“We try to edit Playboy with the adult directness of a good foreign film, the spice and fun of a Broadway show.”
Hugh Hefner pioneered the Sexual Revolution. Playboy changed the moral landscape of the Western world in regards to opening up sexuality. Playboy took it out of the darkness, where it was dirty and shameful and smothered with religion, and made sex bright, fun and something everyone could and should talk about with frank honesty.
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Playboy and its open respect and endorsement of sexuality, men like Kinsey were finally able to conduct real scientific research into one of the most important aspect of our lives. The science of sex and relationships owes so much to the sexual revolution and every article a girl reads in Cosmo Magazine owes a debt of gratitude to Playboy.
Playboy celebrated women in a way that actually did as much, if not more, for ‘women’s rights’ than anything the feminist movement ever did. Feminism has long been ruled by anger and anti-male sentiments. But Playboy has only ever been humorous, positive, supportive and more than willing to engage with them on an equal basis. Feminism made men the enemy of women. Hefner made us partners.
Before Playboy died (see here), they were iconic cultural revolutionaries. They tried to improve the world, and one of the ways was, yes, the articles.
“If sex were the principal reason for Playboy’s popularity, of course, then the magazine’s several dozen imitators — almost all of which are far sexier than we — would be the ones with the larger circulations. But not one of them has a sale of more than three or four hundred thousand; Playboy has a larger circulation than the top half-dozen imitators combined.”
Here’s what one writer at Salon open his article on Playboy with:
“It’s December 1968 and you grab a mag at the local newsstand. The table of contents includes the following: A quartet of short stories by Alberto Moravia; a symposium on creativity with contributions from Truman Capote, Lawrence Durrell, James T. Farrell, Allen Ginsberg, Le Roi Jones, Arthur Miller, Henry Miller, Norman Podhoretz, Georges Simenon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, William Styron and John Updike; humor pieces from Jean Shepherd and Robert Morley; an article on pacifism in America by Norman Thomas; a piece on how machines will change our lives by Arthur C. Clarke; an essay on “the overheated image” by Marshall McLuhan; contributions from Eric Hoffer and Alan Watts; an article in defense of academic irresponsibility by Leslie Fiedler; a memoir of Hemingway by his son Patrick; Eldridge Cleaver interviewed by Nat Hentoff; a travel piece by the espionage novelist Len Deighton; and the first English translation of a poem by Goethe.
Yes, folks, that was Playboy. And lest you think that issue was a fluke, an overstuffed Christmas goodie, the ad for the January 1969 issue promises a story from P.G. Wodehouse, an article by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, fiction from Robert Coover and Sean O’Faolain, and a never before published tale by Lytton Strachey.”
“Arthur C. Clarke science series and the J. Paul Getty series on men, money and values in society today, Playboy has published Nat Hentoff’s Through the Racial Looking Glass, “a perceptive report on the American Negro and his new militancy for uncompromising equality” (July 1962); The Prodigal Powers of Pot, an unemotional look at marijuana, “the most misunderstood drug of all time” (August 1962); Status-ticians in Limbo, a biting article on the sociologists and motivational research experts in advertising and the communication industry (September 1961); The Great American Divide, Herb Gold’s incisive probing of “Reno, the biggest little pity in the world” (June 1961); Hypnosis, the most comprehensive article on the subject ever to appear in a magazine, analyzing hypnotism’s implications for surgery, psychoanalysis, persuasion, advertising, crime, war and world politics, by Ken W. Purdy (February 1961); plus such now near-classic pieces as The Pious Pornographers, on sex in the women’s magazines (October 1957); The Cult of the Aged Leader, expressing the need for younger men in our government before any of us had heard of a John or Robert Kennedy (August 1959); Eros and Unreason in Detroit, decrying the ever-increasing size, and emphasis on chrome and fins, in U.S. cars, before the automobile industry reversed the trend and introduced the compacts (August 1958); Philip Wylie’s The Womanization of America, expressing concern over the feminine domination of our culture (September 1958); and Vance Packard’s The Manipulators, on the “vanguards of 1984: the men of motivational research” (December 1957); along with The Playboy Panel, a series of provocative conversations about subjects of interest on the contemporary scene (most recent topic: Business Ethics and Morality, November 1962) and the newly inaugurated Playboy Interview that can produce provocative thought on timely issues, as when Miles Davis discussed his views on what it means to be black in America (September 1962)” – The Playboy Philosophy, 1962
The Bog Man by Margaret Atwood, 1991
More than one short story by Margaret Atwood — the author of several novels widely considered feminist — appeared in Playboy. This particular one, also published in Atwood’s collection Wilderness Tips, is about a woman who digs up a 2,000-year-old man — not exactly the kind of plot you picture when you think of Playboy.
