Chicago's American stated: "Everyone is passing the buck on Playboy magazine jazz festival for August 8-9, in advance of the Pan American games. Playboy, as its readers know, is an authority on American jazz. But it is also, as practically everybody knows, an authority on the female form.
"Along with its articles on modern music and foreign cars, Playboy features color photos of lush young ladies, wearing dazzling smiles, maybe a pair of shoes and little or nothing else. It's that which has injected a sour note into the jazz festival plans. It's more or less an open secret that the reason the Park District and the Pan-American Committee hedged on letting Playboy use Soldier Field was pressure from those who disapprove of the magazine's reputation.
"James Gately, Park District president, said the matter is out of his hands and is up to the Pan-American Committee. Victor Perlmutter, Pan-American Festival Committee president, subsidiary of the Games committee which is arranging various cultural events in connection with the Games, said: 'As far as I'm concerned, I'm in favor of the jazz festival. I think it would be a fine contribution.'"
The man behind the city officials' sudden reversal was the Very Reverend Msgr. John M. Kelly, editor of the Catholic New World, who the American more recently quoted on the subject of obscenity. Msgr. Kelly admitted that it was he who called Playboy's "reputation" to the attention of the Park District, the Pan-American Games Committee and the mayor. He told the American: "Playboy is not a fit sponsor for such an event. The quality of the magazine is such, in my opinion, that it should not share in the sponsorship of any part of the Pan-American Festival."
The Sun-Times published a letter from reader Joan Gallagher who said: "The sordid efforts of both the Chicago Park District and the Pan-American Games Committee to keep the Playboy magazine Jazz Festival out of Soldier Field are among this year's most disgusting events.
"It is unfortunate that in a city that begs for cultural events, jazz cannot find a home. The Playboy Jazz Festival promised to be one of the major cultural events in the city's recent history. It is testimony to the spinelessness of our administrators that the festival could not be held as planned, as part of the Festival of the Americas.
"Jazz speaks well for America, but Chicago doesn't speak well for jazz. I know that I am among the many jazz fans who hope that the festival will find a home here, despite the Park District and the Pan-American Committee."
The North Loop News editorialized: "The Pan-American Games scheduled for Chicago this summer deserve to be a flop if the sponsors [ignore] the principles of sportsmanship and feel free to break their solemn word at will. Regardless of the merits of their stand, which is not necessarily tenable, official of the Games told Playboy magazine that it could have the use of Soldier Field for its Jazz Festival August 7, 8 and 9. Now they are backing out. The reasons they give are vague, but it now appears that the pressure is coming from sources that object to sponsorship of the festival by Playboy magazine. This sort of pressure is dangerous, and the present indication that Pan-Am officials may bow to it is no credit to them."
The Pan-American Games and the Festival of the Americas were a flop.
Msgr. Kelly announced that he would continue to oppose Playboy's sponsorship of a jazz festival anywhere in the city. But we produced the events just the same—in the Chicago Stadium—and it turned out to be the most spectacular and successful jazz show ever presented anywhere in the world. All of the jazz greats were there—from the big bands of Kenton, Ellington and Basie, and the swing combos of Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, to the vocal stylings of June Christie, Chris Connor, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, the Four Freshmen, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported: "Some 19,000 Chicagoans packed the Chicago Stadium to pay a thundering homage to the Great God Jazz. They came from uptown, downtown. They came in cabs, on foot, on cycles. Because of heavy traffic and a drizzling rain, they came slowly, filling the giant stadium in almost unnoticeable ripples. By the time the last clusters were seated, half-an-hour after the star-studded Playboy Jazz Festival had begun, those who had come early were already gone. And I mean gone, man, really gone! They were caught up in the wild rhythms hurled out by Count Basie's band, which opened the four-hour concert.
"The festival, the biggest ever anywhere, was attended by jazz buffs from all over the world. There were some 200 newsmen from papers and magazines all over the United States and Europe. Photographers numbered in the 50s. The National Broadcasting Company and the Armed Forces Network taped the entire concert.
"The performance was a benefit for the Chicago Urban League. Said Dr. Nathaniel Calloway, League president: 'The turnout has exceeded our fondest expectations.'
"Perhaps Leonard Feather, noted jazz critic, best summed up the spirit of the evening when he said: 'Man, it was like being born again. I never dreamed anything this big could ever happen.'
"Added Feather: 'You know, it's great to see Chicago, where so much great jazz came from, become the center of the birth of jazz on this scale. It's sort of like this is where it should have happened. And I'm glad it did.'"
Nearly 70,000 attended the festival's five performances and after it was over most of the critics and jazz buffs who made the scene agreed with Leonard Feather's conclusion: "It was the greatest weekend in the 60-year history of jazz!"
Mort Sahl, who m.c.'d the show, noting the rain on opening night that would have dampened the affair if it had been held in the open-air Soldier Field as originally scheduled, remarked to the audience: "Well, I guess this proves which side God is on."
Six months later, Playboy opened its first key club. And, once again, Chicago officialdom became officious. Although Chicago had had key clubs for 25 years, the week we launched the first Playboy Club, Corporation Counsel John Melaniphy announced that key clubs were illegal.
There wasn't any law that said so, but Mr. Melaniphy made the announcement just the same. We weren't about to try building an international key-club operation with that kind of cloud hanging over us, so we took the matter to court and won a decision stating that the Playboy Club was legal and proper. Melaniphy appealed the decision and we won again in the Court of Appeals. Three years later, we found ourselves back in court with the same Corporation Counsel—this time Melaniphy contends that the June issue of the magazine is illegal.
