Hugh Hefner, Playboy, and I

by Curtis L. Isom – Founder / Editor-In-Chief

Just about everyone would probably say that outside their parents there are other people that have had some influence on making up who they are today.  I am no different and have numerous people to thank on making some impact on my life in one way or another.  One of those people is the late Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy who passed away September 27, 2017 at the age of 91.

Since his death, I have pondered over how I wanted to pay tribute to him and decided on how sharing how Hugh’s creation of Playboy and it’s philosophy has impacted my life and without that influence Erotic World Media might not have existed.  I will keep my narrative to the magazine alone because it is the foundation of everything Playboy.

So let’s start at the beginning………..

You have to remember when Hugh Hefner created Playboy it was the early 1950’s – a time of conformity and repression.  Hugh Hefner was working at Esquire magazine and because he was denied a $5 raise, he quit to create his own magazine.  There were other magazines that had nudity, but Hugh wanted to bring something new to people.  According to Hugh himself, he wanted “to publish a magazine that both influenced and reflected the social-sexual changes taking place in America but that was…first and foremost…fun”.  Playboy was originally to be called “Stag Party” and it’s mascot a deer as well.  But since there already was a “Stag” magazine, so the title was changed to Playboy and the mascot became the famous bunny we have come to love.  So with $6,600 in funds and the rights to the calendar art of Marilyn Monroe nude on red satin, he wrote the copy for and published the first issue of Playboy which hit the newsstands December 1953 .  This issue had no date which allowed it to be on newsstands longer and Hefner didn’t know if there would be a second issue.  But with Marilyn’s help, something that looked like a college humor magazine with nudes, became hot news and the 70,000 copies sold out.

January 1954 saw a second issue and Playboy being published on a monthly basis.  Hugh Hefner had evidently tapped into an undiscovered chunk of the American culture and was quickly becoming a part of that culture.  he did this by evolving the idea of the “girl next door” which I’ll address shortly.  During the rest of the Fifties, Hugh added more staff people like writer/cartoonist Shel Silverstein and artist Leroy Neiman who created Femlin, the nymph who appears on Playboy’s Party Jokes Page.  He also began offering pieces of fiction like Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”.  In 1955, Hugh took the U.S Post Office to court to get second-class mailing privileges.  Of course he won and was the first example that when Playboy went into court, Hugh Hefner knew how to come out on top.  In the beginning of Playboy, the editorial attitude was that affairs of the state were to remain out of Playboy’s province in order to keep the magazine one that emphasizes entertainment and fun on several levels.  But as the next decade progressed, so did Playboy.

The 1960’s – miniskirts, The Beatles, psychedelic drugs, and Vietnam.  As change took place in the world, Playboy was committed to keeping people informed.  In 1961, Hugh Hefner and Playmate Joyce Nizzari were invited to attend the Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy which spoke volumes about how many of Playboy’s ideas and values were becoming mainstream.  To share the ideas of others, “The Playboy Interview” started in 1962 with an interview of jazz great Miles Davis conducted by Alex Haley.  Other interviews during the Sixties included Ayn Rand and Malcom X (1964), Martin Luther King Jr,. (1965), George Lincoln Rockwell and Dr. Timothy Leary (1966).  The cover shown here is from October 1962 when I was born and the same year the cartoon “Little Annie Fanny” debuted along with the twenty-five part installment of the “Playboy Philosophy” which Hugh Hefner wrote “as an attempt to spell out, for friends and critics alike, the guiding principles and editorial credo”.  The basic premise of “The Playboy Philosophy” is an individual rights in a free society and is the basis from which everything Playboy stands for evolves.  1962 was also the year when the drug culture was emerging with Playboy being the first magazine to cover it.  Playboy tries to this very day to provide accurate information on the drug culture, but never advocates them.  In 1963, “The Playboy Forum” started in response to the ideas expressed in “The Playboy Philosophy” which gave readers a chance to debate issues brought up in Playboy and express their opinions about the world around them.  For rest of the Sixties, not much changed about the magazine except for three major editorial changes.  First came in December 1965 with Playboy became the first national Magazine to advocate legal abortion.  The second was Playboy’s decision to address the war in Vietnam because to serve its readership correctly, Playboy had to be a spokesman.  The final, and controversial move happened in an August 1969.  Playboy had a pictorial of actress Paula Kelly dancing across a floor fully nude which resulted in tasteful display of what was considered magazine taboo – pubic hair.  This resulted in changes of how the women in Playboy could be photographed and the centerfolds would soon take on a well-received new look.  But it would also soon bring Playboy into what the mainstream media called, “The Raunch Wars”.