The Second Bakery Attack by Haruki Murakami, 1992
Murakami, perhaps the most well-known contemporary Japanese writer, published “The Second Bakery Attack” in Playboy before it appeared in his 1993 collection The Elephant Vanishes. In the humorous tale, a man attempts to break a spell set after a thwarted attack on a bakery by staging an ambush on a McDonald’s.
Arther C Clark
The late sci-fi icon Arthur C. Clarke published a number of short stories in Playboy and was the subject of a July 1986 interview covering everything from space travel to virtual reality. But perhaps most notably, he admitted to having a “bisexual experience” and even added, “If anyone had ever told me that he hadn’t, I’d have told him he was lying.”
The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World by Gabriel García Márquez, 1968
This story of a South American village unraveling the death of a man whose corpse washes up on their shore exemplifies the enchanting magical realism García Márquez is known for.
Joyce Carol Oates
The introduction to her interview reads that “there is no other writer in America, male or female, who quite compares with Oates.” Oates had contributed nine stories to Playboy by the time Playboy interviewed her; in the interview itself, she touched on topics like her motivations for writing and the meanings behind her characters’ names.
The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S Thompson
This longform article about covering a deep-sea fishing tournament in Mexico later joined several other autobiographical essays in Thompson’s book of the same name.
Remembering Tennessee by Truman Capote, 1984
Capote related some of the most outrageous stories from the life of his friend playwright Tennessee Williams in this essay written soon after Williams died. Capote was also the subject of a 1968 Playboy interview about his writing career, the role of Jewish writers in the American literary scene, and his views on capital punishment, among other topics.
Excerpt from Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut, 2008
Playboy featured the first-ever published excerpt from Armageddon in Retrospect, Vonnegut’s first posthumous collection, which contains several new short stories, a letter the author wrote to his family while he was a prisoner of war during World War II, some of his drawings, and a speech written shortly before his death.
But let’s not forget the interviews.
This about this: celebrities, politicians and other famous figures live and die by their popularity; reputation is everything. Celebrities avoid anything that could tarnish their image like it was the plague covered in shit. Yet the Playboy Mansion hosted parties that were one of the most sought-after tickets in America – for decades. Being in the magazine was something you bragged about. It actually gave you street cred. Why would celebrities be begging to come to Mansion parties? Because being there actually added to your reputation. And actually being featured in the magazine became part of your official biography.
Playboy was, from the moment of its inception, until it died in 2015 – utterly cool.
Playboy might have been something the average, ignorant Jane spat on and plenty of ignorant Joes told everyone they had never read (a lie), but despite a naughty, taboo reputation, the magazine was home to some of the biggest names in the 20th century. Take a look at some of these influential interviews featured in the magazine.
Miles Davis, 1962
The interview that started it all for Playboy was with jazz legend Miles Davis, “widely considered one of the most influential and innovative musicians of the 20th century”. By 1962, the musician had struggled with a heroin habit, toured Paris, and released a series of albums with collaborator Gil Evans. Alex Haley, the journalist responsible for some of the magazine’s most famous interviews, was sent to speak with Davis. Some of the dated language is cringeworthy, but Davis is passionate and candid as he shares his views on race and American culture. The musician had a reputation for being “flinty and truculent,” but his softer side appeared when proudly mentioning his wife, Frances. He also discusses the difference between audiences in Europe and the U.S. “In this country, it’s more following of personalities,” he shares. But it’s Davis’ thoughts on race and prejudice that will stay with you for some time to come, as he concludes: “This whole prejudice mess is something you would feel so good if it could just be got rid of, like a big sore eating inside of your belly.”
