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1962_04_28--034_SP Czar of Bunny World

Hefner inspects the Playboy Club's bevy of "bunnies," the comehithering waitresses whom patrons can ogle, but may not touch. nude calendar photograph, his first PLAYMATE OF THE MONTH, bought from the calendar company for $200 for a one-time presentation. Hefner rounded up some risque jokes and cartoons, and a few secondhand literary properties that had been printed before in other magazines; he contributed several pages of his own prose; and in November, 1953, he went to press with $10,000 raised through the sale of stock to trusting friends, and $600 obtained through hocking his own possessions. Volume 1, No. 1 of Playboy carried no date. He wasn't sure there would be a Volume 1, No. 2. The brash new publication sold 55,000 copies at fifty cents apiece, however, and Hefner was under way. By the time he and Paul were ready to assemble the fourth issue, they were solvent enough to move into an office in downtown Chicago. Hef- ner slept there on a cot. Even after he could afford to hire such astute veterans as editor-writer A. C. Spectorsky (the author of the best-selling book, The Exurbanites), the magazine remained in large part a one-man concept. At first Hefner had trouble setting the cornerstone of his concept, the PLAYMATE OF THE MONTH. Even models didn't want to strip for his cameras. One day his subscription manager, an attractive girl named Janet Pilgrim, walked into his office to plead for an Addressograph machine. Hefner coolly weighed her charms and said, "You can have the machine if you'll pose as a PLAYMATE OF THE MONTH." Miss Pilgrim obliged, not once but three times. This was the break- through. A small army of females apparently said to themselves, "If she can do it, I guess it's O.K. for me to do it too," and Hefner was deluged. He has a sprinkling of ex-Playmates working as secretaries in his office. By 1960 Hefner had a publishing giant on his hands; a circulation exceeding 1,000,000 and more than $2,300,000 in advertising revenue. Hefner now was a wealthy man, with an estimated personal worth of more than $1,000,000. He began to look for new worlds to conquer. In 1959 Playboy had run an article about the Gaslight Club in Chicago—an establishment with 1890's decor, scantily clad waitresses and an exclusivity of sorts, which its members could purchase along with a key to the joint. The response to this Playboy article was so great that Hefner took over the idea for himself. The result was the Playboy Clubs, which Hefner plugs unashamedly with long articles in the magazine. As conceived by Hefner, a Playboy Club is a sort of American version of the Japanese geisha house, with the obvious difference that Hefner's geishas—his "bunnies"—wear considerably less cloth- ing. For fifty dollars (twenty-five dollars for out-of-towners) any tired businessman with an acceptable credit rating can obtain a gold key which will admit him to the local Playboy Club to refresh himself with good food, drink, entertainment and both first- and secondhand observa- tion of the female form. The secondhand observation is via nude color photos of PLAYMATES OF THE MONTH, whOSe charms are displayed in blown-up illuminated transparencies mounted like stained- glass windows in the otherwise windowless club. The firsthand observation is via the "bunnies" who work as waitresses, hostesses and hatcheck girls, wearing nothing but rabbit ears and a garment which can only be described as a onepiece, flank-exposing satin corset, with a cottontail affixed to its rear. Through the Playboy Clubs, Hefner has become the nation's biggest purchaser of nightclub talent (he books nine acts every three weeks in the Chicago Playboy Club alone). His 106,000 Chicago key- holders bought more food and whisky (at $1.50 per drink) than the combined patrons of many other top restaurants and nightclubs in Chicago in 1961. He makes a small fortune out of selling Playboy gifts, ranging from the two-dollar satin-and-lace garter "for your playmate" and the three-dollar book of ribald classics "spun by Casanova, Boccaccio and other playboys of the past" to a gourmet guide ($12.50) of recipes for food and drink "to prepare for yourself and your bunny." Hefner's Bunny Empire promotes giant jazz festivals, produces a syndi- cated television series (paid for by out- side sponsors) featuring Hefner and show-business guests with bunnies and playmates as backdrops, and is rapidly expanding into hotels and motion-picture production. The first of his hotels, with bachelor suites complete with hi-fi and bar, will open in Hollywood in conjunction with his new Playboy Club there. The only blooper on Hefner's record is a magazine called Show Business Il- lustrated. Spurred on by Frank Sinatra, Hefner launched his new magazine with great fanfare in August, 1961. By De- cember, 1961, the fanfare had developed a sour note. Without an equivalent of the PLAYMATE OF THE MONTH, and without risque cartoons and stories, Hefner apparently was over his head. In December editorial director Frank Gibney, art director Leonard Jossel, and several other members of S.B.I.'s staff resigned en masse. Hefner blames them for the failure of the magazine, saying, "I hired a lot of square people to run a hip magazine." Gibney, who has since become publisher of Huntington Hart- ford's rival magazine Show, says, "There was one problem, pure and simple. Hefner wanted us to run a lot of stuff like nude showgirls in Las Vegas and the dirty footage cut out of European films by the censors—and we wouldn't do it." By early this year it was estimated by Hefner's own people that the new maga- zine was losing $75,000 per issue. In January it was announced that Show Business Illustrated would be published only once a month instead of every two weeks. The magazine went out of business completely shortly thereafter when Hefner announced its sale to its rival, Show. Even so, Hefner is en route to becoming a very rich man indeed. His Playboy Clubs are so jammed nightly that their combined incomes reached $4,571,360 in 1961, and the lines of waiting customers outside their doors sometimes resemble those outside Radio City Music Hall. Red Skelton recently braved the mobs in the Chicago club and came away muttering, "I can't believe it. All those guys paying fifty dollars for a key which gives them the privilege of buying drinks at a buck- fifty a throw and gawking at some halfdressed broads." Actually, Hefner gives them more. His clubs have been a boon to show business, presenting fine young talent, like Negro comedian Dick Gregory, who was a car-washer when he first appeared in the Chicago club. But there are pitfalls which confront Hefner. First of all, his clubs have run away from the Upbeat Generation Revolt. The young rebels simply can't af- ford them, and the clientele of the clubs is no longer distinguishable from the revelers at any other night spot. Of the 106,000 Chicago club members, only `An American version of the Japanese geisha house, with the obvious difference that Hefner's geishas —his bunnies'—wear considerably less clothing." Photographs by John Bryson and Slim Aarons


1962_04_28--034_SP Czar of Bunny World
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