The 1970’s – Nixon, Watergate, the Bicentennial, and Washington sex scandals.  Playboy discussed it all.  During the early 1970’s circulation reached 7,000,00 and in 1974 when Playboy turned 20, their 20th Anniversary issue featured a one-of-a-kind double-sided centerfold of both the front and back of Playmate Nancy Cameron.  In 1975, the aforementioned “The Raunch Wars” also called “The Pubic Wars” were in full swing and public news because Playboy’s competitors were photographing their women with full on vaginal shots that were starting to look like steak tartar.  Playboy was against this and Hugh Hefner stated, “We will present sex without vulgarity.”  But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t some response to what Playboy’s competitors were doing.  Part of that response is the cover shown here from November 1975 and is the first Playboy I remember being able to look at.  During the 1970’s there were numerous Playboy covers featured women’s bare breasts.  But this November 1975 cover is considered one of “Playboy’s 10 Most Controversial Covers” due to the model Patricia Margot McClain sliding her fingers into her panties.  But before this issue hit the newsstands, Hugh Hefner committed to never go this route again.  Even with the vast number of  imitators, Playboy will always be in a league of it’s own.  I could have picked other covers to show you, but there are so many to choose form.  One I would like to mention is the October 1971 cover which features Daniel stern, the first African American woman to be on the cover of Playboy.  Before this issue, Playboy had two African American Playmates – Jennifer Jackson in March 1965 and Jean Bell in October 1969.  The 1971 cover with Daniel Stern is not only considered one of the top 10 controversial covers, but also one of Playboy’s most iconic covers as well.  Being both iconic and controversial I think describes Playboy quite nicely.  Since the 1970’s the covers have done gone back to a more refined style that reflects the class that Playboy strives to promote.  Interviews in the 70’s included Presidential canidates Jerry Brown (4/76) and Jimmy Carter (11/76) along with the last known interview with Jimmy Hoffa (12/76).  Playboy also gave us sneak previews of two novels, “All The President’s Men” and “Roots”.   In 1979, Playboy turned twenty-five and by then the foundation of everything Playboy had been laid out.  So the end of the 70’s is where I’ll stop which is not to say that Playboy isn’t going to tweak something every now and then, like the recent year of removing nudity, because as the times change so will Playboy as needed.

But in discussing Playboy, I have to talk about the women who appear in Playboy.   As  stated before,  Hugh Hefner had evidently tapped into an undiscovered chunk of the American culture.  But how?  This was done by evolving the idea of the “girl next door” during the first full year of Playboy.  During 1954, Playboy’s “Unpinned Pinups” went from one page to two, but the “girl next door” idea really came to fruition when Janet Pilgrim, who worked in the offices of Playboy, became a Playmate.  Her appearance in Playboy made the women in it seem more human because of her looks and that she worked an actual job.  Janet went on to make two more centerfold appearance which is a record yet to be broken.    I also want to compare the centerfolds from the two issue shown previously.  The one on the left is October 1962’s Playmate of the Month Laura Young and the right one is November 1975 Playmate of the Month was Janet Lupo.   It’s quite obvious that Playboy’s centerfolds have evolved over the years as well and went from showing very little to showing a lot.  From the magazine first showing of pubic hair in 1969, the centerfolds in the 70’s became full frontal shots with pubic hair in full view and a change was well-received by the public as the “The Raunch Wars” eventually played itself out.  After Marilyn Monroe, some of the famous women to grace the pages of Playboy include Jayne Mansfield, Stella Stevens, Ursula Andress, Catherine Deneuve,  Bo Derek, Vanna White, Raquel Welch, and Vikki LaMotta.  Vikki was 51 at the time of her pictorial, but most readers said she looked to be in her mid-thirties.  It is suffice to say that Playboy strives to be not only a culturally diverse magazine, but presents a wide diversity of women as well.

So how has Playboy influenced me?  Did my first exposure to Playboy create a viewpoint in me of women as objects?  Maybe.  But understand that for just about any heterosexual male in his mid-teens, women were objects of desire and mystery dreamed about.  As I got older I began to understand the women who appeared in Playboy did so of their own accord.  They took pride in being who they are and empowered themselves by being featured in Playboy.  I found it interesting that some women who had appeared in Playboy have lost their jobs for doing so which speaks volumes about the inequality of how women are treated.  Then and now.  Believe it or not, Playboy has helped me develop a great respect for women.  I appreciate the female form and use past centerfold shoots as inspiration on what I want to capture with my camera.  Instead of something that comes across as some bored, naked bimbo, I want to create something artistic.  When I shoot, I prefer to not show everything unless the model request it which leaves something to the imagination and my “tribute” to the time before “The Raunch Wars”.

From an educational point of view, Playboy opened up a world to me I might not have accessed any other way.  “The Playboy Interview” introduced me to numerous individuals sharing their thoughts which helped me develop how to understand and respect another person’s thoughts even though I may not agree with them.  Playboy introduced me to artists such as Alberto Vargas and my favorite author, Stephen King, through his short story, “The Word Processor of The Gods”.  From a philosophical point of view, Playboy is a perfect example of standing up for what you believe in and be willing to defend it.

I wish I had the opportunity to have thanked Hugh Hefner personally for the contribution he made to society through Playboy.  It took a big “leap of faith” for Hugh to create Playboy and without it, I think the Adult Entertainment Industry wouldn’t be what it is today because of Playboy’s influence.  I created Erotic World Media because of the examples Hugh Hefner set.  I don’t know where this journey will take me, but I will speak my mind and defend my ideas to the best of my abilities.  Whenever possible, I strive to stand up for those who don’t have a voice and do what I can to give them one.  If I can educate people on the Adult Entertainment Industry, then I feel I honor what Hugh Hefner has given me.  To not and try to do so I feel would be disrespectful.

R.I.P. Hugh Hefner and Thanks again for everything.