Stanley Kubrick, 1968
“Kubrick’s films are considered … to be “among the most important contributions to world cinema in the twentieth century”, and he is frequently cited as one of the greatest and most influential directors of all time.”
Playboy is probably the last place you’d expect to read an interview with the reclusive Stanley Kubrick, let alone an interview that covers metaphysics, philosophy, and the nature of God. The conversation centers on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was released several months prior.
The first thing you’ll notice while reading is that speculation about Kubrick’s themes and symbolism isn’t new. The documentary Room 237 discussed some of the wild perceived meanings in The Shining. Back in 1968, interviewer Eric Norden was pressing Kubrick about the same things in his space epic.
“You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film,” Kubrick responded, “And such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level, but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point.”
We also love Kubrick’s dig at New York, specifically against the group of critics who called 2001 dull:
“New York was the only really hostile city. Perhaps there is a certain element of the lumpen literati that is so dogmatically atheist and materialist and Earth-bound that if finds the grandeur of space and the myriad mysteries of cosmic intelligence anathema.”
Bette Davis, 1982
“Regarded as one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history, she was noted for her willingness to play unsympathetic, sardonic characters and was reputed for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films and occasional comedies, although her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas.”
The grande dame of cinema spoke to Playboy about the nature of celebrity and her famously sassy reputation. “If you don’t dare to be hated, you’re never going to get there. To be an uncontroversial actor is nothing to aim for,” she mused to the magazine.
She also spoke about controversial issues:
“I believe abortion is better than having 10,000,000 children you can’t support… When I was a child, born in 1908, education taught you that your destiny was to marry and have children. Just because you’re a woman — but that is not your destiny. There are many great women who were just never meant to be mothers, that’s all. We are improving this way enormously.”
And she chimed in about her idol status amongst the gay community:
“Homosexuals are probably the most artistic and appreciative human beings, who worship films and theater… Generally, homosexuals are very appreciative of serious work in the arts, so it’s highly complimentary to be someone they choose.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965
If you only read one interview on this list, please make it this one. The civil rights leader sat down for an in-depth talk about the movement. He addresses claims of extremism, and shares poignant stories about his boyhood and the people he encountered along his journey for freedom. A passage about the many threats to his life is absolutely heartbreaking:
“If I were constantly worried about death, I couldn’t function. After a while, if your life is more or less constantly in peril, you come to a point where you accept the possibility philosophically. I must face the fact, as all others in positions of leadership must do, that America today is an extremely sick nation, and that something could well happen to me at any time. I feel, though, that my cause is so right, so moral, that if I should lose my life, in some way it would aid the cause.”
King concludes the interview with a moving and beautiful statement that is all the more powerful since the anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech just passed:
“I subject myself to self-purification and to endless self-analysis; I question and soul-search constantly into myself to be as certain as I can that I am fulfilling the true meaning of my work, that I am maintaining my sense of purpose, that I am holding fast to my ideals, that I am guiding my people in the right direction. But whatever my doubts, however heavy the burden, I feel that I must accept the task of helping to make this nation and this world a better place to live in — for all men, black and white alike.”
Steve Jobs, 1985
Joshua Michael Stern’s Steve Jobs biopic is good, but this 1985 interview with the Apple founder is pretty great too. The year Jobs was forced out of Apple and started NeXT Computer, he sat down with the magazine for a fascinating talk about his hopes for the future and the early days of the Internet. He also possibly defined Apple’s model for success when asked about his thoughts on newer tech companies taking over from the old guard:
“That’s inevitably what happens. That’s why I think death is the most wonderful invention of life. It purges the system of these old models that are obsolete. I think that’s one of Apple’s challenges, really. When two young people walk in with the next thing, are we going to embrace it and say this is fantastic? Are we going to be willing to drop our models, or are we going to explain it away? I think we’ll do better, because we’re completely aware of it and we make it a priority.”
