Playboy's 1963 January issue finds America's most well-respected
rag in classic form. Sure, other magazines published the musings
of William Saroyan, William Buckley, Budd Schulberg and Norman
Mailer, but did they also have the courtesy to give you an
erection? I don't think so.
The cover says it all. The rascally rabbit sipping champagne
in his smoking jacket and slippers, in a den decorated tastefully
red, aloof and self-satisfied amidst a gallery of creamy-thighed,
pert-breasted trophy girls framed on his wall.
At an even one dollar the copy, the January issue is brimming
with upbeat energy, an optimistic view of the new year and
all the years yet to come. And why not? America the Beautiful
was at its peak: square-cut corners were giving way to a curvy
creativity, hometown girls across the land were proving the
value of getting laid for fun, Man was set to explore space,
maybe even the moon, the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement
was poised to eradicate racism, and the President was humping
Marilyn Monroe in between keeping the world safe from Ivan
Just months before, in a grandmaster's strategem of executive
brinksmanship, JFK had sent those Russkie ICBMs packing from
wily Cuba. The threat of instant global annihilation had never
been more real. But we had faced it down big time. Things
were great, and could only get better.
Good God, if they only knew!
Hailing from the era where sexual harassment in the office
was taken as a recurrent subject of cartoon amusement, this
holiday issue is chock-full of goodness from the age of solid-state,
push-button convenience. Nary a hint of the impending
Beatlemania lurking just off the national radar is to be seen
(in fact, there's no inkling yet Hef was even aware of that
bastard child of country and R&B - a.k.a. Rock and Roll).
Hef would try to remedy that much later by hanging out with
Fred Durst. But for now, Playboy's dogged chronicling of jazz,
beat poets and all-around 1963 hipness fills out this large
And of course, el sexo delicioso. Scoping out the nudie revue
of '62, we're struck again by how well the perfect balance
between foxy and wholesome is maintained. There were no overtones
of call girl professionalism to be found. And a tuft of pubic
hair would still be taboo for another ten years, when the
race to the bottom courtesy of guys like Bob Guccione officially
This was the land before implants. But remember - it was
also the age before breast REDUCTIONS, as demonstrated by
of the 39-inch bra-busters of models like Avis Kimble, Jan
Roberts, Pamela Gordon and Unne Terjesen. The women of this
era also represent many different types of shapeliness, from
sprightly and petite to massively stacked. Platinum blond
is the chic coif providing counterpoint to Betty Crocker flips
and beehivish high-rises. These vintage babes are hot - they
probably still are!
Elsewhere, there seems to be more creative uses of printing,
design, paper stock, die cutting etc. than usual, even for
the magazine that set the trend, including a cool profile
of the late author Ernest Hemingway. In fact, capitalizing
on a popular
trend of the day, the issue comes complete with a grown-up
"coloring book" insert, which ends with a girl in
a wedding dress being stood up by her no-good playboy boyfriend.
But it's done in that early, more playful than isn't-casual-sex-great
decadent attitude - downright quaint in these troubled times.
And one can only marvel at the advances made in electronics
and miniaturization over the four last decades. Boggle at
the 3-pound monster of a "portable" radio retailing
for just 80 bucks! A 19-inch, black-and-white TV WITH remote
control for only $259.95 in 1963 dollars? Six Andy Williams,
Doris Day and Ether Merman records for $1.99? Dude, I am so
But wait. Just when things are completely going his way,
could it be that Hugh Hefner has
finally met his match in the form of a published letter by John
A. Crane, Unitarian minister from Santa Barbara? Crane's attack
on Playboy's objectification of women is made all the more
astounding by the fact that he's not a fire-and-brimstone
bible-pounder, but an intelligent, reasonable, lucid, probably
liberal individual with a gift for narration.
Writes Preacher Crane: "Not only does Playboy create
a new image of the ideal man, it also creates a slick little
universe all its own...It is a universe for rather elegant
and refined consumers, and girls are the grandest of all consumer
goods. A girl is something, like a sports car or a bottle
of Scotch or an Ivy League suit, that is meant to be used
and enjoyed by men. But always with flair, with polish. There
need be no entangling, no stifling alliances or obligations.
Girls are playthings, and once enjoyed will have to be set
aside and replaced with others new and fresh."
By Jove, I believe he's got it!
Hef's waffling, long-winded self-justification pales next
to the Unitarian party-pooper's
silver-tongued indictment. Score one for the Holy Man. Still,
all I can say to impressionable kids across America is this:
if God didn't want you looking at Playboys, He wouldn't have
hidden them under your bed.
Even though he pans "Naked Lunch" in this issue
(too messy, too weird), give Hef credit: one thing that quickly
jumps out at the reader is how well-written and eloquent his
content is. One can easily track the very real decline in
American literacy just by perusing Playboy's articles in reverse
Sweet 1963. Despite the halo of Leisure and Liberty sheltering
every good American and freeing up lots of time to imagine
what women looked like under their sweaters, there were signs
of trouble ahead - the world was firmly entrenched in the
of the Cold War. Trouble was brewing in Southeast Asia and
the Middle East. Unrest was beginning to simmer on the home
front as the first of Hippy generation started making for
college. And of course this was to be the year Bobby Dylan
turned George on to pot. Then there were those "bad boy"
Rolling Stones lurking in the shadows. And crack-shot creep
Lee Harvey Oswald was practicing lone gunman-style for his
downtown Dallas rendezvous that autumn.
But you'd never know it from this issue, an encapsulation
of everything spirited, sensual, good and right with our young
nation at the time. Good times and great boobies. Come on
Preacher Crane, please - don't be hatin'.