Playboy turns 60

Los Angeles is the city built on dreams, as we were told in the film Mondo Hollywood. The Hollywood sign is a big shining beacon to those dreamers, including those of us that landed a little south of the mark.

The famous 1952 issue.
The famous December 1953 issue.

Like all major cities, L.A. has its institutions: the football rivalry between USC and UCLA, the L.A. Lakers and L.A. Dodgers; the Getty, the Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach/Muscle Beach (there’s a fence around the gym — you gotta be a member), the mystique of the film and television industry, TCL Chinese Theater (it used to be Grauman’s and then Mann’s Chinese Theater); the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Roosevelt Hotel, the Chateau Marmont and the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Transvestite hookers on Hollywood Boulevard … well OK, maybe that’s not an institution, but it’s certainly part of the folklore.

For gastronomic institutions there’s the Formosa Cafe, Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles and Pink’s hot dog stand, among others. Seriously, Pink’s is outstanding!

The Formosa Cafe (Photo via Wiki Commons)
The Formosa Cafe

Then there is a relatively new one, started officially in 1971. It’s an institution that has its roots in Chicago, IL, the windy city with the big shoulders.

Like Los Angeles itself, this institution has a reputation for licentiousness, liberal in all things, especially of the flesh. When it dropped into the American landscape in December 1953, it shook the nation to its core, with Marilyn Monroe leading the shake.

This new institution is Playboy, in particular, the Playboy Mansion (pictured in the top photo, courtesy of Google Maps), home to the founder of the empire, Hugh Marston Hefner,

Started in December 1953, Playboy quickly became the hottest item on the newsstand. It not only had articles people loved to read, it had photos of Marilyn Monroe — nude! Yep, 60 years ago Hugh Hefner launched his iconic magazine from the kitchen table of his apartment in Chicago.

As a kid growing up we knew about the magazine and its founder. A publication that had nude women and encouraged — celebrated — debauchery? Oh my god! What an assault on the good Christian morals of America!

Pink’s Hot Dogs in Hollywood. (Photo via Wiki Commons)
Pink’s Hot Dogs in Hollywood.

It was such an assault Hefner became a millionaire within a few short years, buying a huge mansion on Chicago’s North Coast and driving around town in the hottest Mercedes-Benz money could buy.

And he smoked a pipe.

Our mother was appalled of course. She was an upstanding member of the St. Gregory the Great Christian Mothers, a fine collection of good Catholic women devoted to the moral character of their children.

So devoted were they to our moral fiber that when Playboy first arrived in our neighborhood at the local drug store (we call them pharmacies now), Mom and the other Christian Mothers not just picketed, they went into the store and caused a ruckus.

The former Playboy Mansion in Chicago. (Photo via Wiki Commons)
The former Playboy Mansion in Chicago.

You don’t mess with the Christian Mothers.

Fast-forward about a dozen years, after Hefner survived the charges of indecency and various assaults by the Christian Mothers of America, when the magazine was so popular it spawned clubs and two TV shows. Somehow my brother Rick was able to purloin a copy of the December 1968 issue, the one with Cynthia Myers in the centerfold.

We were excitedly walking down Idaho St. (where we lived in Milwaukee), looking at the pictures and attracting the attention of the neighborhood kids, none of whom had ever seen naked women before. It was phenomenal. Cynthia Myers’ nude body was the most exciting thing I had ever seen.

We also caught the attention of one of the nosy neighborhood mothers, our mom’s best friend no less. So, within a matter of minutes our mother, the anti-Playboy crusader, knew we had a Playboy  in our possession, rotting our souls with that filth! They always called it filth. In fact, some people still do.

The Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd, with the Cinegrill. (Photo via Wiki Commons)
The Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd, with the Cinegrill.

In the 1980s the Reagan Administration, under the direction of Ed Meese, tried to bury “pornography” once and for all, including Playboy, with a faux scientific committee made up of Christian evangelists and hard-core extreme feminists.

It didn’t work.

Their “science” was laughed out of the scientific world and now holds a place in history that is largely forgotten.

At any rate, that was my introduction to the world of Playboy, in 1969.

In 1975 I further demoralized Dear Mom when I started subscribing to Playboy. Away from home in the Marine Corps, the monthly arrival of the latest issue was always a hit around the barracks.

That subscription continued off and on for the next 40 years, noting every change in cultural mores, the beginning of the cultural wars; the changes in fashion and hairstyles (head and pubic), right into the new millennium.

In that time Playboy grew as an international icon, a brand if you will. Even if fewer people were reading the magazine (subscriptions and readership began to drop about 30 years ago), everyone knew Playboy and knew who “Hef” was — is.

With the founder permanently based in the L.A. suburb of Holmby Hills in 1975, the Chicago roots of the magazine began to lose their significance in the Playboy world. The headquarters continued to be in the Windy City and many photo shoots were done in the Chicago studios, but with Hefner in L.A., the center of attention shifted to the West Coast, in particular the Playboy Mansion West, which eventually became know as simply, the Playboy Mansion.

Then last year the management of Playboy Enterprises, Inc. (PEI) closed the Chicago offices completely, a process that had been taking place for at least a couple years.

Although its roots will always be in Chicago, Playboy is now an entirely L.A. institution. Its headquarters are in Beverly Hills and studios can be found in Burbank.

The north side of the Playboy Mansion. (Photo via Wiki Commons)
The north side of the Playboy Mansion.
(Photo via Wiki Commons)

The relatively new L.A. institution isn’t the company itself, but the Mansion with its epic parties.

If you watched the TV show on the E! Network, The Girls Next Door, you have an idea of how many parties take place on the grounds, the most popular being the mid- summer’s and Halloween parties.

For some of those parties, like the two mentioned, you need an invitation. For others, you can buy your way in, starting at $1,500. That money generally goes to a charity and they have plenty of parties devoted to raising money for various causes.

At these parties there are always models wearing nothing but a few baubles and some body paint and men walking around in various kinds of sleepwear. Everything you can imagine takes place at a licentious bacchanal dedicated to fun, frivolity and unfettered debauchery, well, most of it probably happens at a Playboy Mansion party.

So, I asked some Playboy models, via email, for their impressions of Playboy and its 60 years, and the founder Hugh Hefner, “Hef” if you think you know him and what it’s like to be in and around Playboy and the mansion parties.

That comes in Part II, which you can read here.