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1981
Conducted a year before his death, this interview with the couple took place during the recording of their collaborative album, Double Fantasy. A good portion of the talk is Lennon defending his relationship with Ono. “Nobody controls me. I’m uncontrollable,” the musician scoffed. “Of course, it’s a total insult to me… ” Ono added.
Lennon’s fire continued when asked about a Beatles reunion:
“It can never be again! Everyone always talks about a good thing coming to an end, as if life was over. But I’ll be 40 when this interview comes out. Paul is 38. Elton John, Bob Dylan… we’re all relatively young people. The game isn’t over yet. Everyone talks in terms of the last record or the last Beatle concert… but, God willing, there are another 40 years of productivity to go. I’m not judging whether ‘I am the Walrus’ is better or worse than ‘Imagine.’ It is for others to judge. I am doing it. I do. I don’t stand back and judge… I do.”
Timothy Leary, 1966
Read on for pages and pages about sex and LSD. The interview was conducted the same year that Leary founded his “religious” organization, the League for Spiritual Discovery, in an attempt to make LSD legal. It was also the same year that the LSD was made illegal in the United States, including usage in scientific research.
Ayn Rand, 1964
A very controversial figure whose philosophy contains both good and very bad points.
There’s something perversely entertaining about the juxtaposition of Rand’s surly mug and Playboy’s cover that month, which reads: “Girls of Russia and the Iron Curtain Countries.” Rand sat for this interview during a period in her life when she was giving some of her most controversial lectures. She was also rallying for Barry Goldwater during the 45th presidential election.
Snoop Dogg, 1995
Playboy: So it’s not about only money?
Dogg: Yeah. It’s like having nothing, no hope, nothing. Look at the way they’re letting gangs and shit go on so there is black-on-black crime and murder. What does it show? It shows they don’t give a fuck. I could show you a picture of my Pop Warner football team. There were 28 homies on that team. Twelve are dead. Seven are in the penitentiary. Three are smoked out. If they ain’t dead or in jail or smoked out, they do the gang thing, sell dope. I can’t look at that picture and say, “Well, hey, he went to college. He got a degree. Hey, that’s little Johnnie Cochran.” I can’t speak from that shit, because I don’t know nobody in that. I’m 24. To see 24 is an accomplishment. I’ve seen a lot of my homies burned.
Playboy: You finished high school. Were you tempted to drop out?
Dogg: Hell yeah. I was making money. By the time I got to 12th grade I was making $1000 a week.
Playboy: Then why did you remain in school?
Dogg: It was fun. I was popular as fuck in school. I was fun to be around. Motherfuckers loved me for my rap, they loved me because I made them laugh. Whenever I was in class, I fucked with the teachers, I fucked with the students. I wasn’t yearbook class clown or funniest person, but the motherfuckers knew me. I rapped at lunchtime and quick as fuck the crowd got bigger. The principal tried to suspend me, telling me I started a riot at the school. I said, I’m just rapping. These motherfuckers want to hear what I’m saying. So the principal said OK, you can do it.
And there are so many more. Look at the list below. Motherfucking Malcom X! Jimmy Hoffa! Al fucking Capone! A legitimate princess. Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos. Yasser Arafat! Even the IRA. And every giant, legendary figure in music, acting and sports for the past 50 years.
Damn, Playboy, what happened to you? You used to be so cool.
1962: Miles Davis, Jackie Gleason, Peter Sellers
1963: Frank Sinatra, Helen Gurley Brown, Malcolm X, Billy Wilder, Jimmy Hoffa
1964: Vladimir Nabokov, Ayn Rand, Jean Genet, Ingmar Bergman, Salvador Dali, Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali)
1965: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Beatles, Sean Connery, Al Capone
1966: Princess Grace (Kelly), Federico Fellini, Bob Dylan, Sammy Davis Jr.
