The passing of Hugh Hefner makes me remember one of my prize possessions - a collection of vintage Playboy magazines I inherited from my grandfather. They are now in the 'library' of my own cottage and lest you think I keep them for prurient interests (an innocent Google search of an ambiguous word will bring up infinitely worse images) I consider them interesting historical documents. Yes, I read the articles.
I wrote about them back in 1999. Here's that column...
Angel In The Centerfold
by Stephen Lautens
We celebrated my Grandfather’s 85th birthday last week. He shows no signs of slowing down. He goes shopping every day, and although legally blind he still won his local mini-golf tournament.
It’s a good thing I’m not counting on any inheritance. His mother kept going well into her nineties. I’ll be in the next room at the retirement home before I’m likely to collect a dime.
Besides, I already have the family treasure. Packed away in the basement is Grampa’s vintage Playboy collection.
The hundred or so magazines run from the late 50s to the 70s, and were the highlight of my summers at the cottage, where Grampa maintained his library. He kept them in the attic, along with a couple of nudist volleyball magazines. The nudist magazines caused great confusion during my formative years. In the 50s everyone’s bodies were so highly airbrushed that they were as featureless as Barbie dolls.
Looking back though the old Playboys is like opening a time capsule. The men’s fashions start off looking like Drew Carey in the fifties, and end up in with the velvet capes and ruffled shirts of the seventies. It would be funny except for the fact that most teenagers are now wearing the same clothes. Not to mention Austin Powers.
I get hours of fun looking at the ads. Bob Dylan’s greatest hits are for sale on 8-Track or reel-to-reel tape for $2.50. And who could resist Ravi Shankar Live at the Monterey Pop Festival, or John Davidson singing Georgy Girl?
The 1963 Volkswagen Beetle looks interesting, especially with a new one selling for $1,500. I wonder if they'll ever catch on? The same goes for these new home computers they kept talking about in the 70s. I can't imagine anyone ever needing one of those things.
It’s not all funny. There’s a letter to the editor by the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald saying she doesn’t believe her son was a lone gunman, spawning decades of conspiracy theories. An American Senator writes in 1968 questioning the wisdom of waging war in Vietnam.
And of course, there’s the sex.
Looking through the back issues it seems like there was less nudity in Playboy than you now get in an evening of television.
What really surprised me was how the centerfolds looked. In a word, they looked normal.
While certainly not chubby, make no mistake - these are full-figured gals. No skinny stick insects with plastic additions that today inspire a generation of girls to develop eating disorders. These days they would be rushed off to a weight clinic and fed nothing but sprouts and low fat yogurt.
The models aren’t airbrushed to perfection. Tan lines are there for all to see. So is every mole and imperfection. In short, while pretty, they didn’t set up standards that are impossible to meet. They are real people. The girl next door.
Somehow that seems like a healthier attitude towards beauty than we have today with liposuction, cosmetic surgery and trying to squeeze a size 12 body into a size 2 dress.
By my calculations, Miss November 1966 will be fifty-five sometime this year. I hope she's aged gracefully and naturally. No matter what, according to Grandpa's library she'll always be twenty-two.
(c) Stephen Lautens