Douglas Lambert wanted to give Playboy a run for its money. It was , and Hugh Hefner's magazine had created a new mainstream market for soft-core porn. Lambert, a nightclub owner in Garden Grove, California, decided to get in on the action. Lambert's wife Jenny saw a bigger opportunity: a magazine with nude male centerfolds. Lambert wasn't sold. What woman wanted to ogle photos of nude men, much less buy a magazine full of them?
But he slowly realized Jenny might be on to something. The sexual revolution was well under way, and Lambert "sensed the woman of the '70s was eager to become part" of it, as he'd eventually write in promo copy for his new magazine.
So in the summer of , Lambert, along with William Miles Jr. Two years later, in June , Playgirl 's first issue hit the newsstand, with a mission similar to its long-standing counterpart: to feature nude centerfolds alongside hard-hitting features by and for women.
On the first cover, a nude man credited as "Eldon" sat cross-legged, his modesty preserved by shadows, as an amorous woman credited as "Lorelei" nuzzled him from behind.
One of its cover lines: "Compulsions of the promiscuous woman. At its peak during the late seventies, each issue sold around 1. Now, women could compare men's bodies just as men compared women's.
That readership included women and men. It's no shocker that a magazine full of naked dudes attracted the secret patronage of gay men, especially in an era when it was risky to be out. For women and gay men both, Playgirl' s true legacy is the way it normalized sexually objectifying men. Before People 's panting, annual "Sexiest Man Alive" issue; before the Adonis-heavy photography of Bruce Weber; before Mark Wahlberg posed in Calvin Klein underwear; and before the boom in mainstream "porn for women," Playgirl paved the way in showing off men's bodies for the erotic delight of its readers.
That's a bold initiative for a product you could buy while on a diaper run or pumping gas. While Lambert's first test issue of Playgirl was under development, Cosmopolitan 's iconoclastic editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown made waves by publishing the first nude male centerfold: a teasing image of movie star Burt Reynolds on a bearskin rug. That image provided an opening for male nudity to go mainstream.
Some feminists like Gloria Steinem reviled Playboy Steinem famously went undercover as a Playboy Bunny in for a Show magazine piece , but Playgirl was championed as progress for women, with articles on abortion and breast cancer. Back then, they were sex objects [presumed to be] only interested in housekeeping or serving their man. We were a very threatening magazine for men. If you came home and found your wife reading Playgirl , it would be, "You don't love me anymore? The newsstands were controlled by men.
Jerry Falwell wanted this magazine off the newsstands. We were put in the back rack in 7-Eleven. Zina Klapper articles editor, —82 : I was told our typical readers were college girls in the Midwest who had never seen a naked man. Celeste Fremon fashion and beauty editor, s—80s : The idea of Playgirl , that women could have their own Playboy magazine, was—in the beginning—this grand act of rebellion. The notion was to have nude men—"We can do this, too"—and also have serious articles.
The nudity seemed okay, but I thought it was a little embarrassing. Zina Klapper: Some of the people on the editorial staff had come out of the porn industry because Larry Flynt had moved Hustler from Ohio to L. They cared about feminism in a different way than people at Mother Jones did. They were excited to be working for a woman and working with pro-women content in the magazine. Dian Hanson editor of Taschen Publishing's Sexy Book series : The first people I remember actually buying and enjoying it were the cleaning ladies at the osteopathic hospital where I worked in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
These were middle-aged, working-class women who would get a copy of it every month and sit there on their break cackling and looking at it. Ira Ritter: I was at Hanes, the ladies' nylon company, and the chairman of the board said, "I don't want to reach the women who are reading your magazine. That's not my market. Stodgy advertisers perceived Playgirl as unwholesome and a threat to the status quo.
They were right on both counts. Neil Feineman special editions editor, —83 : My version of Playgirl was that after six, drugs were okay. So you'd get on the office intercom: "I have weed — does anybody have coke to share? In Playgirl 's introductory issue, most of the models were modestly posed, with hints of pubic hair showing and nude shots from behind.
