an Adult, Now What?; 7pm

First United Methodist ChurchAudition for The Quarryland Men’s Chorus; 7:30pm

The Root Cellar at Farm Bloomington — Team trivia; 8pm


◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • “40 Years of Artists from Pygmalion’s”; through September 1st

◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • “A Tribute to William Zimmerman,” wildlife artist; through September 9th

  • Willi Baumeister, “Baumeister in Print”; through September 9th

  • Annibale and Agostino Carracci, “The Bolognese School”; through September 16th

  • “Contemporary Explorations: Paintings by Contemporary Native American Artists”; through October 14th

  • David Hockney, “New Acquisitions”; through October 21st

  • Utagawa Kuniyoshi, “Paragons of Filial Piety”; through fall semester 2012

  • Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan, “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers”; through December 31st

  • “French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century”; through December 31st

◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibits:

  • Coming — Media Life; August 24th through September 15th

  • Coming — Axe of Vengeance: Ghanaian Film Posters and Film Viewing Culture; August 24th through September 15th

◗ IU Kinsey Institute Gallery“Ephemeral Ink: Selections of Tattoo Art from the Kinsey Institute Collection”; through September 21st

◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibit, “Translating the Canon: Building Special Collections in the 21st Century”; through September 1st

◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesClosed for semester break, reopens Tuesday, August 21st

Monroe County History CenterPhoto exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

The Pencil Today:


“If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people — including me — would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.” — Hunter S. Thompson


Hugh Hefner is 86 today.

As I’ve bloviated previously in these precincts, his Playboy magazine was my doorway to the worlds of civil rights, free speech, feminism, anti-war protest, and a host of other issues that define my overall philosophy.

Oh sure, I picked up the mag for the pix — natch — but the articles caught my eye as well.

Thanks, Hugh.


So, Mike Wallace will ask no more questions.

The old interrogator signed off forever Saturday night at the age of 93.

Wallace had a well-earned rep as a tough-as-nails interviewer who wouldn’t stand for the bullshit dished out by pols and other reprobates. I imagine his mug has been adorning the dorm room walls of journalism school students since the 1960s.

My own feelings about him are mixed. Viewed in a vacuum, Wallace was indeed the apotheosis of the hard-hitting reporter. On the other hand, he was part of a corporate media Frankenstein’s monster called “60 Minutes,” that, for my dough, has been mightily responsible for journalism’s descent to the level of pro wrestling.

See, long ago creator and producer Don Hewitt gave these marching orders to his charges at the nascent news magazine operation: Tell me a story.

“60 Minutes” personalized its delvings into corruption, greed, malfeasances, racism, crypto-fascism, and all the rest of the -isms that underpin this holy land.

Putting a face on a story made “60 Minutes” one of the most popular and successful shows in American television history. TV Guide mag once named it number six on its list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.

People actually planned their Sunday evening dinners around the show. It was the number one or number two most-watched show on TV in six of its seasons on the air. It’s the longest continually-running prime time show in the history of the medium.

People, in other words, dig it.

Over its 44 years on air “60 Minutes” has brought us such story-friendly, faux dramatics as the Point-Counterpoint hiss-fest, the “gotcha” interview, hidden cameras, and interviews edited for effect rather than pure accuracy. These gimmicks may have made for compelling viewing but they quickly transformed news gathering into a Broadway production or, worse, a made-for-TV movie.

The problem with “telling a story” as opposed to a straight reporting of the news is that stories need dramatic arcs, conflict, heroes and villains. “Telling a story” must be show business.

“60 Minutes” was nothing if not show business.

And because it was so wildly successful, the vast majority of news operations in whatever media you care to mention, quickly followed suit.

“60 Minutes” was the first TV news show to actually make money for its network. Before Hewitt’s baby was born, news was considered a loss leader. The networks aired news as a way to demonstrate how serious they were, how concerned, and how righteous. Because of that news producers decades ago had a freer rein than they could possibly imagine today.

But once “60 Minutes” became a profit center for CBS, television execs decided they no longer needed to appear serious, concerned, or righteous. They only needed to cash their news advertisers’ checks.

So now, big-time corporate news has devolved into a pulp novel, a cheap romance, a 24-hour-a-day soap opera. It’s all drama and next to no content. Hell, you can pick whichever news channel you’d like to tell you just what you want to hear. And guess what — your hero always wins!

Maddow Or Carlson — Take Your Pick

Not that Mike Wallace alone was responsible for this mess. I’ll reserve my demonization for Don Hewitt. But Wallace was an integral part of Hewitt’s monster.

Sometimes you have think twice about the company you keep.

The Pencil Today:


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.

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