THRILLVILLE: Will "the Thrill" Viharo's weird, wild world of Pulp Fiction, B Movies, & the Lounge Lizard Lifestyle.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jazz, Sex, and Cocktails: Playboy in the 50s



Hugh Hefner may be the ultimate Alpha Male: suave, sophisticated, successful, and stylish, a rebel with a cause who revolutionized (and revitalized) the publishing industry in 1953 with a magazine that was at first modestly designed but already boldly boasting an immodest agenda. The immediate popularity of Playboy upended social mores both sexual and racial, as Hef was a barrier-busting pioneer in all realms of progressive change, despite charges of sexist exploitation. I've met a few centerfolds and bunnies in my time, including Jeane Manson, Miss August 1974, a major singing star in France who happens to be my father's ex-wife, and they were all strong, sensuous women: unashamed, unafraid, and unshackled. My father became good friends with Hef, and was a frequent guest at the Brentwood mansion. I never had the opportunity to visit, since it was invitation only, but that's okay - it could never live up to my expectations, especially with my retro sensibilities. To me, the ultimate Playboy mansion was the Chicago set of Hef's groundbreaking television series, Playboy's Penthouse (1959-1961), the real Mad Men, wherein celebrities and influential icons of the day from Lenny Bruce to Sammy Davis Jr. would drop by for some informal chatting, drinking and performing, mingling freely with gorgeous women and each other, regardless of race. His later series Playboy After Dark (1969-70) replicated this formula for a totally different era.

Pinup legend Bettie Page
Iconic bombshell Jayne Mansfield
B movie goddess Yvette Vickers
Cult movie queen Mara Corday
Below is an extensive pictorial overview of Playboy's first glorious decade, or rather, 1953-59. The pinups are relatively tame by today's standards, or even those of the truly emancipating decade of the 1960s, yet ethereally, eternally erotic and boundlessly beautiful. But Playboy promoted more than an appreciation of the female form as living Art - Hef was a champion of Jazz, Literature, Cinema, Progressive Politics, and the Modern lifestyle, ever on the cutting edge of swingin', liberating culture, and within these pages were many tantalizing time capsules of Space Age aesthetics, always with an eye to a bright, shiny Future, filled with Hope and healthy Hedonism. Here's to the dreams of the past, preserved forever in the plush bedroom of our collective imaginations...