There are apparently a few cool cats springing up behind the Iron Curtain these days, because we understand that Playboy is now the most popular magazine on the black market in Moscow—the same gents who secretly tune in the jazz programs on Voice of America, we presume. A West Coast newspaper column also reported recently that American airmen stationed in the Arctic have discovered that Playboy is their most valuable item of barter when they pay a visit to the Russian airfield nearby. We haven't heard about any editorializing on the broader implications of the Playboy view of life in any of the official Russian press, but I think we can safely assume that if they've formed any opinion on the subject, it's negative.
The Canadian Broadcasting Company has done an hour-long network radio documentary (Playboy of the Modern World) and a half-hour network television program (The Most) on Playboy this year—the Canadians came to Chicago for more than a week for each show, used thousands of feet of tape and film in the Playboy Building, the Club and the Playboy Mansion. Both have been nominated for awards and are far and away the most accurate and best coverage the world of Playboy has been given to date in any medium. Yet a small-circulation Canadian magazine, Saturday Night, published an article at just about the same time, titled "Dream World of the Sex Magazines," that claims the recurring theme in Playboy and its imitators is "the brutalization of women." We assume they're referring to psychological or social brutalization, since we never lay a hand on a female except in passion or self-defense.
Comment about Playboy keeps popping up everywhere these days—in movies, on TV, in nightclub acts: In Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three, Berlin Coca-Cola boss Jimmy Cagney's male assistant got himself delayed while on an unusual errand into East Berlin, dressed as a girl, because the border guards spent a half an hour trying to talk him into letting them shoot some pictures of him for Playboy. Joey Bishop announced on the Tonight show that he'd discovered the perfect Easter gift for pal Frank Sinatra—a Bunny from the Playboy Club. Mort Sahl expressed concern about an entire new generation of guys growing up convinced that girls fold in three parts. And have staples in their navels.
Art Buchwald kidded about Playboy's impact on the country in his internationally syndicated column: "Some people are afraid that Hefner may try to take over the United States, if not by force, at least by sex. He has 130,000 Playboy Club keyholders now who have pledged to follow Hefner in whatever direction he wishes to go. They all have keys and if Hefner can change the locks on some of the government buildings in Washington, including the White House, there is no reason why he couldn't take over the country. Many people think Bobby Kennedy's recent trip around the world was a secret mission for Mr. Hefner to find new locations for Playboy Clubs. The slogan of the Playboy is, of course, 'Today girls, tomorrow the world.'"
A Unitarian minister, John A. Crane, in Santa Barbara, California, devoted an entire sermon to the subject, "Philosophy and Fantasy in Playboy Magazine and What This Suggests About Us": "Playboy comes close now to qualifying as a movement, as well as a magazine," he said. "It strikes me that Playboy is a religious magazine, though I will admit I have a peculiar understanding of the meaning of the word. What I mean is that the magazine tells its readers how to get into heaven. It tells them what is important in life, delineates an ethics for them, tells them how to relate to others, tells them what to lavish their attention and energy upon, gives them a model of a kind of person to be. It expresses a consistent world view, a system of values, a philosophical outlook.
"Not only does Playboy create a new image of the ideal man, it also creates a slick little universe all its own, creates what you might call an alternative version of reality in which men may live in their minds. It's a light and jolly kind of universe, a world in which a man can be forever carefree, where a man can remain, like Peter Pan, a boy forever and ever. There are no nagging demands and responsibilities, no complexities or complications."
And yet Reverend Crane, like Reverend Larson in his article for Motive, winds up expressing some positive, if qualified, feelings about Playboy: "But for the most part, the magazine is, I would expect, pretty harmless. It amuses its readers by creating a delightful imaginary world for them, a world that they find it fun to live in; and everybody needs a little fun now and then. The only real harm that it does, I think, is negative: It does nothing important for its readers, doesn't lead them anywhere, does nothing to enlarge or deepen their awareness of themselves and their lives, does nothing to encourage the growth of insight or understanding."
But in that same month, in the very same state, columnist Hugh Russell Fraser took a very different view of the more serious side of Playboy's content. Devoting an entire column, on the editorial page of the Daily Commercial News, the West Coast's oldest business newspaper, to Playboy in general and the then current issue (March) in particular, he wrote: "One of the most intellectual magazines in America. For a magazine that is devoted to 'Entertainment for Men,' it is strangely concerned with two things few men, and even fewer women, have any real interest in: namely, truth and beauty."
Fraser goes on to extol the literary and intellectual virtues of the March issue, which he says "comes close to being a sheer work of art." It is the same issue that was on sale at the time of the Unitarian sermon questioning whether Playboy "does anything important for its readers," but there is no connection between the Santa Barbara sermon and the San Francisco column, except that both were written on the same subject, within a month of one another; we're quite certain that the columnist knew nothing whatever about this minister's sermon, and vice versa.
Fraser expresses himself enthusiastically on the subject of March Playmate Pamela Gordon, and then says: "Having drunk deep of this rare and costly wine, let us glance over the other pages. Here J. Paul Getty, the billionaire (tactfully the magazine does not remind us of the fact) has a thought-provoking indictment of The Vanishing Americans. He holds that 'in the restless voice of dissent lies the key to a nation's vitality and greatness.' And that dissent is disappearing. Indeed, it has almost disappeared.
"In the same issue, Alfred Kazin, in my judgment the greatest living literary critic, examines The Love Cult, a slight misnomer, since what he is examining is not a cult but the whole general concept of love from Plato to Freud to the modern psychiatrists. The role that it has played in Christian dogma, as he analyzes it, is especially impressive and is alone worth the price of the magazine.