I know this is going to have a polarising effect on my audience. The impact of Playboy magazine on my generation of men was profound. There is simply no doubt that to me Playboy and the rabbit logo are simply iconic.
Playboy, founded by Hugh Hefner in October 1953 and launched its first edition in December 1953. The cover photo featured Marilyn Monroe and the centrefold (later to be called “Playmates”) was an unreleased nude shot of Marilyn – taken some years previously for a calendar – something of a publishing coup at the time.
The name of the magazine was originally slated as “Stag Party” but that was ditched last minute because a rival title threatened legal action. Hefner’s friend and co-founder, Eldon Sellers, suggested the name “Playboy” – his mother had worked for a car company of that name.
After several edition, Hefner decided that it was fast becoming a brand and it needed a logo. He asked his Arthur “Art” Paul, the magazine’s Art Director for 30 years – who commissioned artists including Warhol and Dali to illustrate – to come up with some ideas. It is claimed he returned within a few minutes with a sketch of the rabbit image that was both “frisky and playful” but with an air of sophistication.
The publication now in its 63rd year spawned Playboy Enterprises, Inc that publish in many countries world-wide. A core strategy was to feature girls who had that “girl next door” – obtainable – appeal, like Marilyn and Farrah Fawcett.
In 2015 it operated an eighteen month moratorium on full frontal nudity, the March/April 2017 edition saw its return under a title “Naked is Normal” – although the sub-title “Entertainment for Men” has been removed from the cover.
In addition to playing its part in the sexual revolution, that characterised much of the 60’s and 70’s, featuring cartoons, the works of great photographers and a monthly interview with a public figure, Playboy has retained its commitment to carrying the works of novelists, including Ian Fleming, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut and Vladimir Nabokov.
The best-selling Playboy edition was the November 1972 edition, which sold 7.1m copies.
Given losses in 2009 the publishing empire was put up for sale for $300 million. By March 2011, Hugh Hefner received support to complete the buy out to re-acquire the entire publish business at $6.15 per share. The business has more recently been touted with a $500m price. This increase in value seems to be largely due to the very successful licensing operation of Playboy Enterprises that exploits the use by others of the rabbit logo on merchandising and accessories.
The Playboy Club was the physical realisation of the magazine’s intention to educate and entertain the adult man. The first Club was in Chicago and opened in February 1960. Playboy Bunnies – served members and their guest food and drink.
I went to a Playboy Club once in Century City, California, with a friend from the UK and a couple we visited – a connection of his parents. After several “CC and 7Up” they suggested lunch, Buzz was a member. My friend and I were 20/21 years old and impressed. The Bunnies were lovely, the food was excellent US club food, enormous steaks, delicious baked potatoes and fresh salads – including cherry tomatoes that we’d never seen. Although the girls were sweet and encouraged two English boys to talk – just to hear our accents – there was nothing at all sleazy about the whole experience.
By 1991, the Club chain became defunct. Attempts have been made to revive the Club in Las Vegas and London – but I’ve not been.