The magazine quickly grew more comfortable with full-frontal nudity, but the question of whether to show an actual erection was…well, a hard one. Don Stroud actor, November centerfold : I grew up on the beach in Waikiki. Nudity didn't mean much to me. I had to put makeup on my balls and on my ass. I was tan at the time but had a white streak right around my privates, so I had to hire a makeup guy.
He goes, "Well…I guess I'm getting paid for this. Al Hornsby August cover and centerfold : My shoot was in two places: on the side of the highway outside Palm Springs, and just off the fairway during an LPGA golf event—literally thirty feet from the side of the fairway, just behind the shrubs.
Other than the fact that the shoots had a couple of nude shots and some shirt-off, boy-cheesecake…you weren't doing anything, just standing there trying to look attractive. David Vance photographer, —88 : It was fairly easy to get people to pose nude right off the street. I only remember one model who was reluctant to show his penis.
The majority were people who didn't work out at all. They just were well proportioned. Now, every year-old has abs. Nobody told me it was a nude centerfold! But I was game. We were doing the shooting and [the photographer kept saying], "Well, you can't show that. Marin called and said, "The one that I chose shows a bit of… you. Greg Louganis Olympic gold medalist, August model : My mom loved [my pictures].
At her memorial, her bridge club mentioned Mom had brought the magazine out, boasting, "This is my son. Dick Baney Major League Baseball player, February centerfold : It's been over 40 years and I am still being asked [about] my decision. Ira Ritter : Our biggest problem was [that our male models] had only a history of Playboy , so our photographers and the men themselves would pose like they had seen in Playboy.
Dian Hanson: They were photographing men as if they were women, lounging around on sofas. He's waiting for you to pay him, I'm assuming. Neil Feineman : In , at my first meeting with the editors, there was this huge argument about whether [models] should have hard-ons. We were in a restaurant and I'm sitting there with all of these women, three martinis into it, listening to them fight.
I remember the waiter looking at me like, "What the hell is going on here? I have no idea. And I'm mortified. Brian Dawson April centerfold : They didn't want a full-on erection, so the photographer shot pictures as I went down…giving them the opportunity to select the degree of erection.
Neil Feineman : One of the reader-favorite centerfolds called, enraged because there was a three-month period where erections were used, and a model he felt competitive with had a hard-on. I said, "I'm looking at your photograph and you have nothing to be ashamed of.
A magazine teeming with naked men would seem to present a golden marketing opportunity: Why not target women and gay men at the same time? But bowing to the prevailing negative view of gay men — homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association until — Playgirl aggressively downplayed that crossover in its press and marketing. In its first year, the magazine claimed 94 percent female readership. Over time, that number has been internally described to employees as more like 80 percent Ira Ritter : I can assure you I tried to not have gay men in the magazine.
Neil Feineman: The art directors, [most of whom] were straight, were going to the bathhouses with business cards to get the centerfolds. Randy Dunbar designer, —79 : Photographers like Herb Ritts used to shoot for Playgirl all the time using noms de plume. You weren't out and proud; you were talented and inside. My girlfriend at the time agreed to be in the pictorial.
It was pretty no-holds-barred. The photographer was a client of mine. When I was 18, that was more money than I made in a year. We shot it. He went through the roof and got a sharp attorney who went to Playgirl and said they could not release the photos.
They said, "We have a contract," but the attorney said, "I don't care. It has the potential of ruining whatever clean-cut image he has as an actor. I think she showed my dad the pictures and he burned them.
My dad thought the magazine targeted gays. He thought that would be harmful to me. Joyce Dudney Fleming editor-in-chief, : Lambert kept insisting that it was a magazine for women, and really wasn't attuned to the fact that a lot of people perceived it…as a magazine for gay men.
One guy called me up and said, "Money's no object, I wanna fly you out to Europe and do some shots. Christopher Atkins: There was supposedly one shot where I was standing in the pool and it was something about a shadow at the bottom of the pool that made me look "massive" and… [the photographer] was offered lots of money for that slide.
I always thought that it was a magazine for women, but men were trying to buy the slide. Neil Feineman : Management was in massive denial over it.