Please Enjoy Some Anecdotes From the History of Playgirl

US actress Toni Holt poses with male pinups at the launch of “Playgirl” magazine on March 7, 1974 in Paris, France. Image via AP.
US actress Toni Holt poses with male pinups at the launch of “Playgirl” magazine on March 7, 1974 in Paris, France. Image via AP.

Ah, Playgirl, an idea that despite being a perfect artifact of the 1970s was nevertheless before its time. (Its time being the point at which technology had advanced sufficiently to allow slow-motion pornographic GIFs on Tumblr.) How did such a thing come to be, how did it work, and where did it go?


Esquire has a look back at the magazine, complete with interviews with various participants. (Title: “A Penis on Every Page: The Rise and Fall of Playgirl.”) It’s a treasure trove. Advertisers were in many cases horrified:

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.”

Judith Dan Madison (fashion editor, 1976): The Estée Lauders were not interested in advertising in a magazine with naked men.

It involved a lot of figuring things out on the fly:

Don Stroud (actor, November 1973 centerfold): I grew up on the beach in Waikiki. Nudity didn’t mean much to me. [Centerfold coordinator] Toni Holt approached me and my manager and asked if I wanted to pose naked. 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.”

Sounds like the work conversations were something special, though!

Neil Feineman: In 1979, 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 said, “It’s my first day at work. I have no idea. And I’m mortified.”


Look, style guides are tedious things to construct, but they are absolutely essential.

Simón Cherpitel (photographer, August and October 1974): Their rule was, if I showed a penis and it was erect, it needed to be floating on water or something, so they could say, “This is not an erect penis.”


Read the whole thing at Esquire. Unfortunately, there is no explanation for this October 2002 spread on the employees of Enron.

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??????? Image via Getty.

Senior Editor at Jezebel, specializing in books, royals, romance novels, houses, history, and the stories we tell about domesticity and femininity. Resident Windsor expert.



“Cool story, bro” time:

When I was about 8 years old, my slightly older friend somehow acquired a copy of Playgirl, and we huddled in her backyard reading it and screaming hysterically over it. She said, “I can’t believe these go in our pee hole, how does it fit?” and I became incredibly upset and ran home sobbing.

MOM: What’s wrong?!?

ME: R-r-r-robyn showed me a Playgirl and she said they put their weiners in our pee holes and they’re so biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig

MOM:, first of all, they don’t go in your ‘pee hole’ [explanation redacted for space, plus I’m pretty sure y’all know this stuff], and second, sweetie...those guys, uh...aren’t typical.

Other horrifying things my poor mom had to explain to me in those pre-internet years:

1) I did not, in fact, have to have sex with my uncle or dogs, and in fact, these activities were wrong and forbidden (I snuck her copy of Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden from her nightstand and became traumatized by the VERY FIRST STORY, in which a woman claimed to have done both things, and I immediately assumed in my innocence that such activities were somehow expected of me;

2) I came tearing into the bathroom, where she was trying to enjoy a bubble bath, screaming that my cat’s guts were hanging out. She freaked out (understandably), wrapped a towel around herself, grabbed the car keys for the trip to the vet (she was an animal lover; no way would she waste a single second getting dressed when an animal, much less our beloved cat, was in jeopardy), found our cat, and had to explain those weren’t his guts, but his penis.

TL;DR my mother was a saint and I was stupid.