Posts Tagged ‘The Playmate Book’

The Girls of Summer: Carrie Enwright, Miss July 1963

June 21, 2010


Photographed by Ron Vogel.

I’d like to juxtapose the original text that accompanied Ms. Enwright’s Playboy gatefold appearance with some excerpts from a review of The Playmate Book (Taschen, 2006) by Joan Acocella, a writer whose work I like and find thought-provoking.


Hugh Hefner, the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy, always said that his ideal for the magazine’s famous Playmate of the Month, the woman in the centerfold photo, was “the girl next door with her clothes off.”

(Acocella, Joan. “The Girls Next Door: Life in the centerfold.” Review of Gretchen Edgren’s The Playmate Book. The New Yorker. March 20, 2006.)

Okay: agree.


In other words, he was trying to take his readers back to a time before their first sexual experience, a time when they still liked their stuffed bear and thought that a naked woman might be something like that.

(Ibid.)

Mm. Mainly disagree.

It’s my opinion that the prose and pictures, especially in the early years, treated the reader as a fellow experienced swinging single dude, talking man-to-man. We have talked before about how the pictures are composed to have an implicit male presence, like the reader is the model’s partner and has only just stepped out of frame, maybe to take the picture he’s looking at. Take the following as an example:


Picnic laid out with thermos and two cups. Hello.

Like the best of mid-July days, Carrie seems to be destined expressly for the informal, easygoing pleasures of life, and is, as a consequence, a refreshingly unaffected companion.

“I am,” says [Ms. Enwright] in thoughtful self-summation, “a very healthy, well-adjusted, fun-loving kind of girl.”

(“Summer Idyl.” Playboy, July 1963.)

A non-threatening introduction, yes, but pretty come-hither. Not exactly teddy bear fare — and neither is the pose particularly “cuddly.”


There is one basic model. On top is the face of Shirley Temple; below is the body of Jayne Mansfield.

(Acocella.)

Somewhat disagree. I believe there was slightly more variety in the Sixties and Seventies than Ms. Acocella sugests, but I admit I am omitting the portion where she talks about some of the noteworthy veers from the norm (Joni Mattis, yay!) and I don’t want you to think she didn’t acknowledge that in her review. Please be aware that she did. Don’t want to look all biased.


[Playboy draws] simultaneously, on two opposing trends that have … come to dominate American mass culture: on the one hand, our country’s idea of its Huck Finn innocence; on the other, the enthusiastic lewdness of our advertising and entertainment.

(Acocella.)

Agree. Yes. 100%. That is its appeal, that the magazine attracts that dichotomy in American consumerism and in our own idea of beauty, sex, and ourselves.


Hence the surprise and the popularity of Playboy. The magazine proposed that … sex for sex’s sake, was wholesome, good for you: a novel idea in the nineteen-fifties.

(Acocella.)

Agree. This also undermines the beginning sentence with its teddy-bear going-for-innocent-investigative-interest suggestion, but I’m okay with undoing that assertion because I disagreed with it.


“I don’t much care whether I eventually live in a mansion or in a tree house, so long as the man I’m married to is fun to be with.”

(“Summer Idyl.”)


[As the pin-ups progressed] We get the great outdoors: Playmates taking sunbaths, unpacking picnics, hoisting their innocent bottoms into hammocks. Above all, we get youth.

(Acocella.)


Most of them have chubby cheeks, and flash us sweet smiles. At the same time, many of these nice little girls are fantastically large-breasted. Strange to say, this top-loading often makes them appear more childlike. The breasts are smooth and round and pink; they look like balloons or beach balls. The girl seems delighted to have them, as if they had just been delivered by Santa Claus.

(Acocella.)

Ha! Somewhat agree. That Santa. He always knows. But this shoot and Cheryl Kubert are both good examples, just as recent citation on this journal, of gatefolds that featured a model mainly not smiling. Ms. Enwright even keeps her mouth closed.


What is so bewildering about [modern vs. old-school] Playboy centerfolds is their [the modern ones’] utter texturelessness: their lack of any question, any traction, any grain of sand from which the sexual imagination could make a pearl.

(Acocella)

Very Strongly AGREE.


