Exactly nine years ago this month, the first issue of Playboy was published, with a personal investment of $600 and $6000 begged or borrowed from anyone who would stand still long enough to listen to "a new idea for a men's magazine." Now something of a collector's item, that issue—forged with much youthful zeal by a small group of dedicated iconoclasts who shared a publishing dream—seems almost childishly crude when compared with the magazine you hold in your hands. We have come a long way since then, in editorial scope and polish as well as in circulation, and we are mightily pleased whenever we are complimented on this fact. But when well-wishers sometimes praise us for the way in which our magazine has changed, we must shake our head in disagreement. The fact is that in its basic concepts and its editorial attitude, in its view of itself and its view of life, its feelings about its readers and—we believe—their feelings toward it, the magazine called Playboy is the same today as it was nine years ago. Improved—yes, we like to think. Altered in its aims and outlook—definitely no.
Recently, and increasingly in the past year, Playboy's aims and outlook have been given considerable comment in the press, particularly in the journals of social, philosophical and religious opinion, and have become a popular topic of conversation at cocktail parties around the country. While we've been conscious of the virtues in seeing ourselves as others see us, we've also felt the image is occasionally distorted; having listened patiently for so long a time to what others have decided Playboy represents and stands for, we've decided—on this ninth anniversary—to state our own editorial credo here, and offer a few personal observations on our present-day society and Playboy's part in it—an effort we hope to make interesting to friends and critics alike.
Opinion on Playboy
When Professor Archibald Henderson titled his definitive biography of George Bernard Shaw Playboy and Prophet, he probably came closer to using the word Playboy as we conceive it than is common today. Certainly, he did not mean that the highly prolific playwright-critic was an all-play-no-work sybarite. He certainly did not mean to suggest that Shaw led a pleasure-seeking life of indolent ease, nor that the platonically inclined vegetarian was leading a secret life of the seraglio. He did mean—and he told us so when he visited our offices on the occasion of the founding of the Shaw Society in Chicago—that Shaw was a man who approached life with immense gusto and relish. As a word, Playboy has suffered semantic abuse: Its most frequent usage in the press is to characterize those functionless strivers after pleasure whom Federico Fellini, in La Dolce Vita, showed to be so joylessly diligent in their pursuit of self-pleasuring as to be more deserving of sympathy than righteous condemnation. Playboy, the magazine, has been sometimes tarred with the same brush—usually by those who are more zealous in their criticism than in their reading of it. We have been accused of leadership in a cult of irresponsibility and of aiding in the decline of the Western world. We deny it.
With Playboy's ever-increasing popularity, it would be foolish for us to pretend that the publication doesn't exert a considerable influence upon our society. But what kind of influence? Opinions vary. We first became aware that Playboy was developing into something more than a magazine when readers began purchasing Playboy products in considerable quantities: everything from cufflinks, ties, sport shirts, tuxedoes and bar accessories to playing cards, personalized matches and stickers for their car windows—all with the Playboy Rabbit as the principal design and principal motivation for the purchase. Readers were soon buying Playboy earrings, necklaces, ankle bracelets, sweaters and Playmate perfume for their own particular playmates, and we wondered at the unusual degree of identification that the men who purchase Playboy each month obviously feel for the magazine and its editorial point of view. They sought, and we gladly supplied, a mark of identity in common with the publication—the sort of honor a man usually reserved for his fraternity, or a special business or social association. By the time we were ready to open the first Playboy Club in 1960, we fully appreciated the impact that Playboy, in its many forms, was having upon the urban community (for by then we'd witnessed the success of the Playboy Jazz Festival, Playboy records, Playboy Tours and our nationally syndicated television show, Playboy's Penthouse).
The professional critics and commentators on the contemporary scene could not too long resist supplying a personal analysis of the Playboy phenomenon. In Commentary—"A journal of significant thought and opinion on Jewish affairs and contemporary issues," Benjamin DeMott, professor of English at Amherst, wrote an article on the subject, "The Anatomy of 'Playboy,'" which he sums up as "the whole man reduced to his private parts."
But in "Playboy's Doctrine of Male" by Harvey Cox, first published in Christianity and Crisis—"A Christian Journal of Opinion," and reprinted in The Intercollegian—"A Journal of Christian Encounter," and the editorial pages of a number of college newspapers, Playboy is criticized for being "basically antisexual." Cox describes Playboy as "one of the most spectacular successes in the entire history of American journalism," but stamps us as "dictatorial tastemakers," decries the emphasis on emotionally uninvolved "recreational sex" and announces that—like the sports car, liquor and hi-fi—girls are just another "Playboy accessory."
Writing for Motive—"The Magazine of the Methodist Student Movement," Reverend Roy Larson states: "Playboy is more than just a handbook for the young-man-about-town: It's a sort of bible which defines his values, shapes his personality, sets his goals, dictates his choices and governs his decisions. The Playboy philosophy has become...a sort of substitute religion." But Reverend Larson rather likes Playboy: He sympathizes with our interest in "style"—he is "upset by those people in the Church who seem to assume...that averageness is more Christlike than distinctiveness. Certainly—God knows—there's nothing in the mainstream of the Christian tradition which justifies this canonization of mediocrity." And a bit further: "I sympathize with Playboy's revolt against narrow, prudish Puritanism, even though I would disagree with the way this revolt is expressed."
The general press has also decided that Playboy's popularity may have broad implications (no pun intended) and though there isn't yet the same attempt at pseudo-socio- and psychoanalytical evaluation, the title of a recent feature story on Playboy in Time, "The Boss of Taste City," indicates that they, too, are at least vaguely aware that something more than a successful magazine and several key clubs is involved here. The story in the Saturday Evening Post, "Czar of the Bunny Empire" by Bill Davidson, was the most superficial and inaccurate piece done on us to date, with almost all of the quotes, and many of the facts, simply invented by the author to suit his purpose, but the Post spent more than $100,000 in advertising and promoting that single article and it sold a whale of a lot of extra copies of that lagging magazine.
There have actually been more major magazine stories on Playboy in Europe during the last year than in the United States, and they have all been extremely favorable; both the greater number and the kinder editorial disposition can be explained in part, we suspect, by our not being in competition with foreign publications for either circulation or advertising dollars; but considering that we are competitors (and doing a bit better than the rest), and not forgetting the general moral climate of middle-class America (at whom most mass media are aimed), the magazines and newspapers around the country that have written about Playboy have been, by and large, quite fair. (Though occasionally a prejudice does creep in, as when a Playboy Club story in Life turned into a general key club story, because, as the editors reportedly decided, "We don't want to give all that free publicity to Playboy, do we?")