1967: Fidel Castro, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Johnny Carson
1968: Alex Haley, Truman Capote, Ralph Nader
1969: Marshall McLuhan, Lee Marvin, Gore Vidal, Bill Cosby, Joe Namath
1970: Ray Charles, Tiny Tim, Joan Baez, William Kunstler
1971: Mae West, John Wayne, George McGovern, Charles Evers
1972: Howard Cosell, Germain Greer, Sam Peckinpah, Jack Nicholson
1973: Joe Frazier, Tennessee Williams, Walter Cronkite, Pete Rozelle
1974: Clint Eastwood, Groucho Marx, Hank Aaron, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt
1975: Billie Jean King, Dustin Hoffman, Joseph Heller, Erica Jong
1976: Elton John, Norman Lear, David Bowie, Robert Altman, Jimmy Carter
1977: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Saturday Night Live cast, Barbra Streisand
1978: Don Meredith, David Frost, Anita Bryant, Sylvester Stallone, Geraldo Rivera
1979: Marlon Brando, Neil Simon, Pete Rose, Al Pacino
1980: Steve Martin, Gay Talese, George C. Scott, G. Gordon Liddy
1981: John and Yoko Ono, Ed Asner, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, James Michener
1982: George Carlin, Lech Walesa, Billy Joel, Luciano Pavarotti
1983: Dudley Moore, Gabriel Garcia Marqez, Sam Donaldson, Ansel Adams
1984: Paul Simon, Calvin Klein, Jesse Jackson, Dan Rather, Paul and Linda McCartney
1985: Steven Jobs, 60 Minutes team, Wayne Gretzky, Sting
1986: Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Sally Field, Kathleen Turner, Carl Bernstein
1987: Don Johnson, Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, John Scully
1988: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oliver Stone, Don King, Yasser Arafat
1989: Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, The Irish Republican Army, Gary Kasparov
1990: Tom Cruise, Donald Trump, Quincy Jones, Leona Helmsley
1991: Lee Iacocca, Martin Scorsese, Robert Maxwell, Robin Williams
1992: Lorne Michaels, Liz Smith, Michael Jordan, William Safire, Sharon Stone
1993: Steve Martin, Anne Rice, Barry Bonds, Jerry Seinfeld
1994: David Letterman, Howard Stern, Ron Howard, Bill Gates
1995: Vladimir Zhirinovsky, David Mamet, Joyce Elders, Cindy Crawford
1996: Bruce Willis, Salman Rushdie, Mike Wallace, Nicolas Cage
1997: Saul Bellow, Christopher Walken, Brett Favre
1998: Mike Tyson, Matt Drudge, Jerry Springer, Paul Reiser
1999: Michael Crichton, Samuel L. Jackson, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)
2000: Hugh Hefner, Jon Stewart, Pete Rose, Drew Barrymore
2001: Vince McMahon, Bobby Knight, Dale Earnhardt Jr, The West Wing cast
2002: Bill O’Reilly, Brit Hume, Lennox Lewis
So far, I’m completely and utterly disappointed with Playboy 2.0, the reincarnation it’s gone through in 2015. Although, to be honest, was Playboy maybe slipping already by the late 90s and through the 2000s? Well, it definitely wasn’t what it was in the 60s and 70s and even 80s.
For Playboy to once again become an iconic and valuable part of the cultural landscape, it needs to return to its roots. It needs to lead the way with cultural development, not seek to satisfy the average reader with scandal pics and bullshit.
Bring back long-form literature
Internet space is unlimited. Publish long articles. Publish short stories. Publish great literature.
Bring back the journalism
Yes, the industry is in peril. Consumption is so fast that all the major news publications have caved to the stupidity of the audience by offering quick nonsense pieces without real substance. Articles are more about interviewing victims and emotional wastes of time than real analysis of any situation, because that’s why people want. Fuck people. Internet space is unlimited. Invest in publishing great analytical pieces on politics, philosophy, art and science. Let’s stop aiming for Joe Average and get back to creating pieces that genuinely offer something to humanity.
Bring back nudity
Yes, nudes are simply better than even a sexy bikini. Why? Because they cross a very important line. Because they are wholly representative of an uncompromising positive ideal and openness and honesty that society desperately needs to be constantly reminded of.