Hugh Hefner’s Playboy empire hit its stride in the late 1960s and most of the decade of the 70s, right about the time I arrived in the St. Louis area as I took a reporting and photography job for The Telegraph, a newspaper serving Alton, Illinois, on the northern edge of the metro region.
My then new and first wife presented me with a brass, gold-covered Playboy “key card” as a gift and I began to frequent the Playboy Club on Lindell Boulevard in midtown St. Louis.
We had a pie-shaped apartment in the Lewis & Clark Tower, a round high-rise in North St. Louis County. The Playboy Club featured the scantily clad “Bunnies,” a decent restaurant for dining, a showroom for music and comedy acts and a attractions like a Friday lunches with Bunnies modeling lingerie for entertainment.
On late weekend nights, we watched “Playboy After Dark ” on St. Louis TV and the Bunnies at the local club were part of charity benefits around the St. Louis area.
On a trip to Denver, my wife and I took her father to the Playboy Club there for dinner and a show. We also visited the clubs in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, New Orléans and Miami.
The 70s featured swinging times.
When my wife and I divorced in the early 70s, I enjoyed a freewheeling single life at a time when sexually transmitted diseases could be handled by penicillin and sex became normal, even on first dates.
As a photographer for the newspaper, I had a sideline taking risqué photos of young women who wanted them submitted to Playboy for consideration as the Playmate of the Month. One got the nod and I got a substantial finders fee for providing the initial photos.
When St. Louis’ Patti McGuire became Playmate of the Month, I interviewed her over dinner at Ruiz, a popular Mexican restaurant. She gained notoriety as an aide to a state elected official , later became Playmate of the Year and later married tennis star Jimmy Connors, a native of Belleville, Illinois, just across the river from the Gateway City.
Playboy founder and publisher Hugh Hefner, already a multimillionaire, purchased a Douglas DC-9 passenger jet and outfitted it with a rotating bed, an on board Jacuzzi and disco lights for parties in the night up in the sky. St. Louis based Ozark Airways provided maintenance of the plane and I got a chance to fly in it once for publicity tour for the press.
As an often controversial columnist for The Telegraph, I had built a moderate reputation in the area and Illinois and Hefner hosted a panel discussion on “Free Press, Free Sex and American Freedoms” at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago. As a participant, I served on one of the panels and an overnight stay at the Mansion. It was, to say the lest, a very entertaining evening.
As the 70s waned, so did the Playboy empire. The clubs began to close. The St. Louis Playboy Club moved out of his building in midtown and moved to a hotel in the suburbs for a while but it wasn’t the same.
Hefner purchased another mansion in Los Angeles and eventually moved there permanently after his personal assistant died from suicide after being arrested for cocaine use and he became a target of FBI and IRS harassment.
Playboy’s lavish casino operations in London fell on hard times from scandal and Playboy Magazine’s circulation, which peaked at 7 million, declined and today goes out to about 800,00 subscribers.
My single days came to an end in 1979 when Amy and I married in the living room of my pastor’s home. We went on a honeymoon that included New Orleans and, while having dinner at a nice restaurant, I realized that it had been the Playboy Club there earlier in the century.
Amy is a native of Belleville, Illinois, the birthplace of Jimmy Connors, who still is married to former Playmate of the Year Patti McGuire, and she knew him during her high school days there.
We left the St. Louis metro area in early 1981 for a move and new challenges in the Washington, DC area for the next 23 years.
Hugh Hefner died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles at age 91. Playboy Magazine is still with us and, after a yearlong experiment of leaving at least some clothes on its Playmates, still shows them mostly in their birthday suits.
Many credit Hefner with creating the “sexual revolution” with his magazine’s nudity, his “Playboy Philosophy,” a long-running series of commentaries and his belief that sex is a natural part of a relationship between people who did not need to be married to enjoy the pleasures.
An old joke said that people looked at Playboy to “read the articles” more than they gawked at naked women. The articles were worth reading, from the verbatim transcripts of the “Playboy Interviews” to the writings of Ian Fleming, Nat Hentoff, Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and many others.
As a young man who lived in, and enjoyed the fruits of, the “swinging 70s,” I enjoyed the pleasures of the lifestyle that Playboy promoted and the sexual revolution that it spawned. I met lovely, intelligent and fascinating women during that period and several of them remain friends today.
It was a special time with special people and one of them has been my love and my life for the past 37 years.
Godspeed Hugh Hefner and our thanks for the good times.