In high school in Floyd County in the early 1960s, Playboy magazine was something to read behind closed doors.
Yes, one could find interesting, provocative and enlightening articles in the pages but we also found spectacular air-brushed photos of naked young women in the monthly centerfolds and in pictorials.
Playboy promoted the so-called “girl next door” look, which might have worked if one overlooked the come-hither looks of the sweet young things with little or no clothes. Playboy was an adolescent fantasy mixed in with thought-provoking articles about moral issues, civil rights and more. In its pages, I read interviews interesting and issue-changing individuals.
I started reading Playboy in 1963 and read every issue through the years of high school, into my time as a reporter for The Roanoke Times, and then into the 70s as a writer, photographer and columnist for the Alton Telegraph on the Illinois side of the St. Louis area.
In the “swinging 70s,” sex was a major part of the scene. So was nudity in magazines and movies.
St. Louis had a Playboy Club I had a key card for access to the area of Bunnies, upcoming night club acts and a glimpse of the night life of the era. One afternoon, after finishing up an assignment not far from the club on Lindell Boulevard in St. Louis, I parked near the club and walked by the rear entrance and recognized one of the bunnies kissing her husband and children goodbye in a station wagon. At the club, I complimented her as mother and housewife and she whispered back “please don’t tell anyone. We’re all supposed to be singled and carefree.”
Bunnies weren’t allowed to date customers, an interesting hypocrisy for a club based on a magazine that promoted a sexy and open lifestyle. Pinkerton Detectives would come in posing as members and would try to get a date. Anyone who accepted lost their job on the spot.
As a photographer, however, I got to know several and photographed some who wanted to send pictorials to Playboy magazine for consideration as Playmate of the Month. One got the nod and I received a fat fee as the photographer who “found” her.
Patti McGuire of St. Louis became became one of the local girls to become Playmate of the Month. She had been a staff member for Missouri Gov. Kit Bond. I took her to dinner at Ruiz, a Mexican restaurant in St. Louis to interview her for a column. She was a fascinating woman who was fun to interview. She later became Playmate of the Year for the magazine and married tennis star Jimmy Connors, who grew up in Belleville, Illinois, home of my future wife Amy, who knew both Connors and her.
The original Playboy Club in St. Louis closed in the 70s but reopened in a hotel out in the county. It closed too.
After relocating to Washington in 1981, I continued to sell some photos to the magazine — some risque, others more news worthy. I wrote some short pieces for the magazine’s news section and was quoted in some others. Articles from my political news web site, Capitol Hill Blue, found their way into the news section of Playboy.
But Playboy was on the decline in the 80s and 90s. Playboy Clubs disappeared into the landscape. Forays into casinos and resort hotels floundered. I stopped subscribing to the magazine by the 1990s.
Playboy tried redesigns and new ventures to recapture the 60s, 70s and 80s. Nudity in the magazine became more graphic, a cable TV channel ventured into hardcore features and movies, but circulation of the magazine dropped from 5.6 million in 1975 to around 800,000 now. Why pay to view graphic nudity and sex acts when both and more are just a click away for free on the Internet.
Interestingly, Playboy and its explicit nudes found itself losing ground on newsstands to magazines like Maxim, which featured provocative photos of female models without actual nudity.
So now, Playboy, the magazine that launched coffee table nudity when founder Hugh Hefner obtained a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe for his first issue in 1953, is discontinuing graphic nudity, starting with its March 2016 issue. Provocative photos will still be part of the magazine but as much or more provocation and skin can be found in Victoria Secrets ads in mainstream magazines and on TV or on ESPN, which has an annual nudity issue featuring male and female sports stars.
Starting in March, one can find more skin on an installment of Hawaii Five-0 on television than in Playboy’s current issues. Playboy’s pictorials, we are told, will look more like Maxim, where current NASCAR driver Danica Patrick appeared in skimpy attire early in her career. Patrick has also been a regular in the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, which will continue to offer more partial nudity than Playboy, starting in March 2016.
My granddaddy once called graphic depiction of nudity bad because “a woman’s best friend is a man’s imagination.”
A long-standing joke about Playboy has been that those who subscribe to or buy the magazine do so “for the articles.” Now we will see if they really do.
Author Olivia A. Cole Tweeted: “Playboy’s web traffic quadrupled when they banned nudity from its website. I guess the old joke is true: people really do read the articles.”
We shall see.