Chicago isn't the only major city in the U.S. where church and state are still associated in an unholy alliance. In New York, where the only ground for divorce is adultery, and where a judge recently ruled that a child born in wedlock as the result of artificial insemination is illegitimate, Playboy has had to fight its key-club battle all over again. The SLA Liquor Scandal has been only one part of our multiple problems with New York officialdom since opening a Playboy Club in Manhattan last December. The State Liquor Authority announced, just as Melaniphy had, that the New York Playboy could not be a for-members-only key club, although the pertinent laws of the state are almost identical to those in Illinois. We took the case to court a third time, and won the same point—already confirmed twice in Illinois—once again; the SLA is appealing the decision.
Even more serious, Catholic Commissioner Bernard O'Connell refused to grant the Playboy Club a cabaret license, without which the Club is unable to offer patrons any entertainment, other than background music and the Bunnies. This wasn't a matter of official corruption, as we faced when first applying to SLA for a liquor license. Commissioner O'Connell is an honest man who is guilty only of allowing his personal religious convictions to influence his administrative decisions. O'Connell is opposed to the Playboy Club in concept, because of its association with the magazine—in the same way Melaniphy was opposed to it in Chicago (although the Playboy Clubs have proven to be the biggest convention attractions of any nightspot in either city), as Msgr. Kelly opposed the Playboy Jazz Festival and the unofficial representatives of the St. Louis Archdiocese opposed our syndicated television variety show, Playboy's Penthouse, forcing it off the air in that city at midseason.
Commissioner O'Connell was opposed to the Playboy Club before he knew anything about it or had ever held an official hearing on granting us a cabaret license. Prior to the hearing, O'Connell called a friend—an honest member of the new State Liquor Authority—and voiced his negative feelings about Playboy and the fact that SLA was, at that point, planning on issuing a liquor license to the Club. O'Connell was especially concerned, he said, about the costuming of the Bunnies. The SLA board members laughed and said; "Don't be an old woman, Bernie. My daughter goes to the public beach wearing less than those girls at the Playboy Club."
The commission held his official hearing, though he did not personally attend it, and then issued a statement refusing the Playboy Club a cabaret license. The reasons he gave were: (1) that the Playboy Club was a fraud, in that it held itself out to be a key club, whereas the SLA, at that point, was insisting that it had to be open to the general public without any payment of a key fee—a matter that has since been decided in our favor in the court; (2) the Bunnies "mingled" with the customers, which was against New York law—though the only "mingling" allowed in the New York Club is the serving of food and drink and the mingling referred to in the law refers to B-girls, who sit and drink with the customers; and (3) he disapproved of the Bunnies' costuming—although a number of waitresses in other New York clubs wear similar abbreviated costumes and the showgirls in the Latin Quarter wear a great deal less—and Bunnies have appeared, in costume, on network television, and in photographs in family newspapers and magazines all across the country.
The Playboy Clubs are, as anyone who has ever spent any time in one knows, the most closely supervised, carefully and conscientiously run nightclubs in the country. Commissioner O'Connell doesn't know this, of course, because he has never been inside one. He doesn't know, because he doesn't want to know.
We appealed the commissioner's decision to the courts and the American Civil Liberties Union entered the case as amicus curiae (friend of the court), validating the fact that more was involved here than the usual discretionary decision of an administrative official. The ACLU brief stated that O'Connell had "prejudged" and "precensored" the Playboy Club, and thus deprived us of our civil rights.
Judge Arthur G. Klein decided in favor of the Playboy Club, ruling: Commissioner O'Connell "is neither a censor nor the official custodian of the public's morals. To satisfy his personal moral code, it is not incumbent upon the petitioner to dress its female employees in middy blouses, gymnasium bloomers, turtleneck sweaters, fishermen's boots, or ankle-length overcoats." The court noted that the costume worn by the Bunnies was no more revealing than a bathing suit or a low-cut formal evening gown. The court said that while Mr. O'Connell might not like certain "sophisticated" cartoons and photographs displayed in the Club, it is not required to "substitute pictures of the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers or of Washington Crossing the Delaware" to satisfy the commissioner's taste.
Commissioner O'Connell reused to let the matter end there. He had the New York Corporation Counsel appeal the decision and the Court of Appeals reversed, in favor of O'Connell. And there it stands. We must now appeal the decision once again, to the highest court in New York, and the case will not be heard until the very end of the year. In the meantime, 60,000 New York members of the Playboy Club and their guests are being deprived of entertainment to which they are entitled, the stages of three of the finest showrooms in New York remain empty, a countless number of performers are deprived of the opportunity to earn a livelihood at the Manhattan Playboy, and the Club is being deprived of more than $50,000 a month in additional revenue from showroom cover charges. All of this, plus many thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs on both Playboy's and the city's part, because a single New York official has arbitrarily allowed his personal religious prejudices to play a part in his functioning as a license commissioner.
If Commissioner O'Connell, or Corporation Counsel Melaniphy, lived in a community in which all of the citizens they serve were, by their own choosing, Catholic, there might be some justification for such actions. As things stand, however, these officials are guilty of projecting the religious-moral convictions of their own particular church group onto the rest of a society in which each one of us is supposed to be allowed, by constitutional guarantees, to make such decisions for himself.