It would be very wrong to say that I collect vintage Playboy magazines. I do – in a way – but it would be very wrong to say it. You would probably take it the wrong way. You would assume that I’m some kind of pervert or worse.
I don’t mean to mislead you. I don’t have a vast array of Playboy magazines. But while I was living in Austin (circa 2005) I bumped into a vintage knick-knack dealer who specialized in 1970s artifacts. Sitting on a harvest gold TV table was a stack of Playboys from the 70s and 80s. I found more on the floor near a coat rack.
The old joke is that people read Playboy for the articles, but it’s not really a joke. Important news articles were mixed with pictures of naked women, ads for sex toys and expensive porn vacations. And let’s not forget men’s fashion.
In the 70s, Playboy employed some of the best writers of the day. Robert Scheer interviewed presidential candidates for Playboy. John Luis Borges and Paul Theroux were published within its pages. And, of course, many famous and emerging actresses stripped for its photographers. The components, melded together, created a magazine that was ultra-hip and edgy for its day.
I sorted through the stacks, looking through the collection of memorable articles. Since they were $5 each, I had to be selective in what I chose to purchase. There’s the issue featuring an interview with Jimmy Carter, in which he admits that he’s lusted in his heart. In another edition, there’s an interview with “America’s No. 1 fugitive: Abbie Hoffman.” The country is introduced to the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” in another issue…
So you see, it’s not about the porn. Though I will admit that I couldn’t help but notice it. And I will tell you this: Playboy from the 70s is soft-core – sort of like Maxim or any other current over-the-counter men’s magazine. Like the rest of the country, Playboy in the 80s became something very different. It moved away from its “natural approach” and featured more glitz and tackiness. Perhaps it was only natural: as the US went, so did Playboy.
Rather than explain it any further, let’s take a look at the non-porn that Playboy featured in the 70s…. Starting with an ad for Johnny Carson Apparel.
Who knew that Johnny Carson could host America's favorite late night talk show, play tennis, scuba, and parachute out of a plane? Not me. I love how he says that he would like it "with the look of denim." Me too.
I really miss Johnny Carson.