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.”