[Hef’s] father was an accountant, his mother a Methodist disciplinarian. He has said that there was never any show of affection in his house. One suspects that there was likewise little evidence of jazz or hors d’oeuvres -— pleasure for its own sake. This is what he set out to sell: an upscale hedonism, promoted by the magazine’s articles and ads as well as by its nudes.

(Acocella.)

Agree, but not sure that it matters.

“For a while I was cashier at the Hollywood Paramount, which was my closest fling with the movie business. Then I worked as a salesgirl in a candy store. Trouble was, I have this terrible sweet tooth and pretty soon I was eating more candy than I sold.”

(“Summer Idyl.”)


“Right now I’m living with my mother and studying like mad to take my state boards in cosmetology. My most active hobby involves artwork, from making seed mosaics of Siamese cats to painting wild, wild oils. I get excited over my finished products — but then, I’m not critically minded.”

(Ibid.)


“I’m crazy about progressive jazz, lasagna, and playing practical jokes on people I like.”

Hell, yeah, lasagna and jazz! This girl is all kinds of easygoing and wonderful. Practical jokes, eh? such as what?


“I have been known to secretly put in cold mashed potatoes as the bottom scoop of someone’s root-beer float, which is a terrible thing to do, but fun!”

(Ibid.)

I have never done that nor even thought of it. Holy god, I can’t wait to do this. She is a comic genius and I am trying this, stickety-stat!


Bookworms are hottttt … even when they are only pretending for a photoshoot.

“I am not the type who always has a book going. I rarely read novels, but occasionally I get on a self-improvement kick, the most recent of which was plowing through Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action.”

(Ibid.)

I don’t know why, but I feel like the editors forced her to say she read it all when maybe the truth was that she only started it. Just a feeling. I’m about to talk about why they might’ve done that in a second.


“I love Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra … — oh, so many more. I’m very congenial toward most performers, and I enjoy nearly all.”

(Ibid.)

Again — wonderful taste. You find that so often in the Sixties write-ups, though, that the girls are prompted to talk about foodie foolery, jazz, politics, photography, and art. I’m not sure when that fizzled out, but it has. And I can totally admit that probably 30% of it was bullshit and only 7 out of 10 of these girls knew what they were talking about (if they even said it to begin with) or collected Bird and bebop on vinyl and the like, but I still feel good about the fact that it was important to the editorial staff for their vision of the ideal Playmate that these intriguing, intelligent statements seem true. Ms. Acocella addresses this:


That, in the end, is the most striking thing about Playboy’s centerfolds: how old-fashioned they seem. This whole “bachelor” world, with the brandy snifters and the attractive guest arriving for the night: did it ever exist? Yes, as a fantasy. Now, however, it is the property of homosexuals.

Today, if you try to present yourself as a suave middle-aged bachelor, people will assume you’re gay.

(Acocella.)

Ha! and again, I have to say agree, not in that groovy archaic pursuits are strictly the male provenance of neato gay guys (I like any man that goes for records and cares about dorky esoterica) but, yeah, society-wide, that would be the humorous judgment in the sense of stereotyping.

You know. Like when Bart and Millhouse tried to be Playdudes. That was hilarious. All pimped out in smoking jackets up in the treehouse.


“Too much of the time I use my heart and not my head. I’m really a very gullible girl. I wish on first stars and believe in miracles.”

(“Summer Idyl.”)

That is very sweet and touching. It is not full of trying-to-be-sexy artifice, nor is it overly cloying or disingenuous.

“Of course it’s a trite observation, but what I want most in life is happiness. What else is there?”

(Ibid.)

And who can improve on that desire? Well-wished, Ms. Enwright, and I hope she found her happiness. That’s not trite: it’s natural.

What Ms. Acocella observes in the unnaturally smooth, airbrushed featurelessness of the current crop of sexless-and-vaginally-shaved-for-maximum-Barbie-resemblance centerfolds mostly found on the newsstands today is resonantly true.

I guess what I’m saying is this: Yeah, there may have never really been a sophisticated scotch-sampling bachelor like the ones to whom Hef designed the magazine to appeal, and there may never have really been a girl next door with her clothes off that just happened to discourse freely on jazz LP’s and modern art while whipping up beef bourguignon in her skivvies, but isn’t the fantasy of that time period, quaint as it may seem now, so much more touching and oddly innocent than the weird highly-structured and false fantasy being sold today?

It is to me.