It takes a special kind of woman to buy her husband a collection of old Playboy Magazines (circ. 1963) at an estate sale. Sharon did just that while I was out of town conducting a workshop. It was a pleasant surprise when I came home and for all the right reasons.
Perusing old centerfolds was fascinating because it took me back to a time and place that no longer exists for this country. The old magazines were a time capsule of our, some of us at least, lives. They proved to be a political, social, sexual and cultural study of America back in the Sixties. Nineteen Sixty-Three - more specifically, exactly fifty-five years ago.
This ‘real life’ anthropological study reflected many of our country’s mores, morals, hang-ups, misconceptions, prejudices, assumptions and naiveté most of which have all been washed away by time and fact.
I spaced out my collection to one magazine per sunset. Reclining on my lounge chair, I let my imagination and keen eyes savor those old tired, mainly black and white pages, of an era that existed primarily in the imagination of the publisher and his readers.
This time around I spent more time on the articles than the centerfolds. In fact, advertising today shows more eye-popping flesh than most of the centerfolds did back then. I actually read a lot of the articles unlike before when I just lied about that.
Even with a quick glance at those women with their eye-popping assets, one can see they must have been artificially induced. Appendages just don’t grow like that in real life. However, Playboy was never about ‘real life.’
But that imaginative image of the cool sophisticated male along with the Playboy penthouse, fast cars, exotic vacations and nightly rendezvous at some dark, smoky jazz club where ‘lucky’ was the constant number, was all part of the mystic, lore, stories, lies, wet dreams and rampant imagination that Hefner had connected with. With a monthly circulation of just under three million and at .60 cents a pop, the man/publisher/image-maker was clearly on to something.
Studied at length the magazines paint a primitive yet persuasive picture of the typical ‘man about town.’ It was a wonderful caricature imagined in the mind of Hugh Hefner and visualized in photographs, paintings, suggestive cartoons and the every-present ‘girl next door’ sans her clothing. I especially liked studying the Playboy Philosophy for Hugh’s take on sexual freedom, the ‘Who Reads Playboy’ ads for their subtle hint at materialism as the ultimate goal and especially anything centering on the collegiate experience.
Back in 1963, I was in my second year at the College of St. Thomas, quickly running out of money to pay the tuition and falling for the girl next campus. It was a whirlwind of confusing emotions and envy at ‘those guys’ on the quad who seemed to have the clothes, the cars and of course, the girls. I had gotten sucked up into the fantasy that was ‘Playboy on campus,’ a subtle yet powerful advertising mechanism to sell product and illusion to malleable young minds.
Those fading, mainly black and white, magazines brought back all those old memories of yearning for I didn’t know what, jealousy at the guys who got the girls, and envy for their perceived lifestyle.
The ads were wonderfully effective in their subtle yet persuasive manner of painting a picture of things I didn’t know I wanted or needed. The Playboy life style painted a façade of sophistication, education, money and women then somehow implied it was for all of us to attain.
The most impactful of these delusions occurred in the fall of 1964 when I was stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco. While lounging in the enlisted men’s rec. room I happened upon the Fall Campus Edition of Playboy. There, spread out before my envious eyes, were beautiful coeds, Mustang convertibles and fashion-conscious jocks lounging about the quad in their latest duds and school flags. It was a world that seemed a million or more miles away and a lifetime out of reach. Looking at those beautiful girls made me sad, envious, and just a little bit lecherous.
As I learned over time, the girls or really the carefully crafted manikins’ of the same persuasion, were wonderful dangling carrots to dream about as I carved out an existence and make good use of my time while serving Uncle Sam. Upon my discharge, the illusions disappeared and reality with all of its warts, dreams and reality-bites took its place. As we used to say: ‘Welcome back to the real world.’
Then I would add with a grin, ‘but thanks for the dreams along the way.’